Electric bikes are becoming a popular alternative for many in the city after the recent petrol price hike. R Balaji of T-Nagar who bought an electric bike for his son in March is now using it so often that his son has started to complain. Electric two-wheeler manufacturers in the state expect a huge growth in sales. "I have decided to use an electric bike for short distances to cut down on expenses. Presently, there is a huge shortage of petrol in the city and the recent hike in prices has made using petrol bikes an extremely costly affair.
Public modes of transport, including MTC buses and suburban trains, are congested. Electric bikes will not cause any air or sound pollution," says Balaji. The state government's decision to reduce value-added tax on electric bikes, which currently cost between 20,000 and 70,000, is another big draw. Finance minister O Paneerselvam had announced in the budget that VAT on electric bikes would be reduced from 14.5% to 5%.
P Bala, technical advisor for Ampere Vehicles Ltd, a manufacturer of electric vehicles , says enquires are pouring in from all over the country. "Interest in electric vehicles goes up after every fuel price hike. But this time, there is a huge response," he said. Dealers in the city are excited, says Uday Kiran of Hero Electrics. However, an electric bike needs six to eight hours of charging that can help it travel about 60-70 km at 30-50 kmph and frequent power cuts could prove a dampener.
"The idea sounds good but what will we do when there is no power," said Sajan, hotelier in Teynampet. There are two types of electric bikes — one that requires a driving licence and the other that doesn't require one. Distributors say there has been a steady rise in sales of electric bikes in the country. In 2011, about 1.2 lakh bikes were sold, 15,000 of them in Chennai. In 2009 and 2010 the national figures were about 80,000 and 90,000. Hero, Yo Bike, BSA, Ampere and Lohia Bike are the leading manufacturers.
However, manufacturers in the state want government subsidies. "Reducing VAT is welcome, but states like Delhi and Gujarat don't charge any tax at all. They also provide 15-20 % subsidies on electric bikes, making them more affordable," says a sales manager for BSA electric bikes.