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Adventures of a battery bug

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
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PHOTO: SITA MADEMBA

PHOTO: SITA MADEMBA

Itā€™s been three years since I started driving my electric car in Kathmandu. In the beginning, it dented my ego Ā as school kids laughed at the tiny car (ā€œHerta, herta, katro sano taxi!ā€), motorcyclists gave contemptuous glances as they overtook me at great speed, even bicyclists would swerve to cut me off in traffic.

However, I had the moral high ground. After all, I was saving the planet and I thought I looked like one cool dude. Today, the sense of moral superiority has been replaced by necessity. I mentally thumb my nose at those unfortunate SUVs queuing for gas at the Nepal Armyā€™s pump in Lagankhel. My Reva can be parked anywhere, and I skip the bits in the newspapers announcing yet another tanker strike, or a hike in fuel prices.

I sold my WagonR in 2006 and bought the Bangalore-made Reva even though the tax on the car was 125 percent. The government was trying its best to make it expensive to be green. The logic was illogical: Nepal canā€™t afford to import petroleum because it canā€™t cut subsidies for political reasons, so it didnā€™t want to give electric cars a tax break because Maruti sales would go down. When I asked our learned finance minister then about why electric vehicles were taxed so high his reply was ā€œIf everyone starts importing electric cars where is the government going to get its revenue?ā€ Calculations show that even by cutting the import tax, the government would more than make up for the loss in five years just from savings on the petrol. Earlier this year, the government finally slashed the import duty by half and electric vehicles are now exempt from paying the annual road tax. (Even so, a cop stopped me on the Ring Road the other day asking why I didnā€™t have a green emission test sticker.)

In the past four years, the petroleum shortage has worsened. The lines at the gas stations are sometimes two kilometres long. Thatā€™s no worry. The Reva doesnā€™t pollute. It doesnā€™t take up space on the road. In a city where right is might, I feel benign. I donā€™t suffer from road rage anymore, and my hypertension is cured.

I am often asked how I charge my car with a 12-hour power cut. The Reva needs a 15-amp plug at home that goes into a socket where the petrol cap would be. My average daily commute is 20km, and the car can run 80km when fully charged. It takes five hours for a full charge and costs only Rs 30, which is cheaper than running a motorcycle. The car has regenerative brakes and it helps if you are doing a lot of downhill with a tailwind.

I have never run out of juice. All 35 of Kathmanduā€™s Revas took part in an e-car rally last year to Banepa and back without charging. This yearā€™s rally is on the World Environment Day on 5 June and proceeds from sponsorships will go towards the treatment of poor patients at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Sanga.

On the downside, it is a bit cramped inside and my wife says I look like Mr Bean. Since the car is so quiet, pedestrians canā€™t hear it coming so the Reva garage in Bhatbhateni has fitted a siren-type horn.
But the smiles from strangers on sidewalks makes up for it all. Traffic police at Sat Dobato wave me through. The car doesnā€™t have gears and has been described as a golf cart with a stealth fighter design.

It may be too much to ask our bankrupt government to cut the tax further on private electric cars. But the prototype Electrobus and Hulasā€™ MiniEV are already available and could easily replace the micro-buses and Tempos. Kathmandu already has charging stations, and we just have to be careful about the battery disposals. The new e-vans carry more passengers than Tempos, they are Made in Nepal and their manufacturer could downstream to batteries and motors, and generate employment. The bonus would be that weā€™d reduce our crippling dependence on India for oil imports.

PHOTO: SITA MADEMBA
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14 Responses to “Adventures of a battery bug”

  1. pwoeld on Says:

    yea sure, you want an electric car when the load-shedding is only increasing … then you suggest to run a generator to charge your Reva? that’s probably your only hope as big hydels like 900MW ArunIII are being taken away by the southern companies for peanuts and you’re taking tempos?


  2. John Child on Says:

    Hey Kunda,

    So what does a Reva cost now, delivered? Any problems with steep hills or parking garage ramps? Even with two moto bideshis?


  3. Reva fan on Says:

    Thank you Kundaji for an entertaining blog on your batterie bug. My experiens is similar, but I have to be extra defensiv driver on the Ring Road and make sure the Big Blue Bus drivers see me. Answer to John Child: I think the Reva is now down to 1.1 million without a/c with tax, for us in the duty-free diplomatic service it is about $8,500. the load shedding doesn’t make a difference because you just need about four hours of power every two or three days depending on how much yoiur average distance is per day. I drove the Reva last year to Dhulikhel and back and I still had plenty of power left. ICIMOD has a system where it charges its Revas by a solar array, but that is expensif.


  4. Electrode on Says:

    The Reva is ideal for Kathmandu’s narrow streets for private users. But the real answer to reducing the fuel import bill is to go for electric public transport in a big way: trains, trolleybuses, light rail transit, cable cars and electric buses. Only a foolish and corrupt government would keep buying more and more cars when our trade deficit with India is doubling every year mainly because of fuel imports. As Kunda Dixit says: we need to go electric not to save the planet but to save our economy!


  5. Gautam of course Buddha on Says:

    Sweet:). I want one!


  6. hange on Says:

    pwoeld, the article states that it only takes 5 hours to charge. With power cuts of 12 hours, that means that there are still another 12 hours left in a 24 hour period (24-12=12, get it?). So, while your concerns of power being exported south are well-founded, cracks about running a generator are unwarranted at this time. As for the future, with a percentage of West Seti (750 MW), Upper Karnali (300 MW), Bheri-Babai (48 MW), Lohore Khola (58 MW) becoming available to the government by (hopefully) 2020, we should be able to at least maintain the current supply (i.e., without adding to the 12 hour winter power-cuts). Longer term? 10,800 MW Karnali-Chisapani will come to fruition one day- maybe in 50 years? The point is, we will have the power and cutting back on the fuel imports will eliminate our trade deficit.


  7. Jeevan on Says:

    The REVA charges from empty to 80% full in 2.5 hours and then can be driven 2-3 days for a typical Kathmandu driver. So unless there are over 22 hours of load shedding per day, the REVAs will be running normally on the streets. No generator is needed. The pricing above is approx. for the standard (non air con) version. Up to now, only the Deluxe versions have been imported which are about 13 lakhs (1.3 million) rupees each. The tax exempt orgs can buy for about $12,000 – $13,000 depending on the options. unfortunately prices are about to go up due to increasing lead costs. We’ve tested the Revas on very steep hills around Kathmandu with no problems so far. I drove through 2-3 feet of flood water in Jorpati past flooded taxis with no problem at all. But I don’t recommend the Revas for 4-wheeling offroad in thick mud or loose gravel.
    Jeevan
    Eco-visions, Reva distributors for Nepal


  8. Portlander on Says:

    Is there a society of users who own Reva? How many of them are private ownership and how many of them are owned by institutions? Just a curiosity. I think this is an ideal car for Kathmandu since the road developments have not been made at all and the number of traffic is on the rise. So far I know two people who own the Reva…. (Kunda Sir and another senior dai). We are proud of you for blazing the trail and hopefully other concerned citizens will follow the same path.


  9. Bijay Rathi on Says:

    Wonderful article Kunda ji. All points noted though one quick question, putting the environmental costs aside( which weighs down any other arguments), does it serve the value for money purpose as it accommodates only 2 person, and as we Nepalese enjoy traveling with family and lots of luggage, how does the car behave to such cruelties?? The government should actually subsidize the car making it more affordable to ordinary Nepali. I dont know if its possible but a REVA with solar charged batteries to all the ministries to show that government is taking the initiative towards a better and brighter future for the coming generation …. a thought …………..


  10. kattike kaile on Says:

    With 1KVA inverters inverters overloading the supply system, how many Reva’s can it support? Before you have everyone jumping the bandwagon, has anyone promoting this done a real study? Sure the supply system will support one Reva here and another there, but if the whole public transit system is to go electric, that computes to a lot of power a lot more than hange onMarch 31st, 2010 at 11:07 pm says.


  11. Sammy on Says:

    How safe is this thing? We will talk about comfort later.


  12. Adventures of a battery bug in Kathmandu at Asian Window on Says:

    [...] I sold my WagonR in 2006 and bought the Bangalore-made Reva even though the tax on the car was 125 percent. The government was trying its best to make it expensive to be green. The logic was illogical: Nepal canā€™t afford to import petroleum because it canā€™t cut subsidies for political reasons, so it didnā€™t want to give electric cars a tax break because Maruti sales would go down. More: [...]


  13. oysim on Says:

    kunda “bean”-ji, marvellous article, and great photos! i should get one to zip around in here in KL, i would fit just fine in it and parking would be a breeze! but i don’t think it’s sold here :-( so please bring me one? :-D


  14. Nepal Kathmandu on Says:

    Really cool . Thanks for sharing. Is it safe though ?


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