(Bloomberg) — In India, where an increasing number of consumers aspire to own bigger cars to cope with the country’s notoriously potholed roads and bad traffic, automakers are betting on low-cost battery-powered SUVs to capture the budding electric vehicle market.
At the nation’s major auto show in New Delhi earlier this month, there was a new breed of EVs taking center stage, with predominately foreign companies looking to muscle in on the nascent electric scene. In a marked shift in rhetoric, local auto bosses were also excitedly talking up the sector’s prospects.
Homegrown manufacturers Tata Motors Ltd. and Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. are now jostling with Chinese giants BYD Co. and SAIC Motor Corp. and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. Even India’s biggest automaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., which had previously largely pooh-poohed EVs, showed a compact electric SUV it says will hit the market in 2025.
Demand for smaller SUVs has been surging in India. They’re suited for the country’s driving conditions, which can vary vastly from smooth multi-lane freeways to rutted streets crowded with rickshaws, dogs and cows. They also offer aspirational buyers an important, yet affordable, status symbol, perching drivers above the masses. And while larger electric SUVs tend to be inefficient (and expensive) because they require bigger and costlier battery packs, their compact equivalents are built on small-car platforms, making them more cost effective.
“The conundrum for electric vehicles is lighter is better, but customers want SUVs,” says Andy Palmer, the former CEO of Aston Martin who also helped spearhead Nissan Motor Co.’s creation of the Leaf, one of the first mass market EVs. “Using a small-car platform to build an electric SUV meets the sweet spot for both manufacturers and consumers,” he said, citing the example of Volkswagen AG using the ID.3 hatchback platform to