Thursday, April 2, 2009

Will India Rise to This Chinese Challenge?

The New York Times reports a Chinese plan to lead the world in the building of electric powered cars: The Chinese have a huge amount of money from their export oriented economy at a time when the rest of the world is not doing very well. They also have been looking at buying up some car companies in Europe - Austin Rover is already Chinese owned, for example. And while their local industry has been making rip-offs of popular western designs, this is, perhaps, the first sign that the Chinese are interested in focusing on a huge, new emerging market. Look at it this way - an electric car does not need an engine and this means no worries about emissions etc. The Chinese already manufacture a lot of cell-phone batteries etc for the rest of the world - exactly the kind of batteries that drive the expensive Tesla cars. And their labor, already cheap, is now going to be even cheaper with huge numbers of workers out of jobs in the various Chinese export mills in that country's coastal South. So why not use these workers to build and flood the world with cheap electric transportation?

My question here is where does this leave India? The most that India has had to boast about s far as cars are concerned is about the Tata Nano - a cheap car with an internal combustion engine that is certain to clog the already terribly crowded Indian roads and pollute the air over India even more. Tata have access to advanced electric car technology through their acquisition of a Norwegian company and they do sell electric Indicas in Europe. Unfortunately, they cannot sell these in India thanks to the lousy state of affairs vis a vis power generation in the country. With as much as eight hours or more of power cuts a day in every major Indian city (and, most probably, worse conditions in the rural areas) where on earth are Indians going to charge their electric cars even if they buy them? Another area where China seems set to beat India hollow if you look at the massive deficiencies in Indian infrastructure . . .

Or wait! If - and this is a big "if" considering Indians' penchant for government jobs or the new magic destination - software industry and call center jobs - some Indians could find that they have some entrepreneurial spirit, then there are major avenues for marketing renewable energy products in the country. Small wind turbines and solar water heaters and solar roofs and windows, advanced buildings which help save on cooling / heating costs as the case may be, larger-scale projects that woudl take the algae in shit carrying "rivers" like the Adyar and the Cooum in Chennai, for example, and convert the algae into biofuel, sewage-treatment plants that would use methane to generate power and so on. The technology is available and has been for years. Even in these recession-hit times, money is available to work on the smaller projects, at least. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps" like the "if" that came earlier in this post, someone is thinking about doing something about this in India at the moment. I daresay that whoever does his job right could become the next Ambani or Tata or whatever you want to call him. There has to be more than a little potential in making life more comfortable for at least the 300 million strong Indian middle class. And as this huge group does well, life will improve for the 700 million poor Indians makinf life even better.

Will India rise to the challenge? I, for one, hope that it will . . .

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