Why did the electric bike fail in India?

Many of these alternative energy green technologies aren’t yet commercially viable. They don’t have a market. You need policy support and/or propagandism in such situations. Both have not been tested in India, and we can’t say that bikes failed.

Let’s take a look at China, which is often cited as an example of electric bike success:

Why did China’s electric two-wheeler market (E2W), grow so quickly?
E2Ws are a success in China because of three main reasons.

  • E2Ws strongest competitor was removed from large cities by bans on gasoline-powered motorcycles
  • The late 1990’s saw significant improvements in E2W technology, particularly motors and batteries;
  • Due to improved economic conditions in the country, urban households saw an increase in their incomes which led to a rise in demand for affordable private transportation.

E2Ws’ history is a powerful example of the impact regulatory policy can have on the development of technology that produces a product that is acceptable in the market.

What are the factors that drive and hinder its growth?

Growth is driven by three factors:

  • E2Ws and E2W battery performance has improved, with some of these improvements partly due to the E2W industry structure and product architecture.
  • Rapid urbanization has caused increased air quality and traffic problems in cities. There is strong support at the local level for E2Ws in the form bans on motorcycles and loose enforcement of E2W standards.
  • The effects of motorization and urbanization have made it more difficult for public transit systems to function in cities. This has led to a greater demand for private, low-end transport.

E2W market growth is also impeded by formidable forces.

  • Motorcycles’ superior performance is a strong limiting factor, particularly in areas where they are not prohibited and where incomes are high.
  • E2W bans, which are already in place in a few cities, may also be a limitation to their growth, if they spread.

The driving forces seem to outweigh any resisting forces in the future E2W market growth.

Source: The Rise of Electric Two-wheelers in China: Factors for their Success and Implications for the Future ( Factors for their Success and Implications for the Future [eScholarship] )

To fully comprehend this, it is necessary to do a detailed analysis of all the factors mentioned above. However, I will comment at the macro level.

Let’s look at the reasons why electric technology is not being promoted here in India.

  • This must be done by increasing awareness and advertising. Many people don’t know much about these technologies and the benefits they offer. In Germany, for example, more than 60% of respondents believed that climate change was the greatest problem facing humanity. Imagine what India will see as this percentage.
  • Industry: We must support the bike industry by providing them with sufficient incentives, and also improving the industry consumer nexus. This will help overcome problems consumers often face in regards to service centers, company contacts, spare parts, and poor dealer networks.
  • Technology: They perform better than Internal Combustion engines cars in almost every parameter: speed, endurance, range, weight and luxury, etc. The future of ebikes will depend on technology improvement. Maintenance costs are higher because the battery must be replaced every 2-3 years. Storage (and thus weight) are a major problem. Battery technology is also at a significant disadvantage in terms of energy density when compared with fossil fuels. In terms of energy density, the fossil fuel is 40x more efficient than the lithium-ion battery.
  • Source: Nine Challenges Facing the Alternative Energy Industry
  • Infrastructure: For the e-bikes to pick up, we need strong infrastructure ready before they are launched. This includes charging stations at regular distance, dedicated lanes etc.
  • Economics: These technologies are invariably costlier and have not become commercial yet to compete with conventional fossil fuel driven cars/bikes.
  • Consumer Behaviour: Indian consumers are most cost sensitive. So it is very difficult for these vehicles to sustain themselves solely based on the costs. Also Indian consumers who have the buying power will prefer luxury of fossil fuel cars rather than the discomforts of the e-bike at the same price.
  • Policy: Currently no license or registration is required it you own an e-bike in India. If India has to get this right it has to craft out a smart policy catering to Indian citizens drawing from international experiences. India shall be coming up with National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (NEMMP 2020) soon ( Press Information Bureau English Releases ).
  • Since 1998, China has experienced a rapid rise in sales of electric bikes. This boom was caused by Chinese local governments’ attempts to ban motorcycles from city centers. Many Chinese cities have extended the ban to electric bikes. It is uncertain whether China’s electric bicycle economy will grow. China’s experience with electric bikes suggests that limiting fossil-fueled alternatives may be a good policy tool to encourage the commercialization and sale of electric vehicles. However, the failure of Taiwan’s electric-scooter policy suggests that subsidies alone are not sufficient to launch an industry. If policymakers want to encourage electric vehicles, they should seriously consider the policy approach of limiting alternatives. (http://people.duke.edu/~cy42/EV.pdf).
  • Experience in China and Taiwan has shown that it is essential to supplement subsidies with a ban of motorbikes. Otherwise, it can lead to failures. It is not practical to ban motorbikes in India, given the large middle class and the lower middle classes who use them for their commute.
  • E-bikes are less attractive than public transport. It is difficult to choose between promoting e-bikes and public transport, as it has a conflicting position with them. It can be an alternative to public transport and complement it, but it does not have to compete with it.
  • Environmental Concerns: E bikes are better than most other modes of transport (cars, bikes, etc.) in terms of lifecycle emissions.
  • They are less effective in certain areas, such as bus travel. These are all viable options, so it is worth considering a national policy. Lead pollution is another major problem in the lifecycle emissions. Even with almost 100% recycling rates, the lead pollution from industrial processes is a major problem for e-bikes’ environmental sustainability. A medium-sized ebike emits 420 mg (mg/km) of lead through mining, smelting and recycling, as large batteries need to be replaced every 2 years. These pollutants are emitted as solid, liquid, or airborne wastes. Many of these emissions are the result of small-scale, informal lead-producing operations, which are difficult to regulate or monitor (http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/Electric-Bikes.pdf)

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