- by leasing small, semi-mobile electric vehicle battery charging and swap-out stations to the unemployed.
by Axel Sturmann, 22 January 2008

The expected environmental cost of the projected emerging markets car acquisitions is enormous and potentially disastrous. A problem only exacerbated by recent news of the worlds cheapest car, the Tata Nano[1], being produced in India where ‘annual car sales are expected to nearly double over the next five years, to 2.3 million in 2012’[2].

And yet who are we in the West to say ‘no’, especially as we refuse to give up our own cars?

However, a (at least partial) solution could be found by first roping in a few extra disparate problems and solutions. First, India’s oil dependency, which is expected to grow to 91.6% by 2020[3]. Second, her unemployment rate, especially for those, like the roadside letters writers[4], who have been put out of business by the rapid spread of technology, in this case the cell phone. Third, the development, in India, of the world’s cheapest car, the $2,500 Tata Nano. And fourth, the plans of Silicon Valley’s Shai Agassi to create an Electric Vehicle battery leasing, charging and swap out distribution network[5] in the USA and Israel[6]. His basic idea being that to increase the range of electric vehicles you do not have to wait while others spend billions of dollars and years on research and development untill you have a competitive battery, or on creating an entire new hydrogen manufacturing and distribution network, but simply use the existing electric distribution network – the grid – to charge batteries that are leased to the consumer and distributed to them at swap-out stations where, instead of having to wait hours for the car to charge, a machine simply swaps your flat batteries for a fully charged one.
     For India I envision thousands of semi-mobile roadside charging stations least to the entrepreneurial unemployed, like the aforementioned letter writers. Possibly built onto trailers that can be moved to high traffic roadside locations when in use – these licensed from the government or placed as an addition to an existing small enterprise or gas station – and moved to secure locations when not in use. After all, few unemployed are otherwise going to be able to afford the high rents of conventional high traffic roadside retail space.
     The mobile charging station could be fitted with the correct charging apparatus and racks designed in such a way that the battery can only be inserted with the correct connector point touching the correct charge point – same way as they should be designed for the car. A bit like the way your SD memory card can only fit into your camera the correct way around. Flat batteries being pushed into the front of the rack and full ones being taken out the back – with green light sensors showing both the operator and customer that the end batteries being removed are indeed fully charged.

With up to half of the initial cost of an electric vehicle being the batteries[7], such a system has the added advantage of cutting that cost substantial. A factor which, together with possible government investment (into the country’s future physical, environmental and economic health), could soon make an electric car a viable competitor to even the Tata Nano.

Come on India, take the lead.


[1] ‘Indians Hit the Road Amid Elephants’ by SOMINI SENGUPTA, January 11, 2008, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/world/asia/11indiacar.html

[2] ‘Speed limits rise as India falls in love with the car‘ by RANDEEP RAMESH, December 5, 2007, Guardian Unlimited http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,,2222324,00.html

[3] ‘India's energy security challenge’, by THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ANALYSIS OF GLOBAL SECURITY, January 21, 2004, Energy Security, http://www.iags.org/n0121043.htm

[4] ‘The Ink Fades on a Profession as India Modernizes’, by ANAND GIRIDHARADAS, December 26, 2007, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/26/world/asia/26india.html

[5] ‘Reimagining the Automobile Industry by Selling the Electricity’, by JOHN MARKOFF, October 29, 2007, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/29/technology/29agassi.html

[6] ‘Israel Is Set to Promote the Use of Electric Cars’, by STEVEN ERLANGER, January 21, 2008, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/21/world/middleeast/21israel.html

[7] ‘Silicon Valley's $200 million electric car startup’, posted by Todd Woody, October 29, 2007, Green Wombat, http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/2007/10/silicon-valle-1.html