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New Delhi: Tata Motors Ltd and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M) Ltd are facing off once again, this time in electric engines.

Both are speeding up their work on developing electric powertrains for their small commercial vehicles in the sub 2-tonne category.

Tata Motors, India’s largest commercial vehicles maker, is developing an electric variant of its popular light commercial vehicle (LCV) Tata Ace that can carry up to 1 tonne.

“The new powertrain is already in the development stage and may hit the Indian market by late 2019 or early 2020," a person close to the development said, requesting anonymity.

M&M, which beat Tata Motors in LCV sales in the past two fiscal years, is also developing its own electric powertrain for its offerings in the sub 2-tonne segment, said another person aware of the issue, who also did not want to be named.

The rationale behind electric powertrains is that these vehicles would not require extensive charging stations like buses and will be used for transporting goods within a city or a town. Hence, a single charge would be enough to operate them throughout a day.

In the second avatar, or the FAME scheme, which is still being drafted by the Department of Heavy Industries, it is widely expected that the Union government will subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles for commercial purposes and both the companies think introducing an electric powertrain in its offerings in LCV segment will get a lot of traction in the market.

Both Tata Motors and M&M have already launched electric variants of their respective products—Tigor of Tata Motors and E-Verito of M&M—in the passenger vehicle segment and have been supplying these vehicles to Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) – a company floated by the ministry of power.

Vehicles like Tata Motors’ Ace and M&M’s Jeeto are used to move freight within cities. Hence, these vehicles with electric powertrains can be used by fleet owners as operational cost will be much lower and acquisition cost would also come down once subsidies are in place.

“Tata Motors is developing an electric variant of the small commercial vehicle Ace and is at the development stage now. It should be in the market by late 2019 or 2020. Given the way the Union government wants to encourage the use of EVs in commercial purposes, this is perfectly suitable for ferrying goods and passengers within city limits," said a person directly aware of the development.

Tata Motors though showcased an electric variant of its small commercial vehicle Magic—used for ferrying passengers—at the Auto Expo 2018. “As you are aware, we had showcased Magic EV at the Auto Expo 2018. However, as a policy, we do not comment on future product innovations and launches," the firm said in response to an email query.

M&M did not respond to a query sent by Mint on Friday.

“Tata Motors is trying to consolidate its position in the electric commercial vehicle front. It has already launched electric buses and has been testing some of them in different states. With the introduction of the electric variant of Ace, the firm will further try to cement its position. Also, in the long run, this may help them get some lost market share back from M&M in the LCV space," said the person mentioned above, requesting anonymity.

According to the second person mentioned above, pricing will be key to its success since one section of the users are first-time customers and getting the vehicle financed is a problem initially.

“The LCV segment will get a lot of traction if an electric powertrain is introduced as these run within towns and cities and if the government decides to subsidize, fleet owners will buy electric variants," said Puneet Gupta, associate director, vehicle forecast, IHS Markit.

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