Why electric vehicles can drive change for India’s cities

India’s government sees electric vehicles as a key part of its plans to improve air quality and traffic within its growing cities.

February 26, 2019

Rapid urbanization in India, which has some of the most populous cities in the world, is putting pressure on finding solutions to tackle rising pollution levels and aging transportation infrastructure.

The Indian government’s response, in part, is to drive toward a future where electric vehicles (EVs) dominate. The move stands to open up opportunities for urban planners and developers needed to create the high-tech infrastructure.

“Urban planning in the past century did not factor in new age problems and the merits of concepts such as open community spaces, pedestrian walkways and development along transit-oriented zones,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO and Country Head, JLL India. “Moreover, the focus on meeting the housing demand has added to current problems that our cities face.”

Growing cities around the world are looking for strategies to cope with mass urbanization. But in terms of environmental sustainability, India’s position is especially acute. The country has nine of the world’s top ten most polluted cities in the world, according to the latest study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the face of rising pollution, “urban mobility solutions are now being looked at seriously,” Nair says. “Use of EVs is definitely one of the best solutions we have.”

The opportunity lies within the solution

Promoting the use of EVs and creating common spaces around them offers a huge opportunity to urban planners and development and construction firms.

“A whole new market is opening. The absence of inadequate charging infrastructure and the need for open urban spaces offers us this developmental opportunity,” Nair says.

The Indian government already has announced a policy for the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which will be first rolled out in cities with more than four million residents, like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Surat and Pune.

“For this it is also important that existing infrastructure is rejigged and redeveloped to create such opportunities,” he says. “There is a lot of redevelopment opportunities across cities. Aligning the development of infrastructure with the goals of new age charging infrastructure will be the key.”

A global effort

EVs are being explored the world over. Countries including China, Germany, Israel, Britain, and Mexico have plans to ban fossil-fuel vehicles in the next 20 years, and promote the use of electric vehicles.

For instance, China, the world’s largest car market, has decided to have at least 20 percent of their vehicle production to be electric and hybrid by 2025. The U.S. is already pushing the use of EVs with regulations.

India is currently running the Phase I of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles (FAME India) Scheme until March 2019. Under this, the Government aims to invest US$ 134 million in creating infrastructure, research and development of EV technology, and promoting use of electric vehicles. Under the Phase II, an investment of around US$827 million has been planned over the next five years.

The country’s planning body, the NITI Aayog, has also drafted a plan to offer benefits that may come through various tax incentives and lowered vehicle registration cost.

Data from a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) study says that the annual sales of EVs will reach 30,000 units in 2022 as opposed to 2,000 units in 2017.

“These numbers are still very low as compared to the required demand,” Nair says.

“Infrastructure development should now be seen with a new perspective. A lot of the infrastructure facelift witnessed across our cities, commercial establishments, expressways and corridors, and high street locations will need to factor in elements including the solutions of urban mobility, open community spaces, along with robust supporting infrastructure including charging facilities,” Nair says. “There is much to do.”