Made in India EVs | Tata Nexon EV and the Ather 450X
Electric vehicles are getting better by the day, and with two Indian manufacturers stepping into the game, is this the right time to shop electric?
Electric cars are coming. Actually, electric cars are already here. With stricter emission laws driving manufacturers to make cleaner engines, many have turned toward investing in the future after fossil fuels. And electric cars in India have come a long way since the days of the Reva, which wasn’t large enough to house two full-sized humans and didn’t have the range to get you back home from the office. It was however, a great first attempt with the technology back then and it was an all-Indian effort. Fast forward to 2021 and we have shiny, practical and more importantly, cool electric vehicles from two Indian manufacturers — Tata Motors and Ather Energy. But is India ready for EVs? Are they fun? And, should you go out and buy one? Before I answer that, let’s familiarise ourselves with the vehicles.
Tata Motors had a simple idea when they launched the Nexon EV, to convince families who were on the verge of buying an electric car, to actually go out and buy that EV. To do so, Tata Motors made some very wise decisions early on in the development stage. Basing their first mass-market EV on the Nexon was smart — it keeps in with the SUV-crazy trend while also being the perfect package for a city commuter. The design is very similar to the standard ICE-Nexon, except for the subtle blue accents and the green number plates your Nexon EV would be wearing. And it also retains the Nexon’s practicality, which has been one of its strong points. They also knew it had to be affordable. At Rs 13.99 lakh, it is Rs 2 lakh more than the standard Nexon but more importantly, it is substantially more affordable than the Hyundai Kona Electric and the MG ZS EV. Those are the only other zero-emission options this side of Rs 1 crore in our market, as of today.
On the other hand, we have the Ather Energy 450X. Ather erupted on the electric scooter scene with their cool marketing campaigns, limited-edition models and an almost Apple-like approach to product design and packaging. The 450X is its latest offering and Ather has improved its fit and finish ten-fold since the first prototypes of the 450. At Rs 1.46 lakh, the 450X isn’t the most affordable scooter but it looks bang on the money. The exposed frame under the seat in a contrasting colour looks brilliant, the subtle branding looks great and it has a very clean, but purposeful design language. Sure, an almost completely silent matte-grey scooter doesn’t exactly make everyone turn their heads and take note. But those in the know, surely do.
Now that we know what we’re driving and riding, let’s get on with it and talk about the first bit — is India ready for EVs?
To be honest, the world isn’t ready for everyone to make the jump to EVs. The first factor here is that there simply won’t be enough electricity being generated to juice up all our vehicles. While it is true that India is the world’s third-largest producer of electricity, it also takes the podium in electricity consumption and we’ll only move up that step with millions of EVs driving around. The second factor is infrastructure and to cut right to the chase, that isn’t fully ready yet. Yes, it has come a long way since a decade ago — you can actually find chargers in metros, but there are few properly fast chargers and none located on any major highways. And if everyone buys EVs, we will surely face CNG-like lines at EV-charging stations. This means that while EV technology has come a long way to provide usable driving or riding range, you still can’t use an EV for outstation trips in India. Just yet. But that’s not to say that you should avoid EVs entirely.
Why do I say that? Take the Ather for example, you would rarely, if ever, take a scooter on an outstation trip, so the infrastructure bit is not too relevant for it. Ather has also launched the Ather Grid, a network of fast chargers currently in Bangalore and Chennai that can charge your 450X at the rate of a kilometre a minute, the usage of which is free till March 2021! There are also chargers installed at all 60 Ather touch points across the country. So if you’ve been able to buy an Ather, since they aren’t available in all cities yet, you already have all you need to start using the 450X as a daily commuter. It has a healthy claimed range of 85km on a full charge, which is more than enough for your daily commute.
The Nexon EV on the other hand is a car you would love to drive on a road trip, but wouldn’t be able to. It gets an ARAI tested range of 312km which translates to about 200km in real world conditions so it can just about manage the inter-city work trips, as long as you stay back long enough to juice it up at your destination. It would not be able to venture out any further though, simply because there are very few chargers installed on highways. Once there are enough fast chargers on highways, you could theoretically stop for a coffee, plug it into a fast charger and get 80 per cent juice in just 60 minutes. But that is the future. And it takes roughly eight and a half hours to charge it from 10 per cent to 90 per cent with a 15A outlet. Like with the Ather Grid though, Tata Power is making a massive effort to improve charging infrastructure across the country. Tata Power has installed over 100 chargers across 17 cities, with more coming in the near future. So while the 450X can be your primary scooter, the Nexon EV is probably going to be confined to the city for now, and you will need an ICE-powered car for longer trips.
However, the Nexon EV doesn’t skimp on the fun factor, not one bit. In fact, the Nexon EV is actually more fun to drive than the ICE-powered Nexon and I’m not even comparing it with the automatic ICE-Nexon which gets the AMT transmission that is neither smooth or quick to shift. With a time of 9.9 seconds, the EV is more than two seconds faster to 100kmph than the fastest ICE-powered Nexon, while weighing almost 200kg more. That weight is largely down to the 30.2kWh battery pack, which is cleverly integrated under the floor to lower the centre of gravity. The standard Nexon already impressed us with its handling and ride quality and the Nexon EV builds upon that. The lower centre of gravity allows you to carry more speed into corners while the 127bhp and 245Nm of torque is available the instant you step on the throttle. Be careful though, it doesn’t come with traction control and will happily light up its wheels if you’re too greedy with the loud (erm, quiet in case of an EV?) pedal.
The 450X might not have a large storage compartment, but it still packs in the Thrill of Riding. The ride quality is great over broken roads while the low centre of gravity inspires a lot of confidence when cornering. The 450X makes 8bhp and 22Nm of torque from its electric motor, sending power via a belt drive. The 450X also gets a set of riding modes, of which the most entertaining is Warp Mode. It allows the 450X to whine (surprisingly audibly) to 40kmph in just 3.3 seconds and pulls rather well to its 80kmph top speed.
So you can use these electric vehicles every day and you can also have some fun if you’re feeling like it, but does that mean you should go out and buy one of these? To answer this we must benchmark these vehicles to their closest ICE-powered competitors and see if they’re worth the extra dough. In the case of the Nexon EV, for Rs 2 lakh more you get the snazzy blue trim, lighter coloured leather seats and much lower running costs. The that is the future. And it takes roughly eight and a half hours to charge it from 10 per cent to 90 per cent with a 15A outlet. Like with the Ather Grid though, Tata Power is making a massive effort to improve charging infrastructure across the country. Tata Power has installed over 100 chargers across 17 cities, with more coming in the near future. So while the 450X can be your primary scooter, the Nexon EV is probably going to be confined to the city for now, and you will need an ICE-powered car for longer trips. However, the Nexon EV doesn’t skimp on the fun factor, not one bit. In fact, the Nexon EV is actually more fun to drive than the ICE-powered Nexon and I’m not even comparing it with the automatic ICE-Nexon which gets the AMT transmission that is neither smooth or quick to shift. With a time of 9.9 seconds, the EV is more than two seconds faster to 100kmph than the fastest ICE-powered Nexon, while weighing almost 200kg more. That weight is largely down to the 30.2kWh battery pack, which is Ather 450X on the other hand is Rs 32,000 more than the Aprilia SR 160 and with that you get a brilliant 7-inch digital instrument cluster which is touch-responsive, reverse assist, connected features, and a host of other tiny details that make the 450X seem like good value for money. And it also makes riding a lot of fun. But EVs are also an investment into the future, literally and figuratively. You see, while EVs have a more expensive up front cost due to the expensive batteries, they obviously save you money in fuel bills. EVs also cost less to maintain and there are also state-specific tax benefits. Also, they offer the all-important cool factor that a future EV owner would want. The fact that both the Nexon EV and Ather 450X are homegrown, affordable, practical, and appeal to the heart, shows that EVs have indeed come of age.