It’s 2023, and India is Still Not Ready for Electric Cars

For years and years we’ve all been hearing about how EVs are the future. No emissions, no loud noises, instant torque and acceleration — it all sounds good, doesn’t it? Too good, in fact; except, maybe the noise. I like the noise, but that’s a story for another day.

So when I got the chance to drive the new Hyundai IONIQ 5 — an all electric, all gorgeous, and considerably quick car, I was excited. I mean, sure, I have driven the Mercedes EQS before for an Instagram reel (watch it here), but that was a very expensive car, and I only drove it for a few hours — not exactly a real world test.

Well, then, the IONIQ 5 was going to be my very first real world experience with an EV, and over the last few days, I have gone through various stages of thoughts about the IONIQ, and electric cars in general. Through all of that, I have realised, that India is still not ready for electric cars.

Stage 1: The Excitement

Let’s start of with stage 1 — the excitement. On the day of delivery, I was excited. So much so that I could barely focus on any other task at hand. After hours of annoying my friend who was handling the discussion with Hyundai regarding the car, making him check when the car would arrive almost every single hour since the beginning of the day, I finally found out that the IONIQ was just about 10 minutes away from our office.

So naturally, I did what anyone who has their plate full at work would do. I ignored all my work and could be found on the roof of the office building, looking at all the approaching traffic trying to recognise the iconic DRLs of the IONIQ 5.

When the car arrived, I ran downstairs and drooled (not visibly, hopefully) standing beside the car waiting for the formalities to be over.

ioniq 5 front end

Stage 2: The First Drive… Oh Boy!

Afterwards, I did have to get back to my actual job, and try to finish my work while my mind lingered on the car. When I finally got to sit inside the IONIQ and take her for a spin, well, it was breathtaking.

Hyundai delivered the car to us with somewhere around 90-some percent charge in the battery and the car was showing a nice 400-ish kilometers of range. Even factoring in my relatively long 30km commute back home, that range was the last thing on my mind. 400 kilometers, I thought, is a lot.

I left for home late that night, so that I wouldn’t find traffic along the way. There were two reasons for this, primarily. One, I don’t drive a big car every day, so I was a bit concerned about accidentally getting into a fender-bender with the test car. More importantly, however, with empty roads, I could drive the car in Sports mode, and see how she ran.

I knew the IONIQ 5 has well over 200bhp of power being delivered to its rear-wheels. I knew EVs give an instant torque and accelerate like their rear-ends are on fire. And yes, I knew that an SUV isn’t usually a nimble handler.

The IONIQ 5 still blew my mind when I hit that first stretch of the Delhi-Noida expressway and found that the car reaches triple-digit speeds in barely any noticeable time. The annoying, government-enforced beeps when I crossed 80kmph and then the continuous beeping at 120+ kmph simply arrived too soon on this car.

Stage 3: I Didn’t Know There Was Such a Thing as Too Much Tech

Being an electric car, and priced around ₹45 lakhs (introductory pricing), the IONIQ 5 is obviously packed with tech. The seats are electronically adjustable, there’s memory seat functionality on all seats, a shift-by-wire column mounted gear shift, a huge infotainment screen and a digital instrument cluster, heated and ventilated seats, single-pedal operation, and more.

Plus, there’s ADAS Level 2, which means you get features like Lane Keep Assist, Collision Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear-cross traffic alerts, Cruise Control with Stop and Go, and a lot more.

While I loved most of the tech features packed inside the IONIQ 5, I quickly realised that when it comes to cars, there is such a thing as “too much tech”.

Obviously, I’m speaking from the perspective of driving on Indian roads, and anyone who has driven a car in India knows that the traffic conditions in our country is like no other. That’s where the tech in this car (and honestly, in every other car I have driven with ADAS) makes things more difficult than easy.

Front-collision warning is a great feature for places where people actually drive with a safe-distance maintained between vehicles. In India, that seems to be an impossible dream. You leave more than a foot of space between yourself and the car in front, and someone will cut into your lane. So every time you’re trying to overtake someone, the car’s collision warning goes off, and what’s worse is that unless you remembered to disabled the “active collision warning assistance” feature, the car will automatically brake for you.

The same thing happens with the blind spot monitoring and assistance as well. In Indian traffic, the blind spot warning light is on almost all the time. What’s more, when you’re trying to change langes, the collision warning and the blind spot warning both go off most of the times, making the entire manoeuvre more dangerous and frustrating.

Stage 4: Oh, the Grief!

The technological problems that arise out of ADAS in India are still not the biggest issue I experienced with my EV experience. For one, ADAS is not exclusive to EVs, and it’s more or less becoming an option in cars around the 20 Lakh+ range — so the issue will occur in most of those cars.

The main problem with driving an EV in India, or at least most EVs in India, is the charging infrastructure. The frustration here arrives in many forms, and I seemed to have experienced them all in just these last few days of driving an electric car.

Finding a Charger

For starters, finding an EV charger is a pain. There are a lot of different types of chargers you’ll find spread around in a region like Delhi-NCR. There are AC chargers and DC chargers. There are 30kW DC chargers and 60kW DC chargers. The AC chargers are usually 11kW, which means you’ll spend countless hours waiting for your car to charge.

Figuring out the Connector Compatibility

Then there are the connectors. There is the CCS-2 connector which is most common in EVs. There’s the government-standardised Bharat DC 001 connector, there’s the Bharat AC 001, the CHAdeMO, and the AC Type 2. If you’re driving a 2 wheeler, there’s even the usual AC plug point for some vehicles.

Charging the Car

Once you do find an EV charger that is at least 30kW for a larger battery pack equipped car like the IONIQ 5, you have to hope to god the charger isn’t occupied. And after all that, you have to find something to do for the hour or two that you’ll leave your car to charge.

Extremely Annoying Charger Issues

Companies like Statiq — which has a pretty decent charging network in Delhi NCR — have their chargers spread around in a bunch of locations, hotels, and private building complexes. One such charger is present in the Berger Tower complex near our office building. Lucky, I thought to myself, because charging the car there would mean I could spend an hour or two sitting at a restaurant.

Day 1 of Charging: Smooth Sailing… Kinda

The first time I tried charging the EV, there was a bit of an issue figuring out the Statiq app, which has a UX that will give front-end designers nightmares. Once that was figured out however, the rest was considerably easy. I plugged in the CCS-2 connector, and the car started charging.

Sure, the speeds at 30kW are nothing to write home about, but in exactly 1 hour of charging, the EV went from 51% to 89%.

Day 2 of Charging: Charging Station Issues Galore!

The next time I needed to charge the car was after the YouTube shoot (you can watch the video below). The car was low on battery, at around 19%, and after my original experience with the Statiq charger, I was confident that I could charge it for an hour and get somewhere near 50% battery — enough for my commute back home and for a bit of spirited driving along the expressway.

I checked the Statiq app and it showed the charger as “Available”. So, we drove to the location, and plugged in the car. However, no matter how many times I plugged the charger in, it simply wouldn’t start charging the IONIQ.

We called the customer support helpline, and they walked us through the process of manually resetting the charging station. But it still didn’t work. Then we tried a different troubleshooting method which seemed to fix the problem. Finally, I could plug in the car and start charging.

I set the charger to charge the IONIQ up to 90%, thinking I will simply stop the charging process once I’m done with some food at the nearby restaurant.

While I was busy enjoying my meal, the charging station issue apparently reoccured. So the car stopped charging after about 20 minutes, and I had absolutely no idea about this. After over an hour, when I reached back to the parking spot, I saw the battery percentage at 36% — a 17% charge over what I had originally.

Stage 5: Range Anxiety

Even though the IONIQ 5 was displaying a range of 150km on that 36% battery level, I realised that evening that the range anxiety with owning an EV is incredibly real. As I have mentioned before, my commute to work is 30km, and that was definitely well within range. However, what if I wanted to go out in the evening? What if the car ran out of power in the middle of the road while I was out?

With a petrol or diesel vehicle, the problem doesn’t seem that monstrous, does it? Even if you run out of fuel while driving, you can go to the nearest petrol station and get some fuel for your car. With an EV, you don’t have that option.

India’s Push towards EV Adoption: The Theoretical and Practical Experiences

See, EV chargers in India aren’t at a stage where you can call them readily available. Sure, there are many chargers you’ll see on an EV’s navigation system, but a lot of them are in areas which aren’t exactly approachable, and some are usually occupied or broken, like the one I checked out near my office building.

Then again, the Indian government has been pushing EVs as the future of mobility. We hear about the adoption of electric cars in India almost every time the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways says anything about the condition of Indian transportation systems.

Naturally, then, the government must have thought of something for charging EVs as well, right?

Well, yes… and no.

I checked the Indian Government’s website (visit) on electric vehicles, and found out that in January 2022, the government issued revised guidelines and standards for EV charging infrastructure in India. The following are some key points that stood out to me.

  • There will be at least one charging station in every 3km x 3km grid.
  • There will be EV charging stations every 25km alongside the highways, on both sides

Theoretically, then, there should be charging stations all over the place in a metro-city like Delhi-NCR.

But that’s where you’ll run into the other problem with the way the Indian Government is handling the rollout of EV chargers. The Indian Government decided that the Bharat DC 001 will be the standard charging plug that they want to support. As such, some companies launched a few cars that support this particular socket — cars such as the e2o Plus and e-Verito to name a few.

However, most companies are still launching cars with the faster CCS-2 charging socket. From affordable EVs to premium luxury EVs, they are all coming out with the CCS-2 socket. The IONIQ 5 is one of them, so is the Hyundai Kona electric. The Mercedes EQS has a CCS socket. The Tata Nexon EV has a CCS socket, and so does the Tigor EV. The MG ZS EV uses the CCS charging protocol as well.

This results in a major issue. For example, the One Delhi app, launched by the Delhi Government, has a feature that you can use to find EV chargers near you, and in any other location within Delhi-NCR. As you can see, there are apparently a lot of EV chargers nearby. However, most of them are Bharat DC 001 charging points, and the IONIQ doesn’t support that.

Coming back to the revised guidelines issued by the Government of India, there should be charging stations on the major highways at least. However, judging by the map of EV charging points available on the same Government website, it certainly doesn’t look like any charging stations have been built along highways; let alone at every 25kms. You can check out the website here.

See the absence of charging stations along highways?

The practical experience of owning an EV in India, at least right now, seems too much of a hassle. Sure, EV sales are increasing every month, but the charging infrastructure needs to improve multifold before we can readily claim EVs as the future of mobility in our country. Right now, it seems to be more of a pipe-dream; a step in the right direction, maybe, but certainly not one that inspires confidence in the way petrol and diesel powered cars have for years.

The Electricity Problem

One more thought I had as I was driving along in my electrically powered car was the electricity generation in India. There are two big issues here.

First, as per the Ministry of Power, just over 57% of the electricity generated in India is through fossil fuels — think coal, lignite, gas, and diesel — and just over 42% is non-fossil fuel based — think hydro, wind, solar, and others.

So when you’re charging your EV, chances are you’re still using fossil fuel-burning power plants to power your non-fossil fuel powered car.

Second, and again as per the Ministry of Power, the power supply position of India isn’t the best. In 2021-2022, the peak demand for power in the country stood at 2,03,014 MW, and the demand met stood at 2,00,539 MW. That’s 2,475 MW of power that couldn’t be supplied even when there was a requirement. Energy requirement in 2021-2022 was 13,79,812 MU (million units) and the energy available stood at 13,74,024 MU. A deficit of 5,787 MU.

Things haven’t improved this year so far, either. In the year 2022-2023 (upto February), the power demand was 2,15,888 MW and the demand met was 2,07,231 MW — a deficit of 8,657 MW. Similarly, the energy requirement was 13,82,920 MU while the availability of energy stood at 13,75,571 MU — a deficit of 7,349 MU.

That worries me. As EV adoption grows in our country, the demand for electricity will increase as well. And going by the data available with the Ministry of Power, India doesn’t seem ready for EVs in this regard either. Where will the power come from?

anxiety is an integral part of the EV experience in our country

Anxiety is a Part of the EV Experience; at least in India

See, I am all for electric cars, even though I absolutely love the experience of driving a petrol or diesel powered vehicle. I understand EVs are, if not a solution, at least a small step towards saving the environment when energy generation is done right.

However, in my (so far limited) experience of living with an EV, the problems I have faced, along with the lacking infrastructure to support such cars, made me realise that anxiety is an integral part of the EV experience in our country. Not just the anxiety over how far your car can go and whether you will find a reliable charger along the route, but also the anxiety of where your electricity is coming from, and whether the power generation infrastructure of the country will be able to keep up with the rising demand.

I don’t want to end on a sour note, especially because I love the idea of a clean-energy future for both our homes and our cars. So I’m hoping that government initiatives, along with private investments, will make EVs a more reliable, and stress-free experience in India. I don’t know how we will get there, and in the words of Alan Turing “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” — here’s hoping we do it.

Comments 1
  • Lalit says:

    I think you are not someone who should have been buying an EV in the first place.. because a potential EV owner will do all this research before buying the car. Not go on a rant after buying it. 50,000 Nexon EVs have been sold in the last 2 years and despite issues in charger availability, people have been nothing but patient and it’s getting better day by day..

    Before you point fingers, I’m an EV owner myself and my comments on charging infrastructure is not going to change your mind.

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