Building a robust EV ecosystem and a major market

by Mayank Dhingra 09 Sep 2020

Autocar Professional marked World EV Day on September 9 with the first ever e-mobility conference, titled, ‘Scaling up in the Midst of Challenge’. This also included two sets of panel discussion broaching on the various aspects of the EV ecosystem.

The topic for the second session was titled – ‘Building a robust EV ecosystem and a major market’. The speakers in this session included

  • Sulajja Firodia Motwani, Founder & CEO, Kinetic Green
  • Chetan Maini, Co-founder & Vice-Chairman, Sun Mobility
  • Rajeev Chaba, managing director and president, MG Motor India
  • Vinnie Mehta, Director General, ACMA
  • Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India

Dr V Sumantran, chairman, Celeris Technologies, moderated the second session and focused on reskilling, technology and industrial ecosystem development and the need to switch to renewables in order to adopt vehicle electrification in a big way.

The segment also touched upon policies, regulations, incentives and how critical the role of the government is going to be in terms of steering the industry in the right direction in the future.  

Starting off, Sulajja Firodia Motwani, founder and CEO, Kinetic Green, shared her viewpoints on the topic of discussion and said, “In India, electrification is going to be driven from the bottom of the pyramid. A few lakh cars will not make a great impact on EV adoption, it would rather be done by the millions of two-wheelers, three-wheelers and buses that transport the majority of the Indian population.”

Motwani championed the cause of electric two- and three-wheelers as being the low-hanging fruits that will spur demand and propel faster adoption of EVs, and, in fact, make way for electrification in all other vehicle segments as well. 

Responding to Dr Sumantran’s query about the major challenges in Kinetic Green’s journey in the area of EV manufacturing and sales so far, Motwani said, “Lack of policy, awareness about EVs and incentives were some of the initial challenges we faced after entering the EV business. While incentives have been taken care of through the FAME subsidy, the incumbent challenges include a robust supply chain that is still largely dependent upon importing components from overseas.”

“However, I am very bullish on the way things are moving and we have developed supplier partners for motors, controllers, modules and chargers, and enhanced localisation from 10 percent to 80 percent,” she added. 

Taking cognizance of the situation, Motwani further said, “Now, at this point, lack of funding is a huge concern. We need banks and financiers to come forward and finance EVs, especially electric three-wheelers. Creation of demand through finance support and incentives will give momentum and bring next round of sales growth for EVs.”

According to Rajeev Chaba, managing director and president, MG Motor India,We were really overwhelmed when we got over 2,000 bookings within a month of launch of the MG ZS EV. While there have been some cancellations from the fleet operators due to Covid-19, we have a backlog of 800 cars and we are still receiving bookings of 100 cars every month.”  

“Presently, the EV segment is not a voluminous segment, but if we make our product available all across the country or even in the top 40-50 cities, there would be sales of 15-20,000 units annually, which is not bad at all.”

Giving his viewpoints about the need for charging standards and the crucial role they would play in the Indian context in accelerating the launch of more EV products by manufacturers, Chaba added, “Both industry and government have to play together. The government must come out with a standard as charging specification is the first point of conversion from conventional vehicles to EVs.” 

“As we go forward, we need to have more dialogue and convergence on this issue. China is already talking about offering battery-as-a-service with battery swapping technology,” he added.

Founder and vice-chairman of battery swapping technology company – Sun Mobility - Chetan Maini, said,Shared mobility with two- and three-wheelers is going to make the most impact by switching to electric as these segments experience the most emissions, as well as offer the potential for the quickest return on investments. So, with the right business models, adoption rate is going to be significantly higher in these two segments.” 

“Battery costs range between 40-50 percent of a vehicle’s cost. With battery-as-a-service, we will be able to give consumers and OEMs an option to opt for the desired kind of battery solution they want in their modern-day, compact and modular electric vehicle. Battery swapping is a proud technology and a business model that would attract customers.

“My big learning over the last 20 years is that the consumer shouldn’t compromise and be able to see EVs as a better product in every way,” he added. 

On Dr Sumantran’s question about the viable roadmap for local battery cell manufacturing in India, Maini detailed upon a three-pronged, phased approach. 

“The first step to me would be to get the mechanicals, electronics and thermal management localised in India, which make for almost 40 percent of the cost. We have the capability and can immediately start doing this over the next 24 months,” Maini said.

“If there is sufficient demand and we can get the ecosystem ready, we can start having local cell manufacturing with global standards over the next 24-60 months. So, we can get to these two phases of indigenisation and then eventually focus on the raw materials which are critical for local cell manufacturing,” he explained.  

“For making this happen, the storage policy from the government is going to be very critical and this phased indigenisation strategy would be the best to minimise investment and accelerate EV growth in India,” Maini concluded. 

Bringing the perspective of the auto components industry on the freshly-made BS VI investments and almost immediately being tasked to look into EVs, Vinnie Mehta, director general, Automotive Components Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA), said, “The industry has spent nearly Rs 70,000 crore in BS VI technology and is now preparing to upgrade to the upcoming CAFE norms in 2022. At the same time, the government is not just pushing us in terms of EVs, but towards alternate fuels as well. 

“When the volumes are so small for somebody who is coming out of an investment cycle that is not yet been paid for, it is kind of a bit of a stretching for the industry. The challenge is not one but there are many faces to it. We need to adopt an ecosystem approach.”

“Having said that, there are quite a few component manufacturers who have started to prepare themselves to accelerate when the market starts to open up,” he added.

Mehta also expressed his agreement to Chetan Maini’s roadmap for local manufacturing of battery cells in India, and further added, “I completely agree on the roadmap of localisation for batteries. But OEMs also want to have a differentiation for themselves to make their product stand out and if we want to generate volumes, the government has to step in and create regulations, so that the components industry could invest from a long-term perspective.” 

Bringing his in-depth knowledge and understanding of the consumer psyche and their desirability for EVs, Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India, said, “2020 has been quite revealing with respect to EVs. However, it’s still a very tiny set of consumers who will go and adopt EVs. We have lost the EV race and more than the range, the inhibiting factors today are initial cost of acquisition and charging infrastructure.” 

“Charging infrastructure is a big issue, and I don’t see that getting solved in a hurry. I have loved driving an EV, but we have to be realistic about how quickly we can adopt the technology. We need to take a more measured approach and be realistic about the pace of change,” he added.

He signed off saying, “IC engines need to be given a chance because from an emissions’ perspective, they are absolutely clean with the latest BS VI technology.” 

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