The question is should we buy new electric vehicles or should we transform existing fleet into electric ones? The answer is to go chic, go retro!
Electric vehicle is just a means…literally a vehicle to reach somewhere. It isn’t the destination! Reduction in vehicles run by fossil-fuel isn’t the destination either…literally that’s just the fuel that has ignited the journey!
The destination perhaps, is a more independent Indian economy. Perhaps, a less polluted mother-earth for our future generations. Perhaps, healthier and happier people.
However, it’s all about making and selling of EVs. Even FAME 2 (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India) was announced three years back. We do have a plethora of EV Two-Wheeler brands. But mostly just assemblers of dubious Chinese parts. There are still no EV Four-wheelers in the affordable Price-bands that have maximum buyers. The road is rather long and uphill. National Green Tribunal has already announced measures against fossil-fuel cars of a certain vintage in Delhi-NCR. But it’s like throwing your trash in your neighbour’s gardens!
Most of these, 10 or 15-year old cars are otherwise in great condition. Moreover, given the Pandemic, the War, the geo-politics and all the volatility, the Economy has gone volatile. Even with the incentive offered under the Scrappage Policy for fossil-fuel cars, a new car is a sudden big investment, while one was happily driving with the limited resources parked/budgeted for kids’ studies or marriages and such critical moments in life. So, there’s FAME 2, there’s Scrappage Policy, there’s discussions over Battery Standardisation and Swapping, there’s subsidy for Charging Infra. But hardly a whimper about EV- Retrofit! But, why?!
EV retrofitting means to convert existing petrol or diesel run vehicles into an electric vehicle. The process primarily involves changing the original engine, transmission and controls and a new alternative energy source to be transplanted into the existing vehicle body. It can either be an additional system added to the existing vehicle motor or to completely replace the existing engine and transmission with a new motor and drivetrain. However, all other major systems remain the same. The entire body remains the same.
The Seats, the Lights, the Tyres…even the engineering parts like Suspension, Brakes and all, remain the same! Depending upon Battery size and other factors, a Bike can be changed into an EV Two-wheeler for just about Rs. 50,000. Even if we were to assume that average price of a new EV Two-wheeler is around ₹. 1,00,000, it saves a buyer around the same amount! Indeed a substantial sum for two-wheeler customers in India. For cars, the gap is steeper. It is still in nascent stages, but Retrofitting could be for around ₹. 3,00,000, while a new car would need another ₹. 3,00,000; and a new EV Four-wheeler? Well!
The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, 2020 was launched by the Government of India in year 2012 with the aim of improving the national fuel security through the promotion of hybrid and electric vehicles. That was exactly 10 years back! The Government started Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles (FAME) scheme which provides incentives for purchasing electric vehicles. Phase I of the scheme lasted from 2015 to 2019, while Phase II began in 2019 and is planned to be completed in 2022. EV Tech, including Battery tech is changing rapidly. However, strangely some structural attempts at the EV-Retrofit route have started just this year!
EV-Retrofit has multiple advantages. Like:
- Real faster and deeper – even into smaller towns – adoption of EVs. One has a car already; one is comfortable and happy with. With some incentives and with some convincing about much lower costs of running, etc., one would just have to get it retrofitted. Apart from much lower investment, there’s comfort of a ‘known devil’.
- Allows for a less maniacal and a more step-by-step pace of launch of new EVs leading – hopefully – to better quality EVs. At the same time, number of fossil fuel vehicles going out could see steady growth.
- For businesses already with Fleets, whether it is commercial and passenger transportation or commercial and personal deliveries, EV-Retrofitting is the most cost-effective way to go green. Bangalore’s ride-sharing company Bounce, for instance has already embraced the retrofitting route
- Fossil-fuel Automotive OEMs and (some) Vendors get a lot more time to sustain
- Boost to Manufacturing in MSME for the retrofit kits
- Cumulative numbers of vehicles, on the roads and in the junk / scrappage-yards, don’t go up dramatically. Fossil-fuel vehicles don’t land up in the yards.
- Accidents and Toxicity, default outcomes in dismantling and scrapping, are kept in check.
Few gaps which need to be bridged by the ecosystem
- Financing – Affordable financing of such conversions would give it the necessary flip and faster adoption. Particularly for small commercial segment which have bigger fleets and are looking for lower cost of operations for their fleet.
- Insurance – Key consideration while running a vehicle on road. The regulations need to be framed for this.
- Re-registration – As fuel of the vehicle has undergone a change, this needs to be worked out.
Manufacturing, Conversions and Exports, both in terms of Product & Service, could emerge as a new Industry and the head-start could in fact, help the Industry be the leader in other markets across the world. Along with Battery Swapping EV-Retrofit is perhaps the real efficacious impetus to propel the EV world!
Without the Government pushing the same at Policy level, however, EV-Retrofit is not going to see the vertical lift-off, that it should. Delhi Govt in fact, has had made announcements on the same late last year. But other State Govts and the Govt of India – surprisingly – haven’t shown the requisite alacrity!
Nonetheless, it is pertinent that we continue the discussion on the subject.
(Sanjeev Shukla is a corporate strategy and marketing leader with three decades of experience with Hyundai, Hero MotoCorp, Ford and the advertising world.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)