Electric scooter fires in India raise safety concerns, setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push

A wave of electric scooters catching fire in India, including one made by SoftBank-backed Ola Electric, is raising safety concerns among some buyers, in a first setback for a nascent sector about which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is optimistic.

India wants electric scooters and motorcycles to account for 80% of total two-wheeler sales by 2030, up from around 2% today, and Modi’s administration is offering companies billions of dollars in incentives to locally manufacture electric vehicles (EVs).

Electric scooter sales have more than doubled this year, but at least for some potential buyers, the fires are making you think twice.

On Saturday, a video of an Ola e-scooter engulfed in flames went viral online, sparking a rare government investigation. A scooter from startup Pure EV also caught fire and a burning Okinawa Autotech Pvt bike killed two people. The companies say they are investigating the incidents.

Three potential buyers told Reuters they were postponing plans to buy, and dozens of them posted concerns on social media this week, with several saying they wondered if now was the right time to switch to electricity.

“I had done a lot of research but I am now reconsidering my decision. I will buy a regular motorbike,” said Praharsh Mahadevia, 28, an engineer from the western city of Ahmedabad.

Nayeem Quadri, an Indian journalist, also has “doubts because of these repeated fires”, he said.

The push for electric mobility is key to Modi’s climate change and carbon reduction goals.

Following the Ola incident, Modi’s government told lawmakers in India’s parliament that it would take “appropriate action” against the makers once investigations were completed.

Some in government circles say vehicles have been recalled globally by automakers over fires.

“This is a booming industry and anything negative is bound to have a negative impact,” said Randheer Singh, director of electric mobility at government think tank Niti Aayog.

“How the situation is addressed will determine how consumer faith and trust is maintained,” he said.

In flames

Video footage of Ola’s fire showed one of his popular black colored S1 Pro scooters emitting smoke before being quickly engulfed in fire on a busy street in the western city of Pune.

The Okinawa Autotech incident was deadlier. The company said a man and his daughter died when their e-bike “caught on fire”. He cited the police statement which said the probable cause was an electrical short while charging.

Jasmeet Khurana, who leads the World Economic Forum’s initiative on electric mobility in India and emerging markets, said buyers could forgive one-off mishaps given the popularity of cheap-to-use bikes. But, he said, companies need to do more to address the concerns.

“The market will continue to grow rapidly, but it can grow faster without such incidents,” he said.

Although most people still use gas-guzzling motorcycles to get around congested Indian roads, electric scooter sales are leading the clean mobility revolution in India.

Annual sales are expected to exceed 1 million units by March 2023, up from 1,50,000 a year ago, according to industry data. Ola Electric, worth $5 billion (about Rs. 37,976.8 crore), manufactures 1,000 scooters a day and plans to manufacture electric cars and battery cells locally.

Tarun Mehta, chief executive of Tiger Global-backed electric scooter maker Ather Energy, told Reuters that despite the fires, its sales were unaffected.

“There is no question of derailing demand. While the incidents are unfortunate, we cannot deny the fact that electric vehicles are here to stay and the switch to electric has begun,” he said. -he declares.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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