MUMBAI – Indian automakers are balking at government plans to require them to more quickly match European vehicle-emissions standards.
Responding to studies ranking India’s air quality among the world’s worst, the manufacturers contend they need until 2025, the current deadline for achievement of so-called BS VI emissions, to bring their technology up to speed.
The government is considering asking the automakers to meet BS VI standards by 2020. But the car companies argue they need until mid-2019 just to reach BS V levels. Moving the deadline ahead would force them to employ untested or inadequately tested technologies that could lead to safety issues such as unintended acceleration or fires and may lower fuel efficiency.
Meantime, the air in India’s cities is getting progressively dirtier.
Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law & Policy ranked India’s air quality 174th-worst of 178 countries in its 2014 Environmental Performance Index. A World Health Organization Survey found air in Delhi, the capital, had an annual average of 153 micrograms of PM2.5 (harmful particulate matter), 15 times levels considered safe by the WHO.
PM2.5 particles are not visible but they go deeply into the lungs, contributing to cancer and asthma, and triggering often-fatal heart attacks and strokes. Delhi’s level of 153 compares with 56 in Beijing, whose notoriously poor air quality has been 45% better than that of the Indian capital in recent years.
As a first experimental step, the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Green Tribunal recently banned diesel vehicles over 10 years old in Delhi.
India’s air-pollution standard for vehicle emissions currently is at BS III levels, equivalent to the European Union’s Euro III. The current deadline for achieving the more stringent BS IV by 2017, followed by BS V by 2020 and BS VI, equivalent to the current Euro VI standard, by 2024.
Cleaner Air Easier Said Than Done, Industry Argues
The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers has countered the government’s possible imposition of the BS VI standard by 2020 by offering a 1-year reduction in the transition period, meeting BS V norms by 2019 and BS VI by 2023.
Industry sources add that BS V and BS VI fuels basically are the same but the vehicular technologies are vastly different and must be sequentially developed, tested and validated in these two stages over nine years.
“Emission-control technologies have a close link with safety and fuel efficiency, both of which are mandatory and are governed by separate government regulations,” notes SIAM President Vikram Kirloskar.
Adds Anant Talaulikar, chairman-SIAM Diesel Image Group and chairman and managing director-Cummins India, “The technologies become more complex with every step. The government should therefore implement the standards in a phased manner.”
The industry needs time to make investments in those technologies and make sure they mature in terms of reliability, he says.
Analysts estimate the industry would have to invest Rs400 billion-Rs600 billion ($6.4 billion-$9.6 billion to meet BS V and BS VI criteria, or up to Rs90,000 ($1,500) per vehicle.
The government’s efforts to curb vehicle pollution is not limited to gradually lowering emissions by gasoline and diesel engines. Electric and electrified vehicles recently got a boost with the launch of the Faster Adoption of Electric Mobility scheme allocating Rs8 billion ($127 million) in purchase subsidies for the next two fiscal years.
Currently, India has one mainstream EV maker, Mahindra Reva, whose compact, 4-seat e2o features contemporary technology and 75 miles (120 km) of range. It is priced at about Rs479,000 ($7,320) after the federal subsidy and a separate battery-rental charge is Rs2,599 ($41) a month.
EV technology is a likely beneficiary of increased R&D spending by Indian automakers. Global average investment in R&D currently is between 2% and 5% of revenues but is less than 1% in India.