Even though people around the world are breathing a sigh of relief after the oil price fell below $125 per barrel for the first time in months, oil prices are still substantially higher than last year and in the medium term, we cannot expect oil prices down again where they once were. Drivers in the U.S. and Europe feel the pain of soaring gasoline prices and most major carmakers suffer from double-digit decline in U.S. car sales. Especially emerging countries that have been subsidzing gasoline to keep gasoline prices artificially low are now struggling to pay the bill. India, Malaysia, Indonesia and many others had to hike up gasoline prices several times this year causing unrest among drivers who barely could afford driving. The only way these countries can limit their expenditures on fuel subsidies is to stabilize the soaring consumption of fuel of their economies. A viable opportunity to achieve better fuel-economy, a reduced speed of demand growth and less pollution is the grand-scale introduction of electric cars. (Read China, India and other countries subsidizing gasoline to keep domestic prices down are forced to embrace electric cars for more information.)
Tata Motors, India’s largest auto maker which has become known as the manufacturer of the cheapest car in the world – the Tata Nano for $2,500, has announced its plan to launch all-electric cars by the end of the year in Norway and shortly thereafter in India. The company’s chairman Ratan Tata unveiled this new project at Tata Motors’ annual meeting. The car will be manufactured in Norway and if proven successful and reliable, will be launched to the Indian market in 2009. Scandinavian countries are often used for electric vehicles on the testing stage as Scandinavia is perfectly suitable for electric vehicles. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have small populations and most traffic is in urban areas whereas the widespread countryside is barely unpopulated. At public parking spots in cities or even along roads in the countryside, there are electric outlets that should help to keep the motor warm and to start it reliably despite the harsh conditions of the Arctic winter. There are already several electric car models on the road in Scandinavia: Tough luck for Ford – how a former subsidiary could revolutionize the auto industry
The project in Norway is not the only electric vehicle project at Tata Motors. Earlier, Tata Motors has signed a development contract with Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), the electric vehicle unit of Chrysler, to develop and launch an electric version of its light truck Ace and to bring it to the U.S. market in 2009. GEM has the required expertise with NEVs and provides the engines and controllers for the car which has a maximum speed of 25 mph and a range of about 40 miles on a single charge. Of course, this vehicle is too slow for most people in the U.S. or in Europe, however, it could become a smash hit in emerging countries and especially in congested urban areas where the average speed is hardly beyond 10 mph.
Ratan Tata said that they are working on a more fuel-efficient version of the Tata Nano. Obviously, this is absolutely necessary. The Tata Nano has a fuel economy of about 4.5 l/100 km which is anything but efficient. Though the minicar could appear to be affordable to many Indians, the costs of running the car matters more to drivers than the initial purchase price. Drivers would certainly not be pleased if they couldn’t afford driving around in their cars due to record-high gasoline prices after having spent the savings of many years on the vehicle.
Today, the REVA Electric Car Co. which is also based in India is currently the world’s leading (but not in technology!) electric car manufacturer and is dominating the Indian market. Tata Motors wants to catch up and surpass REVA. REVA plans to increase its production capacity up to 30,000 units annually.
Another company that sets its sight on electric cars is the Malaysian Proton automotive company. Proton announced that its all-electric car will be available in 2009. After six hours of charging, the car can run for 36 hours or 320 kilometers at a low cost. The initiative is part of Malaysia’s attempt to reduce its dependence on fuel imports and to reduce demand for gasoline that takes more and more subsidies to remain affordable for most Malaysians. Lacking of expertise with electric motors and batteries, Proton will collaborate with The Detroit Electric and PRO Dis-T.
Read more on electric cars:The Air Car could revolutionize transportation – an electric car without an electric motor