One of the reasons why Maruti was able to make inroads into Indians’ hearts was because of the fuel efficiency of its cars. In the 1990s, when Maruti-800 was a rage and a prized possession in Indian middle class homes, its advertisement pitched it as a car which never ran out of petrol. ‘Papa ki karan, petrol khatam hi nahi honda’, a child quips in a commercial after his father -- irked over his non-stop playing with a toy Maruti -- asks him to stop.
Being an Indian company, Tata Motors also knows well that one of the first things that a consumer wants to know -- before taking a call on buying a vehicle -- is the fuel efficiency.
That is why the largest player in India’s nascent electric passenger vehicle industry recently unveiled the long-range variant of its Nexon model. The new Nexon EV MAX offers a driving range of 437 kilometres. Tata Motors also plans to launch electric cars with a minimum range of 500 kilometres.
Range anxiety refers to an EV owner’s fear that the vehicle's battery does not have sufficient charge for it to reach the destination. It is linked to how far the EV can travel on a single battery charge and the availability of charging points.
According to JD Power, the relatively limited driving range of many EVs and the lack of charging infrastructure in many geographies are the primary reasons people do not buy EVs, even if they seek to be environmentally conscious and have the necessary finances.
For the owner of an EV, this anxiety can particularly kick in when embarking on an unplanned or emergency trip, which might exceed the range of the EV in question. Also, remember that vehicles aren't just meant for the daily office commute, which typically takes place between two points within the same city.
What if you want to go on a long drive? Or as many Delhites do, drive up to the hills during a long weekend? The owner of a conventional car or bike wouldn't think twice given the ubiquity of petrol pumps. But an EV owner will do.
There can be two broad solutions to this problem -- increased battery efficiency and expansion of charging point networks.
In any case, addressing this problem is necessary if we want to accelerate EV adoption because ultimately, the driver's trust is critical. A prospective owner must be confident that their EV has sufficient battery capacity to begin with, and, in case they do run out of charge, they will be able to find a charge point on the road that is both convenient and reliable.
However, finding a solution to these two problems is a work in progress. Increasing battery efficiency beyond a certain point will require costly and time-consuming research, while charging points have their own challenges that are typical when setting up any infra. Still, with time and increased EV adoption, progress will indeed be seen on both fronts.
Here's a glimpse of the challenges involved. India’s 2030 vision of e-mobility states that 70 per cent of all commercial cars, 30 percent of private cars, 40 percent of buses, and 80 per cent of two-wheeler and three-wheeler sales will be electric by 2030. According to a CEEW Centre for Energy Finance study, this would translate into 102 million EVs. Also, deploying 102 million EVs by FY30 would need 2.9 million public chargers.
According to Vahan 4 data cited by an agency report, as of 25th March 2022, a total of 1,742 public charging stations were operational in India.
However, there is another solution. Battery swapping can tackle range anxiety. And, it might prove to be very efficient, especially with regard to certain types of EVs and in certain geographies. Why? Well, as a previous Business Standard Morning Show episode had explained, it is easy to establish a dense network of swapping stations even in packed urban areas. Not to mention, electric charging takes time and Indian cities lack the physical spaces needed to accommodate hundreds of charging vehicles, which is a sight that could become all too common once EVs become mainstream. Basically, you take your EV, most likely a two-wheeler in this case, to any battery-swapping station and instantly replace your depleted battery with a fully-charged, ready-to-go battery. But battery swapping too is a work in progress with its own set of challenges.