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‘New normal’ throws up opportunities for EVs in new segments: Sulajja Firodia Motwani

G Balachandar Chennai | Updated on November 16, 2020 Published on November 16, 2020

Kinetic Green Energy and Power Solutions Founder & and CEO Sulajja Firodia Motwani

Pune-headquartered Kinetic Green Energy and Power Solutions is emerging as a major player in the electric-vehicle space, offering a wide range of battery-operated vehicles such as e-Autos, e-carts and Buggies. The company recently launched what it calls a ‘game-changing’ electric three-wheeler for multiple application areas in the last-mile cargo segment. The company’s Founder & and CEO, Sulajja Firodia Motwani, a third-generation scion of Firodia family, spoke to BusinessLine about 3-wheeler market trends, post-COVID recovery and business plans. Edited excerpts:

Has the Covid-19 impact been severe for electric 3Ws in the last-mile transport?

The Indian automotive sector was already struggling in FY20 before the Covid-19 crisis. It saw an overall de-growth of about 18 per cent during 2019. This situation had further worsened due to the pandemic, and the resultant lockdown and its impact on the economy.

But, it is heartening that we are now seeing some green shoots of recovery. The segments which are gaining immediate interest in the post-Covid era are segments like motorcycles or tractors or UVs, which have a higher skew of rural sales, on the back of a good monsoon and lower impact of Covid-19 in rural markets. Urban centres have faced a higher brunt of extended lockdowns, job losses, and poor customer sentiment.

As far as electric vehicles are concerned, I expect that demand will be strong in the medium to long term as people are now more conscious of factors like health, pollution and the environment. Further EVs have lower running cost and that will also encourage customers to buy electric vehicles.

How do you see the demand for electric three-wheelers in the near term?

The demand for three-wheelers for passenger movement will continue to be slow for another two-three months, due to lower movement of people in urban centres, lack of preference for shared mobility and non-operation of mass transit like metro and trains, which typically required 3 wheelers for the last mile. However, we are seeing a strong increase in demand for three- wheelers designed for cargo, and especially electric ones, due to higher demand for e-commerce delivery. E-commerce companies and their logistics arms have aggressive plans to introduce electric three- wheelers in their cargo operations. In the “new normal”, we are all witnessing strong demand for home delivery of everything from groceries to essentials to non-essentials as people are homebound and this is leading to higher demand for e-cargo fleets.

ALSO READ: Kinetic Green launches electric cargo three-wheeler

How about the financing scenario in this segment?

Lack of retail finance is another factor that had a negative impact on sales for electric three-wheelers. Due to Covid-19, many financiers financing electric three-wheelers (E3Ws) have faced difficulties in the recovery of the loans extended, as the passenger 3W movement had halted or drastically reduced during the lockdown. In fact, last-mile connectivity for public transport, such as metro trains and buses, has been a key driver of demand for e-rickshaws and when public transport had been shut, this has severely impacted the movement of E3W and earnings of the drivers. As a result, financiers have been in “recovery mode” and reluctant to extend new loans.

Are you holding back any investment and expansion due to Covid-19?

We are currently focussing on cost-reduction, cash generation and on the newly introduced Safar Jumbo 500. We will push back some of the other investment plans for the next one-two quarters so we can monitor the status of the economy and demand revival. Although there is no change in our core business strategy and there is no diversification away from the electric vehicle business.

What will be the positioning of your new cargo 3W Safar Jumbo? Will it compete with four-wheeled mini-trucks?

Currently, the last-mile delivery of goods in categories such as e-commerce, household goods, grocery, milk deliveries, gas cylinder deliveries is done using diesel three-wheelers or four-wheeled trucks. Our Safar Jumbo is a game-changing product, designed for last-mile deliveries. The vehicle has a 1-tonne GVW (gross vehicle weight), and half-ton payload. We strongly believe that Safar Jumbo will not only displace the diesel three-wheelers in last-mile connectivity but also take away some share from the mini trucks. This is due to its extremely low running cost when compared to these options which is just 50 paise per km vs cost of almost three-four rupees per km, for the diesel three-wheelers and mini trucks. Also, its silent and green operation makes it suitable and welcome for parking and delivery in residential areas and housing societies.

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Published on November 16, 2020
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