The Tata Nao powered by a small Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cost a mere Rs 1 lakh at the time of its launch in 2009. It was touted as a revolution in the Indian passenger car industry. It was hailed in the media as nothing short of a magic car that would enable the teeming middle class and the not-so-rich to finally buy a car of their own. But alas, something went wrong. The initial euphoria was short lived. Sales nosedived and the Nano car project was finally shelved and the car taken off our roads.
Now almost 14 years later, the scenario is a lot different. The Indian middle class is a lot richer and the world, a lot poorer in health. The Thwaites glaciers are melting at a breakneck speed. That would mean large parts of coastal cities like Mumbai in India as well as elsewhere in the world will be under water in the next few decades.
Emissions from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are filling our atmosphere with all kinds of dangerous gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide leading to climate changes that in turn are having disastrous consequences.
The increase in vehicular traffic, especially in cities and small towns, is leading to massive congestion on our roads as well as pollution. Commuters are spending several more hours of their time sitting in their cars for the traffic to clear.
According to a recent TomTom’s traffic report, London is the world's slowest city — taking over 36 minutes to drive a typical 10 km journey. In optimal traffic, that same 10 km trip would take just over 24 minutes. Similarly, the city of Bengaluru in the Indian state of Karnataka, too suffers from traffic like London, even though it is quicker. The optimal travel time for a 10 km trip is around 16 and a half minutes in the Indian city, with traffic, it’s 25 minutes and 40 seconds. In Bengaluru, drivers lose 134 hours a year to traffic, based on typical driving behavior, says the TomTom report
Apart from the rising cost of fuels for ICE vehicles, and its calamitous effect on the environment around us, one thing for sure has been proved right-- that electric vehicles do not pollute the environment, provided the source of charging the batteries is also clean.
Tackling the Issues relating to traffic jams
The TomTom report also mentioned, “There’s a lot more to inner city travel times than just the number of cars on the road. There’s infrastructure, public transit, speed limits, congestion charges, traffic management and low emission zones. All affect the types of vehicles that enter our city centers and how they travel when they’re there.”
There is no magic wand that one can wave and get rid of the several woes affecting our lives because of vehicular traffic. Take the case of congestion on roads, the same has reached dangerous levels in our cities. Every other day, you will find long traffic jams not just during peak office hours but also during normal times. There have been instances of people fighting over parking lots in front of their offices and homes. On an average, every Indian middle class family owns anywhere between three to four cars. Unlike in the West, where children move out of their parents’ home when they are in their teens, here in India, the children continue to live with their parents much longer. That, in short, translates to more cars being parked outside every home. Lack of basic car parking space in a residential complex leads to arguments among car owners, which at times have fatal consequences.
Assaults, sometimes even leading to death, at parking lots in Indian cities are common. And because of the congestion on roads, cases of road rage too have increased. As the Indian summer sets in, anger among car drivers too will rise, especially among those who are driving non air conditioned cars. One can deduce that the root cause of all these arguments is lack of adequate space on roads to drive and dedicated parking spaces to park.
But if you take a closer look, the root cause of all arguments is not the number of cars on Indian roads, but their sizes per se. One cursory look at any traffic situation in our country will reveal that that it’s the big cars that are to blame. Large sedans, SUVs and MPVs are being driven around with just a single person in it or at best two people. Thus, all six seaters, seven seaters and five seaters are plying on roads with just one person in it! What a waste of resources! Is it ego at work or is it simply foolhardiness or is it an absolute disdain for preserving resources? But no one can contain Man’s desires for things bigger and better, after all it’s a decision that reflects economic status, massive egos and a pursuit for style and power! Environmental concerns have no role to play here.
What is wrong in driving small electric cars?
If you may have noticed, small electric cars are becoming a vogue in several developed countries. These are typically two-door cars that can seat four people comfortably. Take the example of Wuling Air mini electric car from Wuling which is in a way part of the MG Motor parent company SAIC of China. This small electric car is doing great service in countries like Indonesia and elsewhere. In 2023, this car is likely to be introduced in India by MG Motor India, but obviously under a different brand name.
Recently, the Wuling Air mini electric car welcomed delegates to travel in the official EV at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. This car will be MG’s first smart city electric car in India. Remember the Mahindra e2O electric car? Well this is apparently a lot more sophisticated, modern and tech savvy electric car compared to the Mahindra product.
What is the connection between MG Motor India and Wuling? Liuzhou Wuling Automobile Industry Co., Ltd. (Wuling Motors) is a Chinese manufacturer of automobile engines, special purpose vehicles, namely mini electric cars, people movers, trucks and buses, and auto parts.
The Wuling company also operates a joint venture with SAIC and General Motors, called SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW). MG Motor, with its origin as a UK based company, is a part of SAIC of China.
The Wuling Air EV that is available in Indonesia costs around Rs 12.59 lakh to 16.45 lakh. It has a Length x Width x Height (mm) of 2,974 x 1,505 x 1,631, with a wheelbase (mm) of 2,010. The small car has a seating capacity of four and has a range of around 200km on a single charge.
This electric car is also equipped with various advanced features, one of which is the Easy Charging feature. Wuling Air ev is a new player in the Indonesian electric car market. The Easy Charging feature allows vehicle users to charge the battery easily and quickly. Not only that, Wuling Motors also claims that this feature allows Wuling Air ev users to charge their batteries from home.
Wuling Air EV is equipped with Internet of Vehicle (IoV) technology innovation or the Wuling Remote Control App that allows cars to be connected to the internet. One of the advantages of this technological innovation is that Wuling Air EV can be controlled using the user's smartphone remotely.
It’s not that the Wuling Air EV is the only cute electric car out there. We also have Fiat 500 electric car and the Citroen Ami electric car, all in similar sizes as compared to the Wuling electric car. The new Fiat 500 electric car has won accolades in several countries. In Indian Rupees it costs a shade higher than Rs 19 lakh and has a range of 185 kms to 320 kms (WLTP).
The New Fiat 500 is the first fully-electric vehicle from the Fiat brand and provides a raft of best-in-class features such as Autonomous Driving (ADAS) technologies and a variety of battery options. The car boasts 85kW fast charging, enabling the battery to reach 80 per cent range in just 35 minutes and, more impressively, 48kms in around five minutes.
Additionally, a host of ADAS features are available including Drowsy Driver Detection, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Lane Keep Assist, helping to enhance the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike, while providing peace of mind to the owner. The New 500 is also the first car in its segment equipped with level 2 autonomy.
The Citroen Ami electric car, on the other hand, is a revolution by itself. This electric car is sold in several countries in Europe and is a great success in these countries where it is driven by professional and individual customers. The company claims that since its launch in April 2020, Citroen is something of a surprise to the micro-mobility market thanks to its conception thought out to design an affordable object and its online purchase journey like any other current consumer goods. Rather than a small car, its more on the lines of an electric quadricycle. This vehicle is used as a cargo vehicle in several countries.
Will a small electric car be accepted by Indian consumers?
The moot question is whether an electric car that is shaped more on the lines of a quadricycle, and one which could cost around Rs 8 to 10 lakh at best be accepted in India? Indian consumers at large don’t really care about the environment, neither are they really bothered about traffic jams, or any other woes relating to the planet or even their own lives. All they want is a lot of bang for their buck. And when we talk of value for money proposition, the consumers want size, space, style, technology, comfort and a bit of butch in their cars. Some of the so called ICE SUVs in the range of Rs 9 to Rs 18 lakh provide all of that to the average middle class buyer.
The rich cannot be trusted to provide a great market for a car like the MG Air EV. The rich in India go for exclusive buys and their numbers are few. The sales of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi cars are a testimony to their limited sales of luxury cars in India. Each of these luxury brands sell anywhere between 8000 units to 14000 units each per annum. Yes, that is the total number of cars sold by each of these players every year. Thus, even if the rich opt for the MG Air EV as their third or fourth car, it would neither set the sales charts afire nor will it ease the traffic congestion on the roads.
Unless a car like the MG Air EV becomes popular among the middle class, it will not make a dent to India’s pollution and traffic woes. Egos rule the market for car purchases all over the world. By buying an MG Air EV car, or any electric car of that size, nobody has to compromise on comfort and modern technology. These cars today come with very modern technology and loads of comfort. In fact, buying small electric cars and in the process decongesting our roads is the need of the hour. But for that, every Indian car buyer has to have a new outlook towards buying a small electric car the size of an MG Air EV. The government too should bring out policies that support the buying of small electric cars. Driving is not all about zipping from Delhi to Mumbai on a highway in 12 hours. It’s all about driving within the city to complete myriad chores without harming the environment and without causing traffic snarls. Besides, I don’t want my friends in Mumbai to be drowned as the sea levels rise. Remember Thwaites?
Roy Punnoose Tharyan is a “born again” auto journalist who wants more truth to prevail in the field of automotive journalism. He has more than 35 years of journalistic experience in the fields of business, economics and automotive, both B2B as well as B2C. He is an avid photographer, videographer and has mastered the skill of video editing. He does not believe in automotive awards and boring seminars. He is also the Founder Editor of Motown India
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