Coal trips India's electric car revolution
5, 2010 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Samar Halarnkar Hindustan Times
hours before the world's most-attended auto show began, actor Rahul Bose had decided
his next car: A four-door Reva NXR made in Bangalore.
"I was just waiting
for the four-door version, and now it's here," Bose, an avid spokesman for climate-change
issues, said of the latest version of India's biggest-selling electric car.
pressure growing globally on the automobile industry to reduce its dependence
on fossil fuels, it's no coincidence that the 10th edition of India's Auto Expo
will open on Tuesday with the biggest-ever showing of electric, hybrid and hydrogen-fuelled
A UK company will showcase the world's first hydrogen-fuelled,
Toyota -- the world's largest auto-maker -- will
launch its petrol-electric hybrid Prius sedan.
India's top auto companies
(Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Hyundai Motor and Mahindra and Mahindra) will unveil
Vehicles that do not use carb-on-based fossil fuels,
petrol or diesel generate great enthusiasm in an age of rising carbon emission
and global temperat-ures. They could attract crowds to rival the 1.8 million who
turned out in 2008, where the star attraction was the Nano.
But the companies
themselves admit a growing skepticism over next-gen vehicles.
in India is electricity," Maruti Suzuki Chairman R.C. Bhargava told the Hindustan
Times. "If you don't have electricity, and if your electricity anyway comes from
coal, I am wondering, what objective that (electric vehicles) would meet?"
are also enthusiastic at Maruti-Suzuki, and our engineers are very keen, but no
one has given me a satisfactory answer to this question."
of false starts, new technology is allowing electric cars (1 lakh may be on India's
roads by the end of the year, up from 85,000 now) to be driven farther than ever
before at a running cost a third cheaper conventional cousins.
Reva, for instance, has a claimed range of 160 km. That compensates for the higher
costs of electric cars: Typically Rs 1 lakh or more than petrol- or diesel-driven
But in this age of globalisation, two complex, long-term dilemmas
face India: Coal and Bolivia.
One, with more than 70 per cent of the nation's
electricity coming from coal-fired plants -- implicated in warming the planet
-- tax breaks and other incentives to electric vehicles might actually further
Two, most electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries
(tiny amounts are vital to power laptops and cellphones), but if lithium use explodes
as it's projected to, the biggest hurdle comes from a barren, salt desert in the
heart of South America.
The global market for automotive lithium batteries
is forecast at $70 billion (Rs 3.3 lakh crore) annually by 2020, dwarfing the
lithium market for cellphones and laptops, currently at $7 billion (Rs 33,000
crore), according to Ener1, a leading Norwegian-US battery maker.
is to happen, someone will have to crack the Salar-de-Uyuni problem.
than half the world's reserves of lithium, the lightest metal used by industry,
come from the great salt expanse, the Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia, a landlocked
country where the government of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, hasn't
yet sealed a lithium-extraction deal and has gained a reputation for reneging
Now, a lithium shortage is forecast for 2015, the year by
when India's auto sales are set to double.
"The consumers are ready, the
technology is better than ever," said a senior executive at another car major,
refusing to be quoted so as not to "demoralize" company engineers priming an electric-car
for launch this week. "But I don't think India is ready."