Battery driven cars to roll

Ahmedabad, March 23:

Australia-based Farnow Technologies has tied up with Gujarat’s FieldMarshal group to invest nearly Rs 10 billion Indian Rupees (IC) ($250 million) for assembling battery-powered three-wheel rickshaws and cars in India.

“We intend to assemble at least 50,000 cars a year, besides the three-wheelers. We also have plans for electric buses later,” said Chandrakant Patel, managing director of FieldMarshal Group. “But the investment for the bus project will be separate,” Patel said.

The group already manufactures 450 auto rickshaws per month, powered by diesel, petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) engines at its plant at Shapar near Rajkot, about 250-km from Ahmedabad.

Patel declined to specify the equity stake of his group and the Australian firm in the joint venture but independent sources indicated that it would be in the ratio of 50:50. The venture aims to offer a small car in competition with the Tata Nano as the base price is expected to be below Rs 100,000 IC. The recent excise duty relief in the budget has made the proposition even more attractive, Patel said.

Asked how the electric car could compete when the battery needs to be recharged every now and then, Patel said that the firm plans to set up battery exchange centres every five kilometres wherever the products are launched.

Instead of having to recharge the battery, vehicles will be installed with pre-charged batteries every time, which would take just 30 seconds, he explained.

“Rajkot will house the main unit. Assembly plants could come up in other parts of the country,” Patel said, adding the Australian firm can assist in bringing foreign investors.

Farnow has already developed a concept car specifically for the Indian market. The electric three-wheelers can seat three passengers and the small car could have a maximum speed of 70-80-km an hour.

Farnow has also developed saddlebag power packs, which can be exchanged easily, apart from a range of scooters, bicycles and three-wheelers with battery technologies offering viable solutions for replacement markets, Patel said.