It is a widely acknowledged fact that when the pudgy Reva, India’s first and till date only electric car, was launched way back in 2001, it was futuristic. Oil prices were not too high, neither was pollution, and the need for greener cars was not a pressing a need. The car itself had myriad problems: It was small (squeezing in even two small children at the back was tight), sluggish and very low-frills. Air-conditioning, for instance, was a sore point, as was charging the vehicle. And the pricing was seen as prohibitive.
In its first major revamp as the e2o, this time under mass market manufacturer Mahindra and Mahindra, the good old Reva is attempting a roaring comeback. But has enough been done for the market to accept it this time?
New vs old: how good?
The e2o is a major revamp over the Reva. Dimensionally it is much bigger than the older car — 25% longer and 15% wider. The wheelbase to has been increased significantly. It is now in fact comparable to entry-level small cars such as the Maruti Alto. In terms of looks, too, there is a a lot of improvement. It looks more car-like, and has a better road presence and is also pleasing to the eye. It is still a small car and has only two doors, but for short hauls inside the city, which is what the car is meant for, it is possible to fit in two adults at the back. Kids would find room to spare. There is also a small but useable boot, good enough for a couple of carry bags.
There is marked progress in the interiors as well. Looking at the dashboard and instrument panel, you cannot make out that it is not a usual passenger car. The steering feels good, the seats are comfortable and the air conditioning — the big issue in the old Reva — actually works quite well.
What is also good is that because this car already comes at a massive premium over conventional cars due to its electric drivetrain, Mahindra decided to throw in a few gadgets to add value, such as a rear parking camera in addition to sensors, and a touch screen music system with navigation — not quite top of the line, but decent nevertheless. It has an automatic gearing, so comparing it directly with an Alto or a Wagon R would be unfair. Moreover, there is a bevy of geeky features, such as a 'connected car technology' that lets you control some functions like locking the doors and managing the air-conditioning with your smartphone.
At ease in the city?
Yes, and that is good news. Power output has gone up by over 40% in the e2o compared to the Reva, so it has more grunt. It is still not comparable to even an Alto 800 in sprints, but its flat torque means you will not labour in the city. The e2o literally takes off from standstill and keeps going till at least 60 kph, beyond which it starts to run out of breath. So if you are in maddening city traffic, you are better off than most others, because there are no gears to fiddle with. In fact there is a boost mode for quick overtaking — though that thrust felt more or less cosmetic.
It also feels very light and easy to drive, almost like a golf cart. Beyond this however, there is little to talk about. We cannot discuss the handling characteristics of the car because it is not built for being thrown around. The steering does feel vague, possibly because of the lack of weight at the front due to the absence of an engine. The battery pack is beneath the seats. The ride quality is quite decent and a ground clearance of 180 mm despite its short wheelbase means bad roads are absolutely not a problem.
Range anxiety, charging?
Sadly, these are issues that refuse to go away. On a full charge, the e2o will last 100 kilometers; and yes, it does go the distance. That is a welcome departure from most other cars that will claim 21 kmpl but give you only 15kmpl. But, the eerie feeling that you may be stranded midway — anxiety is the right word — if you run out of charge plays havoc on your focus, and your eyes are fixated on the distance-to-empty indicator.
Charging the car itself is not a hassle: any 15 ampere electric socket will do it. Time taken for a full charge has come down from 9 hours in the Reva to just 5 hours. But most parkings lots do not have power points, and there are not enough independent charging stations operational yet. So unless you are sure of the distance that you are going to travel when you leave home, the e2o may still prove to be a ... worry.
The broad economics...
Are in favour of e2o, but there is a catch. The lithium ion battery pack carries a warranty of 3 years and 60,000 kilometers. Mahindra claims that you may not require a replacement before 5 years, but when you do, you will be landed with a bill of R150,000. Factor in the premium cost of the car (over, say, an Alto), it would take you at least three-and-a-half years to break even if you drive for about 50 kilometers daily.
By the time the car turns five, you might have saved enough to spend on a new battery. So it is even stevens, really.
On the flip side, the cost of a battery is coming down each year by around 8% due to advancement of technology. With this aspect in mind, the dice appear loaded in favour of the e2o.