Transportation has been an essential part of human civilization since ancient times. Early transportation includes walking, animal transport, and water transport. Although road transport was there in ancient times, the roads were created in the 19th century for smoother travel. Later railways and air transport have become important modes of transport. In India, transportation has evolved significantly from ancient times to the present times during different eras, such as the Mughal era, British rule, and post-independence era. Today, transportation in India is a mix of traditional and modern modes of transportation. People still use bullock carts, horse-drawn carriages, and boats in rural areas, while modern highways, railways, and airports connect the major cities.
The use of fossil fuel-based vehicles in India started during the British colonial era. The first car in India was imported in 1898 by the Maharaja of Jamnagar, and the first automobile showroom was opened in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1901. However, it was not until the mid-20th century that fossil fuel-based vehicles became more common in India. After India gained independence in 1947, the government began investing in road infrastructure, and the Indian automobile industry started to grow. In the 1950s and 1960s, Indian companies like Hindustan Motors, Premier Automobiles, and Mahindra & Mahindra started manufacturing cars and commercial vehicles. In the 1980s and 1990s, foreign automakers like Suzuki, Hyundai, and Toyota entered the Indian market, leading to increased competition and a wider range of vehicle choices for consumers. Today, fossil fuel-based vehicles are still the most common mode of transportation in India, but the government is promoting the use of electric vehicles for reasons, like reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, lowering operating costs, and advancing electric vehicle technology.
The history of Electric Vehicles (EVs) dates back to the early 19th century when inventors in Europe and North America were experimenting with battery-powered electric vehicles. Here (below) is a brief timeline of the global history of electric vehicles:
- 1830s – 1850s: Inventors in Europe and North America, including Robert Anderson and Thomas Davenport, built crude electric vehicles powered
- 1880s – 1910s: EVs became more popular in Europe and the United States, with many early models designed for urban use. In 1899, a Belgian company called La Jamais Contente set a new land speed record of 65.79 mph (105.88 km/h) with an electric car.
- 1920s – 1960s: The popularity of EVs declined in the early 20th century as gasoline-powered vehicles became more affordable and widely available.
- 1970s – 1990s: The oil crisis of the 1970s led to renewed interest in EVs as a way to reduce dependence on imported oil. In 1974, the first modern electric car, the Henney Kilowatt, was introduced in the United States.
- 2000s – Present: The 21st century has seen a resurgence in EV development, driven by advances in battery technology, government incentives, and concerns about climate change. Major automakers such as Tesla, Nissan, and General Motors have introduced EV models, and countries around the world have set targets to phase out fossil fuel vehicles in the coming decades.
As far as India is concerned, the popularity of EVs has increased significantly in recent years. Here (below) is a brief timeline of the introduction of electric vehicles in India:
- 1991: The first electric vehicle in India, the Reva (later renamed the Mahindra e2o), was introduced by the Bangalore-based company Reva Electric Car Company. The two-seater electric car had a range of about 40-50 km per charge and was primarily used for short city commutes.
- 1996: An electric three-wheeler was developed by a Lucknow-based company.
- 2000: An eighteen-seater electric bus was developed by BHEL.
- 2001: The Indian government launched the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) to promote electric and hybrid vehicles in the country. The plan set a target of 6-7 million EVs on Indian roads by 2020.
- 2010: Mahindra & Mahindra acquired a majority stake in Reva Electric Car Company and launched the e2o, an updated version of Reva, with a range of about 120 km per charge.
- 2013: The Indian government launched the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme to encourage the adoption of EVs in the country. The scheme provides financial incentives for the purchase of EVs and supports the development of charging infrastructure.
- 2017: The Indian government set an ambitious target of having all new cars sold in the country to be electric by 2030. While this target has been scaled back in subsequent years, it has still helped to spur investment in EVs and charging infrastructure in India
Today, several Indian and international automakers offer electric cars and two-wheelers in the Indian market, including Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, Hyundai, and MG Motor. The government continues to support the adoption of EVs through policies and incentives, and the market for electric vehicles in India is expected to continue growing in the coming years. Considering this, the future of EVs in India is promising. The key factors that suggest a bright future for EVs in India are as follows:
- Government support: The Indian government has launched several initiatives to promote EV adoption, including the FAME scheme and the NEMMP. These programs provide financial incentives for the purchase of EVs and support the development of charging infrastructure.
- Improving battery technology: Advances in battery technology have led to the development of EVs with longer ranges and faster charging times. This has made EVs more practical for use in India, where long distances between cities and a lack of charging infrastructure have been obstacles to adoption.
- Rising demand: With growing awareness of the environmental impact of fossil fuel vehicles and a desire for cleaner, more sustainable modes of transportation, demand for EVs is on the rise in India.
- Domestic manufacturing: Several Indian automakers, including Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, have invested in EV manufacturing, which could help to reduce the cost of EVs and make them more accessible to Indian consumers.
The EV sector is rapidly growing, but it still faces several challenges and opportunities. Some of the challenges are listed below:
- Charging infrastructure: One of the biggest challenges for EVs is the lack of charging infrastructure.
- Mindset: Many consumers are still hesitant to switch to EVs due to concerns about range anxiety – the fear that the vehicle will run out of charge before reaching its destination.
- Battery disposal: As the number of EVs on the road grows, there will be an increasing amount of batteries that need to be disposed of.
- Cost of vehicle: India’s electric vehicle market has a higher cost than conventional fuel-operated vehicles.
- Battery replacement cost: It costs heavily to replace the batteries of electric vehicles after the warranty, which is one of the main concerns for potential buyers.
- Choice of vehicle: The Indian market offers a wide variety of petrol and diesel vehicles. However, the selection of EVs is limited. Currently, only nine electric cars are available from leading automakers.
Maintenance and trained workforce: The shortage of trained human resources is perceived to be a result of it being an emerging technology.
However, there are several opportunities too. Those are as follows:
- Cost reduction: As production volumes of EVs increase, economies of scale will reduce the cost of manufacturing, making EVs more affordable for consumers.
- Government incentives: Many governments are offering incentives to encourage the adoption of EVs, such as tax credits, rebates, and free charging. These incentives can help in making EVs more accessible to a wider range of consumers.
- Environmental benefits: EVs produce zero emissions, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. As awareness of the environmental impact of fossil fuel vehicles grows, the demand for EVs is likely to increase.
- Technological advances: Advances in battery technology, charging infrastructure, and autonomous driving technology are expected to further improve the performance and convenience of EVs, making them even more attractive to consumers.
The Indian government has announced several budgetary provisions to promote the adoption and manufacturing of EVs in the country. Some key provisions are listed below:
- FAME-II scheme: The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME-II) scheme was launched in 2019 with a budget of INR 10,000 crore (approximately USD 1.3 billion). The scheme provides financial incentives to promote the purchase of EVs and the development of charging infrastructure.
- Reduction in GST: The Goods and Services Tax (GST) on EVs has been reduced from 12% to 5%, making them more affordable for consumers.
Income tax benefits: The government has announced income tax benefits for buyers of electric vehicles. Individuals can claim a tax deduction of up to INR 1.5 lakh (approximately USD 2,000) on the interest paid on loans taken to purchase EVs.
- Custom duty exemption: The government has exempted custom duty on certain EV components to encourage domestic manufacturing of EVs.
- Scrappage policy: The government has announced a voluntary vehicle scrappage policy, which aims to phase out old and polluting vehicles and promote the adoption of cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles, including EVs.
These budgetary provisions demonstrate the Indian government’s commitment to promoting the adoption and manufacturing of EVs in the country. The incentives and policies are expected to boost demand for EVs, encourage domestic manufacturing, and support the development of charging infrastructure.
Minal Rade is an Assistant Professor at Dr. D. Y. Patil Institute of Technology, Pimpri, Pune.
Dr. Ravindra K. Munje is a Professor at K. K. Wagh Institute of Engineering Education and Research, Nashik.