Elon Musk confirmed his India plans for Tesla with a two-word tweet. “As promised,” wrote the world’s richest man in a thread, linking to a blog that said Tesla cars will be expensive, but may eventually become more affordable for the Indian middle class when the company starts its own production. “At the moment, due to the high tariffs in India, Tesla cars will be expensive. Nevertheless, if the company has its own production, it will reduce the cost of cars to an acceptable level, which will make them more affordable. Thus, at some point, Tesla cars may become affordable for the middle class as well,” the brand says in one of the blogs.
The first launch expected from the company is its entry-level offering, the Model 3 sedan, which will be sold in India through the CBU (Completely Built Unit) route, thus demanding a higher price tag (starting at approximately Rs 60 lakh). The most affordable and best-selling product of the brand, Model 3 comes in three variants: standard range plus, long range and performance. But the brand hasn’t confirmed if it will bring its Autopilot autonomous driving assist to India, one of the biggest highlights of the brand. Autopilot is an advanced driver assistance system, which does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle or allow the driver to abdicate responsibility. Instead, it reduces the driver’s overall workload.
Nonetheless, the much-hyped arrival of Tesla in the Indian market has raised eyebrows, as electric mobility in India is still a work in progress. Also, there are already many players in the electric vehicle market in India. Tata Motors’ brand of electric vehicles starts at Rs 15 lakh, Mahindra Electric sells eVerito cars that are battery-operated, and Morris Garage and Hyundai, too, sell battery-operated vehicles. Mercedes-Benz currently retails the EQC, an electric car that is not only the costliest but also the most advanced in India.
In fact, there are many upcoming electric cars in 2021 as well. Take, for instance, Mahindra XUV300 Electric, an all-electric version, which is powered by a 130hp electric motor with a 30kWh battery to deliver a range of over 300 km on a single charge. Or the BMW i3, which is expected to be a lighter vehicle in the segment and travel a distance of 128-150 km on a single charge. Tata Altroz EV will come with a 30kWh battery that will offer a range of around 300 km on a single charge. US-based Triton Electric Vehicles, too, plans to introduce its N4 sedan in India, starting at a price of Rs 35 lakh.
But can India easily achieve transition to e-mobility? The ministry of power has allowed the sale of electricity as a service for charging electric vehicles. The ministry of road transport highways has notified that there will be an exemption of official permit for battery-operated vehicles. But there is an increasing need to make ample charging stations available and this can lead to pressure on electricity generation. Plus, renewable energy resources should be coupled with charging stations for efficiency.
According to a 2020 study by lubricants major Castrol, most consumers in India would consider buying an electric vehicle by 2022, but most of them also believe that it won’t be until 2025 that the majority of new cars purchased are electric. The study found that, on an average, for consumers in India, a price point of Rs 23 lakh (or $31,000), a charge time of 35 minutes and a range of 401 km from a single charge represents the ‘tipping points’ to achieve mainstream EV adoption.
Also, when Tesla comes to India, the brand will have to pay special emphasis on the next-generation electric vehicle batteries, turning to lithium iron, not lithium ion. The next generation of lithium iron batteries have fundamental chemical engineering science powering EVs. The lithium-iron phosphate does not require nickel or cobalt, and lab research shows that this will cut costs, enhance much longer-range and durable battery cells. The new technology can allow cars to go 400 miles or more between charges and last as long as 1 million miles.