Mumbai: General Motors Co. (GM) and India’s Reva Electric Car Co. will start producing a small, affordable electric car for the Indian market in 2010, executives said on Thursday.
The two companies have been collaborating for 10 months and have already created test models of the new vehicle, an all-electric version of the US auto maker’s compact Chevrolet Spark, said GM’s India president Karl Slym.
“We’re confident we have a product we can bring to the market next year,” he said. If successful, an electric version of the Spark could be sold in the car’s other major markets, namely South Korea, China, and Europe.
The Spark currently sells for about Rs2.6 lakh in India. Slym said a price had not yet been set for the electric version of the car, but the goal is to keep it “affordable”.
New venture: Karl Slym (left), president, GM India, with Chetan Maini, deputy chairman and chief technical officer, Reva Electric Car. Rajkumar/Mint
Capital expenditure will be minimal, he said. The car will be manufactured at GM’s existing plants in India—at Halol in Gujarat and at Talegon in Maharashtra—which can together churn out 225,000 vehicles a year.
The electric car market in India is minuscule. Reva, which sold its first electric car in India in 2001, says it has put at least 3,000 electric vehicles on the road. The company, based in Bangalore, is working to expand its annual production capacity to 30,000 vehicles. Slym said initial production of the electric Spark would be in thousands, rather than hundreds.
A major hurdle for alternative fuel technologies in India has been the lack of infrastructure. Public buses and some autorickshaws and taxis in cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi run on natural gas, but outside major centres, refuelling stations aren’t available.
In the last year and a half, India’s leading car makers, such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor Co., have created natural gas versions of popular models. GM also sells a version of the Spark that runs on liquefied petroleum gas.
But despite government efforts to expand natural gas refuelling stations, the scanty infrastructure outside urban centres has kept sales volumes low, said Vaishali Jajoo, auto analyst at Mumbai’s Angel Broking Ltd. It will be at least five years before the government turns its attention to building a network of electric charging stations, she said. “It’s not even in talks right now.”
Slym said the electric Spark would sidestep the infrastructure problem because you can charge it by plugging it into an outlet in your home overnight. “This technology makes good sense,” he said. “There’s no barrier to entry caused by infrastructure.”
For faster recharge, Slym wants to build a network of special charging stations at GM dealerships and petrol pump stations. Jajoo said an electric version of the Spark would likely suit urban commuters who want to cut fuel costs and have a regular supply of electricity, but don’t need to travel long distances.
An all-electric car probably wouldn’t be able to go more than 300km without recharging, she said, adding that much of India’s rural heartland still doesn’t have reliable access to power.
GM recently opened a battery research lab in the US to hasten the development of electric and hybrid cars. Production of the Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid that can drive up to 40 miles without gasoline, is slated to start in the US in late 2010.
GM also said it plans to open a new research centre in Shanghai focused on developing “breakthrough” auto technologies for the future such as battery cells and driverless vehicles.