One of the more interesting global racing series in the world right now is the ‘Formula E’ championship, where the cars, instead of being powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, are driven by a huge battery pack built into the chassis. As the cars do not pollute and neither do they have the noise of traditional racing vehicles, the racing series takes place in the centre of cities across the world. This manages to make the series take place close to fans and also attracts new spectators who avoid the commute to faraway racetracks. While traditionalists bemoan the lack of noise and the smell of an exhaust, which no doubt add an element of spice to events such as Formula 1 and MotoGP, it is becoming clearer that racing championships like Formula E are showing the way forward. And this is reflected on the roads as well. South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company Tesla Motors has become the most valuable car manufacturer in America by market value. With Union Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal setting an ambitious target of making all cars on Indian roads electric-powered by 2030, one has to admire his vision. A rapidly modernising India fills the hearts of environmental activists with dread. Increased power consumption from India’s masses can potentially send the planet’s deteriorating health into a death spiral. Yet, India has little choice but to modernise in order to lift
three-quarters of a billion people out of poverty and lower-incomes. But India is trying to balance the need for growth and the need for it to adhere to its environmental commitments. Indeed, Goyal and his Ministry have pushed policies that have driven down the cost of solar power to be at par, and in some cases lower than thermal power. And India continues to add solar capacity at a stunning rate. A fleet of electric vehicles could reduce the burden Indians place on the planet.
However, something similar needs to be done to power electric car growth as well. India has in Mahindra Electric, a manufacturer already in the space, indeed the company participates in the Formula E championship as well. While e-rickshaws have made inroads into last-mile transport solutions, those vehicles are unsafe and little thought has been made towards end-of-life disposal of such vehicles. Also, it is clear that only a miniscule proportion of car buyers is altruistic and would buy vehicles that benefit the planet if they cost significantly more than regular cars. Ergo, the Government has to work double time on sensible policies and incentives to promote the usage of electric cars. On this front at least, governance by diktat will not work. Tax breaks, even subsidies for electric cars and two-wheelers, coupled with charging infrastructure and manufacturing process could make India a world leader in electric vehicles – like it could be soon in solar power.