Electric vehicles are on the charge, pun intended, in regions like the United States, Japan, Western Europe, and China. Japan and the US lead the race with overall sales of 28 percent and 26 percent respectively of total car sales in those countries. These markets have around 25 electric models in total on sale, including the world's most popular electric car, the Nissan Leaf.
In India, however, things are very different. Not much choice for customers in the way of electric cars—the REVA was launched in 2001 by the then Reva Electric Car Company, which was replaced by the Mahindra e2o last year. The high cost of these cars, lack of charging infrastructure and ownership incentives from the government have meant that electric cars have not been widely accepted by the Indian customer so far, not by a long shot. Also, the supposed zero emissions of EVs is a misnomer in India, because around 90 percent of our country's electricity comes from use of non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and petroleum.
So when we were asked to drive the latest version of Mahindra's e2o, the e20 Premium, there was naturally a lot of scepticism in the office, about whether or not the refreshed car would actually be an improvement over the old one, and if it is indeed an economically-viable replacement for a conventional petrol or diesel car in the long run. So, will the new Mahindra e2o variant deliver towards its goal of becoming the Future of Mobility? Let's see, shall we?
The story continues on the next slide.
Design of the times? Well, we're not too sure. Because few cars look more like the ubiquitous rubber duck. And our test car was a nice bright yellow, which made the comparison inevitable. The large, gaping grille is almost an open beak, the ‘macho' swells on the side ABS body panels, wings, and the huge rear fender looks like a fat duck bottom. You almost expect it to get up and waddle away, this one.
That's just us, however, and there's obviously going to be an opposing school of thought that sees the e2o as a funky little runabout. Which is true to an extent, since it certainly looks different from the regular crop of cars out there. Just not too sure how many folk will be inclined to do the funky duck though...
So it looks like a little quacker. Does it drive well, though? We'd have to say it's quite fun to hum along in, except for the car's tendency to roll, possibly attributed to that unnecessarily tall stance in addition to the softish suspension setup, which does a good of absorbing even relatively harsh undulations though, it has to be said. Plonk the slightly moody drive selector in ‘F' or ‘Forward' and the 20 bhp electric system quietly hums along with decent urgency, enough to keep the car up with regular city traffic.
But there is a rather addictive trick up the e2o's er, wing, in the ‘B' or ‘Boost' mode, which speeds up acceleration and allows you easy overtaking and the surprising ability to out-accelerate most from standstill, at least up to around 40 km/h. Boost cannot be the secret of the car's energy all the time however, since frequent use combined with speeds of around 60-70 km/h sees range of the 48V lithium ion battery pack drop faster than normal.
Annoyingly, the drive selector is not backlit, so if you're a new e2o driver taking the car out in the night, it becomes a royal pain to figure out what mode you've selected. Also, the steering needs to get lighter, since despite the e2o getting variable assist electric power steering for the Premium variant, our test car's steering was still too heavy for Bangalore stop-go traffic and parking situations. This needs to be sorted out, especially since the car was designed to appeal to women drivers as well. Lastly, the spongy feel and the offset location of the regenerative brakes of the e2o are unlike any regular car-braking smoothly and modulating the brakes are tricky, and don't inspire too much confidence.
The interior of the car is spacious enough, and the overly tall stance finally pays some dividends. There's acres of headroom and the upright seats are decently comfortable, with surprising room for two rear occupants. Gripes? The high window line renders the cabin a trifle claustrophobic, the quality of some bits is fiddly, the front armrests hurt your elbows, the heavy doors shut like a truck's, and the poorly located front seatbelts and seat adjusters make finding a good driving position a chore. The weighty doors and seatbelt accessibility issues could be solved in the near future, since Mahindra is supposedly working on a four-door version of the e2o.
Comfort and convenience
The Mahindra e2o Premium is rather well-equipped, with a 6.2-inch touch screen (that should be called a ‘press screen' instead, since operation required a fair bit of finger pressure), factory-fitted GPS navigation, DVD player, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. The electric car also features a fully digital instrument cluster with attractive and easy-to-read blue backlighting, keyless entry and a reverse camera.
Certain features of the car can also be controlled via a downloadable app for your smartphone, like remote locking and activation of the air conditioning. Even the Revive function which gives you an emergency range of 8 kilometres can be activated through the app. It remains a tad slow and a bit gimmicky to use though-we found the touch screen on the centre console a more favourable option.
Right. Time to get down to the all-important numbers. How does the Mahindra e2o weigh up against similarly-priced petrol and diesel cars? We compared the e2o to both petrol and diesel versions of the Maruti Suzuki Swift to get an idea of actual ownership and running costs as compared to conventional fuelled vehicles. There are plenty of surprises ahead, so read on!
Mahindra claim a range improvement of 20 percent with the e2o Premium, which earlier stood at 100 kilometres for a single charge that consumed 10 units of electricity. However, we did not get close to the new 120-kilometre claim, but managed a still-respectable 92 kays, considering we used Boost freely, had the AC on for about half the test, and conducted a top speed run as well. It's safe to say that with a moderate driving style and stingy usage of the aircon, 100-odd kilometres for a single full charge should be achievable.
Annual running cost (minus maintenance/service cost)
We pegged daily usage for the three cars at 45 kilometres, with other constants being 10 units of electricity costing INR 4.85 a unit, INR 80 for a litre of petrol and INR 65 for a litre of diesel.
Annual running cost excluding maintenance and service costs were found to be:
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Petrol: INR 1,00,800
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Diesel: INR 70,200
– Mahindra e2o: INR 9,000
Running cost for five years (including maintenance/service cost)
We have taken five years as the time period for comparison, since the batteries of the e2o are expected to last approximately 5 years or around 80,000 kms. Mahindra say that the three required annual services for the first three years are free for the e2o, while the remaining two work out to INR 4,000 (INR 2,000 a year). Annual service costs for the petrol and diesel Swifts work out to approximately INR 10,000 and INR 12,000, according to Maruti Suzuki.
Running cost for five years including maintenance and service costs was found to be:
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Petrol: INR 5,54,000
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Diesel: INR 4,11,000
– Mahindra e2o: INR 49,000
Note: At the end of five years, the batteries of the e2o will need to be replaced at a cost of INR 1,80,000, which will allow you to run the car for an additional 80,000-100,000 kilometres if well maintained. We haven't added this cost to our calculations because then we would have to add the cost of the next five years of fuel to the costs of the Swifts as well. However, also keep in mind that you will probably not be able to sell the e2o at the end of five years if you do not have new batteries. While one will not face this situation with the petrol or diesel Swift, certain niggles would have crept up in five years time, though one shouldn't incur such major expenses to have them sorted out.
Running costs per kilometre (all factors included)
We took the total distance covered in a year to be a constant of 16,200 kilometres, which was the product of 45 (kilometres of daily usage) and 30 (days) and 12 (months). Total distance was found to work out to 81,000 kilometres, which was the product of annual distance (16,200 kms) and number of years (five). Maintenance costs of the cars were also taken into account, with the aforementioned INR 4,000 for the e2o, and INR 10,000 and INR 12,000 for the petrol and diesel Swifts respectively.
Running costs per kilometre for the three cars were found to be:
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Petrol: INR 6.84/km
– Maruti Suzuki Swift Diesel: INR 5.06/km
– Mahindra e2o: INR 0.60/km
The fact that the electric e2o comes out so far on top when it comes to running costs is a revelation indeed. True, an efficient charging infrastructure is still a ways away in the country, but Mahindra seems to working hard in this regard, at least when it comes to charging points in Bangalore and Delhi, the two major markets of the e2o currently.
The company says there are currently approximately 100 Mahindra Reva charging stations in Bangalore and 150 in Delhi. Of the two charging stations we checked out in the former Garden City, only the larger four-car station in Forum mall had working RCD cables and was free of cost. The second in a local garage didn't have the cables and we were told the charging box that came with the car was malfunctioning–we could have been in a spot of electric bother if the mall wasn't close by.
So there you have it. The Mahindra e2o might actually have something to do with future mobility, but only if the price comes down. Most are not going to be able to afford the e2o's almost-8-lakh price tag, so right now the e-car can only work as a second or third car for the well-heeled. The e2o also needs plenty of improvement when it comes to ergonomics, fit and finish, and certain driving characteristics, especially considering its upmarket segmentation. Also, we're not sure how unisexual the car's overall design is.
Mahindra is trying everything to sell e2os, including a leasing option for the batteries, where you pay INR 6,15,000 (on-road Bangalore) for the car and INR 3,000 a month as an ‘energy fee'. But why are these figures so high, Mahindra? It's just too bad you're pricing these cars out of reach of the masses, because the fact remains that the e2o is quite possibly one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest car to run in the country, and we certainly can't duck that truth...
The story ends here. For any questions, comments or suggestions, do feel free to write in.