For an electric vehicle (EV), a battery is like its central nervous system. A good battery can ration power supply to the vehicle, generate data-based feedback on performance, and prevent an EV from flaming out before its time. Without the right battery, an EV is little more than a flimsy metal frame. Buying an EV without a fitted battery would be a bizarre idea for any customer.

Not for the Indian government, though. On 13 August, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) issued a notification allowing the sale and registration of EVs without batteries. Batteries, it said, can now be independently registered and sold. 

The timing of MoRTH’s notification was probably no coincidence. With the Covid-19 pandemic having decimated all types of auto sales, it fits in well with a renewed interest in EVs and personal mobility options. EV companies like Hero Electric, Okinawa, and Ather have signed up for innovative innovative The Ken Bounce, ONN Bikes’ detour from sharing to long-term caring Read more sales models; e-commerce giants Flipkart and Amazon have pledged pledged Deccan Chronicle Flipkart vows to convert all its fleet to electric vehicles by 2030 Read more to make a significant portion of their delivery fleets electric.

“The government is coming good on its promise to reduce the upfront cost of EV ownership,” says Priyank Agarwal, vice president of strategy and business development at Exicom, a Gurugram-based energy management company. Cleaving the battery from the vehicle halves the upfront cost of an electric two- or three-wheeler. “It will unlock new business models and let consumers source batteries directly from battery manufacturers, instead of just vehicle makers,” adds Agarwal.

The notification, say industry experts, is also a clear signal in favour of battery-swapping. An alternative to regular charging, swapping can reduce the recharge time from two-to-six hours to a few minutes. This logic, coupled with the allure of the low upfront price, is the main pitch for companies that offer batteries as a service (BaaS), such as SUN Mobility and Ola Electric. 

“Now, vehicles without batteries can enjoy the same privileges as those fitted with one,” says Ajay Goel, chief operating officer at SUN Mobility. The firm has tied up with the Indian Oil Corporation, India’s largest oil marketing company, to set up battery-swapping stations at its fuel pumps. SUN is hoping to piggyback on IOCL’s distribution network and increase its stations to double digits by the end of 2020.

EV manufacturers, however, aren’t enthused by the idea. On paper, they should be happy, since they can arguably sell more units at a cheaper cost.

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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