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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 23, Dated 11 June 2011
CULTURE & SOCIETY  
COVER STORY

Can’t drive my conscience

Why do Indian commuters complain about pollution but refuse to buy green cars? Soumik Mukherjee finds out

Eco-friendly buyers arenít left with too many choices besides the REVA

Lone ranger Eco-friendly buyers aren’t left with too many choices besides the REVA

Photo: AFP

DHRITIMAN DUTTA is a 19- year-old college student living in Kolkata. On weekends, he loves to drive his Honda City on the highways. He loves the ride, but is also concerned about nature and marine ecology. While doting on the electric Tesla Roadster, he says, “It is a nice idea to drive an eco car. But don’t you think an Indian electric car would look funny?” The perception is shared by many youngsters in the country.

The Plugged-In Past

1895 Electric cars become popular in the US with the Pope Manufacturing Company leading the way.

1899 The electric car La Jamais Contente achieves a top speed of 106 kmph, breaking the world land speed record.

1908 The sale of electric cars takes a massive hit with the introduction of Henry Ford’s revolutionary Model T; the electric era is effectively over.

1996 General Motors’ EV1 represents the first genuine attempt in decades by a major automaker at developing an electric car. GM controversially pulls the plug on the project six years later. Most EV1s are turned to scrap; the rest are given away to museums.

2001 Toyota introduces its Prius, a hybrid that fast achieves celebrity status. It also provokes much debate regarding its real and perceived environmental benefits.

2008 Tesla Motors introduces the Tesla Roadster, the first ever ‘regular production’ electric sports car.

2008 Honda debuts the FCX Clarity, the first hydrogen powered car for general consumers. Benefits include ease of use and refilling via petrol pumpstyle hydrogen stations and of course, true zero emissions (water being the only byproduct of hydrogen combustion).

2010 As oil prices rise and rise, many big automakers finally take the green leap — GM introduces the Volt, Nissan launches the Leaf, heralding a new era in green, low/zero-emission vehicles.

Many industry analysts and PR heads of car companies will tell you how they are banking heavily on the consciousness of the buyers and expecting to roll out a certain number of eco cars using ‘cutting-edge technology’. The jargon would have you believe that eco cars have a bright future in India. Reality, however, is quite different.

Ishan Raghava, a car expert and consulting editor of AutoX magazine, mocks the idea, “What market are we talking about when the grand total of such cars available is one?” The spectrum of eco cars ends with two names — REVA and the recently launched Mahindra Scorpio EX (with a micro hybrid engine). The legendary Toyota Prius is barely seen on Indian roads. The Chevrolet Spark electric and a Maruti SX4 hybrid are in the pipeline. Recently, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, REVA showcased two of their upcoming cars NXR and NXG.

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The NXR, a two-door hatchback, will be launched next year and should cost around Rs 7 lakh. But the bigger question is who will buy this car? There are only 2,000 REVAs running on Indian streets. The dealers claim the buyers of these cars are “posh people who buy it as their second or third car and don’t use it much”. And for the rest, there is a simple logic for not buying eco cars: why buy a less-efficient REVA for Rs 3.5 lakh when one can buy a stylish, fuel-efficient car that has an aspiration value.

Passenger cars across the world contribute 10 percent to the global greenhouse gas emissions. A rise in the number of people buying cars will only quadruple the number of passenger vehicles in the next 40 years. A projected figure is that by then vehicles on Indian and Chinese roads will outnumber cars in the rest of the world. Imagine the amount of emissions and choc-abloc roads then. We need cars that will serve their purpose but not at the cost of the planet.

Being the first Indian electric car, the REVA is nothing short of revolutionary. But the problem does not lie with the car but the infrastructure one needs to run REVA and other eco cars. Europe and other developed countries have become more environmentally conscious, and are investing heavily in infrastructure so that eco-friendly cars can compete, for feasibility, with conventionally- fuelled ones. A big part of this initiative is to provide clean energy. Eco car buyers are also being given subsidies. Charging points on the road and free parking are added boons.

Jacques De Selliers, the founder and managing director of Going Electric: Association for Electric Vehicles in Europe, says the future of electric cars is bright in Europe, but not in India because its electric power production is still insufficient and CO2-intensive. So what we need now is for the government to come up with a substantial policy to popularise electric cars in the country. A mere subsidy to the buyers is not enough. The production cost has to go down and the electricity required should not come at the cost of the environment. On their part, Indian customers must get rid of their tendency to just think of value for money and short-term gains.

A change in the customer attitudes can make sure that REVAs are not seen as the “weird-looking small cars bought by people who have the luxury of spending money to save the environment”.

soumik@tehelka.com


Understanding Green cars

Ishan Raghava
Consulting Editor, Autox Magazine

Here-and-now tech vehicles (like the Honda FCX Clarity) powered by hydrogen-based fuels are the best hope for a zeroemission, fossil-fuel-free future. However, safety concerns about the storage of hydrogen and the paucity of infrastructure for hydrogen-based vehicles means that our near future will be driven by electric vehicles and/or electric hybrids.

Fully Electric Vehicles

Hybrids

Range Extender Hybrids

Fully Electric Vehicles (Evs)
POWER SOURCE Electric motor powered by a battery pack
RECHARGE METHOD AC mains at home or at recharging points. EVs also use brake regeneration systems (which converts kinetic energy into electrical energy while braking) for recharging.
BENEFITS Zero direct CO2 emissions.
CAVEATS Six to eight hours to recharge fully. A single charge runs 60 to 160 km. Charging point infrastructure extremely limited.
EXAMPLES Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster

Hybrids
POWER SOURCE Electric motor powered by a battery pack, plus internal combustion engine (ICE) that kicks in when battery levels are depleted
RECHARGE METHOD Petrol/diesel. Electric motor replenished through regenerative braking when the ICE is in operation.
BENEFITS Reduces emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
CAVEATS Limited electric operation; still needs fossil fuel.
EXAMPLES Toyota Prius, Honda Insight

Range Extender Hybrids
POWER SOURCE Two to four electric motors powered by battery pack; efficient ICE for back-up. In ‘performance’ mode, the engine powers wheels on one axle and electric motors power the other.
RECHARGE METHOD Petrol/diesel. Electric motor replenished through regenerative braking when the ICE is in operation.
BENEFITS Normal cruising; reduced dependence on fossil fuels.
CAVEATS Still not zero emissions; dependent on fossil fuels.
EXAMPLE Chevrolet Volt

The Big Green Rupee. Making it. Spending it
making
Green Business
The Carbon Bazaar
Green Energy
Green Fashion
Solar Energy
Lost in transmission
spending
Green Housing
Green Holidays
Green Weddings
Green Cars
Green Phones
Green Plan B
debating
The Economist: Pavan Sukhdev
The Minister: Jairam Ramesh
The Voter: Green Politics
The Activist: Ritwick Dutta

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 23, Dated 11 June 2011
 

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