Hailed for their superior savings and cheaper operating costs, the demand for electric three-wheelers has defied the general slowdown in the market.
The government’s push for electric vehicles has hit the right chords with three-wheeler owners and fleet operators. In a first for any segment in the auto sector, the country now sells more electric three-wheelers than the conventional ones that run on petrol, diesel or CNG.
Manufacturers such as Mahindra & Mahindra and Lohia Auto have been flooded with enquiries and bookings for lithium-ion electric passenger three-wheelers also known as auto rickshaws.
It has become popular because of their superior savings and cheaper operating costs. The demand for electric three-wheelers has defied the general slowdown in the market, which has been in the negative for eight consecutive months.
As per data shared by the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), the apex lobby body for electric vehicles, sales of electric three-wheeler segment grew 21 percent during 2018-19 to 630,000 as against 520,000 sold in 2017-18.
In 2018, sales of petrol, diesel and CNG-powered passenger three wheelers grew by just 10.6 percent to 572,400 units, compared to 517,400 units sold in 2017-18, according to data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.
Pawan Goenka, managing director – Mahindra & Mahindra, said, “There is no doubt that the regular (petrol, diesel and CNG-powered) three-wheeler will become more expensive. Hence there will be better justification for electric three-wheelers. There is a strong business case today for an end operator to buy an electric three-wheeler and post BS-VI it will become even stronger.”
Sales of electric three-wheelers have gone past that of fossil fuel-powered three-wheelers already. However, most of such electric three-wheelers are from the unorganized market and are considered an assembly of cheap parts imported from China.
K Vijayakumar, President, Special Projects, Greaves Cotton said “We have seen quick adoption of these e-rickshaws, especially in East and North India, owing to low TCO giving superior everyday savings”.
The rush for the electric three-wheeler is driven not just by the call of the government but from the ownership economics of these vehicles also.
For instance, the Mahindra Treo Yaari is priced at Rs 1.35 lakh while the basic version of the petrol powered Bajaj auto rickshaw is priced at Rs 1.10 lakh. With a premium of Rs 25,000, the Mahindra model is proving to be an attractive proposition to the buyer.
The running cost of an electric three-wheeler is about Rs 0.5 per km while a petrol powered three wheeler has a running cost of Rs 4 per km. However, an electric three-wheeler has a smaller driving range of around 130 km for a full charge, as compared to 190-200 km on a full tank of petrol.
The market observations have shown that switching to e-rickshaws has reduced the physical fatigue that these manual/cycle rickshaw pullers were facing earlier. Drivers are making about Rs 200-300 more everyday than what they used to make earlier, said Greaves Cotton.
“We are expanding our portfolio of electric three-wheelers. We are getting lot of feedback, enquiry and orders for them. There are some challenges for registrations. We have lithium-ion options apart from lead-acid. We are targeting 200-300 per month sales starting from Oct-Nov and this is a good number to start with. We are getting good response from fleet operators,” Ayush Lohia, CEO – Lohia Auto.
While the demand is going up, sales are getting restricted due to unpreparedness of the registration authority. The regional transport offices (RTOs) of several states do not know how to register an electric three-wheeler, complain manufacturers.
“Even though we have demand and supply the sales are not happening because we have states that are not registering. If registration start happening then we can sell in big quantities,” added Goenka.No less than 10 companies are involved in developing electric three-wheelers with many of them in advanced stages of launching them in due course.
Little-known companies like Kalinga Ventures to giants like Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor Company (both will launch products in 2019) each company is serious about the electric three-wheeler segment. Italian company Piaggio has said it will launch a range of electric three-wheelers in a few months.