Environment
Environment
How green is my car

21 May 2015

How green is my car
Electric cars are fast igniting the automobile fancy of Americans while in India this eco-friendly version of four-wheeler is still not in the reckoning despite lofty government announcements. Sujoy Dhar reports

On a shivery March afternoon this year, a small group of Louisville car owners  in the east South Central US state of Kentucky drive up to a shopping plaza to meet informally and share notes on their automobiles. They call their group as EVolve and what binds them is the ownership of electric cars and their resolve to add less to pollution and spend as little as possible on gas.

As they discuss the cars animatedly, they appeared as a proud lot of Americans having made a shift to an electric car from the conventional one.

Stuart Ungar, one of the enthusiasts of the group who owns a Nissan Leaf, says: "Electric vehicles are quite unique. At their best, they combine cutting-edge design with minimalist motors to achieve something even more than the sum of their parts.

 

“They can be both fun and environmentally friendly," he says.

Stuart, who believes in only using green technology and wants to contribute minimal to the world's soaring pollution basket, earlier used vegetable oil to run the two cars of his family of four-himself, his journalist wife and two adolescent kids.

Owning an electric car now, he is even more happy and spearheads the activities of their group called EVolve KY comprising energetic owners and enthusiasts of electric vehicles.

While some from the group have expensive electric sports cars, others have more modestly-priced contraptions. Some are hobbyists interested in creating a vehicle from scratch. But one thing they all have in common is the desire to move their current boring state of driving forward -- and fast.

"As a group, we are interested in providing a place for EV enthusiasts to compare notes and help them spread the adoption of EVs by increasing the number and variety of charging options in and around Louisville," says Stuart.

They urge all to join the electric car owner community.

While Amercians are using more and more electric cars, the trend has not caught up with India yet. What we have in India as electric car now is a Mahindra Reva model only.

Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited, formerly known as the Reva Electric Car Company, is based in Bangalore. Reva was acquired by Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra in 2010.

The Mahindra e2o basic variant (T2 Premium) is priced at Rs 5,92,649 ex-showroom in Delhi while the T20 Premium + Quick2Charge variant costs Rs 6,43,138 in the national capital. In other cities like Bangalore or Kolkata or Mumbai the price is much less.

Explains Anumita Roychowdhury, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s executive director for research and advocacy, "The government has to come up with a good infrastructure. Unless there are enough charging stations it is not going to work. Besides there is the challenge of their battery disposal and recycling."

According to greencarreports.com, a new report from the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University in California , says 20 years hence, there may be 1.3 million to 6.7 million used battery packs from electric cars.

It says, as covered in Recycling International, roughly 85 percent of those could be suitable for "post-vehicle use," with the remaining 15 percent likely damaged beyond repair.

But what is prompting Americans to buy electric car? Say Louisville couple Jon and Karen Tyson: "Many factors came together in our decision:  The desire to reduce our dependence on petroleum products, a stabilization of fuel costs, not subject to variances in gas prices. Eliminating our exhaust emissions"

They say the performance of their car is wonderful.

"Range [distance it covers on a full charge, for example a Nissan Leaf can cover 84 miles on a full charge] is currently a limiter, but is workable for us.  We want to help promote the acceptance and understanding of the usefulness and value of electric vehicles.

 

“Range will clearly increase as sales increase.  The consumer demand will drive research into better battery products. The reduction in maintenance is a very nice plus.  With limited moving parts, the reliability should prove to be outstanding," the couple says. 

According to them, in USA most car makers are entering the electric vehicle market.  Electric Vehicle (EV) sales doubled in 2013 in USA.


"Dealers are not motivated to sell EVs due to their business model.  Sales are a low margin, whereas service is their real money maker," they say.

 So what are the practical problems they face even in USA?

"The range is the only real issue we've had in almost two years of ownership.  That could be greatly reduced with an improvement in the charging infrastructure.  We don't often travel more than a hundred miles at a time, so we just made the decision that we would rent a car for these trips," says Jon.

The US government offers  huge tax incentives for consumers to purchase electric vehicles. The benefits to society are the reduced reliance on petroleum a well as the reduction in toxic emissions from the vehicle are a great adjunct to other governmental environmental programmes, feel the EV enthusiasts.  
 
According to the Kentucky group of EV enthusiasts, their main focuses are to improve the charging infrastructure to promote EV acceptance, to help inform the public about the values that EVs offer, and to provide social opportunities for EV owners to meet, exchange information and have fun.  

So how are the few electric car owners of India faring?

According to  Maya Pai of Bangalore, who owns a yellow e2o variant of Mahindra Reva, their new vehicle is comfortable to drive  and so even her husband prefers to drive it instead of his petrol car.

"He finds it spacious and strongly recommends to his associates at office. I personally love its power packed size - compact externally and spacious internally ! Besides occupying a small parking space, it’s such a zippy drive with my girl pals. The smart app forms the best feature of the e2o and I doubt if anybody else can provide it today," she says in the testimonials on e20.

"We are now done away with noise, monotonous gear shifting process, juggling with the clutch, heavy maintenance and fuel bills, and all the stress the conventional fuel cars come with," she says.  

In April this year, for all potential electric car buyers, the Indian government announced an incentive scheme called FAME India or Scheme for Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India.

Union Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises  Anant Geete  launched the scheme  in New Delhi for the stakeholders and the general public at large.  
 
According to Geete, in 2011, Union Cabinet approved the setting up of a National Mission on Electric Mobility (NMEM) under which two apex bodies were set up –  National Council on Electric Mobility (NCEM) at the Ministerial level and the other – National Board on Electric Mobility (NBEM) at the Secretary level to formulate the road map for a new paradigm in road transportation centering around hybrid and electric vehicles.  

 

The Minister says electric mobility was included as a prominent theme in the 12th  Five Year Plan document under the caption “A Hiving competence in manufacturing of fuel efficient cars and electric vehicles including hybrid segment”.   The 12th Five Year Plan also approved an outlay of Rs 795 crore for the same.
 
 Starting with metropolitan cities, the scheme will be launched in all major and smart cities across the country. Under the scheme's purview, battery-run motorcycles and scooters will be eligible for incentives in the price range of Rs. 1,800 to Rs. 29,000. Similarly, one can demand incentive in the range of Rs. 13,000 to Rs. 1.38 lakh if he/she buys an electric or hybrid car. 

 

For three-wheelers and light commercial vehicles, the incentives are in the range of Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 61,000 and Rs. 17,000 to Rs. 1.87 lakh, respectively. Whereas, for buses it ranges from Rs. 34 Lakh to Rs. 66 lakh.

"We are starting the scheme in metropolitan cities. Eventually the scheme will be launched in Smart Cities and all major cities across the country," Anant Geete says.
 
This incentive will be available in the form an upfront reduction in the purchase price of Mahindra e2o too, according to the company.

But despite the lofty plans and proposals, the progress on the ground has not been substantial and so it remains to be seen if India can indeed switch over to green transportation by building a robust infrastructure and encourage with more people to buy EV cars.

BOX:

If you own a Reva in India, how do you charge it? According to the company, they have following options:

Normal Charge: The normal charge can be received from a port installed at home/work place or from a charging station. A full charge of the e2o will take 5 hours.

Quick2Charge: The fast charging option on the Quick2Charge fully charges the e2o in just 60 minutes.

Sun2Car: A revolutionary technology which brings the power of the sun to the car. You can now charge your car at the sun2car stations positioned across various cities.

How do you charge:

It is same as charging your mobile phone. Just plug the on - board charger into a 15 amp port that the company will install at your home or your work place.

How often do you charge the car?

0 – 20 kms : Once in 3 days
20 to 40 kms : Once in 2 days
More than 40 kms : Daily

In a city like New Delhi there are 47 charging points while in Bangalore there are 98.  
 

 Images by writer