The country’s electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem is grappling with a plethora of challenges even as it is striving to wriggle itself out of the ‘nascent stage’ tag
In an exclusive chat with Auto Tech Review, Zhang Jie Ketsu, Executive Director, BYD India shares his perspective on the current EV scenario and how the company intends to progress faster in the Indian automotive industry
Zhang Jie Ketsu is currently serving as the Executive Director of BYD India since January 2016. He is also the spokesperson for the Indian arm of the Chinese electric vehicle major. Ketsu has also served as Regional Director of BYD Auto Industry, where he was responsible for brand marketing, sales, strategy planning as well as aftersales in the South Asia region. Ketsu carries over 11 years of experience in overseas business development. Under Ketsu’s dynamic leadership, BYD India has managed to successfully pilot all-electric buses across Bengaluru, Rajkot, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa, Cochin, Chandigarh, Vijayawada, Manali, Mumbai and Surat, among others. He has successfully spearheaded BYD India in gaining 52 % market share of electric buses commercially operating in India with support of local partners.
ATR _ How would you assess the EV ecosystem in India as compared to the flourishing China EV industry?
Zhang Jie Ketsu _ I think the Indian government has been focussing a lot on reducing vehicular emissions in major cities and manufacturing hubs, and this strong government push through the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India) II Scheme has significantly aided EV manufacturers. In India, the government has set a target to electrify 30 % of its on-road vehicles by 2030. There is no denying the fact that large-scale efforts are required to attain this goal, but the government has been proactively working with domestic and international OEMs to ramp up the EV supply chain and infrastructure.
The electrification journey in China started about a decade ago with the government emphasising on short-range batteries, which are now debunked. Subsequently, the government started offering heavy incentives towards the long-range variants of these batteries as they, along with the EV industry in China, realised that long-range batteries are going to be the driving force of the electric-powered auto industry.
While the Indian EV industry is not as evolved as compared to other countries, the EV potential for India is immense and with the government keen on converting a major portion of its vehicles into electric, it is a good sign of things to come in the future. We believe that the government’s supportive policies are aimed at establishing an EV manufacturing ecosystem, and BYD sees this as a positive development as more and more components manufacturers will come to invest in India. In fact, BYD is engaged in talks with a few suppliers to set-up manufacturing or assembly unit in India.
BYD enjoys a solid reputation for its expertise in battery development. What kind of batteries do you think will be more suitable considering the Indian duty cycles and weather conditions?
BYD is the world’s only automaker to possess a full range of expertise and intellectual properties in three core EV technologies – batteries, motors and electronic controls. BYD through its extensive cooperation with vehicle manufacturers has gained considerable experience, built a professional development & service team as well as established broader mechanisms to predict and adequately respond to challenges. Our batteries are currently deployed in vehicles across segments such as passenger, commercial, and specialised vehicles.
Over the past few years, many EV manufacturers have been pushing for increased vehicle range. It is important to understand that when the vehicle range becomes a prime factor, the focus is then transferred to power battery makers, at times leading to unreasonable pursuits of ‘energy density’ in the battery industry. This often leads to safety being side-lined from the power battery development process.
Our recently-launched blade-shaped batteries can mitigate concerns over battery safety in EVs. The blade battery features singular cells that are arranged together in an array and subsequently inserted into a battery pack. And due to its optimised battery pack structure, the space utilisation of the battery pack is increased by over 50 % as compared to conventional lithium-iron-phosphate block batteries. The blade battery also passed other extreme test conditions, such as being crushed, bent, being heated in a furnace to 300° C and overcharged by 260 %. None of these resulted in a fire or explosion. We want to bring battery safety to the forefront, while also looking to redefine safety standards for the automotive industry. BYD sees a lot of potential for these batteries, especially in a market like India.
Charging infrastructure is seen as a big impediment. How do you think this area can be addressed?
A well-oiled charging infrastructure is imperative for promoting EVs in any market. We understand that it is a long-lasting task for governments as well as OEMs. BYD believes that the Indian government should bring in more aggressive policies to encourage more investors to set-up charging infrastructure across the country. At the same time, to make charging stations commercially viable, more and more EVs should run on Indian roads. BYD’s strategy is to serve the public transportation segment as well as B2B segment (corporate fleets). We are focussing on electrification of both these segments and provide confidence to citizens in newer technologies. We feel that when there is a surge in EV users in the market, the charging infrastructure space will witness more investments.
With regards to subsidies, how do we strike a balance and ensure the ecosystem is on a firm footing?
The subsidy route is important as it not only helps OEMs but also helps MSMEs as well as SMEs see the viability of getting into business of creating components for EV vehicles. This will go a long way in establishing a strong EV ecosystem. The same also applies to companies that may want to enter into creating EV infrastructure that is much-needed in India at this stage.
Moving forward, there will be a need to strike a balance but we believe that this can only be realised once the entire value chain ramps up. The application of technology and expertise on production will hold the key for the EV industry to grow. While there is growing interest for EVs, consumer demand has to grow significantly for the EV ecosystem to become more self-reliant, so that governments can mull balancing subsidies.
What are the short-term and long-term challenges for EVs to pick up sales momentum in the country?
The central and state governments as well as the corporate sector in India realise the multi-fold benefits EVs bring to the table. While the aspiration for a cleaner environment is an incentive for average Indian consumers, the cost of vehicles and lack of charging infrastructure act as a dampener at least for now. Setting up an efficient electric vehicle infrastructure could help ease the minds of the average Indian consumer, in terms of running out of gas midway. There is demand for electric two-wheelers and such demand must exist for electric four-wheelers as well. The lack of demand for electric four-wheelers is largely owing to its high sticker price.
Throw us an insight into BYD’s R&D activities and how is the Indian arm leveraging the expertise of your parent company?
The Indian arm has gradually developed into BYD’s regional headquarters in South Asia, providing our localisation strategy a robust footing in South Asia. The Indian arm along with its local partners, has successfully piloted all-electric bus projects across Bengaluru, Rajkot, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa, Cochin, Chandigarh, Vijayawada, Manali, Mumbai, Surat and other cities. BYD India’s production caters to domestic as well as overseas markets.
Can you shed light on your electric bus partnership with Olectra?
The BYD-Olectra partnership was the first to introduce pure electric buses in India and aims to maintain a dominant position in the Indian market. Over the past few years, the partnership has proved exceedingly fruitful and has enabled us to set-up local designing, R&D, manufacturing of electric buses as well as establish a battery-manufacturing facility in India. We are happy to see our Indian partner bag orders from various state governments for 765 new electric buses. According to various reports, this is higher than the number of EVs sold in India in the financial year 2019-20.
Apart from your presence in the electric bus space in India, what plans do you have to foray into the passenger electric vehicle segment?
BYD has drawn up ambitious plans to introduce its complete “7+4” solution into the Indian market, which will include electric passenger vehicles as well. The BYD “7+4 Full Market EV Strategy” encompasses most forms of transportation needs – it comprises seven conventional types of transportation (passenger vehicles, taxis, buses, coaches, urban logistics trucks, urban construction trucks, and urban sanitation trucks) and four specialised types of transportation (vehicles for mining, ports, airports, and warehousing).
BYD in India is currently focussing on introducing the most advanced and cleanest technology into the Indian market to answer the government’s call as well as people’s desire of building a cleaner and sustainable country. We are currently testing the market waters and intend to bring more products from BYD’s portfolio to Indian shores. BYD has also introduced the T3 passenger multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) and minivan product, which will address another market sector with huge potential and we are actively looking for partners for this business. We also have a few products in the pipeline, but we are still in the planning stages and will be making announcements in a phased manner once we put a seal of confirmation to our plans.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: BYD India