It is small. Has two wheels instead of four.

Millions of them already scurrying around. Across the length and breadth of the country. In 2018 alone, 23 million of them were lapped up by buyers. In more numbers than in any other country.

Now, imagine, if not all, a good chunk of them are electric. Not now but sometime in the near future. Sometime soon.

Unlike cars. Unlike Tesla. Or the Mahindra Reva. Or anything else that’s on offer in India or around the corner, with the hope of electric mobility written all over it. In green. Or perhaps, in grey.

The humble two-wheeler is best poised for an electric disruption. And it has been a long time coming. Their first wave, circa 2015, was disappointing—low-speed, low-performance, totally unreliable. But manufacturers like Ather Energy, Tork, Hero Electric, Ampere, just to name a few, have forged a second attempt. The big opportunity is to completely replace the petrol-driven two-wheeler with their electric counterparts. By making them highly viable. To push wider adoption, they’re pulling out all stops—charging grids, super-chargers, swappable batteries. “People can now see the potential of what electric two-wheelers can do. This is a huge change in perception that’s helped us,” says Tarun Mehta, co-founder of Ather Energy.

Mehta should know. He’s gone all in on Ather. After years of tinkering and fixing, the company finally has an electric two-wheeler on the road. How well it sells will determine Ather’s fate.

Meanwhile, cars are sputtering. “You just don’t see enough electric cars on the road,” says Sohinder Gill, CEO of Hero Electric. “It’s important that buyers see them, or else how will they decide if they want one.” That’s probably because they’re all tucked away in a corner of the parking lot of the government’s policy think tank Niti Aayog. It’s one of the few places in Delhi you can actually charge an electric car. “I have to wait another five hours for this to fully charge up. I’m on my way to Gurugram, and there are no chargers there,” says a driver in Niti’s parking lot.

This driver’s predicament is a good snapshot of how the government’s indecisiveness has blunted any advantage that the car industry might’ve had in going electric. A National Electric Mobility Plan in 2013. A FAME-I policy in 2015. An almost implausible mission to achieve 100% electric mobility by 2030. A serious about-turn in 2018, when the idea of even bringing out a policy was dropped, and adoption targets were cut from 100% to 40%. “This policymaking has gone sideways. There is no plan other than to extend the subsidy deadline,” says a member of a Delhi-based electric vehicle lobby group.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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