In India, if you ask any person, which is the hottest car today? There is no doubt, that out of thousand, Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine people would cast their vote for ‘Nano’. Obviously, the price of this little wonder is the major factor for its popularity. Stunningly beautiful yet sturdy looks and latest technology innovations incorporated in the car, also contribute to make it the hottest.
In spite of all this, Nano still runs on Petrol or Gasoline. The running cost for this vehicle therefore very much depends upon the price of Petrol. If we consider the environmental angle, Nano is still a vehicle that produces pollution, even if in small quantities. If we decide to take a long-term view, an electric or a battery operated car is likely to be a much better choice.
At present, many manufacturers are coming out with Hybrid electric cars, which run on electrical power as well as on a conventional engine. In true sense, this is not a non-polluting vehicle. It also needs petrol or diesel. The main advantage of such a hybrid vehicle is the fuel economy it offers. From a long-term view, hybrid cars are certainly not for the future.
A fully battery operated car without any sort of built in gasoline engine, is being made in India for last few years. ‘Rewa’ car, which is made in Bangalore, is a true non-polluting vehicle and needs no petrocarbon fuel of any kind. This car cannot be considered as popular at all, in India. I was quite surprised to learn that ‘Rewa’ is fairly popular abroad, mainly in England and in certain European countries. However, there are reasons for this popularity. There are about 1000 Rewa cars in London alone. If you drive one of these to central business districts, you need not pay the fine of 11 Dollars, which all other cars have to pay. French Government gives a subsidy of 3000 Euro, if you decide to buy a Rewa. The Government of Norway has waived off the import duty on Rewa and you can drive this car even in the bus lane.
Rewa does not seem to comply with certain rules and regulation, which apply to all the cars, plying on American roads. Rewa manufacturers feel that once these rules are amended, as it is likely to happen, Rewa could be sold in US also. In the year 2010, another electric car, to be called ‘Volt’, would be available to US consumers. This car is likely to be priced around 40000 US$. Once Rewa clears all the rules and regulations, it could be sold for about 6000 US$ in US.
I wondered as to why this car was not at all popular in India. Rewa manufacturers are building a new factory in Bangalore. Once completed, yearly manufacturing capacity is likely to be around 30000 cars. It is planned to sell about 15000 cars in India. I feel that this is a tall order. The principle reason for this is the price of this car. Lowest present price for this car is in Delhi and is around 3 lakhs of Rupees. The new model of Rewa would come with Lithium-Ion battery and would cost around 7 lakhs. I wonder how many people would be ready to buy this small car at this price. Not many, I suppose.
Manufacturers are planning to lease the batteries to cut the costs. This might reduce the price, but may not be still attractive for the buyers.
There is another problem with electric cars in India. Rewa on average needs 7 hours of charge, with standard household electrical outlet. City dwellers, who stay in apartments and park their vehicles either on road or in a parking lot, do not have such household outlets available for charging the battery. Even if they are willing to go for an electric car, the logistics of just charging the battery is likely to deter them.
The fact however remains that over long term, we certainly need to have as many Rewa like cars on our roads as possible. To achieve this, our Government or local authorities might have to follow the lead taken by Government of Portugal.
Portugal needs to import all its petroleum requirements. This has put tremendous financial strain on the Government. To overcome this problem they have decided to encourage electric cars and buses in the country. They have planned to build in next 2 years some 1300 charging stations across the country. These stations would provide from a 30-minute express charge to a normal charge lasting 4 to 6 hours. One can just drive down to such a station, park the car and start charging it. It has offered substantial tax cuts for electric vehicles. In addition, they have collaborated with Renault-Nissan to set up a factory to make 60000 Lithium-Ion batteries with an investment of 335 million Dollars. Portuguese Government expects that at least 20 per cent of all public utility vehicles in the country would be battery operated.
If our Government plans to take similar steps, I am sure that we might even have a battery operated ‘Nano’ car produced in the country. Considering the scenario after 50 or 60 years, it is of paramount importance that some basic steps are taken up today. It is interesting to site here example of digital cameras as an illustration. A decade ago, there were no digital cameras. Later, few models were released, which were quite inferior to what we have today. Yet, consumers realized the convenience of these cameras as one could see the picture, as soon as it is shot and in no time, it could be uploaded to a computer and sent to friends. The net result has been that film cameras are now almost extinct. With invention of Lithium-Ion batteries, similar scenario might as well come up with electric cars, in next half century or so.
Our Government is tom-toming that India is becoming the small car capital of the world. It would be much better for the future, if we become small electric car capital of the world. This would be of real help to the environment.
6 August 2009