Chennai: Two IIT Madras graduates had a vision – to make affordable electric vehicles for the masses. In 2013, the duo founded Ather Energy and today, it is one of the most promising startups in India and in the automotive sector.
While Tarun Mehta is co founder and CEO at Ather and Swapnil Jain the co-Founder and CTO. Together they founded Ather to develop India’s first smart electric scooter with an aim to revolutionise the concept of two-wheeler driving in India.
The Bengaluru-based firm spent the first year building the firm and with a string of funds flowing in from interested parties that include Flipkart founders, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, the company unveiled its smart scooter 340 at a technology conference in Bangaluru.
Today, the firm has two scooters on sale with the 340 and the 450, which are priced at Rs 1.1 lakh and Rs 1.25 lakh.
Tarun Mehta, spoke to News Today and answered questions on how green EVs really are, his perceptions on the FAME scheme, future of EVs and Ather Energy’s plans.
“When Swapnil and I started Ather, the EV (electric vehicle) market was very small. The vehicles had a top speed of around 25 kph and used lead acid batteries,” said Tarun.
“We then decided to make a difference in the market but it is impossible to gain traction with a mediocre vehicle. Building something to match the mainstream was important. We decided to make the shift if only our products matched the performance,” he said.
After making the decision to move to Bengaluru from Chennai, where they found the firm, Tarun said things sped up by the end of 2014 and their plans subsequently became larger. The duo saw that there was a huge opportunity for a competent scooter in the market.
Are EVs green?
Tarun was asked as to how green electric vehicles really are, for making battery packs involve chemical processes, akin to making conventional vehicles. Tarun replied, “It is true that manufacturing electric vehicles can be equally polluting as conventional vehicles. But in operation, the pollution is negated. EVs are highly efficient and we expect that emissions will be cut by half with more usage.”
For making full use of EVs and their non-polluting nature when on the road, the firm came up with Ather grid. Although present only in Bengaluru, the grid consists of 25 grids which are fast charge enabled. The firm is looking to update the tech and bring down the time needed for charging.
Tarun also has plans for charging points at residences. “They are being planned and around 300 spots have been identified. Corporate offices have been approached as well. We want to make it (charging stations) public. People can use alternative sources like solar energy, but not everyone have the capacity to install such grids,” he said.
Hero as investor
Hero MotoCorp invested $ 30.5 million (Rs 205 crore) as Series B round of funding in October 2016 and gained 32.31 per cent stake in the company. It again invested $19 million (Rs 130 crore) this year.
About Hero, Tarun, said, “They have been a great investor. We do not collaborate on technology. But having an investor who understands the space so well is encouraging.”
One major area which is expected to get affected with the onset of EVs is the metal industry. But Tarun says, with scooters at least, that is not the case.
“Moving compenents come down dramatically with EVs. But the number of parts are not going to change eventhough electronic parts might replace some of them.”
He also added that costs of EVs will be at a premium initially. “EVs might be priced at a 30 per cent premium than conventional vehicles because construction, wiring harness, chargers, batteries, etc drive the cost up. But once the volume increases, we’ll see the change. Channging battery tech will see prices come down significantly.”
Ather Energy intends to enter into other markets in the automotive industry, starting with bikes. “We intend to make more scooters and later expand to other segments and cities like Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, to name a few. We will also ramp up production when we increase our centres.”
|The phase two of Faster Adoption and Manufacting of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles in India or FAME, is yet to be defined by the government and the government seems to have dropped the electric only 2030 dream.
“If the government wants to push EVs, the right approach is to finance it. The government needs to encourage firms to create technologies in India. There is no point in sourcing technology from somewhere else. We need to invent, not adopt. Otherwise, we will just end up paying taxes to foreigners. The government needs to incentivise parts created here,” Tarun said.
He also added that the government has shown interest but hopes that “many moving parts that comprise it align”.
|Ather Energy has filed 43 patent applications along with 11 international patent applications and 122 design registrations of their products that have been designed and made in India. The company has also installed a comprehensive public charging network, Ather Grid in Bengaluru with over 25 points up and running in the city.|