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Will homegrown R&D douse EV fires?

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Photo: Mint

Ola Electric, the poster boy for India’s electric vehicle (EV) dreams, is going to spend $500 million in a research and development (R&D) facility for batteries. The question is whether R&D investments alone can mitigate the EV industry’s problems. Mint explains:

Ola Electric, the poster boy for India’s electric vehicle (EV) dreams, is going to spend $500 million in a research and development (R&D) facility for batteries. The question is whether R&D investments alone can mitigate the EV industry’s problems. Mint explains:

What is Ola Electric’s battery research plan?

On 18 July, Ola Electric said that it is investing $500 million in a battery innovation centre (BIC), where it will develop complete packages of battery pack design, fabrication, and testing. The BIC, according to the company, will be one of the world’s largest and most advanced R&D facilities for battery cells and will have a lot of “unique and cutting edge" lab equipment, including 165 items that will cover different aspects of battery cell research. The company’s innovation centre will also be capable of producing all forms of battery cells that are used in EVs, including cylindrical, pouch, coin, and prismatic cells.

What makes the plan significant?

In April, Ola Electric recalled 1,441 two-wheelers after the government warned of pre-emptive action against firms not meeting safety standards. This came in the wake of electric two-wheelers catching fire. Users have also reported speed issues and problems with battery connections. Experts have often blamed this on the lack of research into batteries suitable for Indian conditions. EV firms have been accused of buying batteries off the shelf and fitting them in their two-wheelers without confirming whether they will be able to withstand Indian weather conditions and road conditions.

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Taking the green road

Will R&D facilities resolve these problems?

Industry experts have warned that the global EV ecosystem is not focused on two- and three- wheelers, which are more used in countries such as India. As a result, a lot of the solutions that Indian firms need either do not exist or are too expensive. The experts said that the key problems Indian EVs face will not be solved with small investments.

What are the issues with the ecosystem?

The key issue, according to many, is that firms in India are in a hurry to put EVs on the road and ignore safety standards to reduce go-to-market times. Engineers often say that they are pressured to overlook problems as these will not be apparent till at least a few months after a product has been on the road. Even if Indian firms come up with solutions the country needs, convincing global cell manufacturers to build to those specifications will be tough. Even large companies are struggling to find the right partners.

What can be done to resolve this?

Two stakeholders said that the government’s production linked incentive will help bring scale to the country’s own ecosystem. Ola is one among four firms approved for this scheme. The industry has to also attract talent. India has a dearth of individuals who know the cell manufacturing process well. Companies have been trying to attract talent from South Korea and China, two hubs for battery engineering talent, but have largely been unsuccessful as they do not agree with targets,  conditions of work, and even salaries.

 

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