During his 36-hour whirlwind Silicon Valley trip, Prime Minister Modi has been busy meeting tech titans of Silicon Valley.
They include Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, Indian-American chief executives of Microsoft and Google respectively, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Modi has already met Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs, Cisco’s John Chambers and The Indus entrepreneurs president Venkatesh Shukla in San Jose.
But one prominent name that the Prime Minister met was Elon Musk.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, took Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a tour of his company’s trend-setting electric car plant in Palo Alto. He was driven around the plant in a battery-powered cart.
Modi is looking for a push to drive his ambitious technological innovation plans in India and Tesla Motors’ has the potential to play a significant role.
Modi’s vision includes the use of renewable and alternative sources of energy – an area Tesla has proven excellence and expertise in.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 27, 2015
Musk, the company’s principal engineer, inventor and investor, said:
“Prime Minister Modi and I talked about electricity generation and how there are ways to skip ahead with it as with cellphones.”
Vikas Swarup, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs told PTI that the Prime Minister was very keen to see how we could utilise the long term storage battery – the power ball concept – to leap frog development in India.
“In fact example given was just the cell phones enables you to grow from nothing to having mobile telephony, in the simpler way the power ball concept, the solar operated battery can allow clean energy to reach out to the unserviced parts of India where you have nothing right now and by using solar powered and long term battery could provide immediate access to energy,” Swarup said.
The Prime Minister’s tour of Tesla Motors’ plant assumes further significance when we look into Elon Musk-led company’s plans for India.
In November last year, the company’s chief information officer had told the Economic Times about Tesla’s plans to enter the huge Indian market.
CIO Jay Vijayan had said that Tesla Model 3, a four-door sedan priced between $30,000 and $40,000 (Rs.18-24 lakh), will be ideal for India’s market.
But he had also pointed to the high import duty – 100 per cent – that “goes against our principal of importing car directly from our plants at Freemont in the US or the assembly unit in Netherlands”.
Though electric cars are still like a dot in the Indian automobile market, India has grand plans to change all of that.
The Government of India had launched a plan called the ‘National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020’ in January this year.
It envisaged a situation where there would be electric vehicles – two-wheelers, three-wheelers and buses – plying on Indian roads. But the vision still remains a vision.
Writing in Forbes, Nilofer D’Souza points out that the problem lies not in technology but in policy. The government must issue tenders to spur a growth in this sector.
Besides that India would be needing proper roads, roadside services, and a reliable electrical grid for recharging electric vehicles. That would call for heavy investments in infrastructure.
The return? Lesser petrol and diesel vehicles will mean less vehicular pollution – currently the single largest culprit for air pollution in Indian metros. Another advantage is the extremely low operating costs of an electric car.
Tesla’s arrival in India, whenever that happens, is dependent on India’s policy decisions.