Killed Before Birth? India’s EV in Jeopardy

Since its launch half a decade ago, Reva, India’s only electric car manufacturer, has sold 3000 cars in 24 countries. Not bad for a product that (unfortunately) looks like a glamorous rickshaw and is still having teething problems (fuse box issues, slow, safety issues, et al). Issue no. 1 seems to have been addressed at the Frankfurt International Motor Showlast week when Reva put on display the NXG – an appealing, futuristic looking version of itself designed by that one man army – Dilip Chhabria. There’s even a 4-seater version – the NXR. It costs under 10 lacs, works on electricity, has no emissions, can seat 4 people (and in India 4 is really 5), and looks better than all other small cars. This could be the car that saves the world.

However. Barely a week after the announcements at Frankfurt we see General Motors is getting into a JV with Reva. The idea is to use Reva’s production capabilities in India to produce an electric version of GM’s current small car – the Spark. The question is – Why in the world would GM need Reva’s help?

Having promised myself that my next car is going to be electric (or hybrid at the very least), I have been following developments on the electric vehicle (EV) front in India for a while. GM has been making cars since 1908. It’s was the first company to mass produce an EV in 1990, before it self-sabotaged and killed its own initiative for diabolical reasons – see for the whole story. It’s fascinating. Better still, watch the documentary – Who Killed the Electric Car?

GM was the world’s largest car producer until Toyota recently overtook it, but it is still global warmer no. 1.

GM has – barely covertly – gone about promoting and ensuring the continued use of fossil fuels and has literally crushed every single attempt (even its own) at EV production. This is not hyperbole. GM has worked in tandem with the US Federal government and lawmakers to make this happen. The Volt, priced at a ridiculous $40,000 is not going to make a dent in any way to the cause. It will remain a trophy car, a pathetic cover up for the damage already done.

GM doesn’t need Reva! In 2007 GM sold close to 30,000 vehicles per day. That’s 10 times the number of cars Reva has sold ever. And at many, many times the price! Bailout or not, GM still sells many more cars in a day than all of Reva is worth. Since the late 80’s, GM has had the technology to build EV’s that are superior tech to Reva’s current products. Given its size and economies of scale, if they wanted to, GM could corner any car market with EV’s overnight. GM is out to kill Reva and that’s the obvious conclusion.

My great hope was that any development and pro-environment policy change in developing countries such as India would be under the radar. To hell with US and Japan – China and India could lead the way. All that bickering at trade meets about the US polluting its way to economic success in the ‘70s and now enforcing a carbon emission cap (Kyoto, et al) on India being unfair is stupid. Instead of whining about it, this is our chance to lead the way and show the world that renewable sources of energy is the only way ahead. If there is any place on the planet where alternate energy can succeed, it’s India with its abundance of natural resources – and we’re only talking of tidal, geothermal, wind, and water. The only catch is, the movement had to be under the radar – at least until the point where it was too late for the big oil and associated cartels to cripple what would’ve turned into mass economics by then.

Unfortunately Reva’s NXG and NXR has turned heads and GM’s going to nip this one in the bud.

Reva represented that private player initiative in India – the small independent firm that stuck to its guns against all odds and made the EV possible for a small group of people. But then it seems to have come up with a product that might actually sell large numbers. And not one week later GM calls them and announces a JV? GM’s CEO is here shaking hands with Reva’s CTO. It’s unreal. I bet if Obama called him, he’d have put him on hold, just to show who’s boss.

How does one interpret this news except that GM is going to steam roll Reva into the ground and crush yet another honest attempt at the EV?

Bad move Reva. It’s a deal with the devil. Whose next? Ratan Tata has promised an electric Nano by 2011 – mass produced in ’12. Will GM buy them out too? We’ll have to wait and watch. But the future of the EV in India has taken a mighty blow.

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