They are far less polluting, but pose a challenge to Indian driving practices
While adopting a technology, Indians have made changes to their attitudes and societal norms but often also made the technology work around their instincts. One area where the law of the jungle seems to prevail is the road, especially in cities. As a rule, typically, two-wheelers and cars don’t consider lanes important. We don’t want to wait our turn but keep jumping lanes and wading around obstacles. We seem to be possessed by a primal urge to get ahead of others even if it means the driver of the car or the two-wheeler rider on the other lane has to jam hard on his brakes. In many cities, dents on car bumpers are the norm.
It’s like how we behave in queues — at shops, temples and cinema ticket counters. A person who is standing at a discrete distance behind another can often find someone arriving just then, barging in. That little space is available, so it’s there to be taken, seems to be the working rule. We are in a mad hurry although the few minutes we save rarely fetch any benefit, while introducing chaos and disorder. And vehicles driven by internal combustion engines, with their inherent limitations, are a good fit for us. At slow speeds, common in city driving, these vehicles take their own time to speed up and, hence, don’t feed into the manic urges of Indian drivers. They require rather elaborate transmission systems and, in unison, the engine and the transmission create enough noise to alert others to their presence.
Practice has taught Indian drivers to be cautious about speed. They know enough to take it easy with the friction brakes, and they are mindful of the danger of tyres skidding. They are aware that any pedestrian can suddenly turn into a traffic policeman and stop the traffic so he or she can cross the road.
Over the next 15 years, however, Indian driving is likely to be disrupted by electric vehicles that the Indian government seems keen on introducing, without transitioning to hybrids. Far less polluting and carbon-emitting, the electric car, however, poses a challenge to Indian driving practices. The motor is much quieter than the engine and the transmission system has fewer parts too. “All one hears is wind, tyre and road noise, which is minimal in city driving,” says Mahesh Babu, CEO of Mahindra Electric. Imagine thousands of cars moving around, quietly, on our roads!
Electric motors are among the perkiest prime movers. After starting, they can very quickly ramp up to full speed, unlike the internal combustion engine that needs to idle and takes time to increase speed. “Instant torque and quick acceleration,” sums up Mr. Babu. Maximum torque is available for a range of speeds too.
Another crucial, efficiency-boosting attribute of the electric car will be regenerative braking. t’s a cute application of an old physics law where the electric motor powering the car can reverse its role, becoming a generator and charging the battery. The generator load is the resistance that provides braking torque and it can be varied if you want to just bring down the speed, not stop the car altogether.
Now, here is how these features don’t sync with our present state of driving. Given our habit of not waiting for our turn and switching lanes frequently and taking sharp turns, we may need to honk more to announce our car’s presence — a prospect that we may not hate altogether though. Or the manufacturer may engineer in some noise, although that would defeat the beauty of the technology. To ensure we don’t just step on the accelerator pedal and zoom our peppy, powerful electric car right into other vehicles on our chaotic roads, manufacturers can add a time delay in the software.
Our habit of jamming on the brakes may make regenerative braking less useful. During sudden braking, for safety reasons, normal braking takes over after initial regenerative braking. In other words, the energy savings can come down. “Consumer behaviour and adoption will determine the system that electric vehicles in the future will have,” says Mr. Babu, adding regenerative braking can be tuned for driver comfort and efficiency.
Electric cars present a unique opportunity for Indian drivers. Instead of tamping down the technology, we can instead change our habits — be mindful of lanes, wait our turn, be polite and respectful of others and their needs, and make our driving smoother, as well as make best use of regenerative braking.
Perhaps there will be a spin-off to this. Driving the electric car may make us more orderly while standing in queues, and even consider inviting others to go ahead of us.