Bigger push from auto sector needed to drive up EV adoption: Industry experts

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On the occasion of World Environment Day, Autocar India organised a webinar to deliberate the Indian auto sector’s readiness for EV adoption. Representing the OEMs were Gaurav Gupta, chief commercial officer, MG Motor India, and Ravneet Phokela, chief business officer, Ather Energy. FADA’s president Vinkesh Gulati put forward the dealers’ point of view, while Tata Power’s Sandeep Bangia commented on the charging infrastructure. And bringing in the insurance industry’s perspective was Raman Arora, chief operating officer of Reliance General Insurance.

  • More choice for consumers will boost EV sales 
  • RSA services could provide vehicle-to-vehicle charging to alleviate range anxiety
  • More public chargers need to be set up, especially along highways 

Commenting on how we could hope to see more EVs on the country’s roads, Gupta said, “We need more stakeholders to step forward, be it the OEMs, component manufacturers or charging infrastructure players. Let’s go build up the scale now.” He opined that electrification has finally begun gaining momentum, and that a concerted push from the auto sector is crucial for EVs to go mainstream. Even the insurance industry has an important part to play, reflected Arora.

Demand for EVs is outstripping supply

Highlighting the growth in the EV space, MG’s Gaurav Gupta stated, “The (electric) passenger vehicle (PV) segment doubled in 2020, despite the pandemic. And this year, it will more than double as well. So we’ll have around 10,000-15,000 passenger EVs coming onto the Indian roads (this year).”However, that would still be a small fragment of the entire PV industry, which sees about 30 lakh units of annual sales.

One of the main issues currently holding back buyers from opting for EVs is a limited choice. Compared to hundreds of internal combustion engine (ICE) models, customers just have the MG ZS EV, Tata Nexon EV and the Hyundai Kona Electric to choose from, for now, when it comes to green vehicles. Gupta mentioned that EVs could really catch on “if we have more vehicle and model options from more players.”

Speaking on behalf of the two-wheeler sector, Ather’s Ravneet Phokela mirrored similar views. He said, “I will stick my neck out and say that the demand is much more than what the sales numbers show. Honestly, our big problem today is not demand, it’s the supply and just the (lack of) credible (EV) options. What should people buy, even if they want to? What options do they have?”

FADA’s (Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations) Vinkesh Gulati pointed out that with the hype surrounding EVs, it wasn’t customer awareness, but a limited model range of electrified vehicles that was impeding dealers from driving up EV sales. “If you really want to make EVs mainstream, then as a dealer, you’ll need to give us something. It’s like we (dealers) are being sent into war and we don’t have ammunition to fight. So companies need to improve (EV) production and give us more models.”

Elaborating on the untapped demand potential in the market, and the supply mismatch, Ather’s business chief said, “If you have 20 options for cars, 20 options for scooters and 10 options for bikes suddenly come in, then even today, you’ll see the EV volumes go up dramatically.”

Gupta added that regulatory support will also be important for boosting EV sales. “There is a lot of progress on the front of policy framework. But it will be very helpful if there is a better impetus, so that all states can move in a unified direction.” “An important question is why some states are not able to promote EVs – only 13 states are providing some kind of benefits, like on the registration charges of EVs.”

The senior MG executive said that though he wasn’t advocating government subsidies, some universal benefits on EVs, like road tax waivers across the country, would be helpful. He mentioned that incentivising early adopters was crucial since they were the ones who would bring confidence to the next set of EV buyers.

Road Side Assistance (RSA) services need to evolve to support EV owners

Reliance General Insurance’s COO, Raman Arora, filled in another important piece of the puzzle towards attaining a greener future. He mentioned that road side assistance (RSA) services, which insurance companies offer, are also a part of the infrastructure that needs to be built up for accelerating EV adoption.

He continued, “When it comes to electric vehicles, though the range of issues encountered by a stranded customer remain the same, the treatment however will differ now.” Arora said that RSA providers will need to bring in new competencies. “We need to upgrade the knowledge of RSAs, and people need to be trained in electrical work to be able to service EVs.”

Additionally, with a fairly limited public charging infrastructure, range anxiety is a major concern. The insurance industry leader opined that RSA services could help alleviate this issue as well. “What is needed is that the RSA can take a portable charger to the place where the customer is stranded and charge the car. So there is a need to create mobile (charging) vans.”

He added, “We, as insurers, are in touch with RSAs to upgrade to these services and create an infrastructure so that anyone who owns an EV can use the entire ecosystem seamlessly.”

Moreover, insurance premium is another element that could make EVs more attractive. Though the own damage (OD) charges for an ICE and an EV are similar, Arora mentioned that “for a third party insurance, which IRDAI specifies, the premium for EVs is 10-15 percent lower than for a normal ICE car.”

Charging network needs to be bolstered so that EVs don’t remain city-bound

The paucity of charging points is often cited as one of the main reasons for the apprehension surrounding EVs. However, Sandeep Bangia, head – EV Charging Ecosystem, Home Automation and ESCO Business, Tata Power, noted that there is more to it than meets the eye.  

He mentioned that topping up at home or the workplace accounts for over 70 percent of an EV owner’s charging needs. “So the public charging infrastructure should be thought of as a backup or an insurance. You don’t need it every day, but it is good to know that it is there, just in case.”

He added, “However, the surprising part is that the problem is with the housing societies, RWAs and DISCOMs (electricity distribution companies), which ask too many questions while getting the chargers installed.”

Moreover, getting a home charger could prove unfeasible for those who don’t have access to reserved parking spots. MG’s Gaurav Gupta suggested a solution for such owners. “Instead of individual chargers for each customer, we can put up a stream of 6-7 chargers together (in housing societies) and make a ‘green’ parking lot. Consumers can book their slot and charge their cars.”

He further stated, “With home charging taking care of most of the customer’s requirements, it’s only when you look at inter-city travel that questions about public charging come up.” Even the most practical of EVs on sale in India today provide a real-world driving range of about 300km, which, when combined with a public charging network that’s still in its nascency, means that EVs are generally city-bound.

“When you travel outside cities, or forget charging at home, then you need the comfort that you have a charger not very far away from wherever you are going. And there is a lot of work being done in this direction by people like us. We have about 500 (public) chargers spread across 100 cities,” said Tata Power’s Bangia. “We plan to scale up to around 3,000 chargers in the current fiscal.”

He added that the company is in the process of establishing charging facilities along important highways. “We have identified hubs or city pairs, like Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Chandigarh and so on. We are working with OEMs like MG, Jaguar and Tata Motors to see the heat map of where people travel, and we will narrow down on the charging locations accordingly.” More such concerted efforts will be required to ensure that EVs don’t remain confined to city limits, which should help in boosting people’s faith in the technology. 

Also see:

SMEV: Cumulative EV sales down 19.41 percent in FY2021

Role of public charging less vital than originally thought

FAME II scheme needs course correction: Hero Electric MD

Industry, not policies, should decide the course of electric mobility



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