Browse by year:
Reva A Successful Failure?
Rahul Chandran
Thursday, January 30, 2003
INDIA'S FIRST ELECTRIC CAR, REVA, IS ON AN expansion mode: a luxury version of the car, the product of a joint venture between Bangalore-based Maini Group and California-based Amerigon Electric Vehicle Technologies Inc., will soon feature on Chennai roads. If people buy them, that is.

Since its launch in Bangalore a year ago, Reva Electric Car Company (RECC), a joint venture, has run into trouble. The car, which was to cost Rs.162,000 ($3,404-4,255) originally, debuted at Rs 200,000 plus. What went wrong?

Quite a lot, according to Chetan Maini, managing director of RECC. “When we first approached the government with our plans, they promised us a subsidy of Rs 100,000 ($2127) per car. Also, import duties on some of the components were 8 percent. But, once the R&D was complete, and we were ready to launch Reva in June 2001, no subsidy was forthcoming. Moreover, import duties had doubled to 16 percent.”

Compare this with subsidies given to Electric Vehicle (EV) manufacturers in other countries and Maini's grouse is justified. The U.S. government offers tax credits of up to $42,500 for all purchasers of EV depending upon the size the vehicle. Additionally, the government of California has mandated that 2 percent of all vehicles in the state fall under the EV category, a figure expected to grow to 10 percent by 2003. Similarly, Switzerland too hands out a support of $11,000 per EV purchased, with a budget of $14 million for the program.

“Except for the hype about reducing air pollution, the Indian government has done little to help companies like ours,” fumes Maini. Reva's unspectacular run in the domestic market (250 cars sold last year) has not deterred RECC from aiming at the export market segment. The car is undergoing certification for entry into the European markets, with a few cars already on display at London and other cities.

“The export market segment is a key focus area,” says Maini. The car might be expensive by Indian standards (considering the non-A/C Maruti 800 sells at a little less than Rs 250,000 on the road), but is far cheaper than the ones in other countries. “Comparable cars in other countries might cost as much as $40,000,” he says.

Popular Perception
An electric vehicle in India, where even petrol cars have not reached peak penetration yet? EVs, in fact, have not caught on as a concept even in the U.S., where many states require automobile manufacturers to spend a portion of their budgets on alternative-fuel vehicles.

Over the last decade many automakers have chalked out huge R&D programs to design alternative-fuel vehicles. The alternatives are battery power, solar power, hydrogen-based and so on. Yet, those that have come beyond the drawing-board stage have barely reached commercialization. Apparently, Reva was ahead of its time. India is not seen as a place where new technologies succeed well. It is considered uneconomical and worse, downright adventurous to invest money in a new product, let alone a whole new technology.

Driving Technology
As far as technology and capability are concerned, Reva compares favorably with other mini EVs built so far. It has been designed to serve as an electric city car that is equipped to deal with Indian road and traffic conditions. With a two-door hatch back and a payload of 500 lbs (2 adults and 2 kids), Reva can cover 50 miles. The car also has a microprocessor-based battery management system: a 48-volt, 200-amp/hr EV tubular lead acid battery that costs about $450. This battery, perhaps, is the weakest link in a car otherwise well-designed: it needs a replacement every three years, which adds to the car's running cost. But even then, this is cheap when compared with the running cost of a Maruti 800. The car's size, shape and steering make it ideal for city-driving. It has a turning radius of 3,505 mm, and a regenerative energy system that ensures every time you throttle down, the car lets out a slight drag so as to conserve energy. Soon, to enhance its appeal, RECC also plans to introduce a battery that will allow a range of 85 miles.

Future Roadmap
What’s in store? “Better and lighter batteries, and other critical components to better certain aspects of the car,” says Maini. “Batteries are the most important component of such cars, and this is the focus area of research for many companies. We are also improving the battery range without significantly altering the car. Besides, we are researching fuel-cell technologies that might radically change the auto industry.” Maini feels confident about the future of his car market segment, considering world concerns. Does Maini expect draconian laws to change? Will he survive? Only time will tell. His vision, though, is applaudable.

Share on LinkedIn