Image: Maruti Suzuki

Hydrogen-powered mobility is a “interesting alternative” for India, particularly because it would lessen the country’s reliance on lithium imports, according to the head of Maruti Suzuki.

The demand for lithium for batteries is increasing as governments throughout the world press automakers to fulfill tough carbon emission reduction objectives, which include phase-outs of internal combustion engines.

However, carmakers in India have been slow to adopt electric cars (EVs) due to the high cost of batteries and an insufficient charging infrastructure. India also lacks lithium reserves, the most of which are held by China on a worldwide scale.

This makes EVs difficult to sell in a country like India, where per capita income is around $2,000, or around 5% of what it is in Europe and Japan, and 95% of automobiles sold are priced under $20,000, Maruti Chairman R.C. Bhargava stated in the company’s annual report.

“We need to recognise that our strategy for moving towards net zero emission has to be consistent with the economic and infrastructure conditions prevailing in the country,” Bhargava said.

“To reduce fuel consumption and emissions, Maruti is pushing sales of cars that operate on compressed natural gas (CNG), and is also investing in hybrid technology, he said, adding that “the use of hydrogen is also an interesting alternative”.

Suzuki Motor Corp., which owns Maruti, is also prioritizing the development of clean technologies suited to the Indian market, Bhargava said, noting that Suzuki’s connection with Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan would be beneficial in this endeavor.

Bhargava’s comments come as India’s debate over EVs heats up, with Tesla Inc asking the government to reduce import levies on electric vehicles.

Tesla’s demands have polarised India’s auto sector, with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. – which controls roughly 18 percent of the country’s automobile market and is Maruti’s closest competitor – advocating for a tariff reduction on imported vehicles.

Maruti’s support for hydrogen comes only weeks after Mukesh Ambani, head of refiner Reliance Industries, announced a $10 billion investment in clean energy, including the establishment of giga plants to manufacture fuel cells and green hydrogen.

Nedim Husomanovic

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