Revolutionary times for motors in India

Published on 13 March 2019

It is common knowledge that the car recycling chain in the Netherlands is performing impressively. But how does car recycling work in other countries? The editors of Green Light went to find out. After visiting Albania and Columbia, it is now India’s turn.


Tekst Jens Holierhoek

If there is one term that applies to India, it is ‘exponential growth’. Whereas the population of India was a ‘mere’ 376 million inhabitants in 1950, it surpassed 1.3 billion in 2019. By 2050, the population will probably even nudge towards 1.6 billion inhabitants. According to the United Nations, that will make India the most highly populated country in the world from 2022. It goes without saying that the Indian economy is also developing at a lighting pace. The OECD predicts that India will see an annual growth of around 7.5% over the coming years. It means that the country will quickly become more wealthy. This is much needed, too, as around twenty per cent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.

Explosive growth

Understandably, the rapid growth in the population and prosperity of India also brings challenges. For instance, over the coming years Indians will be consuming more on a large scale, as we have already seen in China. More and more people will have access to luxury goods. Take the car, for instance.

In 2016, there were around 25 million cars in India (alongside a further 195 million other motorised vehicles, in particular motorbikes). However, by 2030 this number will increase to no less than 170 million vehicles. That is the year in which India will become the world’s largest car market. A car will be bought every second, according to predictions by NITI Aayog from the National Institute for the Transformation of India. In other words, there will be another 30 million new cars every year. By way of comparison, a total of almost 8.4 million cars were registered in the Netherlands on 1 January 2018.

A city with over 1 million inhabitants such as Pune has around 50,000 old vehicles languishing on roadsides

Hand on the brake

For the Indian government, 170 million cars on the roads by 2030 is far too much of a good thing. Indian cities which are already heavily congested with traffic will become almost completely unnavigable. They will become uninhabitable too. Even now, thirteen of India’s cities are among the world’s twenty most polluted cities. The air quality in the capital New Delhi is so poor that breathing the city’s smog for one day is equivalent to smoking ten cigarettes. Four in ten children suffer from respiratory problems.

Revolutionary mobility plan

However, if it has anything to do with Indian policy makers, there will only be a ‘mere’ 77 million cars on the roads in 2030. To achieve this, Indians will have to turn to car sharing services in droves. The self-driving car, electrically powered of course, seems to be the solution for making best use of the scarce asphalt in India’s metropolises. However, the Indian government has far greater ambitions. In June 2017, it announced that the sale of new cars with combustion engines will no longer be permitted from 2030. Almost a year later, politicians, probably shocked by their own decisiveness, changed their promise – 30 per cent of new cars will have to be electrically powered by 2030. It means that India’s car industry, which is the fourth largest in the world, is now able to get to work. Mahindra and Tata Motors are already offering reasonably affordable electrically-powered cars. However, these have 17 kW battery packs which means they are no long-distance marvels.

Phasing out polluting vehicles

Last year, the Indian government also introduced another law that will ban old taxis, buses and trucks from roads in 2020. The ban applies to all vehicles that are twenty years or older, and excludes cars. The government pointed out that vehicles manufactured before 2000 emit an average of 25 times more harmful substances.

Car recycling

Fortunately, the Indian government is also giving attention to car recycling in its extremely ambitious mobility and environmental targets. Last year, the country’s first recycling facility opened just outside of the capital. This will be followed over the coming years by another thirty recycling firms across this immense country. CERO, part of the car and steel manufacturer Mahindra Accelo, and state-owned company MSTC, are behind the initiative for the national car recycling network.

Fortunately, the Indian government is also giving attention to car recycling in its extremely ambitious mobility and environmental targets

CERO and MSTC want to popularise an eco-friendly way of car recycling. This is much needed. Once a car has reached the end of its useful life, after an average of eighteen years, it ends up in a dump or on the side of the road after it has been relieved of its saleable parts. A city with over 1 million inhabitants such as Pune has around 50,000 old vehicles languishing on roadsides.

Win-win

As the first authorised car recycling firm in India, CERO is campaigning for ‘zero discharge, zero waste and zero imports of leftover metal’. Owners of old cars can exchange their vehicle at CERO for a payment based on the weight, make and year of manufacture of the car. CERO also buys cars at auctions. According to CERO, recycling old vehicles is not only good for the environment. It also makes roads safer and reduces the dependency on leftover metal from abroad. India currently still welcomes eight million tons of imported materials each year.

Multifunctional

This spring, CERO’s first recycling facility in Greater Noida, just outside of the capital, will reach its maximum capacity of 500 cars per month, little more than a year since it opened. The company, which covers an area of two hectares, also has equipment for recycling buses, lorries and consumer goods. It is not by chance that the decision was taken to open the country’s first recycling facility in the shadow of the smoke-filled city of New Delhi. According to Mahindra Accelo, the region has large numbers of old cars on the road.

Sound recycling

Cars arriving at CERO, which are on average fifteen to twenty years old, make two stops on their “end-of-life journey” as the Indians refer to it. First, the bonnet and boot are opened. The battery and spare wheel are removed and then the fluid is drained from the air conditioning. Next, the car is lifted and the dismantler carefully collects the other fluids in separate containers, such as the engine oil, brake and cooling fluids and the oil from the transmission and rear differential. Lastly, other parts such as the engine, transmission and radiator are removed from the car. Any part of the car that is left over goes into the shredder and any useable ferrous and non-ferrous metals are then separated.

Law of large numbers

However conscientiously CERO works, in a gigantic country such as India it is all about numbers. Anyone who does the maths will soon see that even with thirty recycling centres in the country, CERO has far from the capacity needed to play a meaningful role. However, there is hope. As a rule, when there is an increase in scale in India, it almost always happens at a fierce pace. An example of how quickly something can gain pace in this country is the unimaginable rise of the telephone. In the early 1990s, only 0.05% of Indians had a phone. However, by 2016 there were over a billion telephone lines in the country. So there is still hope that CERO will be part of the exponential growth that is so characteristic of India.