Electric vehicles: India needs to step on the gas
Potential buyers will need more than noble intentions and future economic gains to choose EVs over others Last week, at Niti Aayog’s global mobility summit, Move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi painted a shining vision of the future of mobility in the country. “We want to build India as a driver in electric vehicles,” Modi said, adding that “clean mobility powered by clean energy is our most important weapon in our fight against climate change.” While the world braces for a mobility revolution, India is hardly in the driver’s seat when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs). Many had hoped that the PM would unveil a policy for electric mobility. What they got instead was the promise of one. The auto industry and environmental groups have watched as the Indian leadership has tossed around loose statements over the past year about India’s EV goals. The lack of a clear strategy has made it difficult to distinguish ambition from policy-backed targets. In 2017, the then power minister, Piyush Goyal, pronounced that India was aiming for 100% EV sales by 2030. This year, a senior official said that 30% of vehicles on roads will be electric by 2030. And then, Union transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, said that an EV policy was not required, despite disclosing only a few months earlier that a policy was in the works. At the summit, the heads of top auto companies outlined their own visions for paths towards a fully electric future and appealed to the government to play a more proactive role. A country, without a plan, will not do. International experience has shown that the government has an important role in creating a market for EVs and shaping an industrial policy that encourages automakers to align their production with the targets set by the government. Activists have pushed further, saying that India needs more than policy; it needs a mandate for producing zero-emission vehicles. The transport sector not only generates about a quarter of India’s carbon emissions; it is also a major source of air pollution. There is no point having more EVs if the vehicles are run on coal-generated power. The transition towards electric mobility requires not just private sector participation but also massive public buy-in. Potential buyers would need more than noble intentions and potential future economic gains to choose EVs over vehicles powered by a conventional combustion engine. The economics have to make sense even in the short term, there has to be adequate charging infrastructure and options in the market. The PM’s comments at the conference signal that India is on the right path. But the time for signalling is over. It is time for getting a move on.