The NH48 highway in India. The country’s electric car sector is small compared to other major economies like China and the U.S.
Sw Photography | Digitalvision | Getty Images
With a huge population, military and economy, India is viewed by many as country whose influence could grow significantly as the 21st century progresses.
When it comes to electric cars, however, the country is playing a game of catch up.
That’s because while China, Europe and the U.S. have become hubs for the purchase of electric cars — over 50% of those on the road can now be found in China, according to the International Energy Agency — India currently lags pretty far behind.
Change could be around the corner, however, with the IEA’s Global EV Outlook for 2023 noting that battery electric vehicle sales in India hit almost 50,000 in 2022, four times more than the previous year but still small fry compared to the 4.4 million sold in China.
Alongside the increase in sales, the IEA said India was also seeing a “ramping up” of both EV and component manufacturing.
This had been backed by a $3.2 billion incentive program from the Indian government, which had in turn led to $8.3 billion of investment.
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With all of the above in mind, executives at some of the world’s biggest automotive firms are making the case for establishing a foothold in India.
These include the CEO of Stellantis’ Citroën Brand, who believes India’s electric vehicle sector, while in its early stages of development, could be “absolutely perfect” due to the way people there use cars.
During a recent interview with CNBC’s Charlotte Reed, Thierry Koskas accepted that the market in India was “just starting.”
“But we have great hope for this market because a lot of car usage in India is urban or suburban, and that can be absolutely perfect for electric vehicles,” he added.
Citroën India, which launched the fully electric ë-C3 in Feb. 2023, is not alone when it comes to making a move in India’s nascent electric car sector.
Other firms doing the same include Volvo Cars, with its fully electric XC40 Recharge, and Audi, with its e-tron.
Speaking to Autocar India back in 2021, the head of Audi India expressed confidence that the EV sector in the country would go from strength to strength.
“I think [the] four-wheeler industry is one [area], but you also will have two-wheeler industry, even buses on the electric side that will come, and also three-wheelers,” Balbir Singh Dhillon said.
“So I think the whole ecosystem is going to develop at a much faster pace than we can imagine,” he added.
A packed field
Companies like Audi, Volvo Cars and Stellantis are focusing on a market already home to some big India-based players.
These include Tata Motors, which counts Jaguar Land Rover among its subsidiaries. According to the IEA, Tata was responsible for more than 85% of battery electric vehicle sales within India last year.
Other Indian firms jostling for position in the sector include Mahindra and Mahindra and Ola Electric.
In Aug. 2022 the latter’s CEO, Bhavish Aggarwal, said his company would launch an all-electric vehicle that can go from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (just over 62 mph) in four seconds. At the time, the company said it planned to launch the car in 2024.
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While there is a huge amount of chatter about the potential for electric cars in India, a lot of work needs to be done if they’re to become a key part of its transportation system.
“In India and across all regions outside the three major EV markets, electric car sales are expected to represent 2-3% of car sales in 2023, a relatively small yet growing share,” as the IEA notes.
Citroën’s Koskas remains bullish, however. “We launched the electric version of the C3, six months after launching the ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicle — nobody else did it,” he told CNBC.
Despite the speed at which a company like Citroën can move, the fact vehicles running on fossil fuels are still being launched shows just how much the automotive industry will need to change if EVs are to become dominant in India and around the world.
It’s a massive task, but Koskas seemed optimistic about the road ahead in India. “We are one of the few manufacturers today that are present in this electric vehicle market,” he said.
“It’s today, marginal — we think that it will grow a lot in the future, and we are very happy to be present as one of the first newcomers in this market.”