Mahindra e2o: Living with an electric car

Mahindra e2oMahindra e2o, is a futuristic looking two-door hatch with a plastic body that packs lots of tech goodies and promises very low running costs.
So, are the electrics cars for the masses finally here? Over the last decade or two they have been touted as the next big shift for the auto industry, but somehow their adoption has been delayed by several years both in India and overseas because conventional petrol/diesel cars have gotten more fuel-efficient and also because the discovery of new sources of oil/gas have contained fuel prices to an extent.

Globally, a few companies have tried and seen some success with alternative options—Toyota's Prius hybrid is popular in Japan and the US, Nissan has launched the Leaf electric, Chevrolet has the Volt hybrid, Tesla has launched electric sports cars, and BMW has started a whole new 'i' series for electrics/hybrids.

At home, however, we only have Mahindra today to hold up the technology flag.

The only electric car available in the country today is the Mahindra e2o, a futuristic looking two-door hatch with a plastic body that packs lots of tech goodies, promises very low running costs, while giving you the green credentials in abundance.

But is the e2o that complete a car for Indian cities—we understand that for any new technology, there are bound to be many questions, so we spend a few days with the e2o to find the answers.

What is it like to use the e2o everyday? Well, living with an electric car needs a bit of re-thinking in the concept of car ownership, if you have been used to conventional cars. For one, it is very silent because the electric motor has very few moving parts. So, there are hardly any vibrations and you have to be careful to realise when you're in gear. There is also the range limit of 100 km and daily charging that you will have to get used to.

You'll be surprised, but the e2o evinces plenty of admiration—I got a thumbs-up from a few college kids on a drive, while the unconventional Dilip Chhabria-designed exterior also gets plenty of responses. It is a four-seater but it has only two doors (the front seats can be folded for access to the rear)—this can be a problem for families.

Is the limited range a major worry? Only in the mind. Range is not really a worry for the daily drive because most city drivers going to and from work every day do not drive over 100 km. But then again, the e2o can only be a second car because when you want those weekend drives outside the city, limited range will be a problem. Interestingly, BMW has found a novel way to get around the range limitations of electric cars—the German carmaker loans customers of its 'i3' electric an X5 SUV whenever they plan a holiday. The thing is that while car technology has grown by leaps, battery technology has not and has thus limited the range of electric cars. The e2o has a lithium-ion battery pack stacked flat on the floor.

Will charging be a problem? Depends. When you buy this car, Mahindra will install a charging point near the place where you park. Now, for those who live in high-rise apartments, getting a power connection at the parking spot may or may not be easy, but for those with individual houses, this can easily work out. A five-hour full charge from a regular a 220-volt, 15-ampere socket gives the car enough juice to run for at least 100 km. The e2o also features a 'regenerative braking system', which essentially converts the kinetic energy generated while braking into electric power and stores it into the battery. For emergencies, the e2o also has the 'Revive' feature where one can call Mahindra to activate reserve power.

How is it like to drive? It is unusual at the beginning because the e2o is silent, but once you get around that, it is fun. The e2o handles well, aided by good weight distribution of the batteries, and can speed up to a maximum of 81 kmph. Acceleration gets a little slow after a quick start, but a 'Boost' function on the gear stick can give you a little more power when needed. One good thing is that the e2o is an automatic, one not-so-good is that power steering is absent to save on weight which makes it a bit harder to turn in tight spots.

The small size may make it a bit cramped inside for larger-sized people, but the tech goodies can get most geeks, like me, excited. The instrument cluster is basically a round monochrome digital screen giving the speed and charge levels, and an indicator for the range. The e2o comes with 4 JBL speakers, a navigation system, reverse camera, keyless entry and projector headlamps. It also has self-diagnostics to alert you of any problems, and many functions like locking the car and switching on AC can also be controlled via a smartphone app.

Am I really saving any money? Now this is the tricky part. The extra purchasing cost of the e2o over a car comparable in size and power, like the Tata Nano, is considerable, at about R4.76 lakh (in Delhi after government incentives). This is a problem because it means that the e2o is really saving you money only after you've driven about 1.8 lakh km, or roughly 9 years at 20,000 km per year. Of course, if you compare the e2o to the Maruti Alto, or the Hyundai i10, the calculation is more balanced and you would be able to break even after about 4-5 years, but then the small size of the e2o makes that comparison very tough.

Should I buy it? It is expensive to buy, but running and service costs are very low. It is also loaded with technology, and offers an automatic transmission. The problem is the range, limited charging infrastructure and high cost of batteries (R2 lakh approximately), which need to be replaced in about 5 years. It is also small. In essence, if your daily travel is limited and charging is no problem, the e2o is great as a city runabout. It will also serve well as a second car for small families with young children. We feel that the e2o is a sign of great things to come from Mahindra. Still a bit into the future but it's a good start, and we are excited to see what's next.

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