Wednesday, September 24, 2008

India's iconic electric car gets energised

Long before "green" cars became trendy in other parts of the world, a boxy electric two-seater began rolling out of a small factory in Bangalore, which was then emerging as a software services hub.

Today, scores of Reva electric cars can be seen tootling down Bangalore's crowded streets, their bright colours and minimalist design drawing curious looks, even smiles, from commuters.

"It is simply beautiful," said T. Shivaram, a small business owner who bought a yellow-and-black Reva last year to cut his fuel bill."It gives me driving pleasure and everyone stares at it and wants to know more about it."

The Reva was among the world's first electric vehicles sold commercially. It did not take off initially quite as its maker had hoped but it has blazed a trail for other electric cars -- such as General Motors' new Chevrolet Volt -- which are coming into their own in an age of high oil prices.

Reva Electric Car Co was set up in 1994 by India's Maini Group and AEV of the United States. The company was the first to successfully commercialise electric vehicles, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

By 2001, it had built its first all electric car, just four years after Toyota Motor began selling a car that would come to define the eco-friendly auto segment, the Prius hybrid.

The Reva was the brainchild of Chetan Maini, scion of the Maini Group, who championed the car at a time when scepticism was widespread about the viability of electric vehicles.

"He was clearly very much ahead of his time," said Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of popular magazine AutoCar.

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