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Who killed the electric car?
Archana Mohan
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July 15, 2006

Who killed the electric car? That is the question everyone in the automobile industry seems to be asking with the release of Chris Paine's Who Killed The Electric Car?  in the US on June 28.

The entire controversy on automobile companies killing the electric car began with the Zero Emissions Mandate.

Apparently, auto manufacturers were not happy with the mandate, which required two per cent of all new vehicles sold in California to be emissions free by 1998 and ten per cent by 2003. The documentary observes that automobile companies viewed this as a threat to their operations and began rolling out badly promoted low quality electric vehicles.

Even as the documentary is all set to ruffle quite a few feathers in the US, automobile manufacturers in India are adopting a wait and watch policy to its repercussions in the country. The 92-minute documentary has accused General Motors and other major automobile manufacturers of distorting the image of the electric car for their selfish interests.

However, General Motors India had a different take on the subject. 'General Motors India realises the potential of alternative fuel driven vehicles and are currently designing such prototypes in California,' said P Balendran, vice president, corporate affairs, General Motors India, while admitting that no such prototype was being made in India.

'There is a definite demand for electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, but at present they do not possess the infrastructure needed to compete in the market,' said Balendran.

Although no comments were forthcoming on the effect of the documentary on the company's reputation, he believed bi-fuel and bio fuel technologies would emerge as the future of the automobile industry.

Reva Electric Car Company, the only exclusive electric car manufacturer in India while responding to the documentary, said it was important to raise such issues with automobile manufacturers.

'Against the backdrop of environmental concerns and depleting resources, we need to shift from individual mindsets and take responsibility for the environment we live in,' said Chetan Kumaar Maini, deputy chairman, Reva Electric Car Company.

The manufacturer believes alternative fuel vehicles would reach an estimated global sales of over 1.6 million units and US $39 billion by 2009. Therefore, in addition to its three models in the market - Reva Standard, Reva AC and Reva Classe - it plans to start manufacturing its first regular four-seater and a hard-top convertible in the coming months.

The company has also come out strongly against the government saying that unlike other countries where electric car owners are given several benefits such as subsidies on the purchase price, free parking, free charging, no congestion tax, 100 per cent depreciation, no road tax, etc, the support structure in India is very minimum.

Even though the magnitude of research and development for alternative fuel technologies cannot be compared to petrol and diesel vehicles, some visible efforts are being made.

China has established a technology mission with an investment of $106 million to develop alternative fuel vehicles. Back home, the Power Engineering Society, Industry Applications Society and Automotive Research Association of India are planning to hold a nationwide conference on electric and hybrid vehicles at Pune in December this year.

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