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Reversing Course: Why Many Buyers Are Returning to Petrol/Diesel Vehicles Amid An Electric Vehicles Sales Surge?

EV or ICE or Hybrid? And the debate continues…

  • In end of May, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said the government aims to eliminate diesel and petrol vehicles in 10 years.
  • Also, in May end, JMK Research & Analytics reported that India continues to witness a spike in Electric Vehicles (EV) sales, with the market exceeding 1.7 million units in fiscal year 2024.

So, can we guess that India is ready for the new Electric Vehicles world? Well, the latest report sounds confusing.

Many automotive experts have said over the years that electric vehicles may not represent the future of mobility despite government proposals. Fresh research has just been conducted to provide support for this statement. According to this report, one in every two Electric Vehicles owners is thinking moving back to ICE vehicles. This is a big finding since, in recent years, almost every government has worked to hike the number of electric vehicles in their countries. According to a recent McKinsey & Co. report, 46% of American EV owners are thinking moving back to internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles. This was found after these owners were asked which car they would be inclined most towards.

According to the research, the key reason for this potential move back to fossil fuel-powered vehicles is a lack of public charging infrastructure. Though the study involves with American EV owners, let’s find out if the same pattern can be visible to the Indians also.

Lack of public charging infrastructure- The Range Anxiety In Electric Vehicles.

Mr Gadkari announced in 2021 that the Indian government plans to have electric vehicles account for 30% of new private vehicle registrations countrywide by 2030. He also asserted that by the end of this decade, the government hopes to achieve 70% EV adoption for commercial vehicles and 80% for two- and three-wheelers. This is a really grand objective.

To attain such a drastic target of electric vehicle adoption, India will require a comprehensive EV charging infrastructure capable of supporting at least one public EV charging station for every 20 vehicles. With the country’s rapidly rising fleet of electric vehicles, the EV charging infrastructure must also expand quickly. However, the expansion rate in this category is not adequate and is not in sync with the growing fleet of EVs.

According to January 2024 news, EV adoption remains very low, accounting for only around 1% of total car sales in the country, despite the government’s drive through different incentive programmes. The adoption of 4-wheeler EVs for private usage is still limited, with just a few Indian buyers choosing electric so far. According to the results of a pre-Budget ET Online survey, there is a lack of charging infrastructure. According to the poll, 51.7% of respondents believe that improving charging infrastructure is necessary to accelerate EV adoption in India. The Indian buyer’s hesitancy stems mostly from the country’s poor charging infrastructure.

Range anxiety in Electric Vehicles.

So, what are the roadblocks that are posing challenges to the establishment of EV charging stations in India?

Inadequate power grid.

As the name suggests, constructing EV charging stations demands a decent amount of power consumption. India’s growing power consumption increased by almost 12% in the first half of 2023, placing a major strain on the power system. The electricity grid across the country is continuously under pressure as a result of fast-increasing demand due to a variety of issues, including global warming. Adding electric vehicles to the grid puts additional strain on the system, perhaps leading to frequent power outages, specifically in rural regions. In a nutshell, electricity generation in India is not increasing at the same rate as the number of vehicles or energy demand. 

This proliferation of EV charging infrastructure increases demand on the electrical grid, which can cause capacity concerns, particularly in locations where the system is already overloaded. How loaded our power systems are can be seen from the recent excessive power consumption in Delhi due to the temperature rise. Ensuring that the grid can manage this increasing demand while maintaining stability and dependability is an enormous challenge.

Lack of coordination between the centre and their respective EV charging partners.

Setting up a charging station incurs not just the cost of the charging equipment but also installation costs, which may require considerable electrical work and updates to existing infrastructure to sustain the increased demand. The Indian government is encouraging the installation of EV charging stations through flagship policies such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME), which incentivises EV adoption and charging infrastructure growth, and the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), which encourages EV purchase. However, the government cannot construct this network alone. Private investment and collaboration between the state and the central are also required. 

There is a lack of coordination, which can be seen from the EV charging stations of the national capital itself. This article titled ‘Guilty As Not Charged: How Infra For E-Vehicles Is Running Out of Current’ mentions the grim reality of rotting EV charging stations.

This January 2024 article notes that while the New Delhi Municipal Council plans to install charging stations for electric vehicles in 350 new places, the operation and maintenance of the existing 100 stations has already been a burden for the civic authority. At least 39 of the 100 charging stations built in prominent locations in Lutyens’ Delhi roughly a year and a half ago are no longer operational, with 21 others undergoing repairs or not yet operational.

What a mess! Why India's EV charging infra is rotting?

According to another article from September of last year, RAJIV CHOWK, the centre of New Delhi, has over a dozen EV charging stations erected by the government-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL). Almost all are non-functional.

The reasons range from a lack of electricity and broken displays to missing guns. While Rajiv Chowk’s colonial white facade received a fresh coat of paint before the G20 Summit last year, the charges remain unclean, with some even coated with paan stains. The charging point on Sansad Marg, less than a mile from the new Parliament building, does not have a gun. A street vendor has occupied the space in front.  The state of chargers outside the Prime Ministers’ Museum and Library (previously the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library) is no different. 

These dysfunctional charging ecosystems exemplify everything that is wrong with India’s EV infrastructure: a lack of cooperation between the Centre and charging infrastructure providers, between vehicle manufacturers and the Centre, between the Centre and states, and even within government ministries. It’s not uncommon for EV users to come across a broken charger or, worse, a charger that works but is incompatible with their vehicle.

The EV market includes various cars with unique charging requirements, including varied outlet types and charging speeds. This variability needs the installation of multi-standard chargers that can support multiple vehicles, complicating the deployment process and raising expenses. An even worse nightmare is discovering it is working and compliant but unable to collect payments owing to a server crash. Anything and anything is conceivable in today’s EV charging environment, resulting in constant range anxiety. Hence, EV sales cannot be immune to a disorganised charging infrastructure.

Vandalism and man-handling of EV charging stations.

According to Vishal Kapoor, CEO of EESL, a joint venture of PSUs under the power ministry, various external variables contribute to charger malfunctions. According to Kapoor, public chargers are deployed without protection at various municipal facilities, rendering them vulnerable to tampering, screen damage, and gun damage by antisocial groups. Public charging outlets are also unmanned at night, and nighttime commuters are prone to mishandling firearms. There have also been multiple incidences of gun theft, he adds.

A similar incident can be seen in the news of March 2024 with identical pictures of vandalism at Chandigarh. Even before EV charging stations were ready for public use, thieves targeted the equipment, decamping with charging gun cables from nine sites containing around 100 charging guns worth Rs 1 crore. Seeking to prioritise the probe, UT Secretary (Science and Technology) T C Nautiyal sent a letter to the UT senior superintendent of police (SSP) detailing the theft-related loss.

As per another recent news reported on July 2024 from Chandigarh itself, at a time when police were able to prevent the theft of charging guns from EV charging stations around the city, the thieves attacked an e-bus charging station near the PGI and fled with charging guns. Sector 11 police have opened a theft case based on a complaint from the company’s project engineer and have been analysing CCTV cameras situated nearby for evidence on the perpetrators.

Thieves Steal Public EV Chargers Worth Rs 1 Crore in Chandigarh

These occurrences highlight a concerning trend that not only affects the smooth running of EV charging infrastructure but also represents a substantial setback to efforts to promote sustainable transportation alternatives, giving a spike to range anxiety. The large-scale thefts show that the crimes are well-planned and executed.

Stating that the matter requires the allocation of necessary resources on the part of the police, It is, therefore, essential to prioritise the investigation of this vandalism and to allocate resources required to apprehend the culprits responsible for these criminal acts and also to please direct the officer concerned to crack down on this gang that is committing thefts in an organised way at various EV charging stations installed in the city, so that such incidents do not occur in future.

The chaos around different chargers.

Although 80 % of EVs sold in 2023 were two or three-wheelers, their charging configurations differed. Light EVs, like two and three-wheelers, manufactured in India have varying charging sources, making compatibility and interoperability a significant challenge. There is a need to develop user-friendly and convenient charging methods for light electric transportation systems.

While there is compatibility on the 4-wheeler side, which implies that a 4-wheeler may use any public charging station, there is hardly such interoperability on the 2-wheeler side. Appropriate solutions are necessary for light electric mobility, whether it be independently operated 2-wheelers, last-mile delivery fleets, passenger autos or goods transportation autos; there is a need for a robust charging solution.

Standardising chargers has the advantage of resulting in interoperability, which means the same network can service numerous vehicles, improving utilisation. Consumers benefit because they spend less. Range anxiety will decrease, which will indirectly contribute to greater EV vehicle sales.

Skill awareness.

Imagine you are driving on a long-term weekend and on the mid-highway, and your vehicle malfunctions. If it is an ICE vehicle, there are still chances that you will get a mechanic after a brief hunt; however, if it’s an EV, finding a skilled mechanic can be a trauma for you.

For example, if your electric car refuses to charge while you are on the road, you cannot just contact an auto repair to fix it and get it rolling. Not yet, at least. In India, there is a lack of understanding about local skill levels for EV maintenance and repair. Most mechanics are trained to fix petrol or diesel automobiles, and they may lack the essential abilities to repair electric vehicles.

The news from March 2024 published in a news outlet mentions the similar horror two individuals, Suraj Bidlain, a fleet operator in Gurgaon, and Bhim Rao, an entrepreneur in Mumbai, faced when their EVs gave them such horrors. Bidlain discovered, to his dismay, that his electric three-wheeler wouldn’t charge since the battery pack had acquired some faults.

Similarly, in Mumbai, Bhim Rao noticed his car’s controller was not working. When these EV owners complained, their vehicles’ problematic components were not fixed but instead replaced with brand-new parts. While electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular, maintenance is still in its early stages.

EVs offer an advantage over vehicles with ICEs. A traditional automobile’s engine contains around 200 moving components, including pistons, crankshafts, and valves, but an electric vehicle has just 20. As a result, the cost of repairs and maintenance is lower than for ICE automobiles. The average maintenance cost of a 50,000-mile electric car is roughly Rs 44,000, compared to Rs 56,000 for a petrol car and Rs 78,000 for a diesel car.

However, EVs do have discomfort, as many people, including Bidlain and Rao, would confirm, and firms prefer to replace the parts. Dealers do diagnostics but are not encouraged to open up any big, aggregate component of an EV, explains Sulajja Firodia Motwani, CEO of Kinetic Green, a renowned player of electric three-wheelers that released the e-Luna scooter. Electric engines are tough to access. She explains that it is more cost-effective to replace the complete device than to fix it.

While traditional cars contain parts like brake discs and brake pads that can be replaced without impacting other components, an EV features an electrical braking system that uses braking energy to recharge the battery. Fiddling with the braking system may have an impact on several other functions. As the number of EVs on the road grows, so does the demand for staff skilled in high-density batteries, software integration, and electrical components. Car firms are pushing hard to educate students in EV courses. 

So, what happens to the roadside technician who can open any automobile hood and repair it cheaply and quickly? Will these unorganised service locations close as EV sales increase? Manufacturers believe ICE vehicles will continue to remain on the road and require maintenance.

Furthermore, there is a flair for blending the old and the new, and many unorganised mechanics will find a way to remain relevant even after that, according to vehicle manufacturers. However, till the public gets assurance that if their EV is obstructed somewhere, they will get the trained mechanic, this issue of ‘inadequate skilled EV mechanic’ will contribute to range anxiety.

A similar problem has recently arisen in the United Kingdom. According to news from April 2024, electric car sales in the UK are facing issues due to a dearth of experienced technicians for sophisticated EV maintenance. The absence of repair workers threatens to worsen the problem, notably in the UK, where consumer adoption has stagnated for over two years. This lack of mechanics skilled to handle complex EV repairs adds to the rise in repair costs.

Urban-rural divide.

According to February 2024, 12,146 public EV charging stations are operational countrywide. However, if you look deeply, there can be a scene of an urban-rural divide in the deployment of EV charging stations. Most charge stations are located in urban areas, leaving rural regions and roads without charging choices. This causes “range anxiety” among potential EV purchasers, restricting their travel options.

Many cities have easily accessible charging infrastructure, however the issue arises when attempting to go outside of the city or town, particularly towards village territory. Rural locations lack suitable charging infrastructure, limiting EV adoption in these regions. To provide equal access, new solutions like smart charging technologies with dynamic load control are critical for optimising schedules and minimising grid peak demand.

Furthermore, India’s geographical diversity makes it challenging to build EV stations across varying terrains. For example, in locations with heavy rainfall, water-resistant infrastructure is required. Furthermore, varying population density and travel patterns make it difficult to establish and maintain charging stations in remote and rural locations. 

Also, charging an electric vehicle, unlike filling up a petrol tank, takes forward preparation. Charging stations aren’t as quick and convenient as petrol pumps. Charging takes substantially more time. This lack of convenience makes EVs less appealing to consumers who value spontaneity and flexibility in their travel plans. All these, when altered correctly, can reduce the ‘range anxiety’ in customers and then the penetration of more EVs can be possible.

High cost.

When you walk into a showroom to purchase an EV, you are given a sheet of paper with the vehicle’s retail pricing structure scrawled on it. Confused, you begin reading a long list of additional costs beyond the ex-showroom price — road tax, insurance, extended warranty, extras, annual maintenance packages, and so on. In summary, your overall cost would be 10% to 30% more than the ex-showroom price.

Despite the idea that electric vehicles will be less expensive to insure due to their safety features and lower environmental effects, the reality may be very different. Let’s delve into the intricacies of electric vehicle insurance costs, discovering the causes for increased premiums. Insurance for electric vehicles may be more expensive than for petrol or diesel vehicles.

This disparity is due to a variety of variables, including the higher purchase price of EVs, the cost of parts, and the specialist maintenance required.  While some of these expenses are required, others are optional. However, in fact, the dealer bundles several optional and necessary expenses, resulting in higher on-the-road pricing.

In purely financial terms, EVs make sense largely for individuals who travel frequently, as the cost savings from fuel and maintenance are only noticeable over longer distances. For people who only drive a mere km per day, the high initial cost of an EV does not justify the investment. As a result, many Indian automobile purchasers think that the financial case for purchasing an EV remains baseless.

Does EV really help reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment, or is there a hidden aspect behind this?

As people are becoming aware and conscious about their environment and surroundings day after day, one factor that will enter their minds before purchasing electric vehicles is whether ‘will they really help in cleaning the environment’, and if they are doubtful about it, they may walk away from purchasing EV and route back to their ICE vehicles. Last month, social media saw a similar heated dispute between the Congress and the BJP in Kerala over the Centre’s electric car policy. A lengthy post on the Kerala Congress’ social media account, which has already been seen 1.9 million times, dubbed the government’s EV policy “thoughtless” and “going to jeopardise India’s future.”

So, are Electric Vehicles as clean as they are marketed to be? To be sure, EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. However, the extent to which they are environmentally friendly is determined by the source of power used to charge them. In India, where coal accounts for a large share of power generation, EVs have a greater carbon impact than in regions with cleaner energy mixes. This presents a question. Are we increasing pollution at power plants while driving zero-emission electric vehicles?

According to many calculations, petrol and diesel cars produce 52% and 33% more CO2 than battery electric vehicles (BEVs). If the renewable energy mix grows quickly, grid power emissions will decrease. In the future, electric vehicles will be even cleaner. As a result, this confidence among users and purchasers is essential.

Also, while EVs are advertised as a more sustainable option for ICE cars, some research has found that this may not be true. Currently, there are various open issues concerning the total environmental effect of electric vehicles. The recycling of EV batteries, the environmental cost of battery manufacture, and the power source needed to charge EVs all contribute to the complexity of EV sustainability. Many studies have found that the manufacture and disposal of EV batteries create substantial environmental issues. As a result, many people are sceptical about electric vehicles’ green credentials.

The bottom line.

The Indian government recognises the need for a sustainable transportation solution and is prioritising electric vehicles. However, obstacles in creating EV charging infrastructure impede the mainstream use of EVs. These obstacles include insufficient charging stations, low grid capacity, technological restrictions, legislative impediments, and public awareness and consciousness about clean energy.

To overcome these constraints, stakeholders must work together, standardise charging methods, develop new charging solutions, and expand infrastructure in remote regions. Smart grid techniques, supporting legislation, and improvements in battery technology and charging rates are also required. By tackling these issues and building a comprehensive EV charging network, India can revolutionise its transportation landscape, reduce pollution, and stimulate economic growth.

Priyanka Chakraborty
Priyanka Chakraborty
Chakraborty is a Digital Journalist at Inventiva who drafts content on current social topics. Her forte is documenting opinionated content based on data, facts, and numbers while adhering to media ethics, which go beyond simply crafting news headlines. Her core intent in writing such content is that every word her viewers read should give meaningful insights to their time spent on the articles.
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