The lure of EV: entrepreneurs in unlikely places

The lure of EV: entrepreneurs in unlikely places

Hemalatha Annamalai went from being a customer service executive at Wipro InfoTech to founder-CEO of Ampere, which produces electric vehicles for rural and semi-urban markets. Counting Ratan Tata among her investors, Hemalatha, based in small town Coimbatore, is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs spawned by the lure of EV technology and its possibilities. This is her story:

The idea of setting up Ampere originated in 2007 when I attended a conference in Japan. One speaker spoke about electric vehicles being the future. It got me thinking. I realised that we have a lot of technology acumen in India. However, instead of leveraging it, we were busy entering into partnerships with MNCs and giving them market access or copying their technology.    

I started the company with a vision to provide affordable transportation solutions to people in rural and semi-urban areas. I wanted people to upgrade from their existing bicycles. In the case of farmers and traders, who use Ampere vehicles to transport their goods, it instantly helps improve their livelihoods, since they can go longer distances now.

My vision is for Ampere to become a Rs 100 crore company in the next three to four years. We want to hire engineers, especially from middle-class families, who can contribute to R&D. Currently, 30% of our workforce is women. I want to create more women managers. I want to hire men and women in engineering and manufacturing especially from tier 2/3 towns and villages.

The business model for Ampere is to reach out to rural masses, especially women, to give them last-mile connectivity. Ampere's focus on rural markets has brought about far-reaching social transformation, empowering individuals to commute at very low cost. We aim for "business growth with social inclusiveness".

India is poised to be a hub of R&D for the electric vehicle industry. We are now building charging stations and promoting the use of Lithium batteries over lead-acid batteries. Start-ups like Ampere and Ather and big players like Bosch and Ashok Leyland are all pushing towards commercialising their innovations for large-scale manufacturing.

For instance, the current imported chargers used for EVs are expensive and are not equipped to handle Indian power and voltage fluctuations. Most lead-acid batteries work in moderately cold countries. For Indian conditions and battery protection, active chargers using micro-controllers with automated features are needed.

Ampere is doing work in the area of chargers for EVs. The recently launched charger project is supported by the Technology Development Board, Ministry of Science & Technology, as part of the Make-in-India initiative, towards creating charging infrastructure for the emerging EV industry. These chargers are suited for Indian conditions. They will optimise battery life and cut costs by 15% in the long run.

The market for EV in India is dominated by China as the major components, like motor, controller and chargers are being imported from there. With indigenous component development beginning to happen, we will see a shift in this. Investors, too, will come in. All we need is volumes. China has 42 million electric vehicles on its roads. In contrast, in 2015-16, only 22,000 EV units were sold in India, of which only 2,000 were cars. India is still evolving as a market.  

The Indian government and industry have now zeroed in on EVs as safe and efficient means of transportation and has started incentivising them. Though the incentives, infrastructure and scale of the Chinese EV industry cannot be matched, India is on a slow but definite path to EV transformation.

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