I see the 3wheeler segment at around 80% electric by 2030. The Remaining 20% would be CNG

In a recent interaction with Dr. Deb Mukherji, Managing Director, Omega Seiki Mobility P Ltd, one of the leading EV manufacturers in India, we put forth some thought provoking questions from the industry pertaining to e3Ws to know his viewpoint and tried to know how India is adapting to the EV-revolution. Mr. Deb Mukherji has been working in the automotive industry in India for the past 35 years and has been instrumental in bringing in several foreign joint venture partners and setting up successful projects in India. Here’s a brief of our QnA session with Mr. Deb.

Q1. Last-mile transportation has been witnessing a rise in EV penetration with a large number of e-3Ws joining the fleet. Is it not increasing the congestion on roads and creating a new set of problems while offsetting the vehicular pollution?

Last mile transportation is driven largely by e-commerce companies. During lockdown we saw a surge as people sitting at home were ordering everything from food to fashion. Post lock down also the growth trend has continued. The penetration of e-commerce in the Indian retail market is less than 5% even today. So I don't think the last mile has created congestion on roads. We can have data to check how many traffic snarls are created by last mile delivery vehicles and I don't think it would be anything. Second part of the argument is if EV was not there the last mile would be done by IC vehicles creating more pollution and emission issues.  And lastly if e-commerce last mile is taken out of equation then you will have people travelling to markets, malls in their cars, scooters and increasing more traffic congestion as well as pollution. So I think e-commerce helps both ways, reducing individual travel as well as bulk transportation of goods to the end user. Take an example of grocery delivery. Ecommerce can deliver one month's groceries in a day rather than you rushing to market every 3rd day. So in order to support the e-commerce industry, EV is the only answer for the last mile. I agree e-commerce companies need to work out efficient and economical delivery models comprising of optimised load runs, cost per Kg per Km etc.

Q2. A large number of e-3Ws in India run on lead-acid batteries. Do you think this is not serving the true purpose of mitigating vehicular pollution?

Yes, I completely agree. There are two issues with the low end 3 wheelers both passenger and cargo vehicles. One these run on low end lead acid batteries which are polluting, need refills, have low life with no end of life treatment and Second these are made in China cheap low quality vehicles. Both problems are interlinked. To reduce cost the makers use lead acid batteries. These need to be banned as it does not meet the aim of reducing environmental pollution as well as pose health hazards. We need to have high quality vehicles with contemporary battery technologies eg Li-Ion, Zinc Air etc. Once you have a good technology solution then only the environmental pollution problem can be solved and not by these cheap low end measures.

Q3. Do you think the approach of e-mobility penetration should be transforming the existing fleet into electric rather than selling new EVs?

It should be a combination, you can't have One size fit all solution. Retrofitting has its challenges- you need to assess the vehicle quality, condition then the retrofitting kit needs to have proper quality and technology. Retrofitting kit needs to be customised for vehicles and not a generic off the shelf product. It needs to be an engineered product. Once these technology issues are solved converting the existing fleet into electric will make sense. On the other hand, a new electric vehicle with proper technology and quality is a ready solution.

Q4. Are the current set of incentives and assistive government policies comprehensive enough to aid a holistic growth of electric mobility in India?

Govt. has come out with incentives on the supply side as well as demand side. On the supply side we have FAME2 for OEMs along with some state level subsidies. Then there is a PLI scheme of batteries and auto components. On the demand side there are tax benefits on EV loans, depreciation benefits etc. I think the PLI needs to have a wider coverage and must include MSMEs who form the bulk of the automotive industry. They play a major role in the auto ecosystem. For EVs, MSME clusters need to be encouraged. Govt. needs to provide cheaper credit to this large segment of the industry. On FAME2 there needs to be refinement to make it more easy to utilise. At present it takes anything from 3-6 months for the credit to happen.  And lastly we need Govt intervention on banks financing the EVs. Banks need to come forward to finance EVs. They can have criteria on vehicle quality, life, buy back etc.

Q5. Do you have a saturation point in the near future for the electric three-wheelers in India? What's your take on the growth prospect?

3 wheelers will rapidly transit to EV. I see the passenger segment almost 50% already converting. Interestingly this is a new segment of L3, low price vehicle, less than 1 lac cost. This is where OEMs need to come up with innovative products and capture this market which is dominated by low end Chinese imports. Mainstream OEMs are still not in the fray and we have a 50% conversion, this is huge. I see the 3wheeler segment at around 80% electric by 2030. The Remaining 20% would be CNG. I also see new companies coming up with better 3 wheelers. 3 wheelers nothing has changed since the last 50 years in terms of vehicle design, safety, comfort etc. It’s time this segment is given a makeover with high quality design.

                   “This session was conducted in collaboration with AFT Media