At its quarterly results announcement last month, RC Bhargava, Chairman, Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) made a significant announcement with respect to the company’s plans to roll-out electric vehicles in the country. Amidst concerns over charging infrastructure, government support and cost, the company has decided to defer its plans to launch its first electric car – the WagonR EV – in India for personal use. The vehicle may still be launched for public use (cab aggregators) next year.
For close to two years since it made its first announcement about the WagonR EV launch during the Auto Expo 2018, the leading Indian carmaker has been testing on different Indian road and weather conditions a batch of 50 imported WagonR EVs from Japan. Until Bhargava’s recent announcement, the industry was abuzz with the prospect of the company’s first electric vehicle on road. Unfortunately, he said the country was still not ready for a mass-market electric car.
In recent times, many manufacturers have either launched or announced launch of EVs in the next few months. Hyundai Motor India has had a great reception to its compact electric SUV, the Kona, already selling out the entire stock of 300 units for 2019. In addition, the company has also won orders from the Union government through the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL). Importantly, the Kona’s high price tag of approximately ` 24 lakh hasn’t deterred buyers from opting for the SUV, clearly indicating there is a segment of buyers who wouldn’t mind paying a premium for a product that delivers on quality, performance, better range and high-end technology.
That, however, isn’t the case with every mass market buyer. The Tata Tigor EV or the Mahindra e-Verito, for instance, hasn’t been able to excite consumers. The government opting for the Hyundai Kona also indicates its unwillingness to bank on the domestic alternatives.
In the near term though, the market would see a slew of EVs being launched, including the Nexon EV and Altroz EV from Tata Motors, the Renault Kwid EV, MG eZS, as well as the eKUV100 and XUV300 Electric from the Mahindra stable. But without a substantial push on creating a charging infrastructure – at least in the Tier I cities – and a major effort in driving down costs, the outlook for India’s EV market remains bleak.
Maruti’s announcement to delay the launch of the WagonR EV further adds to the concerns over real prospects of India’s electric mobility future. Consumers need a product that reassures them of an EV’s viability and roadworthiness. Many had their sights set on the Maruti WagonR EV. But for that, we’ll have to wait a little longer.
DEEPANGSHU DEV SARMAH
November 2019, New Delhi