India May Lead the Way in Electric Vehicle Implementation

With a goal of going all-electric by 2030, India may jump-start the EV revolution.

byJustin Hughes|
India May Lead the Way in Electric Vehicle Implementation


Sooner or later, the electric car revolution is coming. As battery technology improves to allow practical range and reasonably fast charging, the next major step is building an infrastructure of charging stations to rival the convenience of gas stations. We're not there yet. But other parts of the world have set some fairly aggressive goals for replacing fossil fueled cars with electric. India, for example, wants to sell only hybrid and electric vehicles by 2030. While building up a charging infrastructure, India is also experimenting with electric vehicles by trying new ideas in an unusual place: electric rickshaws.

Rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks in other parts of the world, are small three-wheeled taxis. A few are still pedal-powered, but the majority use small gasoline engines like a motorcycle and have motorcycle-style controls on the handlebars. They are most popular in Asian countries with fair climates where they can be used year round. Their instability at high speeds also makes for epic chase scenes.

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Under more sane driving conditions, rickshaws are great transportation around India's cities. Their small size and low weight make them an obvious candidate for electrification. Also, the stop-and-go driving of city traffic is where an electric vehicle shines most since it uses little to no fuel while stopped. The Arcimoto SRK is vaguely similar but is designed to be personal transportation rather than a small taxi. 

Numerous manufacturers are getting into the electric rickshaw game. India's vehicle powerhouse Mahindra recently launched the e-Alfa electric rickshaw, which seats four passengers plus the driver, can travel 85 kilometers (53 miles) and has a top speed of 25 kph (15 mph), which is perfectly adequate for navigating India's congested cities. Mahindra cites India's 2030 electrification goal as a direct incentive for introducing this model rickshaw.

Another aspect of the plan is swappable batteries. Rickshaws, as well as electric buses, will be able to get away with less expensive short-range batteries that can be exchanged with a fresh one quickly, then put back on the road while the old battery charges. Once charged the fresh battery goes straight into another vehicle. Batteries and vehicles would be purchased separately, bringing down the cost of vehicles and encouraging standardization of batteries within a fleet. With enough batteries, transportation authorities and private companies will be able to keep their fleets running with no more downtime than refilling the gas tank would take.

This solution wouldn't work in rural parts of the U.S. of course, but our cities could look to India as an example of how to electrify in the future. While rickshaws aren't likely to come here, taxis, vans, and buses could be designed with quickly swappable batteries to emulate what India's cities are looking to do.