Godhuli and Shamik discover why cars in India are
CHEAP & DIRTY
Godhuli and Shamik. Remember the two friends who went to the same school and who were working together on a class room project on global fuel prices (Issue dated 1-15 August, 2008) a few months ago? Well, here they are again. But, hey don’t they look different? Gone are the anxious, careworn teenagers reeling with shock as they explored the impacts of a massive energy crisis. They look positively festive now. They are out to survey the automobile market. Shamik’s parents are all set to add a new vehicle to the family fleet, which currently consists of a motorbike and a small car.
Godhuli: So, have you made up your mind? Is it going to be a small or a big car? Or are you looking for a gigantic sports utility vehicle (SUV)?
Shamik: (waves his hands impatiently): No, no, we will never go for a SUV. Or even a big car. Who wants a giant fuel guzzler?
Godhuli: Hmm. So a small car again? What kind are you looking for?
Shamik: See, this time my parents have made up their minds. Big or small, luxury or basic model….we will buy a car that gives the best mileage per litre of fuel.
Godhuli: Aha, that’s a smart move. So you will check fuel economy in the various models, or the amount of fuel required to move the vehicle over a certain distance. But where will you get the data, so you can compare one from the other?
Shamik: Why, it is the easiest thing to get! Every company announces it. Here let me tell you. Our dealer just told us the best we can expect among small cars is 16-18 kilometres per litre (kmpl); 12-14 kmpl in medium sized ones. As for the big ones….
Godhuli: Stop, stop…Before you rattle off some more, check if these figures are printed anywhere. Do you have them in writing?
Shamik: (Scratching his head) Actually no. But I have seen the commercials in television; read about these models in auto magazines. Surely they will not lie publicly!
Godhuli: They don’t display any specific figure there also… just a lot of tantalising visuals. The fuel economy level of Indian car models is confidential. There is no official policy to get carmakers to publish the levels of models they make. We, the customers have to rely on anecdotal information, the car-owner grapevine, car companies’ self-proclamations or data the niche car magazines publish. No government agency officially certifies the claim of the companies.
Shamik: (Looking upset) But that’s not fair! So if the car we buy does not deliver the promised mileage we can take no action against the manufacturers!!!
Godhuli: Of course we can’t. And it is a very unfair system. Especially since this is extremely important data, that we must have access to.
Now, is this information really important or is Godhuli just trying to scare Shamik?
WHY...this state of affairs?
In fact, the alarm bells should have been ringing a long time ago. Out of the 98 oil-producing nations in the world today, 64 are on terminal decline. So the stocks have clearly dipped to a dangerously low level. But the demand for oil—worldwide—remains persistently on the rise.
This leaves us with just three options. Reducing consumption; using the remaining stocks efficiently and prudently; and exploring alternate sources of energy. But first we must identify the largest user so that the checks can be put in place. One need not look too far. The transport sector is by far the most voracious oil guzzler. By 2035 in India, for instance, cars and other on-road vehicles are expected to consume six times more fuel than they do now!
This sector already consumes more than 40 per cent of our country’s total oil and oil products. While more than 98 per cent of the total petrol stock runs the transport sector, nearly 62 per cent of the total diesel meets the road transport needs. The scary fact is that its appetite is growing at a furious pace. So, does India need strict fuel efficiency standards? Of course it does.
Mobility is a constant challenge in both rural and urban India. So the country is motorising rapidly. As per the Union Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways (MoSRTH), total number of registered vehicles (including cars) have increased from 10.6 million in 1986 to 72.7 million in 2004.
However, our commuting demand is getting diverted towards personal vehicles, thanks to rising income; changing consumer preferences; and easily available loans. No wonder the annual growth rate for cars in India is 16 per cent. In Delhi, cars have increased by 132 per cent between 1996 and 2006!
And the car boom has inevitably led to larger and larger volumes of fuel being devoured….
From small to big
People are not only asking for more cars, they are opting for bigger ones. Trends in vehicle sales show that customer preference is steadily shifting towards bigger cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV). Problem is, these cars require more fuel per kilometre of travel.
From railways to roadways
The freight traffic is continuously shifting from railways to roadways. Estimates show that Indian roads carry almost 74 per cent of freight and 80 per cent of passengers annually. The share of railways in freight traffic has come down to 26 per cent in the past decades.
But, is that a problem? Yes it is, because trains can carry more goods in one round than trucks. So, the fuel required to carry the same amount of goods is much more in trucks than railways. This reduces the fuel economy of the roads.
The primary fuel used in the big vehicles and trucks is diesel. But, this fuel complicates the trade-off between efficiency and clean emissions. Diesel ensures greater fuel economy, as the it contains more energy per litre than petrol. But,
diesel particulates are more hazardous and harmful than petrol emissions. Also, the carbon dioxide released per unit of energy in diesel is higher than petrol. Even black carbon, emitted from diesel vehicles, is a potent greenhouse pollutant.
This is not all…
There is no room for any doubt. Discussions, debates, dissensions on Climate Change are hinged on the transport sector. The reason is obvious. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have recorded the steepest climb in this sector, in the past decade. In the industrialised countries the jump has been 24 per cent higher, as compared to the other sectors of economy.
In India, we have very limited and dated data on this. Still, experts predict a breathtaking 90 per cent rise in emissions between 2005 and 2035. And as the most intensive user, the transport sector plays a key role here.
The most distressing trend here is that India’s domestic crude oil production will not be able to meet even the smallest fraction of this surging demand. Already, we import 78 per cent of what we require. As our thirst for oil grows we will become more and more dependant on other countries to survive.
A very uncomfortable thought, don’t you agree? So what is our country doing to tighten its belt, fuel wise?