Bangalore: At first sight, it looks like a toy car that has grown big on steroids, but a closer look at the two-door hatchback reveals a cable connecting it to a power outlet in a shopping mall car park here.
Some 2,000 of these zero-polluting city commuters have been put on the roads in India and Europe, including 600 in London, in the six years since Reva Electric Car Co. turned commercial.
The test-marketing phase is now over, and the Reva, as the electric car is known, is ready to leap into the mass market for environment-friendly vehicles, said Chetan Maini, deputy chairman and chief technical officer.
The Bangalore-based company hopes to sell 3,000 units this year and 30,000 next, said the 37-year-old mechanical engineer in an interview.
Electric storm: Assembly line of the Reva Electric Car Co. in Bangalore. The company is counting on increasing environmental and energy concerns to power its growth at home and abroad.
“In the last five years, we innovated and improved and developed the core technologies,” said Maini, who studied in Michigan and Stanford universities. “We got the partners and we got the funds.
“Everything has been coming together and we have reached an inflection point to take off,” said Maini, who developed the no-clutch, no-gears car as the head of a 75-member team of research engineers.
The company is counting on increasing environmental and energy concerns to power its growth at home and abroad, as soaring petrol prices and pollution worries prompt consumers in the cities to seek alternatives.
“People are now making choices based on such issues,” said Maini, who was project leader for the hybrid electric car at Stanford and a team leader of the Michigan solar car team that won the GM Sun Race.
The New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment says India needs to “reinvent the idea of mobility” as cities turn into smoke-encased enclaves.
One often-quoted anecdote says even a non-smoker ends up inhaling the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day by breathing the air of India’s cities, where the number of cars sold is forecast by US consultancy Keystone to rise to 20 million by 2030 from one million in 2003.
India paid $57 billion (Rs2.3 trillion) for oil imports in the year ended March, up more than 30% from the previous year, as crude prices spiralled.
“Electricity is the solution,” said Maini, whose company was formed in 1994 as a joint venture between the family-owned Maini Group and AEV of the United States to design, manufacture and sell environment-friendly vehicles.
“Technology is available now at a cost that makes sense,” said the second-generation entrepreneur, who has more than 14 years’ experience with electric vehicles. “A non- polluting electric car costs the equivalent of a small petrol car and the operating costs are much less.”
His company last month launched a new Reva model, which can seat two adults and two children, billed as the most advanced electric car in the global market.
It can reach a speed of 80km an hour, up from a previous best of 65kmph.
It also covers 80km on a single charge of electricity that translates into a cost of about 41 paise per km, a tenth that of a petrol model. The car has improved torque—up to 40% more than the earlier model—for better hill climbing.
The Reva has better prospects of finding success abroad than in price-sensitive India, where manufacturers are planning to launch a slew of petrol models priced as low as $3,000 (Rs123,300), one third of the Reva’s price tag.
Already marketed in Britain, Spain, Norway, Italy, Malta, Sri Lanka, Cyprus and Greece, the car benefits from incentives offered to non-polluting vehicles by governments there.
In Britain and Norway, it sells as G-Wiz and is exempt from parking fees as well as congestion and road taxes. Japan gives a $2,600 subsidy for electric-car users and France waives taxes on electricity used to charge the car.
India lacks the infrastructure for electric cars such as battery charging stations, and Reva may appeal only to the environmentally conscious who have small commutes and can afford it, said Greenpeace energy specialist Srinivas Krishnaswamy.
“There’s no doubt that it’s green and clean,” said Krishnaswamy. “Even the cost may be small for the greening of the environment.”