Two things have been getting a lot of news coverage in recent times. First, the 2007-2008 oil spike have renewed interest in alternative energy car designs, and made the once peripheral Hybrid Electric Car a mainstream automobile. Second, India has become the “next big thing” in Asia. The two threads have neatly dovetailed with a pair of innovative car designs. India, long identified with the Hindustan Amabassador, a car introduced in 1957 and in production ever since, is actually on the cutting edge of alternative car designs.
The best selling electric car in the world is the Indian-made REVA. The current version is the REVA L-ion, a small hatchback. The design has made a leap forward from the lead acid batteries used in previous models, to modern lithium ion batteries. The car is a city vehicle, or as it would be classified in the US, a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. Compared to a conventional car, it is small, has a short range and low speed, and is not really intended for use on a highway. However, for driving around town, the REVA provides a car that is inexpensive to buy, operate, and maintain. The REVA has a 75 mile range, and gets up to 50 mph on its 350 amp and 17 hp. It can charge to 90% in one hour, and to 100% in six hours. While a car such as the REVA is not quite ready for the American market, with its highly mobile highway demands, it is ideal for competing with the micro-compacts of Europe, such as the SMART.
Another innovative design is powered by nothng more than air. TATA, arguably the biggest conglomerate in India, has introduced the OneCAT. This car is powered by compressed air. The air tank can be filled by an onboard compressor in four hours, drawing the necessary power through a standard electrical outlet. An external air compressor can fill the tank in just a few minutes. The vehicle is also a neighborhood design, as it has a maximum speed of 62 mph and a range of 56 miles. The car will soon be available in Spain, and then Europe.
In addition to a low price tag (either can be purchased new for less than $10,000), both are cheap to operate and simple to maintain. Both are also zero emission vehicles. Furthermore, both represent innovative steps into a budding international market for alternative cars by a country that heretofore has never been considered a major automobile exporter. India is truly outside the box, and on the cutting edge of automobile design.
Sources: REVA Electric Car Company; TATA Motors; MDI Air Vehicles.