The government is exploring a plan to reserve one lane in each national highway for the exclusive use of electric trucks.
In what may be a game changer for India’s transportation, environment and energy security needs, these trucks won’t be battery operated but powered by electricity from overhead cables on a dedicated lane. To start with, the ministry of road transport and highways is planning a pilot project for running 50-tonne electric trucks between Delhi and Mumbai, aimed at halving the cost of transportation between the nation’s capital and the business hub. If the pilot is successful, the government will introduce it across the country, said Nitin Gadkari, minister for road transport and highways, shipping and ports.
Any such plan will help reduce both pollution and import dependency for fuels, given India’s energy import bill of around $150 billion—expected to reach $300 billion by 2030. India imports around 80% of its oil and 18% of its natural gas requirements. India imported 202 million tonnes of oil in 2015-16. “I am thinking about electric trucks. It is under consideration to set up an electric cable network between Delhi and Mumbai. The plan is yet to be firmed up. A 50-tonne goods carrying truck will start and travel the distance in the last lane which will be designated for this purpose like the railways…It will be a pilot and is currently being studied,” said Gadkari.
This comes against the backdrop of ambitious government plans for a mass scale shift to electric vehicles by 2030 so that all vehicles on Indian roads by then—both personal and commercial—are powered by electricity. Experts welcomed the move.
Jaijit Bhattacharya, infrastructure and government services partner at KPMG consultancy, who gave a presentation on electric trucks and highway project to NITI Aayog in September 2016, said, “If India adopts them, the move is going to bring a huge change in the logistics and transport sector. The move would reduce India’s dependence on imported crude oil, thereby reducing the logistic costs as electricity all kind—solar, thermal and nuclear is available in the country leading to a lot of saving.”
India has been grappling with high logistics costs of 16-18%, which make its exports uncompetitive vis-à-vis China which has lower logistics costs of 8-10%.
“The only investment will be the cost of laying down the electric cable line…It will reduce pollution and the cost of maintenance of the vehicle. Also, due to the increase in the trucks’ goods carrying capacity, there will be an additional saving for the transporter carrying capacity…The cost of transportation will come down by half,” Gadkari added.
India loses $6.6 billion every year in transportation delays for freight, says a comparison study of the survey data for the calendar years 2008-09, 2011-12 and 2014-15 by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta. Also, these delays cost $14 billion per year on account of the fuel consumption (bit.ly/2nghjOd).
“If we bring down the logistics cost to sub 6%, our export will increase 1.5 times. We have decided it is an important area for us,” Gadkari said.
According to the IIM study of 26 routes, one common observation was that for routes covering the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country average vehicle speeds were lower and average stoppage delays were higher than the national average due to poor roads, more stops and long queues.
“Logistics cost is our biggest problem. Our misfortune is that if we have to send material from Delhi to Mumbai or from Mumbai to Delhi, it is not only expensive but also complicated. In comparison, sending cargo from Mumbai to Dubai or London is far more easier,” Gadkari quipped.