Sunday drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: A look at the electronic vehicles at the Auto Expo
February’s got to be the most ‘charged’ month in my motoring life. It began with the Auto Expo where everyone and their uncle unveiled electric vehicles in all shapes and sizes. Motor shows are the place for manufacturers to flaunt their green credentials, to show they really care about planet earth and beat the EV drum to the tune of policy makers, environmentalists and even the courts. But what about the consumer? No one’s asked him or her if they want one. And that’s led to a huge disconnect between what you see under the bright lights on the show floor and what you can actually buy in the showrooms. The truth is, we still aren’t ready for mass adoption of EVs. They are too expensive, there’s no charging infrastructure and there’s that big fear of running out of charge, which by the way has added a new phrase in the lexicon: ‘range anxiety.’
How far will it go?
Range is everything in an EV and the question ‘how far will it go?’ is topmost on the mind of every EV buyer. Which is why we decided to set a record for the maximum distance travelled on one single charge in a long-distance drive dubbed the ‘One Charge Challenge’.
The car we chose was the MG ZS EV, which has a decently large 44.5kWh battery and an official range of 340 km. In the real world of bumper to bumper traffic and with the aircon always running, range drops to a still practical 200-240 km, but we wanted to stretch that figure by more than double. Yes, double! The secret weapon was Autocar’s chief test driver Rahul Kakkar who once ‘hypermiled’ from Delhi to Mumbai on a single tank of fuel. Hypermiling, which is essentially a technique of driving to squeeze the maximum range out of any vehicle, is a popular practice amongst EV owners the world over. So when we set off from the MG showroom in Gurugram towards Udaipur, it was a drive with no air-con, the windows tightly rolled up to reduce wind resistance, cruising or rather crawling at steady speeds between 35-40 kph and driving only in daylight to avoid the use of battery-sapping headlights.
Two days later, after juicing every volt, watt and ampere out of the battery, the MG ZS EV finally ran out charge and stopped just short of Udaipur but not before covering an incredible 563km! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a new record for the maximum distance travelled in an EV on one charge in India!
Now, the average EV owner won’t drive in such an extreme way but the whole point of this record breaking run was to show that with the right driving technique or hypermiling, an EV can go a truly long way on a single charge.
Back in the cut and thrust of Mumbai traffic, I’ve been living with a Hyundai Kona EV for the last two weeks and I have to admit that it’s converting the sceptic in me. With a charging point installed at home and office, the Kona EV is so easy to charge. The other thing I realised, which no one really speaks of, is how easy it is to drive. Compared to a car with a conventional engine, EVs are much more responsive, and the instantaneous and seamless power delivery from the electric motor makes them utterly suitable for the stop-and-go traffic environment we are perennially in.
So, am I now fully converted to the EV cause? Not quite. The Kona works fine as your second car but not your only car, because without fast charging infrastructure on the highways, you can’t stray too far from your home base. And priced at around Rs 27 lakh even after all the taxes and subsidies given to EVs, how many can afford to have the Kona as a second car? Which is why, until the issues of affordability and charging infrastructure are addressed, EVs will remain a niche for the rich.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, March 8, 2020
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