The Silent Advent Of Electric Vehicles

Against the backdrop of rising oil prices, most of the global major car manufacturers are vying to win the race for the automotive green technology.

Whether one notices or not, the ever-spiraling oil prices together with menacing rise in environmental pollution hazardous to human health, seem to be spawning a silent revolution in automobile industry the world over. Hence it is not surprising that most of the global major car manufacturers are vying to win the race for the automotive green technology. Barring a few, almost all are in the process of introducing new sleek electrical vehicles (EVs) in the market despite some surmountable teething troubles. One of the current hurdles for EVs faster acceptance is access to reasonably priced battery that can keep the car running on the roads for long distances with a single charge as well as a well laid-out infrastructure of charging stations on the lines of fuel-filling stations on the city roads and the national highways.

The scenario is likely to brighten up as the research in battery technology bears fruit ending up in increasing energy storage and reducing cost. In fact the battery happens to be the costliest item in an EV. Despite this present drawback, the major multinational vehicle companies are already showcasing new generation of electric cars in the various international auto exhibitions. In India too some efforts have undergone especially in the corporate sector to produce and market an affordable electric car to the waiting public already fed up with the official machinery for its sadistic policy of hiking the petrol prices every now and then.

In this context, one must admire the House of Tatas that had unveiled a prototype of a four-door electric hatchback dubbed “eMO” at the Detroit Auto Show in 2009. The car when produced commercially is likely to be priced around rupees nine lakh and expected to be a small, urban-oriented four-seat vehicle with a unique electric drive and operating software that would weigh less than 1000 kilogrammes. Presently, it is meant to be something like a ‘technology demonstrator’ to prove the capability of Tata Technologies to innovate and engineer a full electrical vehicle, claimed to be a first for any India-based engineering services company. The front-drive Tata eMO EV is fitted with a pair of liquid-cooled drive motors connected to a lithium ion battery pack. It can seat four passengers and has a top speed of nearly 100 kmph and a range of nearly 130 kms that seems to be ideal for Indian urban conditions.

Another Indian auto major venturing into the EVs is the Mahindra Group. It had acquired a majority stake in the Reva Electric Car Company in 2010 which had started manufacturing electric cars more than a decade back. The new company is known as Mahindra Reva and has now announced big plans to build higher performance electric vehicles that would satisfy customers’ demand to a great extent. It exudes confidence of its abilities in further developing and improving all Electric Vehicle (EV) systems in its own R&D facilities. The company is in the process of building a new plant in Bengaluru, with a capacity of 30,000 EVs per year.

However, in this respect China where the industry has full official financial backing, seems to have stolen a march over India. China’s BYD has made big promises for the E6 all-electric car and some experts say if these can come through, then it could be a big breakthrough for the Chinese electrical car industry. The E6 is a five-passenger wagon capable of seating a family. Moreover, the E6 reportedly has a range of around 300 kilometres. The vehicle can be fully charged in about 10 hours by plugging into a standard household outlet. BYD says that it takes only 10 minutes to charge to 50 per cent capacity and 15 minutes to the 80 per cent level.

In another Chinese connection, one of the US-based car-maker Coda Automotive located in Southern California has plans to bring a new electric car to America from China. The all-electric sedan is based on an existing petrol-powered four-door car, known as the Hafei Saibao 3, built in Harbin, China. Re-engineered with a lithium-ion battery, the Coda sedan promises a driving range of 130 kms.

Another car of the future whose platform has been made in China happens to be Wheego Whip LiFe. The EV goes approximately 140 kms on a charge with top speed of 100 kmph . The two-seat car comes equipped with driver and passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, and power windows and locks. One of the American companies based in Atlanta has promised delivery as early as possible.

On the other hand, the Ford Focus EV is the first electric car designed for large commercial sales. The Ford Focus EV is targeted to have a range of 140 kms between charges, with the help of of a 23 kWh battery pack. Ford has also reportedly produced the first green truck with adequate cargo capacity for small businesses. The vehicle has a 100 km per hour top speed and can drive up to 120 kms on a charge that meets the needs of the truckers within a limited distance.

Ford Focus Electric’s closest comparable all electric car is Nissan Leaf which the Japanese car giant Nissan has already started marketing worldwide minus India in late 2010. The Nissan Leaf is claimed as the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car. The Leaf is a medium-size all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of 130 kms. At just under $33,000 in the American market minus tax incentives, the Leaf is certainly accessible to the US middle-class buyers. However, its debut on the Indian roads is uncertain at least for the time being.

Nissan’s sister company Renault too aims to become the first full-range car manufacturer to market zero-emission vehicles. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is developing a complete range of EVs with power ratings of between 15kW (20hp) and 100kW (140hp). Renault has already launched all-electric Renault Fluence last year and has plans to produce a smaller compact electric car soon.

Another Japanese car company Mitsubishi whose Lancer is often spotted on the Indian roads, began delivering the all-electric iMiev to Japanese customers in 2009. Production numbers are reportedly up from the current target of a few thousand per year. The small EV uses a single 47 kW motor and 16 kWh lithium ion batteries—to yield about 100 kms of range and a top speed of 110 kms per hour. The vehicle is a four-seater with a cramped back seat.

Several other auto-majors actively working on EVs are Toyota, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler, Volvo, Volkswagen and Peugeot. Some of them are gradually graduating from the current hybrid models to the fully electric. In the US, Tesla Motors that has launched Model S, the first futuristic full electric premium sedan, is drawing a lot of attention. The five-door premium sedan competes with the top cars in its class in spaciousness, handling and style, yet produces zero emissions.

EVs provide quiet, smooth driving experience, stronger acceleration and require less maintenance. Since the future of automobile industry is electric, India’s official technology mandarins not only must monitor the progress made globally on the EVs but also make it their primary goal to accelerate the country’s smooth transition to electric mobility in the coming decades. With falling value of the rupee, the country is shelling out nearly Rs 2,00,000 crore annually on importing oil mostly from politically unstable regions. Will encouraging the use of environmentally friendly EVs on our roads with government subsidies not reduce this whopping oil bill as well as lessen the adverse impact of greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuel propelled vehicles?

By NK Pant

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