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Owning a Tesla in India: A summer 2017 dream shown by Musk and Modi

Tesla’s entry into the fastest growing auto-market in the world is much anticipated. But is India ready for an all-electric supercar?

autos Updated: Feb 10, 2017 17:23 IST
Gulshankumar Wankar
Tesla Motors' mass-market Model 3 electric cars are seen in this handout picture from Tesla Motors.
Tesla Motors' mass-market Model 3 electric cars are seen in this handout picture from Tesla Motors.(Reuters Photo)

“Hoping for summer this year” replied Elon Musk to a tweet asking when Tesla is coming to India. Tesla’s entry into the fastest growing auto-market in the world is much anticipated, ever since PM Narendra Modi’s Silicon Valley trip in September 2015, followed by Union road and transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s visit to Tesla’s Fremont, California factory last July, where he pitched Musk to make India his Asia manufacturing hub for the electric supercar.

Tesla Models are not hybrids like the Toyota Camry or Prius, but plug-in all-electric cars that can be driven for more than 300km at around 100kph in one charge. The American automaker has built a network of more than 3,600 Tesla Supercharger stations across US, Western Europe, China and some parts of Japan and the Middle-East. Musk plans to take the number of Superchargers to 7,200 by the end of 2017.

For the uninitiated, a Supercharger is Tesla’s own technology for high-speed charging of cars, where a 15-minute plug-in can energise the car to vroom up to 150 km. (All figures approximate and derived from Tesla’s website. Actual India performance may vary.)

A Tesla Model S charges at a Tesla Supercharger station in California. (Reuters file photo)

Tesla is also known for its trademark ‘Autopilot’, a self-driving technology which initially looked revolutionary, but came under the scanner after the death of one US Autopilot user. And in a country like India, of inconsistent lane-separators, traffic-signals and even signboards, application of Autopilot is akin to taking eyes off the road.

Plus, we still do not have pucca-roads and reliable electric network in many parts of the country. Cattle still make a “moo-point” on roads and highways are full of unruly drivers. Most Indians park cars outside their houses ­­­– on the road or under a tree, parks or public utility compounds­ – where provision of a charging point to plug in a car is unthinkable.

“But why only in residential buildings?” asked Vishnu Mathur, director general of Society of India Automobile Manufacturers, during a conversation in Auto Expo last year.

“Why not places like government offices, malls, parking-lots have these charging ports for say 15-30 vehicles? So suppose I go to office 10-5. I can put my car to charge during working hours, and drive back home or to anywhere after that without any tension. That would reduce the stress of owning an electric or hybrid with concerns of limited range,” Mathur added.

New Autopilot features are demonstrated in a Tesla Model S during an event in California. (Reuters file photo)

Not just that, Tesla will have an uphill drive in India where electric vehicles never actually picked up pace. Before Mahindra bought controlling stake in the Bengaluru-based small e-carmaker in 2010, very few had seen or even heard of Reva, which today, Mahindra sells e2O at Rs 6 lakh, alongside an electric sedan, eVerito, starting Rs 9.50 lakh.

Electric two-wheelers, mostly mopeds, too have failed to sell good due to poor built and short durability of the product. Torq Motorcycles is at a nascent stage. The only successful electric vehicles here could be the e-rickshaws, thanks to their commercial use and relaxation in taxes and licensing of the owners.

But unattractive models, lack of favourable government policy and doubts about these cars’ run on the road have made electric vehicles-owners all the more sceptical.

The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, drafted by the ministry of heavy industries, aims at “gradually ensuring a vehicle population of about 6-7 million electric/hybrid vehicles in India by 2020”. With no word on the automotive policy in the Union Budget 2017-18 or on the FAME policy, and continued uncertainty over diesel and clean-fuel technologies, Tesla coming to India could be a big gamble.

But if the Model 3, Tesla’s most affordable product, hits Indian roads at around Rs 40 lakh, things may change. But as of now, Elon Musk’s midsummer dream set in India seems far from reality, given the fact that Model 3 is going for production only by mid 2017, and the first roll-out in US is likely by 2018.

So good luck with that, India.