It is estimated that by 2020, 10% of cars plying on the roads would be electric. Two years ago, that seemed like a very optimisitc yeardstick. Now it seems very conservative. With oil prices continuing their upward spiral, the switch to electric vehicles would happen sooner and even India as the fifth-largest market in the world cannot be insulated because it is a low-cost market.
While the country has had its own electric car in the Reva and a couple of hybrids (Prius and Civic hybrid), they have not found many takers largely due to inadequate range and low infrastructure. But there are others around the world such as the recently launched Renault Fluence ZE and Nissan Leaf that may just make more sense.
The Fluence ZE
The ZE stands for zero emission and is touted as the first-ever electric family sedan to hit the roads around the world. It is already for sale in major European markets and though it is not certain whether or when it will make it to India, similar technologies would invariably will. Like most other electric cars, the Fluence uses a lithium ion battery with a capacity of 22KW/h, giving the car a range of 180 kilometers when fully charged. When completely discharged, the battery can be charged in six-eight hours. Alternately there is also a provision of fast charge that replenishes 80% of the battery in 20 minutes in designated stations. These have not been currently developed in India.
How does it drive?
The Fluence ZE is longer and heavier than the standard model and that’s only because of the battery pack that sits right behind the rear seats. It is also loaded with features inside unlike some other electric cars that strip down for increased affordability. The battery gives the car a power of 102 bhp and a 226 Nm torque. Step into the car and the absolute lack of any noise gives an eery feeling. Turn the ignition and a GO sign on the instrument cluster is the only evidence that you are ready to rocket ahead.
With an automatic transmission as standard, the car is tuned for city driving where Renault believes it will be mostly used. It is nimble, light footed and very silent. But it is a fully bred car and not a golf cart. As it is electric, there is no turbo lag and torque is available right from the world go, which means it is very easy on the throttle. On the flipside it does flatten out sooner than a conventional car of this size and price and the drive is not as engaging too. For the enthusiast and the hardcore driver, electric would still be an anathema.For India?
There are a few riders that make cars like the Fluence ZE impractical for India, for now. The lack of charging stations is one that will take sometime to overcome, followed by price that would be a little prohibitive as well. In France it costs €21,000 (Rs 13.65 lakh) and the battery is excluded from this cost. For that one has to pay a lease of €82 (Rs 5,330). That dampens the cost benefit of using an electric car in a market like India. The biggest hurdle is lack of government subsidies to make futuristic technology realistic.