India’s booming economy has seen it become the world’s third-largest oil importer, shelling out $150 billion annually for the resource – so a switch to electric-powered vehicles would put a sizable dent in demand for oil. It’s been calculated that the revolutionary move would save the country $60 billion in energy costs by 2030, while also reducing running costs for millions of Indian car owners.
India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal says the government will financially support the initiative for the first two or three years, but the production of electric vehicles will be “driven by demand and not subsidy” after that.
Air pollution a big problem in India
More than a million people die in India every year as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, with an investigation by Greenpeace finding that the number of deaths caused by air pollution is only a fraction less than the number of smoking-related deaths.
The investigation also found that 3% of the country's gross domestic product was lost due to the levels of toxic smog.
In 2014, the World Health Organization determined that out of the 20 global cities with the most air pollution, 13 are in India.
Efforts have been made by the country’s leaders to to improve air quality, with one example coming in January 2016 when New Delhi’s government mandatedthat men could only drive their cars on alternate days depending on whether their registration plate ended with an odd or even number (single women were permitted to drive every day).
While such interventions have enjoyed modest success, switching to a fleet of purely electric cars would have a much greater environmental impact.
Indeed, it’s been calculated that the gradual switch to electric vehicles across India would decrease carbon emissions by 37% by 2030.
Oil firms facing uncertain future
As India’s ambitious electric vehicle plans begin to take shape, oil exporters will be frantically revising their calculations for oil demand in the region.
In its report into the impact of electric cars on oil demand, oil and gas giant BP forecast that the global fleet of petrol and diesel cars would almost double from about 900 million in 2015 to 1.7 billion by 2035.
Almost 90% of that growth was estimated to come from countries that are not members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), such as India and China.
China is also gearing up for a move away from gas-guzzling cars.
Last month, the Chinese confirmed they intend to push ahead with plans that will see alternative fuel vehicles account for at least one-fifth of the 35 million annual vehicle sales projected, by 2025.
Oil bosses claim it’s too early to tell what the implications of a move away from petrol and diesel cars will be. However, Asia has long been the main driver of future oil demand and so developments in India and China will be watched extremely closely.