EV Conundrum!

 

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I am back to my favourite topic, Electric Vehicles or EV! A couple of days back there was a meeting called by NITI Ayog to discuss and decide EV policy for two-wheelers, in India. I am going to write only about the Indian scenario. My observation is that the electric four-vehicle of similar specification as the IC engine costs almost double the price. Plus per charge range of these vehicles is about 110 km. The specs are not good enough for the car to be used for out of station travel. With these limitations, it is going to be challenging to sell such vehicles. But in two-wheelers, I have observed that the price of EV’s is comparable with IC engine version. Distance travelled using two-wheelers is much less compared to four-wheelers. In India, parking two-wheelers at home is manageable compared to four-wheelers.

There are many angles to this issues. First and foremost is the fuel. With limited petroleum product reserves, there is bound to be a tough situation for the whole world if no action is taken, we will have difficulties. Add to this a new dimension; the US has threatened India to stop buying oil from Iran or else! If the US is so much worried about the whole world vis a vis Iran, then they should sell Oil to India at the same price as sold by Iran and that too in Rupees! But the US can get away with anything in diplomacy.

Petroleum product based fuels are adding to pollution is a known fact. The whole world is trying to reduce pollution by tightening the pollution norms, but apparently, there are limitations of investments to achieve the goals. Again the US has opted out of the body which is trying to track pollution world over. Again, it is the act of a bully.

All the nations are trying to reduce pollution in their cities and India is also trying its best. NITI Ayog meeting was held for the same purpose. Four-wheelers are still miles away from reaching the balance between the price targets and the cost. As four-wheelers will be expensive, their sales will not match current sales volumes at a price expected today. The second most crucial aspect in India is the challenge of charging the car batteries. Majority of the cars in India are parked in public places. Many of them are parked on roads and streets. How to provide a facility to charge batteries for such vehicles? Do we provide charging points on roads like we have parking meters? I don’t think that is a practical way of doing it. Another issue is that fast charging techniques are coming up but are still not good enough. With such limitations, NITI Ayog is trying to put pressure on the two-wheeler segment.

As already discussed, EV’s in this segment will have a comparable price, and because of lesser parking issues, charging the batteries using home electrical outlets may be possible. Charging is manageable; costs are manageable, and the number of these vehicles produced is very high. The number of two and three-wheelers manufactured in the latest financial year is 30 million plus. Total of fuel used by these vehicles is massive.  If totally converted to EVs, there can be a significant impact on pollution.

There are two groups in this segment. First and the main is the group of established manufacturers like Honda, Hero and Bajaj. They are already developing EVs. The second segment is the startups who are in the process of developing EVs. They have no hangups and are trying to support the government. But the established ones have the issue of scaling up. NITI Ayog is insisting that by 2025, majority two-wheelers manufactured should be EV’s. The Giants have a vast experience in manufacturing and can visualise or foresee the issues. Startups really don’t have manufacturing expertise and experience. They probably do not understand the meaning of manufacturing 2.5 million vehicles a month.

Now here is a complicated situation. Established manufacturers have to keep on producing IC Engine vehicles and ramp up EV production. Tremendous efforts and money will be needed. Startups may know the EV technology but do not have the wherewithal to manufacture one hundred thousand vehicles a month. Selling these numbers without the right experience is going to be very tough. What about funding? They are solely dependent on financing by VCs. Today I read an article about VCs trying to go away from electric vehicle manufacturers, in China, as there are too many variables. These startups will never get bank funding. Don’t forget that even Tesla is still a VC funded company! They are already facing production bottlenecks, and their sales are going down!

Will Lithium producers make a cartel like the petroleum cartel? It is a million dollar question. India does not have Lithium reserves, but China has done brilliantly. They have taken controlling shares in many mines across the globe. Till foreseeable future, it looks like the Lithium, and to some extent, Cobalt is going to be the key elements. Their control will be the key to success.

https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/india-lithium-ion-battery-market

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The cost of the battery pack was the US $1000/ kW-hr in 2010. In the year 2016, it came down $273. At this rate, the EV’s will become affordable over a period. By 2020 it is expected to be sub $200/. By 2026 the price is projected to be $100/. But till that time it is going to be a tricky question about change over. Those who can afford will buy the EV’s, but the mass production models will take some time to become affordable. In the countries, where parking of cars is an issue, it is difficult to predict what the solution will be.

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One pertinent point discussed by NITI Ayog was that if the pollution goes out of hand, then the courts will intervene. Once that happens then, the discussion will be between manufacturers and the courts. NITI Ayog suggested that some policy decisions need to be taken while interested parties are involved in the debate; it will enable both sides to come to an excellent resolution.

It is more of a chicken and egg situation. It is known that EVs are good for pollution management. On one side, nobody even knows which startups will even survive five years hence. Hence there is no point in putting your money on them. But the existing giants have their issues. They need to run their current business, which has its unique problems. They have to simultaneously scale down and scale up for old and new business. Hence they have shown their apprehension with the year 2025. How will they come out of this conundrum is anybody’s guess.

Are Electric buses the real solution for pollution control and to take people away from personal vehicles?

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Life’s Spreadsheet!

Toyota started using a set of principles and behaviours in a certain way that would help make the company better, efficient, profitable, productive and successful in general. Obviously, they put in terrific efforts to make it happen. Our lives are equally complex, but we handle things more in ad hoc way than doing them systematically. When we get married, there are two of us involved in almost everything. But we treat life like a game of tennis, that too, singles and not doubles. If husband and wife can work in tandem life quality will be superior to the “singles” way of life. At least switch over to the game of doubles! I am going to say something that you may find a little too theoretical.  

We can apply the famous Japanese principles of Kaizen and 5S principles to our lives. Kaizen is about continuous improvement. 5S is part of Kaizen and is a way of organising a shared workplace. Sounds good? Now, do you think these two principles can be easily applied in our day to day life? Yes and No. Knowing the principles is okay, using them in the workplace is fine, but how do you apply them at home? Well, it needs to be done the same way it is done at the office. 

For this, we need to collect data! Oh, I am so drab! What am I writing? We just got married, it is not even a month since we came back from the honeymoon and Pramod is telling us to collect the data! So unromantic! But friends, the honeymoon period tends to end as it is a finite timeline. Then starts is grocery, laundry, office pressures, missing of periods and children being born! The real life starts now and not during the honeymoon.  

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I have mentioned very few things from the unending list, and life is already looking complex. Add the children’s schooling, business travel, guests at home, illnesses, parents getting older and yes deaths! All these things are going to start happening, and we do not have much control over their timings. Does your home environment feel like a factory atmosphere? Too many things to do, timelines are tight, and on top of that, we are playing a singles match and not the doubles!  

Improvement in the factory working looks for profits and market share but improving in the working at home is to look for happiness. Achieving happiness is not tangible; hence, it is difficult to achieve and define. But like in factories, we will need data to start changing things. What better way than collecting data using excel sheet? I had written a blog regarding who is the primary worker at home. You may read it if you want. 

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2019/03/12/primary-help-really/ 

We have been brought up in a patriarchal society, and the “home” workload is expected to be taken up mainly by the lady of the house. So why not start with the list of chores that are required to run a household. The tasks could be daily, weekly and monthly. Unless you put them down in an excel sheet, you may not even remember them. It is possible that you may forget to do infrequent tasks. So, the to-do list is equally essential for all. We have reached a stage where we now agree to create a to-do list.  

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How will the ultimate goal of happiness be achieved? First and the foremost step to me is equal distribution of chores between the two. This redistribution will give both additional times, which can be used as “me time.” When we start noting down tasks, we realise that commute time can be converted into exercise time by going to work using cycle. It is changing the method to achieve two goals. It can happen by rescheduling and evolving practices; we may be able to spend more time with family and friends, resulting in happiness. There is a possibility that you have a home from where both are required to travel long distances for work. I know of a couple who jointly travel almost six hours every day for work. Over a period one of them changed a job, and they changed home. Their travel time is now one and a half hours. One of them needed to exercise for health reasons; now it is possible to do it.  

Before this exercise, there were fights, resentment, unpleasantness because time was at a premium. It is possible that some of the tasks you may never have done before marriage. You are learning to do them “on the job”. If you note down the tasks in details, you can find ways of doing things more efficiently. Maybe you were using the dishwasher and washing machine on alternate days. If you could change this frequency to twice a week, you will gain additional time. You had to rush regularly to buy groceries at the last moment, track its usage, and you will find that there is no emergency rush to buy things. Happiness?  

Still, do not believe in spreadsheets; let us understand things further. From singles, you have started playing the doubles game. A glance here and a signal there would tell your partner what to do or what you will do. In the initial phase, this looks efficient. You are playing a doubles game with home and office. These are your two formidable opponents. Then you have an addition to the opposition team as children arrive on the scene. One of you starts travelling outstation for work; the complexity goes on increasing. The glance and signal do not work as you have to go for PTA and on the same day, you have a critical presentation! Oh, on the same day the wife’s car was to be given for service. Complexity goes up geometrically.  

So, now listen to the expert Pramod! I am just kidding! We also learnt to do things the hard way. Why not try Kaizen? It is a continuous improvement of whatever you are doing. It may be household stuff, office job, handling kids patiently! “Hey, dad, what happens if I write on the walls with my Crayons?” Losing your temper is not going to help you; find out improved methods to convince them to change their mind. Maybe take wife’s help; she may be better than you in this aspect. Keep your ego aside. But are you going to change things as you face them? Why not gather data in that elusive excel sheet? You can start by analysing major chores and the way you are doing them. Give marks, say 7/10 or 2/10. According to importance and scores see how things can be changed. Decide what score will reduce your stress, open up avenues to get free time, reduce the temperature of the system. Home is the reverse of IC engines. IC engines run more efficiently as their temperature goes up and stabilises. Home engine runs efficiently at room temperatures.  

5S is a method that is easy and complex both. It deals with house-keeping methodology on the shop floor. House and homes are the same, are they not? So why not try 5S at home. I will not go into details of 5S, but it will suffice to say that if used correctly, our homes will become clutter free! Try with some of your cupboards. You will see many handkerchiefs, pairs of socks, innerware. How many of these were not used for the last three months? I have taken three as a random number; you need to select the number that will suit you. You may find that 50% of this stuff was never touched in those three months. Why not give these to charity? There are many such nooks and corners in our home which can be declogged. Your mind is clogged by the physical clutter in the surroundings. 5S will help you declogg your mind too! Serenity is one word that comes to mind that you will achieve by removing clutter.  

Friends, I have too much in my mind about what I want to say so maybe I should stop at this stage. I have chosen the Japanese methods for their simplicity, and these are really useful in real life. So open that Laptop and start creating an excel sheet!

The first item, “Don’t waste time on reading Pramod’ blogs”! Or maybe you should read them!  

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Lathe Joshi!

Lathe Joshi is a film about one Joshi, who is an expert lathe machine operator. As per the famous rule of this world, “Change is the only constant”, one day his world changes when the workshop owner decides to close his workshop as it is not profitable. Joshi loses his job. But he is not willing to change. He does not want to acquire new skills, nor does he want to retire and join a bhajani mandal to pass his time. He tries to buy the lathe from his old owner but it does not work out. His wife, and son change as per needs of the modern world; though they struggle initially, later they settle down with a reasonable success taking up modern work. They change with the time. Joshi who is known as Lathe Joshi remains Lathe Joshi and has a tough time in later life as he is out of tune with his family, who try to help Joshi. 

We see many Lathe Joshi’s in this world! Last 50 years of previous century changed our world drastically but the changes in the 18 years of this century are breath taking to even reasonably techno comfortable people. Many new things, modern things are making life easy and tough at the same time. Many gadgets that were standard in any office, have become extinct e.g. type writers, filing cabinets, typists, filing clerks. Now every person whether he or she likes it or not needs to reskill, retrain. If it is not done then it will not take time for these people to become Lathe Joshi.  

But is it necessary to change everything old? No way! Everything in the world does not become modern. Old values of love and empathy remain intact! We should all respect each other as human beings. In many areas, what changes is the method of doing things, processes being followed but basics don’t change.  

When anyone goes to take a loan from a bank, that company or the individual needs to provide various documents. These documents now can be submitted electronically, processed electronically and approved electronically. I am sure loan departments of banks are shrinking. We see the same thing while making payments and withdrawing cash. It is said that in next five years number of physical branches of banks will reduce drastically! More Lathe Joshi’s?  

Modern technology makes buying a totally new experience. Amazons and Flipkarts are changing the way we buy things; items bought still need to be shipped so shipping industry will not change. In fact, there will be more and more jobs available in this sector. The courier service, tracking of parcels will become more efficient. But in logistics basics don’t change! Whenever we have any issues with these companies, we chat with their representatives. These “representatives” are many a time BOTS, robots who can chat with you. There could be one human supervising 10 BOTS, same as self-check-out counters in the malls. As far as humans are concerned, obsolescence will happen! Retraining for people in this field is a must!  

Obsolescence looks to be the name of the game but it is difficult to predict what will happen in future. When experts find it difficult to predict, for common person it will be almost impossible to predict and judge about future. Look at the automobile industry. Since last decade, people have been talking of Electric Vehicle (EV). But it looks like finally everybody is jumping the bandwagon. In an IC Engine vehicle there are hundreds of parts in the drive train, which is in between radiator in the front and the exhaust system at the back. These hundreds of parts will be replaced by about 18 parts in the EV. Out of these 18 parts 10 will be electronic controllers! What will be the scenario in 2030/2040? This change is bound to happen once the inflection point is reached.  

An inflection point is an event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy or geopolitical situation and can be considered a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to result. Companies, industries, sectors and economies are dynamic and constantly evolving. Inflection points are more significant than the small day-to-day progress typically made, and the effects of the change are often well known and widespread.  

The automobile sector changes, will affect this world in both good and bad ways! Good way is that air pollution will reduce drastically due to lesser use of petroleum products. World will become free of OPEC hegemony. But the bad part will be that  hundreds of thousands of parts currently used in the industry will not be needed. These industries will become obsolete, even though they may want to change. The industries like casting, forging, heat treatment will shrink in size, drastically, world over. This obsolescence will be simply path breaking and breath taking. Top manpower, highly skilled, will become Lathe Joshi’s in very large numbers! Even though they may be willing to change, system will find it difficult to accommodate such large numbers.  

Friends there appear to be obsolescence of two kinds, one is like our friend Lathe Joshi. He simply refused to change and adapt. He did now want to go with the flow and change. Lathe machines were replaced by modern system performing many things simultaneously. But the changes I have mentioned due to EV, are mind boggling. I was chatting with a younger friend running a service industry and manufacturing machinery, for auto industry. His is a core automobile business. He is running the business very successfully. While we were discussing life in general in a party, I asked him a pertinent question about effect of EV’s on his business model. He said, “Pramod, I simply shudder to think about it. I am in business for 25 years, I have funds, I have technology and I have risk taking ability. Business  men running auto ancillaries today, will have to adopt from 2030 onward. There will be thousands of people with my background running businesses very successfully today. How can they re-skill themselves? How can they retrain themselves? It is going to be extremely tough. Luckily by that time, I should be around 70, so it will be left to my next generation to bother about these things.” He smiled and said, “I will make sure that I have retired by then”.  

If a smart person like my friend who employs 100 people, does not know what to do ten years hence, what will these 100 people know about their future?  I am definitely a positive guy but as of now, I am also flummoxed! Yes, there will be solutions, but people will have to make massive changes in their thinking. In whatever new industries come up, people will have to retrain massively to join them. When a lathe was replaced by machining centers, it affected a small group of people world over. But the advent of EV’s is going to create a tsunami and will create more Lathe Joshi’s in the initial period, as there will be millions and millions who will have to adopt! Retrain, re-skill from today? What skills will not be obsolete 20 years hence, I do not know!  

 

I am getting a Toyota Prius!

One of the most important aspect of human civilization is that nobody can stop the technological advancements. Technology, the right one, is simply unstoppable. Humans do not change and they most of the time feel that so and so technology cannot become popular. There are very few visionaries who can guess, predict what can happen after a couple of decades. Initially when any technology comes the cost of its implementation as well as usage is always very high. This cost does come down with increased volume.

Let us consider the scenario in solar energy globally. Germany recently on a particular day produced, 85% of its total electricity produced, by Solar. The energy market in Germany runs like a trade market and the rate at which power is bought by distribution companies is based on demand and supply. On that particular day the rate went below zero! California on one day recently produced 67% of its electricity by Solar. US being a very large country will take a long time to reach Germany’s level as a country but it will happen in pockets. India & China are galloping fast towards solar energy in a big way.

If we think about steam engines and trains, initially people were just curious and felt that trains cannot compete with carts pulled by animals. Once the fear in people’s mind reduced, time of travel decreased and more and more people started travelling in trains and rest as they say is history. My first travel to USA was in 1981 and I had paid US $ 1076/ for return journey. Even today we pay hardly more than that in Dollar terms, for return ticket to USA. Why this happened? Because of safer, faster, larger airplanes increased the volume.

Cell phone is another classic example of technology that made it a disruptive device! When I first got my cell in late 90’s the cell phone was quite heavy, almost ugly, and it cost Rs.16/ minute to receive and make calls! In twenty years Cell phones have become sleek, they are much more powerful than computers specs ten years ago! Ten years ago GB was a word very rarely used even in computers. On top of that making calls is now free! Technologically in 20 years cell phones have gone places! Who would have thought of these changes? In the initial phase cell phone was the so called rich person’s toy. The beauty is that land line telephones have been there for more than 100 years doing same basic work that cell phones do, talking to each other. But other than becoming sleeker, land line phones did not change much in technology. Hence the landline phone population is on the wane world over.

Next classic battle that I visualize is between IC engine cars and Electric/Hybrid cars. The usual naysayers are saying that the current car companies are so powerful that they will just not allow this to happen. What are the parameters that will come into picture? Current volume of Electric/Hybrid cars is miniscule and their yearly volumes are nothing to write home about. So what is it that is needed for the picture to reverse, if it does! Fuel costs is one important parameter. Petrol/Diesel costs have come down from highs of US$ 150/ per barrel and have stabilized around US $50/. The original cartel led by Arab countries is finding it difficult to keep high rates due to new people coming in, huge American & Canadian reserves which were not known even ten years back, have suddenly become available. Their cost of production of extracting oil is also coming down. The fear of Petroleum products simply getting exhausted from the world has gone. So fuel cost may not be THE thing that will trouble current cars. But on the other hand, the cost of producing electricity is definitely going down fast. As more and more countries including India go strongly after solar energy, this cost will come down further. The countries which have lot sunlight round the year can become major players in producing next “Petroleum” for cars. Along with this wind energy is also playing a major role. One thing is for sure compared to petroleum products “Sunlight & Wind” are definitely never going to get exhausted. What all this will also do is pollution levels caused by burning Petroleum products will also come down. On top of this when more and more Electric/Hybrid cars get into use pollution levels will further go down.

Largest component of Electric/Hybrid cars is battery pack. Tesla is already building a Giga battery factory in Nevada where they will be able produce battery packs for five hundred thousand cars a year, at naturally very low cost. Already, Tesla is talking of producing cars that will be only slightly more expensive than sedans. Another limitation currently is the distance the car can travel with one charge. In cell phones  already fast charging systems have come, so I am sure it will happen in Electric cars too! So maybe when you have coffee break or wash room break, you can recharge your batteries. Once these cars are reasonably priced people may use such cars the way we use scooters in India, to travel smaller distances. For last hundred years there has been not much improvement in battery storage technology, compared to other fields and same is the case with IC engine cars. I am sure in batteries the break through is just round the corner! If automotive technology had improved as much as electronics, a car would have travelled round the globe in one liter of fuel!

If we summarize this battle, cost of production of fuel (electricity) to charge the electric cars is going down, cost of battery packs is going down ( it is like engine price going down), battery pack capacity will slowly start going up like some Tesla cars go beyond 350 km per charge, pollution improvement is a bonus. On the other side Volvo has already declared that they will not produce diesel cars from 2023 because cost of using technology for pollution compliance will go up exponentially. Volkswagen has already claimed that they will not produce IC engine cars beyond 2030. In India Suzuki & Toyota have joined hands to manufacture hybrid cars for Indian market. Suzuki and Toshiba have joined hands in India to build Lithium Ion battery mega plant. In USA GM and Ford also have big plans for electric cars. BMW i3 model electric car was quite visible when I last travelled to USA. Along with that a lot work is being done by Google and Apple in driverless car. I feel that controlling an electric car with computers will be much easier than IC engine cars! Will humanity be able to stop Electric/Hybrid car technology? Only time will tell. But in the end right technology will win!

So my next car is definitely going to be a Toyota Hybrid Prius! There is small issue of money in the bank but I will generously accept it, if someone wants to gift me a Prius! I will put big donor name sticker on the car! Happy (electric) motoring!