The electric vehicle revolution presents a once-in-a-century opportunity. Countries around the world import an insane amount of oil. They send their hard-earned cash abroad — billions of dollars of it every day — to oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, the USA, Russia, Canada, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, and Venezuela. It is a deadly and economically debilitating addiction.
Image by Nissan Europe
India is no stranger to this problem. India is actually the third-largest oil importer in the world, only trailing the United States and China. It imports approximately as much oil each day as Italy, Spain, and the UK combined.
So, while it was indeed surprising when India’s top energy minister proclaimed (unofficially) a goal to make India the first fully electric car nation, it also made a lot of sense. Billions and billions of dollars in oil imports, fuel crises regarding this dependency, some of the worst air pollution in the world, and basically no economic benefit from oil mean that India would be much better off if it powered its cars with homegrown clean electricity instead of oil.
There are certainly some challenges to India’s electric vehicle progress, but the push from top government officials seems to indicate an urgency to overcome those. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Principal Advisor, Ministry of Power & New and Renewable Energy, Government of India, is the latest to speak out in favor of common sense.
“Electric vehicles will be the future of transportation in the country. They have significantly higher energy efficiency when compared to petrol/diesel vehicles and can be more reliable going forward,” he said.
The challenge for India’s leadership is that it doesn’t feel like it has cash to pass out for consumer subsidies. It seems like the government doesn’t have a clear alternative solution at this point, but Jhunjhunwala was adamant that this is a critical opportunity for the country that it shouldn’t miss. According to The Hindu, “Mr. Jhunjhunwala also noted with the battery prices falling, electric vehicles would be most sought after in the next 5-6 years, and warned that if India waited till that time, it would end up importing electric vehicles instead of oil.”
Options such as support for low-cost leasing (for the car or battery) and EV manufacturing subsidies (which would more than pay for themselves in resulting economic benefits) have been mentioned repeatedly, but massive taxes on gas/diesel cars and subsidies for electric car buyers — which China has had good and bad results with — seem out of the question (for now).
As reportedly previously, it looks as though Tesla may have a doorway into the country — if it sets up manufacturing there — and even Indian industry giant Tata is inviting the Silicon Valley startup to make the journey into India. I do have one suggestion for Tata regarding this matter: partner with Tesla on a Supercharging network in the country! Tata could offer lower-cost electric cars that have Supercharging access, making the national car company best friends with the most popular kid on the block. That would certainly spur faster EV adoption in the world’s second most populated country.
If India takes up a leadership position on electric cars, that will be a mighty step forward for the world. I hope it can figure out a strong and clear path forward with regards to EV policy soon.