Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From low-speed e-bikes to 'reverse trikes', how India's EV scene is changing

New applications are emerging, but core problems like upfront cost and range anxiety remain, hampering mass adoption

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Nov 28, 2023 02:06:43 PM IST
Updated: Nov 28, 2023 02:15:25 PM IST

From low-speed e-bikes to 'reverse trikes', how India's EV scene is changingImage: Shutterstock

India’s consumer electric vehicle (EV) landscape is changing. Startups are emerging, offering new products like e-bikes and slow-speed scooters that don’t require a driving license, and new purchase options are being innovated to reduce the upfront cost of these vehicles to make them more competitive with their petrol-burning counterparts.

Yulu, for example, started directly selling a consumer version of its low-speed moped Miracle earlier this year, called Yulu Wynn, which is being manufactured by Bajaj Auto. With a top speed just under 25 kmph, users don’t need a license to use this moped on Indian roads.

Yulu Wynn costs about Rs 55,000, and users need to sign up for a subscription plan to use the vehicle. The purchase price doesn’t include the battery or software features, which are included in the subscription plans, and users also get access to the company’s Yuma battery swapping network. This is similar to how Ather Energy or Tata Nexon users pay for premium features on those vehicles, Amit Gupta, Yulu’s co-founder and CEO told Forbes India recently.

Kunal Khattar, a Delhi-based venture capital (VC) investor in the EV space, points out that if we find ways to take out the cost of the battery, then that’s practically half the cost of the EVs. So, more business models like Yulu’s will surely emerge. A bank might finance the battery and the consumer gets an affordable subscription plan.

TechCrunch reported on November 27 that EMotorad Ventures, an electric bicycle maker in Pune, has raised $20 million in a Series B round. EMotorad’s models feature self-diagnostics, removable batteries, dual disc brakes, portable chargers, and retractable aluminium frames. TechCrunch reports that the company offers a 48-hour resolution of customer complaints, citing co-founder Kunal Gupta.

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Founded in 2020 by Gupta, Rajib Gangopadhyay, Aditya Oza and Sumedh Battewar, EMotorad exports its e-bikes to more than 18 countries through white labelling and selling its own brand in the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, and some Middle Eastern markets, according to TechCrunch. Of its 14 e-bike models, seven or eight are available in India and the rest are sold overseas, priced between $600 to $1,200 in the US. EMotorad has raised more than $22.5 million in total funding, from investors including Singapore’s Panthera Growth Partners, Alteria Capital, xto10x Technologies, and Green Frontier Capital.

The four-wheeler passenger EV space is nascent in India, with Tata Motors taking the lead with its Nexon small SUV and Tiago cars, and more recently the small, boxy, two-door MG Comet, which has found several takers in Bengaluru, for example. While on the topic of Tata vehicles, BluSmart, which has been mostly using the Tata Tigor-based Xpres-T cars for its all-electric ride-hailing fleet, may soon add smaller, more affordable vehicles, made by Gensol Engineering. The ride-hailing startup BluSmart and the listed company Gensol share promoters.

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Economic Times reported yesterday that Gensol will make electric “reverse trikes”, which have two wheels in the front and one at the back, starting February, citing co-founder Anmol Singh Jaggi, who is also the managing director of Gensol, a solar engineering procurement and construction company.

Jaggi expects to soon start production at a factory in Chakan, India’s biggest auto manufacturing hub in Maharashtra, with capacity to turn out 30,000 vehicles. So cheaper BluSmart rides may be on offer next year.

One important longer-term challenge for most of these companies is that they are not profitable yet. Ather Energy, for example, reported more than Rs 1,800 crore in FY23 revenues, but net loss of more than Rs 860 crore.

This fiscal year, as of November 28, and excluding low-speed vehicles, about 5,48,500 electric two-wheelers have been sold in India, which is about two-thirds of the Indian EV market by number of vehicles. In FY20 that figure was about 27,000. Diwali season sales, in October and November, this year have been no different from last year.

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The data is from the government’s Vahan portal, collected by the Society of Manufacturers of EVs, an industry lobby. It’s evident that the pickup in the market hasn’t really been fast, which was also hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, the government’s subsidy for EV purchases was reduced effective June 1, and is expected to be eliminated in a time-bound fashion.

EV companies will have to continue to invest in making their vehicles more affordable upfront, convenient with reliable and safe quick charging, and eliminate range anxiety. Therefore, it will take some time before there are millions of these vehicles on Indian roads.