Developing Asia Can Start an Electric Car Revolution

Electric car in India. Photo by Veeresh Malik
Electric car in India. Photo by Veeresh Malik

By Sohail Hasnie

We need to start adopting the electric car en masse at the bottom of the income pyramid in the region if we want to achieve real transformation in the clean energy sector.

Less than a month after unveiling Tesla Motors’ latest model, the electric car company has already received nearly 400,000 orders for its Model 3 sedan, CEO Elon Must recently announced.

This seems like a lot, but 400,000 is only about 0.16% of the 250 million cars and trucks on US roads. About 75,000,000 cars are sold annually around the world, and there are about 1.1 billion of them already out there. Electric cars are thus moving slowly to overtake gasoline-powered consumer vehicles, especially where the demand is growing the fastest.

One million electric vehicles per year would displace about 50,000 barrels per day of oil consumption; 10 million of them would remove 500,000 barrels from the market a day. But even if we keep on replacing 10 million gasoline-powered cars with electric ones each year for the next 10 years, it will take a very long time to make a dent in the global vehicle fleet of 1.1 billion cars and trucks and the 100 million barrels of oil per day they consume.

This will not change unless developing countries take a lead in this transformation by starting to adopting electric vehicles en masse.

India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nigeria, and Pakistan are today leading mobile phone markets, which in the 1990s we presumed would be commanded by Australia, Germany, and Japan. Bangladesh has the world’s largest off-grid solar installations, and is changing the solar market. This is the kind of new technology developing countries need to leapfrog to.

We need to start an electric car revolution at the bottom of the income pyramid in the developing world, especially developing Asia, which can trigger faster and wider market adoption side by side as the developed world brings in the Tesla, Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf at the top of the pyramid.

For real transformation, the inspiration and technology should come from the Teslas of the world, but governments in developing countries must do their part to implement large electric vehicle projects. This will give them energy independence and reduce air pollution.

While newspaper headlines like China sets target for 5 million ‘new energy’ vehicles by 2020, Ambitious plan: By 2030, India may have only electric cars or Only electric cars should be sold in Netherlands from 2025 are useful and encouraging, but very little compared against what is really needed.

So how do we encourage other governments to think electric car? Not just Tesla, but everyday electric transport – boats, bikes, trikes, cars, trucks and ships.

It’s about time.