The transition to electric mobility is a particularly appealing prospect in India because it addresses several problems at the same time – reduced dependence on fossil fuels, reduced oil import, and most importantly, air pollution. Every year, new scientific evidence points towards the contribution of air pollution to early mortality.
And while air pollution is no longer a concern during Covid, it has given people a taste of how the environment would look like with the adoption of clean mobility. Ironically, the lockdown has given EV’s a new lease of life for their potential of providing affordable transport and clean air – that’s hitting two birds with one stone.
A true-blue telecom professional, having worked with the likes of Airtel, Idea Cellular and Essel Group for two decades, Nishchal made his foray into the electric vehicle industry in 2017, when the landscape was rather nascent. Today, Batt:RE’s e-cycles and e-scooters are making a noteworthy contribution towards the reduction of carbon footprint and noise pollution, as well as creating a green future.
In an exclusive chat with The Blue Circle, Nishchal shares the value proposition offered by Batt:RE vehicles, his learnings, and what the future holds for electric mobility.
A new Revolution post-Covid
According to Nishchal, there are almost 8 crore people that commute by public transport, and he believes this number is likely to witness a sharp dip in the post-Covid era, due to fear of contracting infection. Health is uncompromisable, which is why personal vehicles are likely to witness a spike in demand.
“If you look at the status of our metros or local trains, they are overcrowded almost 14 times their capacity. People are aware of the risks of traveling in public transport, so we are seeing this spike, especially in cities like Mumbai and Chennai,” he said.
Nishchal is expecting a shift towards EVs amongst existing vehicle owners, largely due to the positive environmental impact observed during the lockdown. There is also another section of users, who might be as young as 17 years of age, but want to own a personal vehicle.
“We have an influx of this population into this segment every year. They are going to be coming in the same volumes, as they have in the last few years. We are also getting traction from many new categories of consumers interested in clean mobility. This also applies to Tier 2 and 3 cities, but will depend on our distribution, how fast we are able to reach those cities,” shared Nishchal, who believes that the overall propensity for EV will further rise due to enhanced quality of vehicles, including batteries.
Journey from e-Cycles to e-Scooters
Batt:RE started out with the motivation to make a mark in the Renewable Energy space, and while they were doing their Research & Development, they realised that locals, especially in the north referred to EVs as “battery wali gaadi ( battery powered vehicle)” and that’s how the name came about.
The company might have kick-started its journey in 2017 with e-cycles, but never lost sight of its long-term goal – the e-scooter. Launching e-cycles was not as capital-intensive, and Nishchal wanted to assess the viability of the product and how consumers responded to it.
“We wanted to know if we are good enough to handle customer queries, complaints, after sales, and if the service recovery is good enough for the consumers? When we started with e-cycles, we did not appoint any dealers; instead we sold it online through Amazon. We were able to give good service to these users, and garnered brilliant reviews from verified users. That was really a stepping stone for us to understand the nuances of the tech, industry and consumer expectations, and our own strengths,” he underlined, adding that their e-cycles today are of the highest quality and boast a powerful battery and charger, and a swanky LCD display that shows the speed and the battery levels.
When they started with e-cycles, Batt:RE’s model was powered by a 4.8 Ah battery with a limited range of 18-19 kms. Although consumers were satisfied with the product, they wanted a larger battery and quicker charging.
This motivated Nishchal to create an e-scooter that eased these pain points, but the move was gradual. Instead of coming up with an advanced version, Batt:RE focused on launching a viable product that helped commuters travel from one point to another.
“We wanted the quality of the scooter to be really good, also the battery capacity, basically whatever our learnings were from the e-cycle. We created a 30 Ah battery, which gives a mileage of 80 kms, it charges the battery on a 10 amp charger, and does it in just 3 hours. We used a Lithium Ferro Phosphate battery, which has a life of 2000 recharge cycles,” he shared, adding that the mid-segment Batt:RE-One was launched in June.
The Smart Scooter
Batt:RE’s smart e-scooter, gps:ie, launched in May 2020, uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect with a smartphone app to store all vehicle-related data. Using the app, a customer can locate the nearest charging station, and also predict maintenance-related requirements. This SIM-card based internet-connected scooter offers the rider greater convenience, comfort, and confidence, and is priced at Rs 64,990.
“The idea was to create a connected scooter for the masses, with superb features, at honest pricing, so that consumers get more value when they use our products. In the next 3-4 years, all the vehicles on the road are going to be connected. We just wanted to stay ahead of the curve, in terms of participation in that space,” added Nishchal.
The Cutting Edge
Nishchal believes that it is the B2B segment, which is slated to drive the growth of the EV segment over the next two years, which is why they have created a ‘readymade solution’ – whether it is for a ride sharing or a fleet management company.
“We are the only company that has a readymade solution. People can just pick up our scooter, integrate the APIs into their app, and start with their ride sharing or fleet management business, in just 15-20 days. B2C, too, is a very big segment when it comes to connected scooters. So we are focusing on both and receiving a very good response,” shared Nishchal.
Another feature that sets their vehicles apart is Lithium Ferro Phosphate batteries.
“We are the only OEM that uses Lithium Ferro Phosphate batteries in the country. This has a life of 2,000 recharge cycles and even if you charge it every day, it will last for 6 years. In the case of lithium ion, the battery cycle is only 1,000 cycles. It is also much safer. Yes, there are some disadvantages – Lithium Ferro Phosphate batteries are at least 20% bigger. Energy density is lower, which means to accommodate the same amount of energy, it occupies 20% more space and weight,” said Nishchal.
Since the company worked on this battery from its inception, they made the chassis accordingly, and the battery could be accommodated. Initially, there were some roadblocks when it came to suppliers, but gradually Okaya agreed to make these batteries for them – a first for a two-wheeler.
“There’s another advantage – these batteries can be easily detached and carried anywhere – you can charge it easily, whether it is at home or office. Charging infrastructure is not going to be a problem at all,” assured Nishchal.
What Lies Ahead
Although the last two-three months have been particularly difficult due to complete lockdown across the nation, things are looking up for Batt:RE once again.
“Some of our dealers are in containment zones, but almost 85% of our dealers are fully operational. In terms of the supply chain, initially we had some problems, because we have to depend on a lot of suppliers for different materials. We have passed that now, and are seeing pretty good recovery, in sales as well, especially in the last two weeks,” shared Nishchal.
The economy may be going through a hard time now, but Nishchal believes the ‘sunrise sector’ of EV is only going to grow over the next decade. Last year, the industry grew by 20%, despite the elimination of subsidies. This year, the forecast looks even more promising, despite COVID.
“I think EV is the industry for the next decade, and is going to grow almost 100% every year for the next 10 years. While one quarter has been almost wiped out, we can still witness a 30-40% growth this year. The contribution of EVs is definitely going to go up, the time for electric mobility has truly arrived,” predicted Nishchal.
Currently, Batt:RE is present in 8 states, with a large share in South India, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The company plans to expand from 62 dealers to 200 dealers by the end of the year.
“We are present everywhere in the south except for Kerala, and in Maharashtra; we have presence in the entire state, barring one or two towns. We are now using our newly launched entry segment product of Rs 60,000 to drive our penetrations in UP, and entry into Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. By 2023, we are planning to cover all the towns with 4-5 lakh population. Once that happens, we will have a pretty decent share, and at least be amongst the top 5 players,” said Nishchal, signing off.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)