Tata Motors is focusing on addressing the EV aspirations of consumers, along with related challenges of industry
With the recent unveiling of the Nexon EV SUV – its second EV offering after the Tigor EV – Tata Motors has demonstrated a strong commitment to building a portfolio of products aimed at the promising electric mobility market in India. In an exclusive interview with Auto Tech Review, Shailesh Chandra, President – Electric Mobility Business & Corporate Strategy, Tata Motors, talks about how the company is girding up its loins to meet EV aspirations of Indian consumers as well as other challenges facing the industry.
Shailesh Chandra has been serving as President – Electric Mobility Business & Corporate Strategy at Tata Motors since June 2018. In his current role, Chandra spearheads the electric vehicle operations of Tata Motors. Prior to the current role, Chandra had served the company as Head – Corporate Strategy & Business Transformation from April 2016 to May 2018. Chandra has handled diverse responsibilities within the company, which he has been part of since October 1995. He has completed a Fulbright-Nehru-CII Fellowships for Leadership from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Chandra has a B.Tech degree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT, Varanasi.
ATR_ The electric SUV space appears to be heating up in India. Can you give us your perspective on the positioning of Tata Nexon EV SUV?
Shailesh Chandra _ The Tata Nexon Electric SUV is in a different band and will be an optimal solution for electric vehicle (EV) consumers. Our latest offering will be in the Rs 15-17 lakh range, while the currently available electric SUVs in the country are priced significantly higher. Performance-wise, the Nexon EV SUV is as good as any other vehicle, priced over Rs 25 lakh in India. I believe the centre of attraction of e-SUVs will be around this kind of solution because 90 % of Indian consumers are buying vehicles priced under ` 20 lakh. More importantly, there is no space for vehicles over that price bracket. So, you have to optimise the car to a level, where it starts making business sense.
Alternate propulsion technologies, including EVs, are important to reduce CO2 emissions. What’s your take on the transition the country needs to make?
Urban pollution is emerging as a serious issue as 14 out of 15 world’s most polluted cities are from India. Shifting to a zero emission technology is clearly the need of the hour as it also helps address our trade deficit concerns, since 84 % of our oil requirements come via the import route and are exposed to geopolitical volatilities. The move towards electrification is the answer to bringing out cleaner mobility solutions and this transition from ICE to EVs is an opportunity for the country to become competitive and create huge employment. Electrification needs to be implanted as a significant agenda if the country has to realise its 2030 vision of electrifying 30 % of private cars and 100 % of public transportation.
The FAME I scheme rolled out in 2015 had earmarked an outlay of ` 895 cr and the outlay of the FAME II scheme is ten times more, which clearly indicates the government’s strong intent to shift to alternate fuel technologies such as EVs. The slashing of GST on EVs from 12 % to 5 % will create a huge opportunity for EVs to thrive.
How do you see the two EVs from Tata Motors meeting customer expectations?
The Tigor EV is a low-voltage (72 V) technology, while the Nexon e-SUV is a high-voltage (330 V +) technology. The Tigor EV best serves the fleet operators and is essentially focussed on the total cost of ownership. As far as the Nexon EV is concerned, a different technology was needed. In this segment, the value proposition required is different to make a dent in the mainstream market. We don’t want to sell Tigor EV in the personal mobility space – of course, if somebody wants to buy it, we are fine. We invested a lot of time reaching out to fleet operators and educating them on the value of using Tigor EVs, and the response has been fantastic. They are making monthly savings of ` 5,000-7,000. Further, in the fleet operator space, the lowest hanging fruit is the employee transportation segment, where a number of MNCs are ferrying employees from home to office and vice versa. Some of these MNCs are shelling out more for EVs as they feel that they have a certain responsibility towards the society.
Prices of petrol and diesel will go up post-BS VI implementation, as oil marketing companies (OMCs) have injected substantial investments towards ensuring availability of BS VI fuel, coupled with vehicle prices going up. With CAFÉ (corporate average fuel economy) norms and RDE (real drive emission norms) scheduled to come into play in 2022 and 2023, there will be further pressure. At the same time, battery prices are poised to come down, while motors and other EV components will be localised in future and the timing is apt for EVs to take off. The game will change and adoption of EVs will gain prominence.
The Nexon EV SUV is powered by the Ziptron technology. Help us understand this technology better.
The Ziptron technology comes with a high voltage architecture that ensures a minimum vehicle range of 250 km. The Ziptron is a high energy efficient platform that enables us to applicate it on more vehicles rather than on just a single vehicle application. This technology has been designed in-house leveraging our global engineering network. The Ziptron technology adheres to IP67 standard, which is one of the highest ratings for improved protection against water and dust as well as complies with the AIS-048 nail penetration test. The Ziptron-powered battery has been tested for multiple levels of use cases to ensure it is absolutely safe. The battery pack of Nexon EV SUV is compatible with Combined Charging System (CCS) for AC and DC charging as well as for home charging from 15 A plug point. The Ziptron technology will form the basis for our electric personal mobility segment, but we are not blocking ourselves from leveraging this technology in the fleet space.
Charging infrastructure is perhaps the biggest roadblock for adoption of EVs in India. What’s your line of thought?
Busting this myth holds the key, as 90-95 % of EV users globally engage in home charging or workplace charging. It is only a consumer mind-set of feeling assured that there is a public charging infrastructure just in case a vehicle user forgets to charge at home. We had conducted extensive research on the EV charging trends and came to know that the sweet spot is 200 km. If we look at the psychology of consumers, when the state of charge is 50-100 % there is absolutely no problem, but anxiety builds up when the state of charge is 15-20 %. Consumers start panicking when the state of charge goes below 5 %.
The FAME II scheme has allocated Rs 1,000 cr subsidy towards public EV charging infrastructure and the government has identified 30-odd cities to roll out charging outlets. Our sister company Tata Power is working on identifying highways, where one fast charger can be put up every 75-100 km. That should take care of the range anxiety. If you are driving an EV for say above 200 km on any Indian highway, you would stop for 25 minutes for a tea or a bio break and within those 25 minutes if you can avail a charging top-up of 100 km or so, you are sorted and are range anxiety-free. Basically, if you have an EV charger every 75 km on any Indian highway, you put a lid on all range apprehensions.
If any vehicle user wants to travel above 500 km along with family, the most obvious option will be to hire a car rather than drive. I concede that charging infrastructure is a problem today, but it won’t be an issue in India in two years’ time given the considerable amount of work happening, backed by robust government push.
Tata Motors embarked on an elaborate study exercise before foraying into the personal electric mobility space with the Nexon EV SUV. Your thoughts.
Yes, we did our homework as to how we can position ourselves in the personal electric mobility space. We identified four types of consumers, who can take a liking to EVs. Firstly, we focussed on people who are fitness freaks like marathon runners; basically people who feel responsible for what is happening to the nature and are environment-conscious. Secondly, we zeroed in on tech geeks, who just love to experiment with anything new in the market – this category of people really do not have a fuel efficiency mind-set. Thirdly, our target was the maintenance seekers, who would want a hassle-free experience for five to six years without having to visit a workshop for maintenance; and lastly, we focussed on the category of people, who are well exposed globally – these are people who would have travelled widely across the globe and might even own a Mercedes or an Audi, but still desire to own an EV.
Lithium-ion batteries are widely prevalent in the EV space globally. What kind of modern battery technologies can evolve going forward?
A significant amount of study and development work is going on in the modern battery technology front. I think lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP) and nickel, cobalt manganese (NCM) chemistries with different ratios of the constituents will stay relevant over the next five to six years. We have to keep a watch on which technology is closer to commercialisation and offer value from a safety, price and energy-density perspective. LFP and NCM are currently available options for OEMs globally, especially for buses.
Hydrogen fuel cells are also seen as a decent option among alternate fuel technologies. Your thoughts.
For now, the momentum is currently with battery electric vehicles (BEVs). We at Tata Motors always work on all technologies and are pioneers of hydrogen fuel cell buses. Having said that, you have to understand that there is a time when a certain technology starts going for an uptake and my take is that hydrogen fuel cells will take some time for urban locations. Today, if BEVs are two to two & half times costlier than ICE vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be four to four & half times costlier than prevailing ICE vehicles; and that is a big challenge. The hydrogen fuel cell technology should work well for commercial vehicle (CV) applications, but it is some years away from being deployed in the mainstream market.
Tata Motors has a rich CV legacy. How do you assess the relevance of ICE vehicles given the strong push globally towards EVs?
If I were to see from a time-frame perspective, both ICE vehicles and EVs will co-exist over the next 10 years. India is a heterogeneous market of urban centres, Tier I, Tier II, Tier III, Tier IV cities and villages. Given this, the ability of Indian consumers to take the risk of a new technology must be factored in.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Tata Motors