Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Meet the Ather S340, the future of scooters in India

The scooter has been designed ground up to run as an electric vehicle with modern technologies and materials to handle India's real-world conditions

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Feb 23, 2016 07:21:16 AM IST
Updated: Feb 23, 2016 05:52:03 PM IST
Meet the Ather S340, the future of scooters in India
Ather S340 could well revolutionise electric scooters in India

It is going to be priced at between a Honda Activa and a Vespa, and it looks way sexier than either of them. And it runs on a Lithium ion battery. Meet the Ather S340, which could well revolutionise electric scooters in India, just as its makers at Ather Energy hope it will. And oh, it has navigation built in, via a 7-inch tablet in the dash.

The classy scooter has custom-designed 12-inch alloy wheels with disc brakes, and under-seat storage capacity of about 17 litres, but designed in such a way as to take a full helmet and half helmet, which comes in handy in a city like Bengaluru where head protection has recently become mandatory for pillion riders too.

"Whether it is charging time or battery life, charging points or driving range, vehicle power of performance, electric vehicles and fundamentally the overall Indian ecosystem has been improving," Tarun Mehta, co-founder and chief executive of Ather Energy said on Tuesday, launching the scooter at Surge, a technology conference in Bangalore.

"In fact, the way the technologies are maturing, the only way to add more power and performance to vehicles in the future is going to be electric," he said.

Instead of being "retrofitted" like some of its competitors, the S340 has been designed from ground up to be a modern electric scooter, Swapnil Jain, Ather's co-founder and chief technology officer told Forbes India in an interview. Meticulous planning and an obsession with detail has meant that the material that goes into the S340 can withstand India's road conditions across the subcontinent, Jain said.

"You can ride with water coming up the footboard, and there won't be a problem," he said. A familiar problem across cities, come the monsoons. The motor — which Ather didn't design or build, but imports from a European vendor, whose name it won't reveal — is well protected to handle the dustiest road conditions in India, he said.

Mehta and Jain were third year students at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, where an initial attempt at turning entrepreneurs with a batter pack project didn't work as planned. With specialisations in industrial design, and the backing of their professor, the duo decided to have another go, this time building an entire scooter.

By then they had graduated, and spent short stints at Ashok Leyland and General Motors in India.

The name S340 is derived from this two wheeler being a scooter with a 3 kilowatt battery and 40 ampere capacity, Jain said. The battery should deliver about 65 km on a full charge, Jain said, and Ather's technicians will come set up a charging point at home, with enough authentication built in so others won't be able to mooch off your plug point.

As to wear and tear, these scooters require virtually no maintenance, Jain said and after about 50,000 km, the battery's capacity is reduced by about a fifth, meaning it will sill run the scooter, but it's probably better to swap it for a new one. The more likely scenario is that one will trade in the scooter itself for a newer, more efficient and powerful runabout.