Sun, Oct 28, 2018 - Page 15 News List

India’s rickshaw revolution
leaves China in the dust

There are more e-rickshaws in India than battery-powered passenger cars in China, despite a lack of government funding and the nation’s shortage of charging and battery-swapping stations

By Jill Ward and Anindya Upadhyay  /  Bloomberg

An e-rickshaw driver travels along a street in New Delhi on Sept. 22.

Photo: Bloomberg

An electric-vehicle (EV) revolution is gaining ground in India and it has nothing to do with cars.

The South Asian nation is home to about 1.5 million battery-powered, three-wheeled rickshaws — a fleet bigger than the total number of electric passenger cars sold in China since 2011, but while the world’s largest auto market dangled significant subsidies to encourage purchases of battery-powered cars, India’s e-movement hardly got a hand from the state.

Rather, drivers of the ubiquitous three-wheelers weaving through crowded, smoggy streets discovered that e-rickshaws are quieter, faster, cleaner and cheaper to maintain than a traditional auto rickshaw.

They also are less strenuous than cycle rickshaws, which require all-day peddling. So with more rides possible in a day, the e-rickshaws are proving more lucrative.

As many as 11,000 new e-rickshaws hit the streets every month, and annual sales are expected to increase by about 9 percent by 2021, consulting firm A.T. Kearney said.

Three-wheeled vehicles make up a US$1.5 billion market, and manufacturers of electric versions include Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd and Kinetic Engineering Ltd, along with smaller outfits that assemble parts imported from China.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, transformational opportunity that we’re looking at,” said Goldie Srivastava, chief executive officer and cofounder of SmartE, an Uber-style app using 800-plus e-rickshaws around New Delhi. “When we look at electric mobility, the focus should be: Are you as a government enabling products that are designed for the future?”

India’s dominant ride-hailing start-up, Ola, plans to place 10,000 e-rickshaws in its service by next April.

India is the world’s fourth-largest auto market, but previous attempts to boost private electric-car ownership flopped. The government likely scaled back because it fears disrupting an industry that contributes about 7 percent of the total gross domestic product, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report said in March.

Unlike the estimated 1.35 million passenger EVs cruising around China, the number of electric cars plying Indian roads is a paltry 6,000, BNEF data showed.

Chinese automakers sell more than that in three days.

India’s largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, is unlikely to sell its first EV until 2020.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is pivoting toward promoting EVs in public transportation and fleet operations, primarily with two and three-wheelers, taxis and buses. The Ministry of Finance is finalizing a plan to spend about 40 billion rupees (US$547 million) in the next five years to improve the nation’s charging infrastructure and subsidize e-buses.

“India needs to focus on electrifying two-wheelers and three-wheelers,” said Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), a government policy institute helping to formulate the new strategy.

Outside an east Delhi metro station, a slew of partly open-air vehicles line the street as commuters hail their rides. They also carry tourists, schoolchildren, crates of fruit and the occasional goat.

Anil Chaudhary, 32, switched to an e-rickshaw from a cycle model two years ago. His income increased, he is able to take longer breaks and he sends money to his wife and three children in Bihar, about 1,100km away.

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