Why tractor industry in India is ripe for electrification

In this guest article for EVreporter.com, Dr Deb Mukherji (MD – Omega Seiki Mobility) presents his analysis on the case for electrification of tractors in India.

Tractor volumes have been on the roll for the past 6 months. This is one segment of off road vehicles which has shown a sharp recovery post COVID. Various reasons being attributed to this rise in sales are Good monsoon, Govt. support to farmers with higher MSP and good Kharif crop. Major gainers like Sonalika have posted a growth of 51% in Sep 2020. Industry experts are hoping for a record sale in this financial year with around 8 lac tractors. This one seems to be the real bright spot in Indian agri/manufacturing space.

Tractor sales from Jan 2020 to Dec 2020

MonthTotal SalesChange% (YoY)Exports
Tractor sales Jan-Dec 2020 [Source: Tractor Junction, Auto Punditz]

Case for electrification of tractors

This industry needs to adapt electrification at the earliest. Major driver for EV today is economics. Favourable economics over total cost of purchase is driving the smaller formats of commercial vehicles in 2 and 3 wheelers.

The cost of diesel tractor on an average is 7 lacs for 40 HP tractor range. The cost of a 20kW power with 20kWH electric Li-Ion battery powered tractor would be around 12 lacs at current pricing of Battery and motors.

We find that the cost of Electric tractor works out to be 27% cheaper over a life of 5 years [Total Cost of Ownership]. It means the cost of one tractor is fully recovered in 2 years.

Apart from the savings on diesel, the other major benefit is the absence of maintenance and servicing required by a diesel tractor. Due to rough usage in different types of soils, bad roads etc. the maintenance and servicing costs specially in the later years of life become significantly higher in case of diesel tractors.

Related: Electric tractor by Sonalika | Escorts | Cellestial e-mobility

The cost comparison of diesel vs electric tractors over TCO of 5 years is as below:

Cost comparison over TCO for diesel and Electric Tractors

Challenges with electrification of tractors

Challenges foreseen are related to technology readiness. The major parts of EV are motor and powertrain as well as battery with BMS. The maximum capacity battery pack today in Indian market is 10kWH. This would mean the tractor would have to be equipped with two individual packs for 20kWH. These would be air cooled batteries. The motor capacity envisaged is 20kW BLDC type. The integration and packaging of electric powertrain, battery into the tractor is a challenge as well, keeping in view the vehicle dynamics. One consideration to be kept in mind is that tractors in India are used for commuting, trailer and also static generator applications, apart from ploughing.

Keeping the above in mind – design and R&D in complete vehicle engineering is recommended rather than retrofitting existing vehicles with electric kits.

Another interesting aspect in Electric tractor would be battery swapping. In India, the maximum percentage of farmers with land holdings of less than one hectare is 62% [National sample survey office Min. of programme implementation GOI report 2019]. These farmers usually use tractor on rent or on pooling basis. The tractors runs in an area of 5-10 acres. This would be an interesting to have swappable battery option in such cases with charging station in the near vicinity of the farmland. This will facilitate battery swapping. A 15Amp battery charging device can be easily installed at the charging point.

Financing of electric tractors would be a hard sell. Due to the new technology the financing companies typically the NBFCs and banks are not keen to lend for the EVs. This needs to change with the introduction of high quality vehicles with mature technology. The financing companies need to learn to differentiate between a cheap low end product [typically Chinese imports] and a product backed by high technology R&D OEM. This will take some time and Govt. needs to play a role here. Also subsidy should be included for tractors as well.

Overall if an electrification of 10% tractors is considered in India, this would be around 80,000 tractors annually. This would mean a 10,000 Cr. business opportunity for OEMs. This sounds very interesting!

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