FOCUS: Chinese firms making inroads into India's EV market
By Atul Ranjan
NEW DELHI, NNA - Betting big on India's electric vehicle push, Chinese companies, including component suppliers, are tapping the country's e-mobility market by leveraging their expertise in EV technology.
While some have already entered the Indian EV market in the last few years, others are either setting up local operations or in talks with potential partners to cater to growing EV demand, especially in such categories as e-buses, e-rickshaws and e-scooters.
These moves will bring about intense competition in the near future even with existing automakers, including Japanese firms, said Anuj Sharma, chairman of the e-Rickshaw Committee at India's Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.
BYD Auto Industry Co., a subsidiary of Chinese auto and mobile manufacturing group BYD Co., partnered with India's Olectra Greentech Ltd. around three years ago and is selling its "Olectra-BYD" e-buses in the South Asian country.
Chinese EV manufacturer Dongguan Benling Vehicle Technology Co. in Guangdong, southern China and Phylion Battery Co. in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou opened India offices last year.
Zhejiang Rongda Industry & Trade Co., Jiangsu Kingbon Vehicle Co. and Zhejiang Linghang Electronics Co., all from eastern coastal provinces, have announced new partnerships with Indian firms to either supply parts or jointly produce eco-friendly vehicles in the world's fourth-largest auto market after China, the United States and Japan.
Benling India Energy & Technology Pvt. Ltd. invested 100 million rupees ($1.4 million) to set up its own assembly unit at Manesar in the northern Indian state of Haryana.
It will launch three low-speed electric scooters in February and three high-speed models in April under the "Benling" brand, Paritosh Dey, chief managing director and co-founder of Benling India, told NNA.
The Indian e-mobility market is in a very nascent stage, with EVs accounting for less than 1 percent of all new-vehicle sales.
"Being a direct subsidiary of Dongguan Benling, we have got an advantage over many other domestic electric two-wheeler firms as we have our own patent technology and 15 years of industry experience in manufacturing, operations and sales in China," said Dey.
Unlike Benling, most of the other Chinese firms are partnering with local companies to tap the Indian market, according to Dey and other business experts.
Two Indian firms -- Vinci Industrial Corp. and Unique E Auto -- recently announced partnerships with Chinese firms Zhejiang Rongda and Zhejiang Linghang, respectively, to manufacture EVs including electric scooters in India.
Local industry experts say that the EV category is attracting more and more firms, including Chinese players, especially those in the e-rickshaw segment.
"We already have over 17 lakhs (1.7 million) e-rickshaws on the Indian roads. We expect that number to jump to around 50 lakhs in the next three years," said Piyush Gupta, CEO of Lithion Power Pvt. Ltd., which offers charging infrastructure solutions.
Jiangsu Kingbon Vehicle Co., which claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of electric tricycles and e-rickshaws, and Henan Bosn Power Technology Co. are some of Chinese firms targeting this segment with plans to tie up with local partners to supply their products.
Chinese component suppliers have also started setting up shops in India to cater to demand for EV components.
"We established an India office last year and will be selling lithium ion batteries for electric two- and three-wheelers," said Allen Cai, business development manager at Phylion Battery, a lithium-ion battery maker.
According to Indian delegates attending the 5th China EV100 Forum in Beijing from Jan. 11 to Jan. 13, the local industry is looking for technologies related to direct-current motor, motor control systems and EV battery cells.
"For India's ambitious objective of achieving electric mobility by 2030, we see a very substantive role for the Chinese EV players," Anil Srivastava, principal adviser at the National Institution for Transforming India, said in a speech at the forum. The institution, also called NITI Aayog, is the Indian government's main policy think tank.
While auto-industry watchers see growing opportunities for EV makers, including Chinese firms, in categories like e-buses and e-rickshaws, they forecast limited demand for e-scooters in India due to a lack of charging infrastructure among other issues.
"The field in the e-bike segment is still wide open with existing two-wheeler manufacturers in India still adopting a slow wait-and-watch approach," said Deepesh Rathore, co-founder of Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors Pvt. Ltd., a local automotive consultancy firm.
While Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Japan's Honda Motor Co. and India's second-largest two-wheeler manufacturer, is looking to enter the country's EV market in the future, leading Japanese electric motorcycle and tricycle maker Terra Motors Corp. has already forayed into the market, introducing its e-rickshaws in 2014.
"We are not worried about the Chinese firms' entry into the Indian EV market," said Kosuke Nakagawa, chief operating officer of Terra Motors India Pvt. Ltd., Terra's local unit.
"We have been operating in the Indian market for some time and established a strong supply chain and brand," Nakagawa added. (NNA/Kyodo)