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Embracing electric trucks: A business-focused exploration of innovations and disruptions

Currently, trucks in India transport around 70% of 5 billion tonnes or 2.2 trillion tonne-km of freight annually. This number is expected to increase to 9.6 trillion tonne-km by 2050. To meet this demand, the number of trucks is expected to more than quadruple, from 4 million in 2022 to roughly 17 million trucks by 2050, according to Niti Aayog. 

Trucks represent just 3% of the total vehicle fleet in India, yet they are responsible for 53% of particulate matter emissions, 50% of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 34% of carbon dioxide emissions. 

Global evidence shows that exposure to diesel pollution causes lung cancer, heart diseases, and a range of other metabolic and respiratory diseases. If you are reading this article and you are close to a main road with diesel vehicles, well, all the best!

Come 2024, 1 million of the current 2.4 million Indian trucks will enter the vehicle scrappage policy–according to which the trucks that are more than 15 years old will be scrapped if they do not pass the vehicle fitness test. 

This event and the discovery of lithium in the J&K region in March bring an amazing opportunity for India to not only fix its environmental standing but also emerge as a new global leader in the commercial vehicle market.

These tailwinds are going to cause new innovations, trends, and disruptions in four areas: farmer-owned/linked charging stations; lithium finds, making India a global electric truck player; golden era for electrical engineers; and reduction in overall inflation. 

Farmer-owned/linked charging stations

A lot of people I know have at least once thought, “I wish I could own a petrol pump.” This could be a reality soon, but it would be an electric charging station instead. 

We are going to see a lot of small-time entrepreneurs opening electric charging stations that would play the dual role of providing electricity to charge vehicles and selling back to the grid. 

Suddenly, there is an additional income opportunity for Indian farmers (who on an average own only 2.5 acres of land!) to either install their own solar farms or lease the land, while still performing their agricultural work. 

A 2.5-acre land can generate around 750-900kWh of electricity per day. At Rs 8/unit, this amounts to Rs 6,000 if it’s used to power an electric truck, and anywhere between Rs 2,250 and Rs 3,750 if it’s sold back to the power grid, depending on the state. 

There are additional capital incentives as well to install a solar farm. This amounts to an additional income of anywhere between Rs 60k and Rs 180k. The Indian farmer’s average monthly income is Rs 10.2k by the way!

And the reason electric trucks are linked to this is because of the sheer energy that would be required to move them. About 1 acre of land (solar farm) is required to move an electric truck carrying 55 tonnes for 150km. 

India has almost inexhaustible resources of bauxite, the raw material for the production of aluminium, yet the country imports 60% of its required consumption. A lot of this is linked to the power source (currently coal or natural gas) and, yes, there is something called ‘green aluminium’ as well (using, you guessed it, a renewable source of energy). 

These are the reasons why we are soon going to see a lot of new developments, plans, and startups entering this space, where small pockets of lands (especially if they are close to the highway) would be taken on lease or provided with options to install solar farms. This will help expand our energy infrastructure.

Lithium finds

According to reports, Tesla, Mitsubishi, and Ola appeared to be at the forefront of the bidders for the recently uncovered lithium reserves in the J&K region. This latest discovery puts India’s lithium reserves among the world’s largest. 

Tata Chemicals, Amaraja, Exide, Hero, and Maruti have plans to start manufacturing lithium ion cells by 2025. 

Batteries in an electric truck can account for 50-80% of the total cost, depending on the range. If things go the Indian way, Indian trucks would be the most affordable trucks in the world, just like how our diesel trucks are. This is a tremendous opportunity for India, as not every country that makes trucks owns lithium mines as well.

Indians are amazing at the science that requires patience, and, just like our booming bio and medical sectors, there will be a lot of innovation in new cell chemistries, driven by global demand. A lot of new startups are around the corner waiting to innovate new electrolytes, separators, anode and cathode components, and battery management electronic systems.

Golden era for electrical engineers

Since my Kharagpur days, I have believed that electrical engineering is the hardest of all. There are no shortcuts, and it takes a complete understanding of all the sub systems before one can comment on anything about the full system. For the uninitiated, it’s literally magic. 

Unfortunately, not all electrical engineers in India are doing electrical engineering (just like it is the case in other fields), but soon they are going to be in super demand. EVs need smart and talented electrical engineers. 

And electric trucks, which run on a higher power and voltage, would need optimisation on literally everything–from compact motors, inverters and DCDC converters to relays and power cables. This is just what electrical engineers in the country need, and how I wish I was one too! 

We have amazing electrical engineers in the country (there’s a reason why Schneider, ABB, Crompton, Bosch, and other global companies have such large operations in India). It sends shivers down my spine when I just think about what would happen when the impending EV revolution and the availability of large untapped electrical engineers in the country come together. 

Reduction in overall inflation

An increase of 10% in import freight cost is expected to raise the y-o-y CPI inflation by 0.89%. Imagine how much inflation we can control if we were to move to electric trucks running on solar power charging stations. 

Transportation and logistics costs in any country have immense cascading effects. Today road freight accounts for more than 25% of our oil import expenditure. Transitioning India’s trucking fleet to electric can have a pronounced impact on its macroeconomic indicators, particularly because we are heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels. 

Diesel price can be quite volatile and subject to international geopolitical dynamics. A surge in global oil prices or disruption in oil supply can lead to increased costs for businesses, which subsequently pass on these costs to consumers in the form of higher prices, contributing to inflation. 

By transitioning to electric trucks, India can reduce its dependence on such volatile external factors. A decreased demand for imported oil can enhance our trade balance, leading to a stronger currency. A robust currency can decrease the cost of other imports, further helping control inflation.

Electric trucks also offer benefits at the microeconomic level. Unlike traditional internal combustion engine trucks, electric trucks tend to have lower and more predictable operating costs. The maintenance costs are often lower due to fewer moving parts, and since the electricity used to charge these trucks is sourced domestically, it can insulate the transport sector from international energy price fluctuations. 

Furthermore, as technology advances and economies of scale come into play, the cost of electric batteries and related infrastructure is expected to decrease, making electric trucking even more cost-effective. Consequently, the transport component of goods’ final prices can stabilise or even decrease, benefitting both businesses and consumers. 

As transportation plays a crucial role in the cost structure of many goods and services, reduced transportation costs can significantly counteract inflationary pressures across a broad spectrum of the economy.

Electric trucks are inevitably linked to India’s emergence as a global power. Suddenly, the entire automobile industry is at ground zero and we cannot predict who will be the world leader in automobiles in the next ten years. 

India is perfectly suited to leverage its vast resources, engineering talent, inherent environmental needs, solar capacity, and growing domestic consumption to become a global player in the heavy transportation industry. It only has to wake up now.  

The author is Founder and CEO of Tresa Motors.

Edited by Swetha Kannan

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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