Ola which has committed to constructing the world’s largest scooter manufacturing facility is currently examining the causes of these incidents. (REUTERS)
A string of well-publicized battery fires is threatening India’s ambition to be an industry leader in electric vehicle technology, specifically on the two-wheelers that are a common sight on the country’s roads that are jammed with traffic. Social media is filled with photos of battery-powered scooters engulfed in flames. In the last month, a father and daughter were killed by smoking inhalation after their brand new bicycle from Okinawa Autotech Pvt caught fire as it was charging overnight at their home. In a different video, an Ola Electric Mobility scooter fires up within Pune in the west of the country in another around 40 two-wheelers manufactured by Jitendra EV explode in flames while being transported inside containers.
The events have caused many Indians cautious about electric vehicles. The percentage of people saying they would not purchase an electric scooter because of security and performance concerns rose eightfold, to 17%, in the seven months that ended in March, a study of about 11,500 customers conducted by LocalCircles found. Only 2% of the people will likely purchase electric scooters in the next six months, the survey found.
They’re also coming in the same way as India as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions is striving to bring more electric vehicles onto its roads. Many consumers aren’t ready to switch to motorbikes and combustion engines because of the pricey upfront costs as well as the absence of charge stations. This makes it harder for India to keep pace with countries like China as well as those in the U.S. that have made significant progress towards electric vehicles for their fleets of transport. The average annual sales of passenger vehicles within China are expected to be electrified by the year 2040 while only 53% of sales in India according to BloombergNEF figures.
“When I hear about such incidents, I’m wondering what the reason I should invest in the electric car. I’d rather purchase a brand new gasoline model,” said Santhosh Kumar who owns an Ola electric bike but is now observing it with a sense of caution. “I want to be part of the EV revolution and stop pollution but nothing is more important than the safety of my family and kids,” the 36-year-old native of Chennai declared.
The fires also have sparked controversy over India’s dependence on imported auto parts which are later made locally. The issue is that the electric scooters weren’t built to be built from scratch for India’s conditions — where temperatures regularly increase to as high as 48 degrees Celsius in the capital city of New Delhi — or its infrastructure. The roads in India are notoriously clogged with potholes and can cause all kinds of suspension issues. India is currently importing the majority of parts of their EV componentry from China which robs automakers of complete control over the quality and dependability of their goods.
The nascent EV sector is overflowing with companies that have brought electric scooters onto the market, but they’re not all being subjected to the required rigor of testing in a variety of weather conditions as per Rahul Mishra an associate at the management consulting firm Kearney. Tensions to meet investor expectations as well as the necessity to speed up the time to market and control stakeholder perceptions, mean that certain companies haven’t developed the capabilities for the areas of product development, manufacturing, and sales, as well as after-sales and have struggled to prove an equivalent level of proficiency like established automakers and other major players, he added.
“Coming out with a prototype is one thing but selling it in the market at a commercial scale like an established automaker is a completely different ballgame,” Mishra stated, noting that established carmakers, as well as startups, must consistently prove that safety is a “non-negotiable” when it comes to EVs.
Ola the company, which has committed to building the world’s largest scooter manufacturing plant, is a follower of “very high” regulatory standards and is currently examining the causes of the incidents, its founder Bhavish Aggarwal told. Bengaluru-based Ola is backed by SoftBank Group Corp., announced last week that it would recall a group of 1,441 scooters after investigations into car fires.
Okinawa issued an announcement sent to Bloomberg that it has recalled 3,215 units of PraisePro electric scooters to address battery issues. It also said that the company adheres to the testing requirements that are set by the federal government. They will also be inspected for any loose connectors to the battery and then repaired for free in dealerships, the company said. Okinawa is India’s second-largest electric two-wheeler maker according to market share it said the cause was the negligence of users and said the fire resulted from an electrical short that resulted from charging improperly.
Jitendra EV didn’t respond to requests for comments. Pure EV, another company that has a scooter that was film-filmed with thick clouds of gray and white smoke erupting from the rear of its vehicle, did not respond to requests for comments.
The incidents have at the very least brought some changes to India’s growing EV market. Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari has vowed to implement new standards to stop the fires that are most likely by thermal issues of lithium-ion batteries, and are caused by the hot weather. The EVs will only be approved after they have passed a new testing procedure for battery packs and cells, Gadkari said earlier in the week. Automakers must remain “cautious” with the cells they’re using, and they should recall products if they find manufacturing flaws.
The widespread coverage of the fires could be a catalyst for some industry rationalization, with only those with higher-quality startups surviving according to Mitul Shah Analyst with Reliance Securities Ltd. While automakers from the past understand the importance of making their product foolproof in the beginning, young firms don’t know how difficult it can be to restore a lost image as consumers aren’t always willing to accept another chance, added.
For sure, India isn’t alone that has experienced battery fires. Tesla Inc. cars have been scrutinized in China following crashes that damaged the batteries of several of them. General Motors Co. recalled many Chevrolet Bolts after some went into flames when they were parked in driveways or garages.
In China, authorities have issued a new norm for two-wheeler battery models that will see the tens of millions of non-compliant vehicles wiped out in 2025. Gogoro Inc. Chief Executive Officer Horace Luke said. Gogoro is a Taiwanese electric scooter company that earlier this year announced an alliance with Foxconn to expand into Indonesia. It is suggested that the Indian government should encourage companies to concentrate on research and development of batteries, which require more human capital to be able to meet an increased safety standard He declared.
“The technology development and management of batteries need to be taken very seriously,” Luke stated. “It’s important to understand that not all EVs or batteries are the same and when shortcuts are taken in their development, consumers can be exposed to potential unmitigated safety issues.”
However, when you consider an opportunity for growth similar to India as a country with a population of 1.4 billion, where nearly 231,000 electric vehicles were purchased over the twelve months from March to March, it could be a lot easier said than done.
“In a fast-growing market, the temptation to launch early without a mature product is very strong,” said Ravneet Phokela who is the chief executive officer of Ather Energy Pvt, a different electric scooter company whose bikes aren’t involved in any fires as of yet. Fires can start due to poor packaging of the cells and poorly designed thermal management systems that help in dispersing heat, he explained. “It’s a dangerous temptation to give in to.”