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Charge it to my car

There are still too few options within India, but the world is moving to greener transport. It’s the oddest looking car in India. Prasanto K Roy talks about the electric car Reva...

tech reviews Updated: Mar 09, 2009 20:15 IST
Star Tech | Prasanto K Roy

It’s the oddest looking car in India. This quirky, plastic (okay, ABS on a steel frame) two-seater has a visible following in its home town Bangalore, and is travelling to other cities in India and abroad – especially London.

The Reva is electric. It goes less than 80 km on an 8-hour charge (and this declines as the lead-acid batteries age), but is cheap to run. A lithium-ion model charges quicker and runs longer, but costs more.

A Reva i costs Rs 4 lakh. You spend Rs 5,000 a year on electricity if you do 1,000 km monthly (compare with Rs 35,000 in fuel bills for a petrol car). Corporate buyers get 80 per cent depreciation, against 20 per cent for petrol cars – over Rs 80,000 in tax savings in the first year. Though you’ll spend on new batteries two years later, maintenance is cheap. And there are other tax gains – subsidies in Delhi, for instance, add up to over Rs 1 lakh.

So is it safe, this light, oddball two-seater (you can squeeze in kids or bags in the back)? Well, an earlier model failed crash testing in the UK. The two new models have a reinforced chassis, collapsible steering and front disc brakes, and the Reva i has done well in 40 kph crash tests in India. You may not want to use it on the highway, but it’s a nice little “neighbourhood electric vehicle”, as the US classifies it. Europe calls it a “quadricycle”, exempting it from crash tests.

Green to go
You don’t have to buy an electric car. The greenest transport is a bicycle. If you’re less adventurous, there’s public transport, where per-person emission drops sharply. Nothing to beat a great public system such as Singapore’s MRT. Sadly. Indian cities have abysmal public transport. Gurgaon, where I work, doesn’t have any.

So there really isn’t a practical alternative to the Reva, in that price. At Rs 14 lakh, there’s Honda’s Civic Hybrid, whose price was slashed from Rs 22 lakh, selling out all stock. You’ll have to wait for more of them...

A hybrid uses two power sources, electric and petrol. The petrol engine helps charge the battery, and adds power when needed. This gives you better mileage than a pure petrol engine, and it’s more practical than a pure electric car, multiplying its range and allowing smaller batteries. The Civic is a ‘parallel hybrid’ – it can use both engines together. A ‘series hybrid’ like Chevrolet’s Volt will use the petrol engine only to charge batteries or power electric motors, but not directly drive the wheels.

A hybrid isn’t as cheap to run as an all-electric car, though it does stretch mileage. A ‘best of both worlds’ is a plug-in hybrid; you can plug into a mains power outlet to charge its batteries. The petrol engine doesn’t need to come on until the battery is discharged.

For now, with most cars running conventional engines, your other option is alternate fuels. Delhi’s public transport runs on CNG (natural gas); you can convert your car to CNG or LPG (cooking gas), to drop its running cost. Using cooking gas cylinders, though, is illegal and unsafe, but you can get LPG for your car. IndianOil sells it as AutoGas, which can save you nearly 30 per cent over petrol.

Newer cars also support E10 – petrol with 10 per cent ethanol. Up ahead are other biofuels, and hydrogen fuel cells.

The Hypermiler
One dictionary chose “hypermiling” as its word of the year in 2008. It means: to maximise mileage to the limit. Indians are hyper-milers at heart (‘Average kya hai?’). But the real fanatics out there in the wild West, they over-inflate tires and stay close to large trucks on the highway to cut wind resistance.

But some common-sense tips can push up your mileage 20 per cent:
* Don’t idle: Switch off when you stop for over 30 seconds (hybrids do this anyway; and a Mahindra-Bosch gizmo does this on a new Scorpio model).
* Don’t accelerate hard.
* Keep tire pressure to the max, and top up weekly.
* Stick to 50 kph in the city, 70 kph on the highway.
* Remove any extra weight from your car. Remove anything on the roof. Racks create drag.
* Tune it up: Change oil and spark plugs (they’re cheap), do regular tuning
quarterly.
* Try a good, empty road even if it’s longer than a crowded or rough or wet one.
* Plan and minimise trips. Plan your route with as many left turns as possible (to drop idle time waiting for traffic to clear for your right turn).
* Saving fuel is a neat idea: You save your money, and your planet.

Prasanto K Roy ( pkr@cybermedia.co.in ) is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest and Living Digital

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