Future of electromobility

Akash-PasseyQ & A
Akash Passey, Senior Vice President – Business
Region International, Volvo Buses.
Interview by: Anirudh Raheja

Q. How is Volvo Buses employing technology and resources to enhance safety?
A. The economy is now moving in a better direction which is good for business. It is expected to continue moving in a better direction for the next three years. For Euro VI emission compliant products, we have introduced dynamic steering with which one could manoeuvre a bus with one finger. To introduce technology is not a problem for us. We have already introduced city braking systems in India as road accidents in India is a serious challenge. For this we have put in place Volvo Engage. It is a road and vehicle safety program, which in India is a very dis-aggregated effort and often carried out as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). There are certain education forums but continuity is missing. A larger momentum is required, and we will catalyse partnerships in a number of areas. We are also looking at the road and safety bill; it addresses areas like vehicle specifications, spare parts, driver training, licencing, database and insurance. So we believe there are number of areas in which various industry stakeholders like NGOs, government bodies, road safety bodies, technical institutes, operators are active. We would like to assimilate from them, what are their thoughts. We would like to know what is existing in the industry and what needs to be done. All this can work together for a concrete output. In Sweden, it is called as ‘Mission Zero’, and is about having zero fatalities on the road. It is not for the lack of will, but for the lack of coming together. There is a need to mobilise the stakeholders to form an uniform opinion around specific areas.

Q. Having sold 2200 electric buses across the world since 2010, what are the plans for India?
A. As a Group, Volvo has always been very focused on electromobility. We have been among the leaders in this league since 2007. Our products have been running around the world and we have been going steady. Quality, safety and care for the environment have always been our core values at Volvo. Electromobility fits in very well. In India, we have already sold a hybrid bus in 2011-12. It was a global product that has been running successfully. In the first half of next year, we will start a pilot project based on our hybrid bus, which is made in India. This will be for the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport (NMMT). We expect this project to help promote eco-friendly vehicles in India.

“We are closely involved with the Ministry of Heavy Industries for various initiatives”.

Q. A big chunk of electricity in India comes from coal, which is known to pose an environmental challenge. How do you look at this?
A. If you have buses that are creating pollution, it is spread across the city. When you are moving to electric buses, you need power. Power is sourced from coal, which sends the source of pollution outside the city. That does not mean it solves the problem. A power plant has its own regulations and treatment solutions before the smoke is given out. Once it is given out and is centralised, emissions are centralised. They are at one place and create the need to treat them at one place rather than at different places with different products. Undoubtedly coal is more polluting. The Government is however taking steps to move away to other technologies which will take time. What we are doing therefore, is to introduce hybrid buses, which have no connection with the coal plant. In the hybrid bus, an electric motor is coupled to a smaller diesel engine and the batteries get recharged while the bus is moving and when the brakes are applied. The engine is smaller as it is not used all the time. The bus gets into the electric mode when picking up passengers. Creation of pollution is avoided where the possibility of it being created is the most.

Q. What will the hybrid bus be like? What will be the local content?
A. It will be a normal, 12 m low entry bus that is customisable as per the customer specification. We are aiming at the first half of 2016 to launch the pilot bus. The body will be localised. It will be built at our plant.

Q. Government recently announced 100 smart cities. What are your thoughts on FAME and AMRUT?
A. I think electromobility is on the list of every global country including India. Most of them have already taken various measures including subsidies to encourage development and deployment of electric buses. China is one of the biggest electric bus markets in the world. India, I think, is also following through. The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) program deserves appreciation. It includes private institutional investors to bring in products which are in the range of electric mobility, and are not limited to buses. We are closely involved with the Ministry of Heavy Industries for various initiatives. Globally, we have moved on to semi-electric and pure electric buses. These buses have an external battery recharge source. Whatever the next step India needs to take, or takes, we are ready. It needs to be noted that Delhi and Beijing are at similar levels of pollution.