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Electric car users are converts for life

In the face of climate change, three users share their experience of driving an electric car

Gul Panag with her Mahindra e2o Plus.
Gul Panag with her Mahindra e2o Plus. (Mint)

There are two factors that users of electric cars—or new converts—need to get used to: how quick the car is and the attention it gets on the road.

“There is no lag in power delivery," says actor, entrepreneur and motor enthusiast Gul Panag, 40, who owns a Mahindra e2o Plus. “Unless you are going for the million-dollar or high-end sports cars, there is a lag. At a traffic signal, my acceleration is fast and I am not even trying. In an automatic car, by the time the engine delivers power, it’s 2 seconds. In my electric car, I have given moderate acceleration at a traffic light and yet I have been ahead of other cars."

“Driving is surprisingly good in this, it’s a zippy thing. For Bengaluru, it’s extremely easy to drive," says Shyam Sunder, 51, managing director of PeakAlpha Investment Services Pvt. Ltd, over the phone. He has been driving the e2o for four years.

The other advantage—or disadvantage—is the observations that follow. All users say they have been questioned often, at traffic signals, mall parking lots or by colleagues on how the car works, how fast it runs, etc.

“I do a demo a day," says Panag, who switched from an e2o to an e2o Plus in 2017, after two years. “If I am at a signal, I pull over and give a quick brief."

For Bengaluru-based Joseph N., popularly known as Subin, a consultant in solar power solutions, an electric car lent credibility to his work also because he uses solar power to charge his car.

“I found it interesting to engage with people. They would ask about range, what happens when it stops, etc. I had a solar signage (on the car) as well. That would be a conversation starter. It gave credibility to my solar pitch.

“Otherwise, supporters of petrol-driven cars would say, ‘you are just using a different fuel’. That was difficult to defend unless I used solar power, and not polluting thermal power," says Joseph over the phone.

They all agree on a few other advantages, including lower maintenance costs, easier parking and driving comfort.

“For us, this car was practical for a big city, a compact solution, and allowed for self-driving," says Panag, who shuttles between Delhi and Mumbai on work and uses an Audi for long-distance drives. “What pushes you to the back seat of a car (with a driver) is the pain of parking. About 80% of the time, I drive this—unless I need to get dressed, do make-up or have calls."

While the focus on electric cars over the last few years has been on the relatively higher cost and lack of public- charging infrastructure, users have a ready answer for both.

All three say charging the car is not an issue. Since they are all aware of the car’s range, usually 110-140km on a fully-charged battery, they could calibrate their travel accordingly. What’s more, all three use their cars within the city, where the average daily drive is under 50km a day.

“I don’t agree that there is not enough charging infrastructure," says Panag, whose car takes 3 hours to charge fully, which she needs to do twice a week on a 15-amp plug point at her parking spot. “Charging a cellphone is your responsibility, not because the government is providing charging facilities. On a long drive, I carry fuel; I don’t blame the government. So that’s a flawed argument. I can do this on 15-amp charging point, which every paanwala has."

Sunder says he has never charged his car anywhere except at home. “Most often, people fear, what happens if I run out of fuel midway through a journey? It has never happened," says the financial planner, who uses a Honda City for longer distances and to fit in his family of four. He charges the car at home overnight for about 8 hours and this is enough for 100-odd km or three days. He does not remember ever using any public charging facility.

Also read | EVs will get more efficient: Mahindra Electric CEO Mahesh Babu

Joseph began to doubt his vehicle when it suddenly stopped one day a couple of kilometres from his home due to battery issues. He realized that his car was not as reliable as he had assumed. A post on his e-mobility WhatsApp group about someone saying a tyre had come off mid-drive, added to Joseph’s concerns. That’s when he sold his five-year-old, two-door e2o and switched to a leased four-door, e2o Plus, from hiring service Zoom Zap.

“There is a predictability in range, so I didn’t have that anxiety. There is a reliability issue in terms of parts of the car, not critical parts, but gear lever or power windows, etc.—the build quality was not (as good) as other cars. Reliability is a part of the validation process of new technology," says Joseph.

As climate change increasingly becomes a reality, the government needs to do more if others have to switch to electric—with incentives and subsidies. Panag says all government and public transport vehicles need to be electric to set an example. She believes clean air is a fundamental right and the ecosystem needs to adapt.

Joseph says the next evolution should enable technology to inform users when the battery deteriorates.

Irrespective of the changes technology or policies bring, nobody seems inclined to change or forgo e-mobility.

“We got everything we were looking for with this car. None of the disadvantages really hit us," says Sunder.

“Being unique gives a sense of pride and recognition," says Joseph. “It could be an egoistic aspect but it’s contributing to a larger story of climate change."

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