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India's Modi promises policies to boost electric vehicles

Prime minister calls for investment from automakers at Global Mobility Forum

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to assure auto industry executives at the Global Mobility Summit after critic say his government's vision for promoting electric vehicles lacks clarity.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India will soon put in place policies to promote electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles as Asia's third-largest economy seeks to reduce air pollution and cut its oil import bills.

"Policies will be designed as a win-win for all and enable opportunities in the automotive sector," Modi said in his address to the Global Mobility Summit, a first-of-its-kind auto industry conference here attended by business leaders from around the globe.

The prime minister sought investment from manufacturers across the electric vehicle value chain -- from batteries to cars to charging infrastructure. As he spoke, top industry executives such as Osamu Suzuki, chairman of Suzuki Motor; Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota Motor; Guenter Butschek, chief executive of Tata Motors; and Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra, listened intently.

"Charged mobility is the way forward," Modi said. His comments came as manufacturers continue to demand a clear policy road map for electric vehicles from Modi's government, which now aims to ensure that at least 30% of vehicles run on electricity by 2030. That is a pullback from an earlier goal of an all-electric fleet by that year.

Authorities have said that a unified, long-term policy is coming but will take time. No fixed deadline has been given, so carmakers are treading cautiously on investment.

Modi is pushing his electric-vehicle vision hard, given that only six months remain before a general election in which he will seek a second five-year term by showcasing his achievements. The mobility summit provided him an opportunity to outline his ambitious plans and seek out investment under his Make in India initiative aimed at turning the country into a manufacturing hub.

Modi emphasized the importance of transportation for India's economic rise.

Mahindra's e2oPlus, operated by Indian ride-hailing company Ola, refills its batteries at a charging station in Nagpur.   © Reuters

"India is on the move," Modi said, noting that the country is the world's fastest-growing major economy and is building 100 smart cities. "Mobility is a key driver of the economy. Better mobility reduces the burden of travel and transportation, and can boost economic growth," he said, adding the sector is already a major employer and can create the next generation of jobs.

Indian companies are already positioning themselves for opportunities in electric cars in the rapidly urbanizing country.

Ola, the homegrown ride-hailing service that rivals Uber, in April announced plans to roll out 10,000 electric vehicles - mostly three-wheelers -- over a 12-month period. The state-run Energy Efficiency Services is procuring electric vehicles for various government departments.

But the use of electric vehicles for personal transport remains negligible in the country, which has an annual per-capita income of less than $2,000 and where 76% of vehicles are two-wheelers. Most of the country's vehicles are gasoline-powered, and India imports 80% of its fuel requirements.

Outlining his vision for the future of mobility in India, Modi said it is based on seven Cs: common, connected, convenient, congestion-free, charged, clean, and cutting-edge.

"Common public transport must be the cornerstone of our mobility initiatives," the prime minister went on. "Our focus must also go beyond cars, to other vehicles such as scooters [two-wheelers] and rickshaws [three-wheelers]."

"Clean mobility powered by clean energy is our most powerful weapon in our fight against climate change," Modi said as India continues to fight rising pollution levels. The country is home to 14 of the world's 20 most-polluted cities.

Meanwhile, Uber Elevate, the U.S.-based ride-sharing company's flying car division, has short listed India among five countries which have potential for the program. The other four are Australia, Brazil, France and Japan.

Citing an example, Uber Aviation chief Eric Allison said at an event this week that it takes 100 minutes by car to travel a distance of 22 km from Mumbai airport to the Churchgate railway station. "We can do this in about 10 minutes with Uber Air."

The company is planning to demonstrate taxi flights by 2020 and will try to launch commercial service by 2023. Uber chose Dallas and Los Angeles as the two initial markets for Uber Elevate.

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