Chevrolet Beat E.V. Hints at G.M.’s Electric Ambitions for India

Absent the populist bombast that accompanied the introduction of the Tata Nano, General Motors India recently unveiled an electric vehicle prototype here based on the Chevrolet Beat, a microcar related to the Sonic subcompact coming to market in the United States and marketed elsewhere as the Spark. The Beat would be the likely platform if G.M. were to produce a purely electric car for India.

A dance-club remix of the Carl Orff composition “Carmina Burana” accompanied the Beat as it rolled down the aisle of a ballroom in a five-star south Delhi hotel, awash in green laser light. The soundtrack seemed prescient, with its lyric, “O Fortune, like the moon, you are changeable.” A multitude of variables will determine if G.M. decides to undertake an E.V. project here.

“General Motors is committed to providing customers around the world with electrification technologies that will reduce their fuel consumption, helping them save money,” said Karl Slym, the president and managing director of General Motors India to reporters at the ballroom. In coming months, G.M. will show the prototype Beat E.V. in South Korea, Germany and China, he added.

The donor vehicle had its internal-combustion components removed and replaced with a 300-cell lithium-ion battery pack with a total energy capacity of about 20 kilowatt hours. G.M. claims that the battery takes about eight hours to charge fully on a 240-volt outlet (India has a 220-volt standard) and has a range of about 80 miles.

Mr. Slym would not reveal the Beat E.V.’s prospects for production, nor would he speculate on the car’s price, but to be competitive in the electric-microcar segment, it would have to lure buyers away from the Reva i, the only mass-produced electric car available in India. That car, which resembles an enclosed golf cart with the best batteries for golf carts, retails for the equivalent of about $7,500. A nonelectric Beat costs from $8,000 to $10,500, which includes a diesel variant that is expected to go on sale next month.

The Reva is produced by Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles, a subsidiary of Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian manufacturer of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. General Motors was partnered with Reva Electric Car Company until May of last year, when Mahindra & Mahindra bought a controlling stake in Reva. After the deal, G.M. sold its Reva stake and said it would pursue its E.V. program independently. Mr. Slym claimed that the electric Beat prototype was developed “in parallel” with the Reva i and did not share hardware with the car.

Despite costing a fraction of a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, the Reva i has not been a commercial success in India. Only recently did it receive a sales boost when the Ministry of New and Renewable Resources announced subsidies late last year for electric vehicles sold in India.

Presuming the Beat E.V. is manufactured, it would easily beat the Reva on interior volume. The Reva is a two-door hatchback with only enough space for two adults and two children, but the electric Beat is a four-door hatchback with sufficient room to accommodate four adults and a child, a significant advantage in India, where extended families live under one roof and average household sizes are larger than in the West.

In a ride-along with Mr. Slym following the press conference, over roads that weave through a series of new shopping malls, the Beat E.V. rode smoothly, with good acceleration. Mr. Slym said the car, which would be intended for city driving, could reach 25 m.p.h. in “a few seconds.”

Mr. Slym stressed that the Beat E.V. was a “learning vehicle” and would be used to solicit feedback from potential customers around the world. Irrespective of customer reactions, improving infrastructure to support such a vehicle might be the bigger roadblock.

“We have no plans to launch this immediately because we do not have the right infrastructure for electric vehicles in India yet,” said P. Balendran, vice president of General Motors India, at the conference.