Green cars at Delhi Auto Expo 2012…So What!

Automakers from all over the world want to exploit the stupendously growing car market in India – spreading their wings from a small sized low-cost vehicles to big sized SUV’s to high end luxury cars. The diverse mix in India’s consumer is hard to categorize into any one segment – it wants it all.

But as good is the potential for “metallic boxes” swarming the already crowded Indian roads, what are the pitfalls of such a mass exodus of vehicles pouring in?

  • High carbon emissions
  • High rate of accidents
  • High rate of delays and frustration levels

While we have these world class car makers bringing the best in class products to India, are they not forgetting the very basic need to get our urban road infrastructure right? Here are some of things that are completely out of whack:

  • Driving sense
  • Lane driving
  • Basic traffic rules
  • Homogeneity in signage and lights across entire Indian roads

So what we have “Green cars” or “Gas Guzzlers”- what difference does it make – they will only crowd the already congested roads.

I am not saying that “Green-er” cars are not good – they are – but solving one problem to create new ones is not holistic or sustainable. It directly runs in the face of what the big idea of Sustainability is about – systems thinking.

We are always working at the ‘end-of-pipe” solutions – but fail to look at the starting-of-the-pipe problems.

Around 50 new models are being launched at the currently underway Auto Expo in various categories. And every automaker is working on some form of hybrid, fuel-efficient vehicles. Mahindra’s 2010 acquisition of Reva saw the first-ever electric car in India. Bajaj’s RE60 caters to the commercial passenger segment and is designed to gradually replace the autorickshaw as a mode of transport.

These are certainly steps in the right direction, but it’s the case of “making hay while the sun shines” or selling more metal boxes till the time we have some decent form of urban mobility system in place -till then India will always have a demand for such vehicles.

Last mile connectivity is an important feature in the urban transportation design, and RE60 intends to do just that. I wonder how sustainable will that be? While we are looking towards a sustainable future including walkability, here are some concerns that I share:

  • What about the ELV or End-of-Life vehicles? India doesn’t have any system in place requiring car owners or car makers to recycle the old vehicles
  • Such cars will only escalate the challenges of walkability as more people will look to owning a car than preferring to walk
  • Building or expanding the roads or “asphalt” removes the actual “green cover” of trees and frees up the trapped CO2 into the atmosphere

I don’t have anything against the cars, but no carmaker is in the business of solving problems – they are in the business of making money – and if going green gets more money, so be it. You create a new need without solving the current need – how can that be sustainable in the long run?

Why not first get the basic process of obtaining a DL (Driver’s License) right, and let it trickle down to the masses and let them choose what is green – for them.

Which is sustainable? Driving 100 kms a day on a electric vehicle or driving 10 kms a day on a SUV? You decide!

But this will happen when we take holistic thinking into the mix and not look to solve just one rubric of mobility problem.

Tags: Ford, Suzuki, Mahindra, GM, Cheverlot, Renault, Audi, Toyota, Honda, BMW   

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Comments

  1. Pankaj, the end of life issue is not new, only a few companies came up with solutions to deal with the repurposing of their marketed goods. In a world driven by consumerism, long term vision and responsibility for the recycling of the old goods need to be reconsidered.

  2. Thanks for your comment Laura. Agree with you. While we have more greener cars the planned obsolescence factor is still embedded in them. For the short term they offer a solution but again the longer term vision is missing- crowded roads, issue of walkability etc. Urban transportation needs to be designed by keeping urban city planning in mind and not just to fill the gap in the market.

  3. Regarding end-of-life, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest (in many cases, even the manufacturer’s) that energy and material intensive products (cars, TVs, cell phones, computers) be required to return to the manufacturer at the “end of its life”. This would create pressure on the manufacturer to DESIGN the product to be easily recyclable or reusable. It would also put pressure on the manufacturer to reduce the amount of toxic materials used in the manufacture.

    • Thanks for your comment Joce. In India, Nokia and Samsung do have product take back option…but I doubt how successful they are in collecting the end-of-life handsets? Reason being, handsets don’t reach their end of life like in a developed world…people get their sets repaired over and over again and if at all they feel they may no longer need it, they will further give away to someone in need (from poorer section).
      But anyhow, products have to be designed assuming that no waste will occur. It is an effective P2 or Pollution Prevention strategy that some companies do employ (Caterpillar). But it is in the products that you mentioned (car, TV etc) that this strategy needs to be aggresively implemented as these have much lower shelf lives as earlier.

      • The design phase is probably the most critical. (I believe) It is much easier to design a product that has a small environmental footprint that it is to create a waste management system that will deal with the waste after.

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