Electric cars are expensive right now but you won't regret buying it one bit

When the Finance Minister, was making her maiden budget speech it was difficult to miss the focus on electric vehicles. By 2023 all 3 wheelers, by 2025 all 2 wheelers and by 2030 30 percent of all 4 wheelers plying on our streets would have...

Electric cars are expensive right now but you won't regret buying it one bit

When the Finance Minister, was making her maiden budget speech it was difficult to miss the focus on electric vehicles. By 2023 all 3 wheelers, by 2025 all 2 wheelers and by 2030 30 percent of all 4 wheelers plying on our streets would have to be electric. I tried to find out more about electric cars, took test drives, read more about them and evaluated them. Currently there are 3 cars in the market — The Hyundai Kona, the Mahindra E-Verito and the Tata Tigor. There is also the Mahindra E2O (a redesigned Reva) but it’s too small to be a family car. MG’s ZS EV is around the corner now and so is Tata Nexon’s EV this week. This is in sharp contrast to almost 400 cars and variants available currently with IC engine. But this set to change, more on that later.

Image: Pixabay

Let’s look at my 3 key pillars for evaluating a car – drivability, peace of mind and cost.

Drivability

Electric cars so much fun to drive. The design of an electric car enables manufacturers to place batteries such as to achieve a relatively low center of gravity. This means that the car handles well and is stable at high speeds so you can throw it around the corners and it will stay firmly planted. The motor characteristically offers an almost instantaneous torque response which is linear – unlike ICE cars where peak torque is available only at a specified RPM range. The ‘pick-up’ is superb,  acceleration is excellent, no gears to juggle and all this while being cocooned in total silence. Driving bliss!

  • Peace of Mind: Range is the new dimension that has come into play. Today electric cars have a range of 120 to 400kms on every charge. For city commutes of say 50-100 km odd you should be sorted if you have basic charging infrastructure at home. You use the car during the day and charge at night… just like you would charge your smartphone. You need a dedicated parking place in which you can charge your car. An almost full charge takes between an hour to 15 hours to achieve - depending upon the type of charger.However, you have to carefully plan those one-off weekend road trips to ensure your car doesn’t run out of juice. Today you take a refueling stop at the petrol pump and can be back on the road in minutes. But even the fastest charging set-up takes about an hour to get to an almost full charge. This means you may have to time the car charging with your own breaks so that you have a relaxed lunch at a restaurant nearby or maybe take a nap while your car is charging up on a long road trip. It may be a tad faster if cars come with modular batteries with someone offering the service of simply replacing your batteries with the fully charged ones (as in Delhi for the e-rickshaws). How this pans out remains to be seen but ‘refueling’ your car may never be the same again.
  • Reliability: The drive train in an ICE car has over 2000 moving parts which includes engine and transmission components - whereas the drive train in an electric car has less than 100. So intuitively, electric cars are significantly more reliable than the ICE cars.
  • Safety: With electric cars, not having a combustible fuel in the car itself seems like a big relief on safety. However electric cars have an array of large batteries on them and if not well isolated or protected, may have a tendency to explode. The matter of Samsung S6 Li-ON batteries exploding is fresh in our minds. There is also a recent episode of a Hyundai Kona catching fire due to unknown reasons. The electric auto industry has to do much more to quell that fear in the minds of consumers.

Cost of ownership

  • Running Costs: This is where electric cars score truly over the regular ICE cars. At the current rate/ unit of electricity every KM of running an electric car is less than a rupee, whereas even the most fuel-efficient diesel car costs at least 4 times more.
  • Maintenance: While new generation IC engines and transmission are extremely reliable, it gets even better with electric cars. The motor is largely maintenance-free with no messy oil and filter regimen. We still have Brakes, suspension, air conditioner, tires and everything to be maintained albeit at a much lower cost.
  • Resale Value: In India where even decades-old vehicles prance about on the streets resale value is an important metric in evaluating the cost of ownership. While little is known of the resale value of electric cars (given they are relatively new on the scene), this parameter is not likely to bode well in their favor. The more reliable batteries last for 8 years odd before they lose their capacity or the ability to hold ‘power’ before needing replacement. And since batteries constitute a large part of the cost of the car, the resale value will get calibrated accordingly. But keep in mind that if India pushes ahead with its stated agenda of moving to electric cars in a big way, your current car won’t have any takers either.
  • Overall cost: Currently the electric cars are clearly an expensive option for initial outlay. However, if you were to take a loan on the initial cost of the car, the EMIs you would pay + the running cost I suspect could be in the same range as an ICE car. The higher upfront cost (depending upon the car) may get evened out by the significantly lower running cost.
  Tigor ICE Tigor EV
Car Cost On road          800,000       1,000,000
Car EMI@ Rs 2000p.m for 5 yrs            16,000            20,000
Running Costs p.m (@1000kms)              6,500              1,000
Monthly cost            22,500            21,000

1. Running Cost taken at Rs 80/ltr of petrol and 12kmpl
2. Maintenance cost of an EV is much lesser - not accounted. That’s additional savings
3. This example is with Tata Tigor.. But is valid for all cars as the price gap is almost 25-30 percent between a similar ICE car and EV
4. Tigor Automatic model is taken… as the EV is also automatic

EVs are Green after all

But if you are one of those for whom, concern for the environment outweighs normal objective propositions, then the arguments of cost etc. are superfluous. There are two things however you need to know:

  • Over 70 percent of the power generated in India is through thermal sources – coal, diesel, gas etc. Only around 30 percent is through clean & renewable sources like hydro, nuclear, solar, wind or biogas etc. So with EVs, we are just shifting the emissions from the cities to the power stations. (This is a not such a bad proposition, since the polluted air doesn’t get dissipated in dense concrete urban clusters when compared to power stations which are located in remote areas). We will increasingly get more energy from clean sources but till that happens electric cars are not necessarily as green as they are made out to be.
  • Each car has about half a ton of batteries (mainly LiON or NiMH) which are hardly recycled currently. These batteries are a serious challenge to dispose and upon damage give off toxic gases. Even the core ingredients of batteries —  Nickel and Cobalt are finite resources and if not extracted responsibly can lead to reckless depletion and water pollution amongst other environmental consequences.

With all the good and the not so good things EVs are here to stay. There is clearly a shift towards EVs world over and manufacturers’ are doing their bit by dedicating a lot of research in improving safety, cost, battery capacities and convenience. India wants to be the ‘Detroit of electric vehicles’ and almost all the automakers are said to be bringing their EVs to India. Prominent amongst them being the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, MG Motors eZS, Tata Altroz, E versions of Wagon R, KUV100 and XUV300 and even Audi Etron at the luxury end. Amongst Indian companies, Mahindra has taken big bets on electric mobility and are a company to watch out for. It won’t be surprising to see Mahindra taking over the mantle of an electric car leader, something that Maruti was when cars became mainstream in the 1980s.

With the reduction in GST, direct subsidy to buyers, free parking, free Toll, free registration, tax breaks, incentives for setting up charging infrastructure and several similar initiatives from the Central and state governments it’s only a matter of time before our traffic landscape changes.

And now the moot question. Should I buy an electric car now?

You should, if you are environmentally conscious, want to be seen driving a Green number plate as a badge of honor and are not as concerned about the initial cost. For the rest: Just wait for some more time for the ecosystem to evolve and for more options to be available or just have it as your second car. You won’t have to wait long anyway — but whenever you do take the plunge… you won’t regret one bit and that’s a promise!

The author is a senior professional in the durables and telecommunications space for almost two decades. He is now exploring the world of e-mobility & IoT. He writes on any topic that catches his fancy from management and technology to anything geeky.