Why transition to EVs is a cause of concern for India's car-parts makers

The industry is expected to face huge job losses as the country aims for 30% of all new car sales to be electric by 2030

Workers install the electric motor inside a Tata Nexon electric car at the Tata Motors plant in Pune. Reuters
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In Coimbatore, a city that manufactured one of India's first home-made diesel engines, K Rajesh finds himself at a crossroads as carmakers rush to produce more electric vehicles (EVs).

The boss of a local car-component manufacturing company in southern Tamil Nadu state, Mr Rajesh is part of a supply chain that industry experts say will be shaken up as India accelerates its transition to EVs, to help meet its climate goals.

"For small players like me, the rise of EVs means business will go down," said Mr Rajesh, who runs Autotech Engineers, a factory that makes parts for two-wheelers.

"We are aware that the business will change, but right now I am sticking to what I know and have been doing for the last 20 years — replicating design drawings sent by companies into perfect parts. The future, however, is uncertain," he added.

His voice echoes the concerns of others in India's small and medium-sized car-component industry, whose workforce is estimated at about five million. Millions more are employed in informal repairs and maintenance.

In a first, the Tamil Nadu state government initiated a mapping of this supply chain last month, in an effort to understand the impacts on companies and their workers of the transition to making cleaner cars and scooters.

"We know for a fact that there will be a serious loss of business," said V Arun Roy, secretary of the Tamil Nadu department for medium, small and micro enterprises, adding that they will have to be prepared for the hit.

"At present, there is not enough information on who and how many will be impacted. Mapping this data is essential to plan for the EV transition, which is inevitable," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India sees clean car technology as central to its plans to curb its dependence on petroleum products and ease debilitating air pollution in its cities, while meeting its national commitment to cut planet-heating emissions from fossil fuel use to net-zero by 2070.

The government is aiming for 30 per cent of total new car sales to be electric by 2030, up from EVs comprising only half a per cent of all vehicles on Indian roads today, according to official data.

It is offering companies billions of dollars in incentives to build clean cars and their components.

A September study by McKinsey and Company, in collaboration with the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA), states that about 75 per cent of the inventory for EVs will consist of components requiring new design and manufacturing processes.

The consultancy estimates that a transition to EVs could affect up to half of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle-parts suppliers — from those producing components from plastic and rubber or engine parts, to electronics makers.

Ashwini Hingne, a senior manager in the climate programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI) India, said conversations about a "just transition" to a low-carbon economy often focus on the shift away from fossil fuels like coal but should be wider.

"The reality is that everyone in the value chain will have to make the switch and there are many high-risk category clusters like the auto sector and the many small manufacturers in its supply chain," said Mr Hingne, whose research organisation is working with Tamil Nadu's government on supply-chain mapping.

Mr Rajesh, 45, employs eight people at his manufacturing unit. Like him, many in Coimbatore run hole-in-the-wall businesses that are essential to car production in India.

India is the world's fourth-largest car market.

Both foreign and Indian original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) rely on local car-component makers in hubs like Coimbatore, researchers say, also pointing to the large network of garages and scrap dealers linked to the industry.

Depending on the level of local manufacturing, a scenario with 30 per cent electric cars by 2030 may support around 20 to 25 per cent fewer jobs than the ICE industry now as EVs rely more on software and electronics, according to a 2019 report on India's transition.

The report by two non-profits — the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation — said catering to the new EV jobs would require re-skilling and vocational training for the workforce.

At a webinar earlier this year on achieving a "just transition" in the sector, hosted by government think tank Niti Aayog and WRI India, panellists estimated that 20-40 per cent of existing jobs would become obsolete.

Those affected would include manufacturers, car dealers, after-sales professionals and roadside mechanics, as EVs have fewer mechanical parts and repairs require sophisticated electronics expertise, they said.

The "writing is on the wall" for India's car-component industry, which is worth more than $50 billion, said Vinnie Mehta, director general of the ACMA.

"Manufacturers will have to diversify," Mr Mehta said, noting that the supply chains for two and three-wheeler vehicles would be affected first.

"Small players need to have a vision and look at the new opportunities emerging," he added.

Updated: November 05, 2022, 5:00 AM