Powering up India’s electric car

Marketplace Staff Jan 12, 2009

Powering up India’s electric car

Marketplace Staff Jan 12, 2009


Bob Moon: Bangalore is one of India’s technology hubs, known for being the first city in India to see a car — and the first to have electricity. Put those two together, and you get another first for Bangalore: an electric car that’s already on the market there. May sound like a no-brainer for India’s smog-choked cities, but so far not many people are buying it. Raymond Thibodeaux reports from Bangalore.

Raymond Thibodeaux: Anand Mahesh is a salesman for Reva, the only electric car company in India. What he enjoys most about his job is taking customers out for test drives.

THIBODEAUX: Let’s just go ahead and see what it sounds like to start. It’s on!

Anand Mahesh: It’s on now. Feel the motion.

THIBODEAUX: It’s on? OK so, it’s very quiet.

MAHESH: Of course.

THIBODEAUX: And so we’re going into traffic. Does the horn work pretty well?

MAHESH: Of course. You want to try?

[Sound of a car horn blaring]

The car may be tiny, but it’s got a big horn. That’s an essential asset when driving on India’s noisy, crowded streets.

Reva’s been around for about eight years, but so far it’s sold only about 3,000 electric cars. Not so good in a country of a billion people, especially considering that about half of those sales have been in Europe.

One of the problems is that because of its range of only 50 miles per charge, the Reva is marketed as an ideal second car in a country where most people still can’t afford their first one. But India’s growing prosperity and a greater focus on energy independence may change all that.

Chetan Maini is Reva’s deputy chairman:

Chetan Maini: People really need some time to understand how new technologies shape up, especially when you’re the only player.

The Reva is a little pricier than most other compact cars, but as Mahesh the salesman is quick to point out, an electric car requires less maintenance, mainly because there’s no engine. No engine means no exhaust, and that means cleaner air. That’s why some Indian states are offering big tax breaks for electric car buyers — as much as 25 percent off the sticker price.

It’s a good start, but it’s the tip of the iceberg, says T.S. Panwar. He’s an air quality expert for the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi.

T.S. Panwar: Yeah, it certainly is a good idea to have subsidy on cleaner vehicles like the electric vehicle. But the government should also look at it in a more holistic manner. First and foremost priority should be to invest in public transportation.

For now, Reva hopes to gain a bigger foothold in the eco-friendly transportation market. But it won’t be the only player for long. Tata Motors, India’s biggest carmaker, plans to launch its electric car this year.

In Bangalore, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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