Ather Energy: new kid in the tough electric vehicle market

Ather Energy: new kid in the tough electric vehicle market

Ather Energy, the new kid on the electric vehicles (EVs) block, is looking at developing a new niche called ‘smart vehicles’, according to founders Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain.

During the first or the second quarter of 2016, Ather plans to launch its first product — an electric scooter, ‘S340’ — which Mehta claims to revolutionise the way people view EVs.

“People have always held EVs for their novelty, technology and ethical imprint, but due to a perception of its lack of range and reliability, they felt regular vehicles are better. We aim at creating a product which is as per the people’s expectation of an EV,” Mehta told Deccan Herald.

Though considered environment-friendly, EVs have not taken off favourably in India, even as traditional bike and car manufacturers are busy churning out new models regularly. While around 100,000 EV units were sold in India in 2009, today the number has dwindled to less than 15,000. A few companies such as Hero Electric, Ultra Motors, and BSA Motors have tried the EV scooter market, but customers remain unenthused.

“Customer perception about EVs is that they are slow, costly, and difficult to maintain. Also, Indians don’t consider the environment much when they buy a vehicle,” Price Waterhouse Partner and industry expert Abdul Majeed J Shaikh said. 

Recently, however, the government rolled out the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) programme, which has outlined a Rs 14,000-crore spend towards the EV segment’s promotion and development over the next five years.

“There are around 16 million two-wheelers sold in India every year, of which four million are scooters. The latter number is expected to reach 10 million units by 2020, of which 3.5 million will be electric scooters. The government will support this trend by providing infrastructure subsidy and R&D support, among others,” Mehta, who is the chief executive officer (CEO), said.

“There is scope for the EV (scooter) market in the future with the right charging infrastructure, environment awareness and competitive costing,” Shaikh added.

Pre-order tested waters

Ather has raised around Rs 88.6 crore from investors including Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, and Tiger Capital. A pre-order campaign, wherein around 20 potential customers were sought and made to pre-order the S340, fetching the company a few lakhs of rupees, gave the founders confidence.

“The S340 is a very advanced electric scooter. It has a top speed of 70 kmph and its 3,000-watt motor runs on lithium-ion batteries with a lifespan of 50,000 km. Besides, the batteries have a charging time of just one hour, dishing out a range of 60 km. Besides, there are a number of highly advanced features that we’ll reveal only during launch,” Mehta quipped.

“The highly localised scooter will be manufactured in Bengaluru, where in two months, we will finalise a 15,000 sq feet plant, where around 20-30 units will be assembled daily in the first year,” he added.

Ather is looking at company-owned shops instead of dealerships for its sales and service initiatives, and will first sell in Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi, targeting around 5,000-10,000 units in the first year.

“As a company, we are offering end-to-end solutions, right from design, production, distribution, after-sales, service and technology development. But the country needs to develop suitable charging infrastructure for EV growth,” he said, hinting of more products on its radar.

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