Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport and highways, has urged the automobile industry to focus on manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs) and developing technology locally.

“We have to make India the global hub of electric automobile manufacturing. This is difficult but not impossible,” Gadkari said at the launch of Bajaj Auto’s first electric scooter in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The minister reassured the industry that there was no ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, but added that India could not afford to miss the bus as far as manufacturing and adopting EVs were concerned. He said India’s fuel import bill is ₹7 lakh crore. “Such a big amount of money is going out of India’s economy,” he said.

The minister said the consumer would choose EVs if there were better products in the market, and this would usher in a new era.

“People are going to form queues to buy electric [vehicles] in the future. Right now Bajaj is exporting 40% of its vehicles. I am sure that the export of its electric scooters will be 10% more than this,” Gadkari said.

Gadkari said that the EVs push had to be diluted because the industry was scared and he didn’t want them to think that the government was against them in any way but it was necessary to start somewhere.

“In the past at an event I had said that electric is inevitable. And I had also said that it will happen despite the people who are not with us. It was a tough stand for us. Even if people oppose us, we are going to do this regardless. You’ll have to come with us. Otherwise, we’ll force you—this is what I had said. We got a lot of reaction on that,” Gadkari said. “Nobody learns to swim on their own… till they get a push. You [the auto industry] have potential… the capability to swim… but you will have to be nudged till the time you do not learn to do it.”

The minister’s comment two years ago that manufacturers who did not make vehicles that ran on alternative fuels would be “bulldozed” had spooked the auto industry, which is now going through one of the worst slowdowns in recent times. Sales of passenger vehicles fell for the eleventh month in a row in September.

“When it came to electric vehicle and biofuel, I kept insisting. Everybody told us it can’t happen at such short notice. But today, I’m happy that our dream of electric bus, car, scooter, bike etc. is getting realised at a faster rate,” he said.

Gadkari also stressed the need for manufacturing locally and converting the country’s research and knowledge potential into wealth. “Lithium ion battery will be made in India and its price will be reduced. When mobile phones were introduced they were very expensive, look at its price now. So, more competition means better price for consumer,” he said.

Gadkari said the government was working on three areas to reduce production cost. “For that, we have to reduce logistics cost, capital cost, and power cost. Slowly, if we reduce all three costs, we can become very competitive in the world market,” he said.

About the new scrappage policy, Gadkari said waste material obtained from vehicles after its implementation will be very cheap. “We can also import it from other parts of the world because it is a problem for them. Because it will be recycled here, the cost of materials like aluminium will get much cheaper,” he said.

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