IFC’s Kartik Gopal is working to make electric vehicles the wheels of the future in emerging markets. Photo: Mahesh Natesan

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By Caitriona Palmer

IFC is helping mobilize the private sector to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in emerging markets. Helping to drive that change is IFC’s senior industry specialist Kartik Gopal.

A $50 billion+ investment opportunity over the next decade across global cities, EVs have the potential to lower transport costs, improve air quality, and create millions of green jobs. As more governments look for ways to get diesel and petrol engines off the streets, EVs are also critical in the fight against climate change.

“More than half of the global population already lives in urban areas and by 2050 that number is expected to increase to nearly seventy percent”, said Gopal, who is leading IFC’s EV strategy. “Most of that growth will be in Asia and Africa. Not only does the electrification of transport represent a significant market opportunity but it’s also a way to combat choking urban smog.”

An electrical engineer with prior experience in the private sector, Kartik—who joined IFC in 2020— has witnessed first-hand the transformation that EVs can have in emerging markets. As the head of EV strategy and business planning for India’s first electric car company, Kartik helped his former employer take advantage of the burgeoning e-vehicle revolution.

“My independent market research showed that the value proposition for individually owned electric cars in India was not strong at that time,” said Kartik. “However, I realized that there was a significant

value in pitching EVs to fleet operators. It was very exciting to work in a new technological space that was focused on creating new EV markets with a larger developmental impact,” he said.

It is this ‘fleet vision’ that Kartik hopes will position IFC’s EV lead in emerging markets, particularly for e-buses and EV two- and three-wheelers, which are expected to make up the fastest-growing electric vehicle segments in the coming five years by a wide margin.

“Investing in the electrification of buses and intra-city last-mile people and goods movement, is an effective way for IFC to move the needle on air quality and greenhouse emissions from urban transportation,” said Kartik. “The opportunity is enormous, and IFC has the capacity to fast-track implementation.”

With high risk costs attached to EVs in emerging markets, the challenge, says Kartik, will be working with risk-averse banks and other financial institutions to lower the cost of financing – which is a critical bottleneck in transforming the transport sector. Kartik hopes that IFC can catalyze EV financing across multiple vehicle categories and market segments, helping promote cleaner skies at the same time.

“I do believe that these markets can grow much faster,” says Kartik. “Thankfully, IFC is one of the best places to be to try and address this challenge.”

Kartik has always felt attracted to professional work with a purpose. In 2008, after receiving a business management degree from Stanford University, he and a classmate created a start-up company using smartphone-based computer vision technology to help people with visual impairments.

Now, Kartik is applying this same altruistic lens to helping IFC extend its footprint in the global EV market. This is all the more critical during COVID-19 and the push to fast-track a green recovery, especially given the pandemic’s effect on the transport industry. EVs are critical elements to enhancing the transport sector, an essential part of the value chain amid the movement of medical supplies and other essential goods.

There will be bumps along the road, says Kartik. But with EV technology expanding at an unprecedented rate, it’s time to hit the accelerator.

Published in October 2020