Cars of tomorrow-II

India has had its share of electric vehicles, ranging from the Bajaj and Mahindra three-wheelers to the cute and chic, Reva city car. The world over, electric vehicles have been made in all shapes and sizes, from city buses to fancy sports cars

Yogendra Pratap        Print Edition: August 24, 2008

Yogendra Pratap
Cars that run on electricity must be toy cars! Or ugly vehicles we wouldn’t be caught dead in. The concept is not new. Rome and certain other European cities have allowed only electric vehicles in their city centres. China has, for long, seen a surge in the number of electric vehicles, the majority of which are two-wheelers, more akin to bicycles than to motorcycles.

It is common to see a worker in Shanghai ride up to his apartment on a self-propelled bicycle that he helps up the incline with the help of tried and tested pedal power. He then secures his mode of transport to the nearest electricity pole using a heavy chain and unhinges the seat to draw out the battery pack, which he then carries up to his sixth floor apartment to charge.

India, too, has had its share of electric vehicles, ranging from the Bajaj and Mahindra three-wheelers to the Reva city car. The world over, electric vehicles have been made in all shapes and sizes—from city buses to fancy sports cars. The US-based Tesla Motors, for example, has developed an electric roadster with electrifying performance and despite a heavy price tag, has a list of customers in waiting, which includes Hollywood bigwigs like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The car itself has a top speed of just under 200 kmph and gets to 100 kmph from a standing start in under four seconds. Its liquid cooled lithium-ion battery pack can take it over 350 km on a single charge.

Chevrolet Volt: General Motors has speeded up its production
So, why will electric cars be the cars of tomorrow? Because, even in a worst-case scenario, production of electricity can be made to be much cleaner than other means of propulsion. Based on this premise, there have been some quick commitments from major car companies for electric cars. Renault has tied up with the Israeli government while Nissan has tied up with Denmark and the Renault-Nissan combine has tied up with Portugal to boost the sale of electric cars with a nationwide car-charging network. General Motors has speeded up the production of the Chevrolet Volt and has tied up with a number of utilities in the US to provide a network for the use of its electric cars.

The biggest challenge to the success of electric cars is their range as well as the availability of charging outlets. The Volt, for example, will tackle this problem by having a small internal combustion engine onboard to charge the battery pack. But this will make it a hybrid and increase costs. The Reva’s lack of success has been in large part because of the unavailability of infrastructure to charge the car as well as the lack of government subsidies for propagating these clean technologies. However, the setting up of charging points at various public parking places is a hugely easier task than, say, setting up a hydrogen distribution network. And so, the first face of the cars of tomorrow will be electric!

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