When Taxis go Electric

Electric taxis are the talk of the town. Here in India and there in London.

Finally, the Duke of Edinburgh’s oft-and-secretly driven eco-friendly London taxi is getting parked in the Sandringham Museum alongside Royal vehicles dating back to 1900, now that the proud Duke has donated it.

Finally, a major cab aggregator has decided to experiment with fully electric cabs in major Indian cities in the next three-four months. Ola will first observe this pilot phase and then roll out electric vehicles after a feedback on what goes right and what needs to be fixed.

Incidentally, its investor SoftBank Group Corp.’s chairman Masayoshi Son had announced a few months back about plans for a fleet of 1 million electric cars in partnership with an electric vehicle maker along with the government.

The same fervor is visible in London where a new car factory in is all set to churn out thousands of electric vehicles from later phases of the year. This comes close on the heels of a £300m investment by its Chinese owners Geely. The target is to manufacture 5,000 vehicles a year by 2019.

As we mull the TX5, the London Taxi Company (LTC) is also busy extreme-testing its all-new electric black cabs in Norway’s cold weather in a really-eye-popping comprehensive product quality where average temperatures would touch -15 degree Celsius. Such tests would be very relevant for ascertaining the actual endurance and performance of the battery as well as the range of the vehicle, besides tapping its Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioner system (HVAC) levels for really severe conditions.

There are also plans reported to put these vehicles in jumbo refrigerators and cool the vehicle to a frigid -49 degree, wherein one would get to know if the cars can wake up after a tremendously-cold night or not.

India needs many experiments too if we want to hit six million electric vehicles by 2020 at all. Specially if of the 22,000 EV units sold in the year ended 31 March 2016 only 2,000 happen to be cars and other four-wheelers in the electric category, from what latest reported figures of Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles tell.

Incentives make four-wheelers in the range of Rs 13,000 to Rs 1.38 lakh while LCVs in the Rs 17,000 to Rs 1.87 lakh band in India and SIAM (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers) is working on the next phase of spurring these vehicles and accomplishing the vision of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020.

What pilots and ground-probes help with is not just the performance area but also the real issues and practical pot-holes that electric vehicles would face technically, financially and psychologically on the actual roads.

The industry is already rooting for a better distinction of mild / semi/ full hybrids and plug-in hybrids so that actual emission advantage and driving range can be achieved with plug-ins.

There is also a need of ensuring that ecosystem, battery-recharge and storage etc. are looked into well before dreaming that electric vehicles will simply ply and shave off carbon from our roads and air.

The market has been fiddling with products and cracking the right model only would decide winners for sure. Right now there is Maruti Suzuki Ciaz SHVS, Maruti Suzuki Ertiga SHVS, Mahindra e2o (2-door), e2o Plus (4-door)Mahindra e-Verito, BMW i8, Volvo XC90 T8, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Toyota Prius roaming in the electric lanes of a raw and amorphous market. If cabs could push and nudge then the market could actually be on a roll. Good tests sanitise that nudge.

When Metrocab got the sanction to vroom in London as the proper electric taxi some years back, it did so after hitting some tests and criteria. It emitted 75 per cent less carbon dioxide than a comparable London taxi, endured a year-long trial that incorporated drivers and working conditions. It managed ‘Range Extender’ for recharging the vehicle’s battery pack, ensured 98 miles to the gallon in extensive tests, turned out three times more efficient than a typical London taxi but was also palatable in the seating comfort and size departments – from what it says. It seated seven passengers, gave significant fuel chops and gave a smooth ride and comfort. It also took the criticism around design of the car quite constructively and was remodeled instead of being a simple knock-off of the iconic black taxi.

Other players like e-taxi, Nissan LEAF in New York, cabs in Austin etc. also show some skid marks that electric vehicles leave when tested well.

Availability of a good range, assurance of enough haul and fully-self-charging mode despite a domestic-charging provision also help immensely in making Electric cabs more pragmatic and attractive.

The scale and procurement leverage of fleets that cab players command is a prominent factor in making more room for electric vehicle in this segment. The familiarity and visibility of more electric cars on roads can also veer vehicle ownership towards the electric or hybrid side in the overall market.

The industry may make more than some brownie points by investing towards a greener future. It may make better margins and better valuations too. Never hurts.
















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