At the SIAM Annual Convention last month, the Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari was at his theatrical best. In his uniquely charismatic style, he delivered a fiery speech about the need to do away with the much polluting IC engine and bring in electric powertrains to India as soon as possible. Zero emissions and widespread EV adoption is the need of the hours, said the Honourable Minister, adding that OEMs who do not comply may end up getting into trouble.
Gadkari’s comments did not go down too well with some, who believe that the government should not try to browbeat the industry into following a certain direction and let technology take its own course instead. Some industry leaders also expressed their disappointment with the government changing plans and policies in a somewhat whimsical manner and stressed upon the need to have rational policies in place, which are communicated to the industry well in advance, so that investments in manufacturing and technology development can be planned accordingly.
Yes, technology advancement cannot simply be pushed through without adequate corresponding developments in supporting infrastructure. Battery and electric motor technology has been progressing at a fair clip globally, and except for one or two Indian OEMs, none of the biggies seem to have done anything about it in the context of the domestic market. That’s probably understandable, given the huge sums of money that have been invested towards IC engine manufacturing facilities, and the entire eco-system of parts suppliers that has been painstakingly developed – sometimes over a period of many years – to support IC engine manufacturing.
There are also many questions that need answering, before a push towards EVs can really become successful. Where’s the charging infrastructure that would be required if there’s an en masse move towards EVs? With power cuts and power shortages rampant in many parts of the country, will our national grid be able to take the strain of simultaneously charging lakhs of electric vehicles every day? What about the business model – who will set up the dedicated charging infrastructure required, and how will they earn enough to offset capital expenditure? What about implementing common standards and protocols for charging technology and ensuring interoperability?
Some European countries are beginning to take the lead with EV adoption and as long as we ensure that the power being used to charge EVs is coming from clean sources (wind, solar and hydro, instead of coal), India should certainly move towards the proposed zero emissions regime. Can we do that by 2030? Nobody really knows. But at least Mr Gadkari’s speech last month has made the industry sit up and take note of the urgent need to start moving in that direction.