One interesting announcement Citroen made in October as part of its India portfolio is a flex-fuel offering of the proposed CC21 sub-compact! This certainly caught my attention as no other automaker has gone down this path especially in its launch strategy.
Flex-fuel vehicles are an oddity in India, even in the micro and small commercial vehicle applications. In spite of the introduction of bioethanol or Ethanol Blended Petrol [EBP] way back in 2003 and the National Policy on Biofuels in 2009, as a country we have made embarrassing progress on a possible solution to the fossil-fuel import bill and emission crisis.
EBP is basically petrol spiked with ethanol [ethyl alcohol] in varying percentages to reduce use of fossil fuels as well as reduce vehicle emissions as ethanol burns much cleaner than petrol. Ethanol is an agricultural by-product, with sugarcane molasses being a primary source.
In many economies across the world, whether developed or developing, EBP is a part of everyday mobility, across applications. Both the US and Brazil are good examples, with the latter taking a lead on this trend from the 1970s. Today more than 90% of all vehicles in Brazil are flex-fuel. Being in the Brazilian market from the 1980s has given PSA Groupe [now Stellantis] that owns the Citroen brand rich experience in this technology.
Under the Citroen C-Cube product plan to address large volume compact vehicle markets like India and Brazil, the CC21 is being developed for launch in 2021-22. As the one for Brazil is sure to run on EBP under the “BioFlex” badge, why not give it a shot in India too!
Not only does that position the brand as avant-garde and focused on sustainability, it also reopens the debate on EBP as a viable alternative to electric. As per the National Policy on Biofuels we should have commercially been using E20 by 2017, which is a 20% ethanol blend in petrol. Being the largest consumer of sugar and the second largest sugarcane producer in the world, it would be natural to assume that the EBP story would have gained traction in India just like it did in Brazil in the 1980-90s.
Forecasts show that the ethanol market of $2.5 billion in 2018 should grow by a CAGR of 14.5% to $7.8 billion by 2024, with the main consumers being potable liquor, chemical industry applications and fuel additives. But, as with many “progressive” plans in India, they look smart and obvious on paper but score a duck on-ground.
Storage and blending facilities have been major bottlenecks and the decision to source ethanol only domestically has seen price cartels being formed, negating the very economics of the entire benefit proposition. Hence, in spite of all policies and directions being in place since the last 20 odd years and a cabinet minister who keeps talking about EBP on various industry forums, the oil marketing companies have been able to achieve a 2.3% blend as per their last report of 2016.
TVS had displayed an E100 Apache RTR at Auto Expo 2018 and launched it in limited states in 2019. It has not set the sales chart ablaze since then.
Sure will be interesting to see how Citroen “uses” the proposed CC21 “BioFlex” in India. If it plans the vehicle as an image builder, it does not stand much of a chance against the ‘electric brigade’. If it plans it as a limited application fleet vehicle, then it remains as a test case. If it plans this as a serious consumer offer, it has to take the responsibility of shaking the larger system out of its slumber and build the desired infrastructure for EBP in India even before the vehicle is launched.
(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is former head of marketing, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres and Groupe PSA as well.)
(This article is the second part of the ‘Citroen’s Traction Inde‘ series. The next piece of the puzzle will be made available in the coming weeks)
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