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e-rikshaws: Three-wheelers power India’s EV revolution
Electric vehicle (EV) revolution is gaining stronger ground in India and the country has surpassed China in terms of the number of EVs in use currently. The revolution, however, is not spearheaded by electric cars but by an electric alternative to pedal-driven rickshaws. The Indian nation is home to about 1.5 million battery-powered, three-wheeled rickshaws. This means a fleet bigger than the total number of electric passenger cars sold in China since 2011.
Previous attempts to boost electric-car production in India have flopped, mainly due to the lack of clear policy to incentivize local manufacturing and sales. Unlike in China, India’s e-movement hardly got any help from the state in the past few years. The government scaled back because it fears disrupting an industry that contributes about 7% of the total gross domestic product. However, recognizing e-rickshaw success, the government is now tending towards promoting EVs in public transportation and fleet operations, primarily, two- and three-wheelers, taxis and buses.
The humble e-rickshaws quietly became the mainstay of Indian cities and towns. This is all the more impressive because this silent revolution, both literally and figuratively, took place in India almost organically and in response to market forces with little help from the government. The mass adoption of electric rickshaws has been driven by pure economics, as they are quieter, faster, cleaner and cheaper to maintain than traditional auto rickshaws. The country’s increasing air pollution makes yet another strong case for higher adoption of e-rickshaws.
The main hindrance for EVs growth in India is the lack of bank financing. This is especially difficult for traditional rickshaw drivers, who typically earn low incomes. In an improvement in subsidies and availability of easy financing options become available, it would create an unstoppable market for e-rickshaws in India.