Indians can take heart now. Transfer of technology is to flow west, as General Motors is joining hands with Reva, an Indian firm, to produce electric cars. Reva leads the world in budget electric cars.
GM, which is scrambling to reform its image as the maker of pricey gas-guzzling SUVs, is in advanced talks with Reva, based in Bangalore, whose £7,000 G-Wiz is the bestselling plug-in car in Britain.
AdvertisementThe discussions have centred on the creation of a 50-50 joint venture that would give GM access to the Indian company's technology.
The Reva talks, have been conducted by GM's Indian office and are understood to be awaiting approval from its Detroit headquarters.
The arrangement would be the first such tie-up for GM, once the world's largest company, since it emerged from a whirlwind 40-day bankruptcy in July, during which it became 60 per cent-owned by the US Government.
At the time, President Obama said that the Chapter 11 filing heralded "the beginning of a new GM".
GM seems to be betting on the dawning of a new era of electric motoring. Last month, GM unveiled the Chevrolet Volt petrol-electric hybrid, which is expected to achieve 276mpg.
However, even as he unveiled the new model, Fritz Henderson, the GM chief executive, admitted that the company had yet to crack the biggest problems posed by electric cars: what if you cannot find a plug?
Access to Reva's power management technology could help GM to address such problems, analysts said. Even though the Indian company's G-Wiz has a range of only 48 miles, it includes features designed to prevent users being stranded. GM is likely to adapt Reva's technology in an electric version of its Chevrolet Spark minicar.
In April the government announced plans to offer motorists grants of between £2,000 and £5,000 off the price of a new electric car. But the subsidies won't be available until 2011. By then, a string of big-name manufacturers, from GM to Nissan, is expected to launch electric models, and preparations are already under way.
Mandelson, the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, last month announced Nissan would be producing the battery pack for its Nissan EV (electric vehicle) — due to go on sale in the UK in 2012 — in Sunderland. Johnson, the mayor of London, has said he wants to make the UK "the electric vehicle capital of Europe" and is backing the installation of 25,000 charging points across the city by 2015, to serve a predicted 100,000 vehicles.
The demand is for electric cars that will take on the role of second cars, while the family saloon or MPV is kept for longer distances. Electric vehicles are ideal in this respect: they are exempt from road tax and the London congestion charge, making them a particularly attractive option for Londoners whose daily driving is confined largely to short urban hops.
Range anxiety is still a big concern, despite rapid improvements in battery technology, including the gradual introduction of lithium-ion batteries, which are more energy dense and quicker to recharge than lead-acid ones.
Safety is another problem. When the government introduces its grants for electric vehicles they will apply only to cars that meet performance and safety criteria comparable to petrol and diesel models. That rules out many electric vehicles on sale today, most of which are classed officially as quadricycles, which exempts them from rigorous crash-testing.
Things are set to change soon, however, and once again it is the smaller companies, beyond the mainstream, that are leading the charge. Reva, the Indian company behind the G-Wiz, Britain's bestselling electric vehicle, is set to produce its first fully fledged four-seater electric car. Few details are available, but it should undergo official crash tests and is likely to be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September before going into production towards the end of the year, Times reported.