Autocar Professional’s expert debate on ‘Evolution of Electric Mobility’ is a big draw
Chennai, August 14, 2013: Autocar Professional’s third Automotive Forum, based on the theme of ‘Evolution of Electric Mobility’ was held at the Taj Coromandel, Chennai, yesterday.
Setting the tone of the seminar was Chikuya Takada, Head of Product Planning, GM,Nissan Motor India. Previously, manager, Product Strategy and Planning Department of Nissan’s Zero Emission Business Unit, he took the audience through how the Japanese company has evolved its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) programme and what its own reading of the future is, most importantly being how Nissan sees a leadership role around EVs.
Speaking passionately about EVs, Takada, who himself owns and drives a Nissan Leaf in Japan, said that over the years, customers’ mindsets have dramatically changed, particularly after driving EVs. What’s key for the success of EVs in India, he said, is that there has to be evolvement of all stakeholders. He, however, added, “I believe the pace of growth will be faster than we expect.” He emphasised the need for an EV-friendly infrastructure and also quick-charging facilities in the country. In his detailed presentation, he spoke about Yokohama City in Japan where there are over 500 fast-charging stations and the Smart City project which calls for a massive introduction of EVs and linkage with the Energy Management System.
Kartik Gopal, GM (Mobility Solutions & Business Development), Mahindra Reva, spoke about the pioneering Indian company’s experience in developing and manufacturing the Reva, the ongoing challenges and encouraging prospects for the EV industry. He said for the first time, the Indian government has given electric mobility a ‘mission status’ in the form of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (NEMMP), which indicates its commitment in encouraging adoption of EVs.
Gopal spoke about the investments that are needed for a proper set-up and also about the need for better awareness. Importantly, he added, what will drive sales of EVs in India is cracking customers’ mindsets and delivering just what they need. He spoke about how EVs are five to six times more energy efficient than conventional Internal Combustion Engine vehicles and how the company is going about alleviating buyer concerns about range anxiety and EV charging, among other issues. In line with that, he revealed that Mahindra Reva has tweaked its sales strategy which enables potential buyers to get to use the e2O for a few days to get a real-world experience of living with an EV. Gopal signed off by saying that the opportunities for EVs in India are as good as EV exports if the environment for them can be created.
Suvojoy Sengupta, managing director of Booz & Company (India), provided his perspective on the EV industry and future growth in his presentation titled ‘Is India doing enough?’ Sengupta, who has been working since 2011 with SIAM and the Department of Heavy Industries, on the government’s national strategy and NEMMP, spoke about evolving an Indian paradigm for electric mobility, and how three key drivers will usher in a new era of alternative energy technology worldwide: unsustainable petroleum-based consumption, increasing environmental pressure, and alternative energy technology reaching a threshold. He added that incremental efficiency improvements in ICE technology may not be enough and also that alternative powertrain technologies are starting to mature.
He said India can achieve annual savings of Rs 13,000-14,000 crore in 2020 by targeting around 7 million unit sales of plug-in electric vehicles (xEVs), thereby offering security from import of expensive conventional fuels. Along with being eco-friendly transport, local manufacturing can be supported through domestic production incentives along with specific clauses for demand incentives which call for increasing localisation of xEV components. In this way, the government can help facilitate creation of affordable xEV solutions which can meet consumer expectations. The challenge, said Sengupta, is meeting consumers’ price/performance expectations as regards the cost of lithium ion batteries, the most expensive component in an EV. As a solution for the ‘mobility revolution’, he called for a new eco-system of collaborative partnerships between the government (Regulatory Innovation Frontier), the automotive industry (Technical Innovation Frontier) and cross industry/value chain (Business Innovation Frontier). Sengupta signed off with 4 key policy drivers to drive xEV demand. On the demand side, he said initial demand for EV makers can come through government-mandated purchases for fleets and public transportation and cash subsidies to consumers. On the supply side, OEMs and vendors could be given benefits like accelerated depreciation and tax holidays to encourage local assembly and manufacturing, phase out existing low import duties on components over 5 years old to encourage localisation. The third driver, he said, is R&D which involves funding of R&D programs along with OEMs and component suppliers to develop optimal solutions for India at low cost. Finally, infrastructure support is critical, which could be in the form of modest investment to build public charging facilities to support EVs, especially buses. He concluded by saying that banks could be drawn into the EV ecosphere with customer-enabling schemes that help lower acquisition cost, things like ‘pay-as-you-go’ for the expensive battery in an EV.
Mohit Arora, executive director, J.D. Power Asia Pacific, Singapore, in his detailed presentation called for a reality check on the current status of EVs worldwide. He highlighted the need for an eco-system that supports EVs, the recent announcement by the US government which wants to invest $2.4 billion on EVs and how greater visibility for EVs will help.
However, even in the US, which offers a subsidy of $7,500 on BEVs (battery electric vehicles) costing $ 33,000, the money comes from the defence budget rather than goodwill for the planet. He added, that with the big-ticket discoveries of shale gas in the US in the recent past, the long-term perspective towards EVs there could change. He said of the current 800,000 EVs on road today, Asia Pacific has the largest share of EVs and will continue to be in the future, with Japanese consumers being the overwhelming buyers of EVs. By 2020, he believes there will be a total of 5-7 million EVs worldwide. Given this situation, he was of the opinion that India’s NEMMP vision of having the same number of EVs by 2020 seems too optimistic. Commenting on the typical Indian car buyer, he said: “Indian customers are sensitive to price but they are more sensitive to the value behind the price.” Therefore, EV makers should develop models and programs “from a customer’s perspective rather than from a designer’s perspective’. Arora spoke about the need for creation of an EV ecosystem, which is key for success but “Indian governmental support is critical if the industry is to take off. There’s a lot of activity in the EV space. Recent changes in the global EV ecosystem have been fairly rapid and also dramatic, but EV makers need to be realistic. The consumer is paying more (for the EV), getting less (mileage) and getting inconvenienced (limitations). How do we balance these 3 equations?” he queried.
The final speaker, Thalavai Venkatesan, Head of Engineering & Systems Engine Systems, Continental Automotive (India), in his presentation titled ‘Electrification tailored to fit’ aimed at developing customised solutions for e-mobility, spoke about the challenges that suppliers face. He detailed Continental’s ‘Clean Power Strategy’ in the larger context of electrification which includes HMI on the one hand and also coming out with tailor-made solutions to address the various needs of eco-friendly transport. Forecasting the BU hybrid EV powertrain scenario by the year 2025, he said 30 percent of vehicles worldwide will have an electrified powertrain.
He also spoke about Continental’s joint venture with SKI of Korea on battery manufacturing, its battery which is smaller than conventional units, and challenges like how to go about migrating 12v to 48v.
The Automotive Forum, which was sponsored by NBC Bearings and Continental as associated sponsor, was attended by representatives of nearly 50 companies across the automotive spectrum. The detailed report of the seminar will be published in Autocar Professional’s September 1 issue.
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