Growing pains of India’s EV scene
With ever-rising fuel prices, the Indian populace is slowly yet surely finding respite in electric vehicles. While their adoption has been somewhat constrained to tier-1 cities, the new era is definitely upon us. Shifting to electric power has not been easy on the few brave enough to make the switch (pun unintended)- given the difficulties with range, charging infrastructure, and reliability. However, enough has been said and written about the challenges of EV ownership. Let’s swing the spotlight over to the manufacturers themselves. Nobody makes a substandard vehicle on purpose, a flawed product is a result of compromises earlier in the life-cycle.
India, and in particular, Bangalore, saw the first glimpses of electric mobility with the Maini Reva back in 2003. Despite moderate success, the EV industry never really took off until a few years ago. With increasing demand and better manufacturing standards, the market is now inundated with manufacturers new and old, vying for a sliver of critical market share. The sheer number of players in the game boggles the mind, from established manufacturers like TVS to startups like Ather; not to mention the Chinese entrants with lower price tags and questionable quality.
This phenomenon is not new, it repeats itself every time an industry needs to reinvent itself to stay relevant. When cars first became affordable, there were innumerable companies trying to make themselves the household name. However, a select few weather the initial storm. Herein lies the first challenge for the EV makers — survival. Entering the market is no longer a statement of environmental awareness or technical ability, it is a fight to avoid falling by the wayside in the wake of a new era for the industry. Improved manufacturing standards mean there is little to choose between products in terms of specifications or quality; and marketing is a tool that is stronger than ever before. The way a brand positions itself has never been more important and a select few have emerged as the early leaders.
Technology tends to plateau a few years into the mainstream, and IC engines have long enjoyed astonishing reliability and performance. Nearly everything there is to know about them has been researched and studied, leading to a quality end product. The EV industry, however, is still behind the summit in terms of understanding itself. Motor and battery technology have come a long way, but there is still huge potential (pun intended this time) for improvement.
Established manufacturers enjoy the luxury of virtually unlimited budgets and super-fast lead times, while the newer startups are on the clock with their investors. Rushed timelines and cut corners mean product failures and quality issues after the vehicle has been delivered to the customer. All this is a significant challenge for the engineers, but it is nothing compared to the absolute PR nightmare for the marketing team. In this age of information, product failures can sound an instant death knell to a company’s hopes.
On the other hand, we see the big names come out with boring, bland options that nobody wants to buy, it just seems like the logical choice. This is the pitfall of being designed by a grey suit wearing committee, the end product is always too safe and never on the bleeding edge of technology, unlike the radical designs we see from startups. This is a true David vs Goliath battle we see shaping up, and the beneficiary of corporate competition is always the consumer. The winner will surely rise to conquer the market for years, at least until the next era comes along.