Pawan Goenka has been religiously attending the Baja SAEIndia event, held annually near Indore, for the last seven years. It is a competition where engineering students race single-seater, all-terrain vehicles (ATV) developed by them. And Goenka has an emotional connect with Baja. I decide to meet him over dinner on the eve of the event. But then, it is hard times for the auto industry, so Goenka’s priorities are also attuned to the same. I am told he is at the Indore dealership and would be arriving shortly. I pour myself a Sula Sauvignon Blanc, as I wait.
Soon, he arrives, and I ask him whether the excise duty cut in the interim budget is going to be of any help. Goenka is optimistic, but he would like to wait. “Our dealer in Indore told me that footfalls at the showroom have increased sharply after the cuts were announced, and that he is hopeful of seeing a lot of sales. But we’ll have to wait for March sales figures to gauge the real impact. This is probably the beginning of a gradual upswing for the auto industry as we move into the next financial year.”
I turn to subsidies for electric cars, which were promised under the National Electric Mobility Mission, and ask him about the steps that could perk up electric mobility in India.
“The mission was announced more than a year ago, but not much has happened,” Goenka says, before biting into French fries. Mahindra’s electric car E2O, which was launched last year, has not been moving the way Goenka would have liked. “In fact, what was already in place has been taken down—the incentive of close to R1 lakh on electric vehicles has been discontinued. There is no value in having an ambitious R20,000 crore programme and then taking a year to spend even R20. I would rather have a R5,000 crore programme, or even a R2,000 crore programme, but make it happen. One E2O launched by one auto company is not going to make India an electric-vehicle-friendly country.” His disappointment is evident.
Goenka picks up a vegetarian snack. And since Sauvignon Blanc goes well with something rich, I pick fried fish. We move into the next gear and I ask him about the XUV 500 hybrid, touted in the market as world’s first diesel-electric hybrid.
“A hybrid means better fuel-efficiency and lower emissions. Diesel engines have higher fuel-efficiency than petrol engines,