Indian roads are considered some of the most turbulent and dangerous in the world. In the million-strong agglomerations of Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi, people fight for every inch of space on two, three, or four wheels, usually without any aggression. This makes for a relaxed drive in the BMW iX. India is both a major economic power and a developing nation. For more than a year now, the subcontinent has had more inhabitants than China—around 1.5 billion people. And even though the railroads have been more important than ever for decades, most transportation of people and goods has long since taken place by road. But of the more than three million kilometers of road network, not even half is paved, and even those paved roads are mostly cracked or washed out by sun and rain.

The Dual Nature of Indian Infrastructure

No wonder that inexpensive off-road vehicles are more sought-after than ever in India. Those who can afford it buy a Suzuki Jimny, which is also available here as a four-door model, or the rustic Force Motors Gurkha. Both off-roaders can keep going even when the road has run out of pavement. The BMW iX is not quite as rustic in India, but its ground clearance and all-wheel drive ensure that the first bump in the road is not the end of the road.

Unlike most other vehicles, the BMW iX is electrically powered and this not only irritates Indians, most of whom are on the road, whether they are driving a vehicle or walking. Even the cows look more than puzzled at the whirring Bavarians passing by. Cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, cars, and the ever-popular small trucks—even in Udaipur, a city of 670,000 inhabitants, there is a lot going on this morning.

Electrification on Indian Roads

In February, however, there are only a few tourists here who come to see sights such as the white Monsoon Palace, the inner city palace, or Jagmandir Island, where large parts of the James Bond film “007 – Octopussy” were shot in the early 1980s. Although the number of electric cars in the city, which is small by Indian standards, is limited, there are numerous charging stations. Not all of them are as fast as the Hypercharger at the chic Oberoi Hotel on the shores of Lake Pichola, but no one needs to worry about range here.

Charging Infrastructure and Vehicle Adoption

Providers such as Tata Power, ZEV, Statiq, and Sun Fuel ensure that charging is available in large parts of the city. The charging stations can be found not only on the navigation display of the black BMW iX xDrive40 but also on the normal Google map or on Plug Share. While there were just 20,000 electric vehicles (two- and four-wheelers) on Indian roads in 2018, almost 1.2 million electric models were sold in 2023—most of them electric scooters, of course. In addition to the network of charging stations, the high purchase prices stand in the way of electric car sales success.

Although the country, with a population of around 1.5 billion, has millions of scooters, rickshaws, and cars on its roads, there are currently not even 10,000 charging stations in over 800 cities. Half of these are part of the Tata EZ Charge charging network. In the Rajasthan region, there are just 254 in total.  The best-selling electric car is the Tata Nexon EV, which, with its 40.5 kWh battery pack, should be able to cover 450 kilometers to the next charging stop. With a price tag of just under 1.6 million rupees (17,570 euros), it is significantly more expensive than the two entry-level electric Tata Tigor models. In its best month (September 2023), just over 6,000 vehicles of the Tata Nexon EV were sold.

The popular Mahindra XUV 400 is at the same price level, while the MG ZS EV is considered the absolute top model for the equivalent of more than 25,000 euros. The luxury model of the BMW iX xDrive40, which is offered as an electric model in India as well as the electric models iX1, i4, and i7, is in completely different spheres. However, unlike the other eleven vehicles on offer—from the BMW 2 Series to the X7—the electric models are not currently produced locally at the BMW plant in Chennai.

Future Projections and Government Initiatives

The Indian government has big plans for the coming years to get more electric models on the road. By 2030, a third of all newly registered vehicles are to be electric. The number of charging stations is set to increase to 100,000 units by 2027. However, charging is not really fast here and there is no sign of a hypercharger. The charging stations deliver a maximum of

50 kilowatts, mostly 25 to 30 kW. The good news is that nobody has to wait at the charging stations, as there are simply too few vehicles with plugs at the moment. A Maruti-Suzuki pick-up truck is currently coughing its way past, followed by a Tata pick-up—both are coughing darkly from the exhaust. Neither humans nor animals like this, and in this region in particular, you have to expect larger animals in traffic, not only in the countryside but also in the cities.

Transport oxen or tourist camels are far less dangerous than the ubiquitous cows, which have cult status in Hinduism and can therefore do whatever they like in the turbulent traffic. It takes a lot of time and sensitivity to get past the small groups of cows toward the city center. The roads are dusty, no, dirty, and although they are swept or cleaned everywhere, after an hour on the roads of Rajasthan, the black-painted BMW iX looks as if it has successfully completed several stages of the Dakar Rally.

But it’s not about speed, because even when the roads are clear, there are surprisingly strict speed limits in India. The so-called national highways, with their more than 60,000 kilometers of road network, are only partially well developed, but even then they slow you down to walking pace again and again with painful speed bumps. India has been trying to get to grips with the number of road deaths for 20 years, as no other country in the world kills more people on the roads, partly because the vehicles are often in a catastrophic technical condition.

This should also change with more and more modern electric cars, which have modern safety features. This will turn electric cars into real lifesavers.

Text: Stefan Grundhoff; press-inform