Mahindra’s green leap forward

Mahindra’s green leap forward

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 03 Apr 2013 Views icon3174 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Mahindra’s green leap forward
Amidst a gloomy car sales scenario, the launch of the eco-friendly e2o is not only a refreshing development but also an affirmation of the need for OEMs to continue to work steadfastly on a technology of the future.

It was quite clear that Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles (MREV), the electric vehicle arm of Mahindra & Mahindra, had delayed the launch to after the Union Budget. The e2o would have certainly debuted some months earlier if the Centre had announced buyer sops but given that this didn’t happen, Mahindra went ahead and launched it in Delhi, the only state that offers ‘green’ vehicles a sop.

The much-awaited launch of India’s sole electric passenger car – the e2o (which replaces the Reva-i) – finally happened on March 18, at India Gate in New Delhi. The zero-emission, two-door car, is the first of a family of EVs planned including a four-seater. With an on-road price of Rs 5.96 lakh (New Delhi) after factoring state subsidy, the e2o is about Rs 1.50 lakh costlier than the Reva it replaces. Currently, the e2o costs the most in Ahmedabad with an ex-showroom price of Rs 7.72 lakh for the T2 variant, as per the company website.

Big plan, small car

In a leap of faith in green motoring and marking a new era in environmental sustainability, M&M invested Rs 100 crore in the e2o project. On August 22, 2012, it opened a purpose-built, ground-up and futuristic green facility at Bommasandra, Bangalore. The naturally ventilated plant, which has won a platinum rating from the Indian Green Building Council, uses sustainable methods in manufacturing cars by reducing use of materials and energy. The plant has an installed capacity of 30,000 units; MREV hopes to hit peak annual production capacity by 2015-16. Around 1,000 parts, most of them outsourced, come together to form the e2o. MREV has leveraged improvements in polymers and plastics and employs pre-impregnated coloured, dent-resistant body panels and a bonding process to produce the lightweight 830kg car. This, according to Chetan Maini, chief technology officer, MREV, saved crores of rupees which would have been required to set up a paint or body shop.

Targeted squarely at urban buyers, MREV hopes to sell 400-500 units of the e2o a month. In the initial phase, the e2o will be sold at select dealerships. However, the plan is to ramp up to 29 outlets across eight cities in a phased manner.

Silent drive

The e2o gets its charge from an indigenous Reva electric powertrain, a next-gen 48-volt lithium ion battery, and a three-phase induction electric motor that makes the car fully automatic. This means changing gears is dispensed with, ensuring a smooth drive. The e2o also comes with a boost mode for quick acceleration. There is also a provision to charge the car battery from any 15amp power socket at the home/office. A five-hour charge will allow the vehicle to be driven for 100km, say company officials.

Features galore

The 3.2-metre-long e2o comes packed with innovative features. For a start, its control interface will be available on a smartphone device by downloading an application that will enable the owner to remotely manage functions such as locking it or activating its air-conditioning. The car has 10 computers on-board that send out alerts in case of any system dysfunction – if the car is locked, or if the mains have not been switched to charge the car despite being plugged in. Users also get feedback generated by a multi-media screen that provides details on driving efficiency over a six-day period as well as tips on improving driving. The e2o harnesses REVIve technology, which is a remote emergency charge activated via a smartphone application or a call to remote interactive assist. Other highlights are regenerative braking, keyless start system and hill control module which allows no rollback on an incline. Incidentally, each car that rolls out from the Bangalore plant receives its first charge from solar energy. The company will wait for a significant uptick in numbers before investing further in R&D and in new products, depending on subsidies on offer. Plans are underway to start exports by April 2014, targetting Norway and the UK.

At the launch, Anand Mahindra, chairman, M&M, said he sees huge potential for EVs in India. As a result of indigenous technology, costs can be kept under control. Comparing European EVs with the e2o, he said EVs in developed countries cost around Rs 17-25 lakh, at least three times more. Mahindra expects the tipping point for EVs to come in countries like India and China due to a growing population will make EVs commercially viable.

First among equals

Pawan Goenka, chairman, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles, traced M&M’s ‘green’ journey starting with the first micro-hybrid vehicle in 2008. “We have made significant progress in alternate fuel technology like biodiesel and hydrogen. Sustainability applies to the entire auto value chain from sourcing, manufacturing and going up to end of life,” he added. While the global EV market is expected to reach 3.8 million units by 2020, India has set a target of 6-7 million by 2020, with 4-5 million of them being two-wheelers. At present, there are only 1,500 electric four-wheelers and about 400,000 two-wheelers on Indian roads. It is estimated that 6-7 million EVs on road will generate savings of 2.2-2.25 tonnes of fossil fuel consumption annually, translating into crude oil savings worth an annual Rs 13,000-14,000 crore by 2020.

Challenges aplenty

The e2o took about two years to design, develop and roll out. The team that developed it faced challenges in a vehicle designed for mass production. Rajan Wadhera, chief of technology, product development and sourcing, M&M, said design innovation helped keep costs in check; so the time spent in optimising the product to meet strict cost targets was longer than for a conventional car.

The e2o’s body is made of plastic and thermo-formed with colour-impregnated, dent-resistant sheets. While M&M provided expertise on product development, Reva brought its knowledge of motors, controllers, diagnostics technology and infotainment. Initiatives in NVH, validation and testing, seat engineering, cost negotiations, interiors, trim engineering were supported by M&M. The e2o's frame/chassis complies with European safety norms, say Mahindra Reva officials. However, for the car to be exported, it will have to be equipped with ABS and ESP.

Electri-city car

From an owner standpoint, one argument in favour of an EV is that if it travels a distance of 1,200km in a month, it will generate savings of Rs 70,000 per year. This works out to savings of Rs 350,000 over a five-year period. With low maintenance over a conventional internal combustion engined-car, the EV’s value proposition is 25 percent more. According to MREV, the e2o will be more cost-effective than a petrol car in the same price bracket, with an operating cost of less than Re 1 per km. On the service front, all it requires is one annual service. The lithium ion batteries are four times lighter and will last three times more than conventional lead acid batteries. Now that the e2o goes on sale in eight Indian cities, the challenge for Mahindra is to sell a product that is the future but for which buyers need a leap of faith. Not surprisingly, only urban buyers are being targeted given their awareness of green mobility, and the fact that EV infrastructure can only be set up and maintained in the cities. The earlier avatar of the e2o (from Reva Electric before it was bought by M&M), sold about 4,700 units and may have been a product ahead of its time. That was almost a decade ago, so for all practical purposes, the e2o is the new benchmark. Now will eco-friendly buyers bite the bullet? At close to Rs 6 lakh, only in Delhi, it would take someone really committed to green travelling, aficionados of such cars and those with the ability to shell out a fair bit to buy the e2o. For now though, the first phase of the launch is akin to a pilot project. MREV will look closely at the overall driving experience of the early ‘adopters’ who will verily be the database for this vehicle.

The typical Indian buyer wants space which doesn’t quite come in dollops in this car, so expect single professionals, women and double-income-no-kids (DINKS) to consider such as car.

While the focus market for the e2o is India, the real charge could come from exports to Europe, where countries like Norway are driving a new initiative for propagating EVs with zero percent taxes compared to regular cars. What's more, in a world keen to go green, clean and be seen to be doing so, suppliers to the e2o stand a chance to cater to EV makers globally. All in all, expect M&M to stay plugged in the e2o project.
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