Range anxiety. No two words are more at fault for the dismal sales of electric vehicles (EV) in India.

It was also one of the major talking points at the inauguration of the Urban Mobility Lab in Bengaluru in February 2020. From automakers to ride-sharing companies to government representatives, the who’s who of India’s EV ecosystem gathered to brainstorm about the future of EV adoption. While discussing the need for more widespread public charging infrastructure, the conversation kept veering away from plug-in charging stations to the benefits of swappable batteries, according to an official at the event.

This was no surprise, since the most prominent use case for EVs currently are fleets run by ride-hailing companies like Ola, Uber, Bounce, and Lithium Urban Technologies. And these companies are building their own closed ecosystems. Ola Electric is piloting an electric three-wheeler that will use swappable batteries. Two-wheeler rental startup Bounce is building an electric scooter, again designed with the swap technology. 

The Indian government, however, is pushing plug-in technology, hoping to quell range anxiety. It plans to install 2,600 charging stations in 62 cities under its flagship EV scheme, Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric (& Hybrid) Vehicles (FAME II), targeted more towards private owners than fleet operators.

India has had a decade-long tryst with electric mobility, but the lack of charging infrastructure has stunted EV sales. This, despite the driving range increasing with each new EV. For example, the older Tigor EV from Tata Motors could travel 140km on a single charge, while the latest model has a range of 200km. 

Still, only 1,300 of the 1.8 million passenger vehicles sold nationwide between April and November in 2019 were electric. People aren’t buying EVs due to range anxiety, and automakers aren’t enthused about setting up charging points, blaming low demand.

The cool kid is not at the party

At the Auto Expo in Delhi three weeks back, Kenechi Ayukawa, chief executive of India’s largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki, said the company has postponed releasing the WagonR EV, to 2021, citing the lack of charging stations in the country.

A classic chicken-and-egg problem.

“Whether it is a real problem or a perceived problem, it is a problem, and we have to fix it,” says Ravneet Pokhela, chief business officer of electric scooter maker Ather Energy. The company has 33 charging points across Bengaluru, its biggest market.

Pokhela notes that while FAME II promotes plug-in charging, the standards talked about are suitable for cars, whereas two- and three-wheelers are seen as the first adopters of electric technology. Automakers, too, don’t seem intent on filling the gap—they view public charging stations as expenses rather than profit centres.

AUTHOR

Pranav Balakrishnan

Pranav writes about the business of moving people and things around, i.e, mobility and e-commerce. Over the past two years, he has written about Ola, Tesla, Flipkart, Amazon, and the increasing role played by Reliance Industries in the Indian technology story. Pranav joined The Ken from Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, specialising in business journalism.

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