Tata Motors to increase focus on hybrid, electric vehicles

Rising fuel prices, diesel becoming less attractive as a fuel, and growing concerns over vehicular pollution have seen India's largest homegrown automaker maker Tata Motors increase focus on hybrid and electric vehicles.

From making hybrid and electric luxury buses and trucks to investing in break-through, cost-saving innovations in battery technology the Mumbai-based automaker is keen to have a jump start in the alternate fuel space, reports CNBC-TV18.

Tata Motors, which has traditionally been dependent on diesel engines, is working on full hybrids and fully-electric systems for its future range of passenger as well as commercial vehicles, investing a substantial chunk of its yearly Rs3,500 crore capital expenditure.

''We cannot start to develop technology having orders in hand. We have to develop technology first and then show the concept and then think about selling it. We developed the parallel hybrid bus in 2010 but the market was not ready. But now if you see there are buyers for hybrid and electric buses,'' said Ajit Kumar Jindal, head of engineering (commercial vehicles), Tata Motors.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has placed an order for 25 hybrid buses costing Rs51 crore with Tata Motors. From the original seven bidders the supply contract was given to Tata Motors based on its annual maintenance contract bid. Its execution will begin by February end and will be concluded in 4-5 months thereafter.

The company will also supply more than 50 fully electric buses to the Himachal Pradesh government which plans to run them on the beautiful but treacherous Manali to Rohtang pass.

For passenger vehicles Tata Motors is working on full hybrid and electric models ranging from compact hatchbacks to sports utility vehicles. The company was even testing fully electric variants of the Bolt and Vista hatchback on UK roads and the Ace, an electric for Indian roads.

Batteries are the heart of all electric vehicles and constitute half of the total cost of the vehicle. China meets 90 per cent of the world's total demand for batteries, and its cost remains prohibitively high.

Therefore, Tata Motors has set up a battery assembly line within its Pune plant, which will look into technology development of batteries and also in future stages might host a production line for batteries.

''The move is to develop technological competence in-house with regards to batteries because we want to work closely with suppliers,'' said Jindal.

Late in 2015, a consortium comprising Maruti Suzuki, Ford, Tata Motors and Mahindra Reva was formed to jointly explore innovation in critical components for developing electric vehicles. In subsequent months Ford and Maruti exited the group as they had their own electric plans up and running.

''There was a move to jointly work in the area of electric vehicle together and now they are talking about bringing commercial vehicles also in that. Since some companies walked out of the consortium they wanted CV companies to pitch in. Some discussion is happening on those lines but it is yet to be finalised,'' said Jindal.