Premium car-maker Audi, owned by the Volkswagen Group will roll out an all electric SUV called the e-tron by the end of the year in India, marking the entry of the first of a global electric line-up of 12 vehicles. Rahil Ansari, Audi India head says the first batch to be imported in will include an order of 200 CBU (completely built-up) vehicles which will largely be distributed across dealerships in major metro cities that include Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others. The reduced GST from 28 percent to 12 percent for electric cars is a good initiative but Ansari says he is hopeful that when the budget is announced this July, that number will come down even further to around five per cent.
That's significant for cars such as the e-tron which on account of being imported and CBU attract high import duties (100 percent) and hence are priced at north of Rs 1 crore to start with. A large 5-seater similar looking to Audi's Q8, the e-tron differs in that its powered by a chargeable battery that is as large as a mattress which weighs over 700 kgs, and is fitted under the bottom of the car. The battery is kept at optimum temperatures through a liquid cooling system and when fully charged gives the car a driving range of around 400 kilometers. While Audi doesn't disclose how much it will cost to replace a battery, it will be expensive given that its the heart of the car and built to push a 2,600-kg SUV to top speeds of over 200 kilometers per hour. The battery will come with a 8-year warranty, and the charging apparatus for the car is a simple 2-pin plug that can be hooked up in most electrical sockets across office and residence buildings. The charging dock and connector come at no extra price.
The e-tron has been work in progress since 2015 when it was showcased at international motor shows and was launched in global markets this year in May.
What are other luxury car-makers thinking? BMW India's officials say that while they actually brought in the first hybrid plug-in the i8 in India around three years ago, their sense is that the charging infrastructure is still not mature and they are going to hold off on an all electric rendition until that time.
However, Audi's Ansari says that their e-tron can actually be hooked up almost anywhere there is a 2-pin socket, adding that with a full-range of 400 kilometers it can actually be topped up in a couple of hours, every other day or so, given that most city commuters in metros don't travel more than 60 or 70 kilometers daily.
Will other electric cars follow the e-tron? Ansari says that its very likely but will of course hinge on the success of the e-tron. Industry sources say the electric lineup which is to be fully launched by 2025, includes a sportback SUV, a sports car and also station wagon.
So far as mass production mainstream electric car sales in India go, the field has been limited to a mixed bag with have been led by SUV maker Mahindra which started with its acquisition of start-up Reva in 2010 and then used its technology to rollout the e-20 and the e-Verito which was derived from the Logan sedan produced through a joint venture with Renault. Those vehicle volumes have been tiny and cars that have been launched have been more akin to quadricycles or compact four seaters as opposed to larger highway-ready cars with a full range of modern technology and features. Other cars that aim to go fully electric in the mass manufacturer segment include Maruti's WagonR, and Tata Motors Tigor and Tiageo, industry analysts say.
"This is a clear indication that premium automakers are ready with their electric technology for our roads given that the government is keen to make such technologies mainstream but the levels of widespread acceptance for fully electric cars will only be accurately measured in a couple years," says Suraj Ghosh, Principal Analyst, SouthAsia Powertrain Forecasts, IHS Markit Automotive. He adds that the electric vehicle market by 2030 is expected to reach around 4 percent of the entire market which is approximately 350,000 cars. Be that as it may, the bottom-line as Ansari point out is that electric cars in India are "no more about science fiction but science fact."