India’s Flirtations with Electric Vehicles


After years of work and experimentation, the first commercially viable electric motorcycle from India has been made available. Made by the start up Ampere, the electric bike is one design that many Indians, especially in the rural areas, have purchased for their daily needs.

The electric motorcycle is not sleek and shiny designed for the urban setting but it is a heavy converted Chinese bicycle that has a top speed of fifteen miles per hour and it is a workhorse when it comes to heavy loads. Named the Angel, its main customer base are farmers and tradespersons and it is lauded for its low cost, about U.S. $386. The motorcycle is able to withstand great stress workload and is powered by free electricity available in the southern countryside of Tamil Nadu.

Unfortunately, a recent power shortage hit the agricultural state forcing the government to ration electricity. This tremendously affected the sales of the bikes, up from 600 a month to just 60 bikes.

This is just a microcosm of the worsening power issues that affect the sub-Continent. Since the electric vehicle market is still in its infancy, the continued power crisis would affect the bottom line for individuals who are worried they would not be able to fully charge their batteries with the rationed power.

In the macro sense, the power crisis is affecting the whole of India and has been pinpointed to the mismanagement of a specific power grid, causing massive blackouts affecting 600 million individuals for two whole days. This though is part of a recurring problem that many Indians have grown accustomed to, nicknaming them as ‘power cuts’.

The shadow of rolling blackouts has affected not just start ups like Ampere, but also established players such as Hero Electric. Hero Electric is one of the biggest producers of two wheeled electric vehicles in the country and their bottom line has been tremendously affected with the flickering of the power grid.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Hero Electric, “We have discovered that in the last six months our sales have dropped to only fifteen percent of what it was in Tamil Nadu. Because there is nothing in sight, no resolution in the next few months, the sentiment is really subdued and the dealerships are closing one by one.”

It is hoped that the future of electric vehicle revolution bodes well for India. The central government has promised U.S. $4.13 billion stimulus program, with subsidies with the objective of having six (6) million electric vehicles on Indian roads by 2020. A previous program to subsidize electric cars back in 2010 was prematurely stopped when funds dried up and this program now can only be hoped to work.