Users looking for gadget-like vehicles: Ola Electric Head of Marketing

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on January 11, 2021

Varun Dubey shares Ola’s roadmap as the company sets up the world’s largest two-wheeler plant in Tamil Nadu

Ola Electric will be setting up the world’s largest two-wheeler factory in Hosur, Tamil Nadu. In an interaction with BusinessLine, the company’s Head of Marketing and a member of the leadership team, Varun Dubey, shares Ola’s road map and the challenges ahead for its foray into the electric vehicle sector.

The Centre has set a deadline for 2025 for phase-out of all ICE (internal combustion engine)-based two-wheelers (up to 150 cc). How does Ola plan to capitalise on this opportunity? 

Our ride-hailing business is focussed on shared mobility and our electric business is completely focussed on owned mobility — where we will manufacture and sell electric vehicles (EVs) to consumers. We’re starting with our upcoming range of electric scooters and will soon cover the other key two-wheeler categories as well.

With our electric scooter, we have completely re-imagined what it means to buy, ride and own a scooter. The manufacturing plant in Hosur, Tamil Nadu, is being built with Industry 4.0 principles and will be the most-advanced manufacturing facility in the country with over 5,000 robots deployed. It will be AI-powered by Ola’s proprietary AI (artificial intelligence) engine that will control and optimise every step of the manufacturing process. We plan to export our range of scooters to other countries as well.  

One of the challenges that electric two-wheeler companies face is the early adoption of such technology. How does Ola plan to overcome that? As per reports, the electric two-wheeler market has shown a decrease of 5.4 per cent during calendar year 2020 compared with the previous year.  

There have been some fundamental shifts in consumers’ expectations from their automobiles. First, they expect great technology. The automobile is now much more gadget-like, and with electric vehicles, this gets even more pronounced.

Second, the consumers are much more sensitive today about their carbon footprints than they have been ever before. And finally, the leapfrog experience our scooter delivers, coupled with an aggressive price point, will ensure exponential growth of the category. 

Ola has announced an investment of ₹2,400 crore in the electric two-wheeler project with a capacity to produce 2 million units. While lack of scale has been an issue for smaller electric two-wheeler companies, will the reverse of such a trend be riskier if the lack of demand for such products persists? 

We see this differently. The question isn’t why would people buy it, but rather, if we can provide a scooter that is better in every way and is of great value, why wouldn’t buyers of traditional petrol scooters switch?

The issue so far has been that going electric has come with compromises across multiple aspects of the scooter — such as performance, ease of use, range and more. In addition, there is often a significant price delta between traditional and electric scooters. We are going to address each of these with our electric scooter and believe customers will really love the product.  

One of the biggest challenges that electric two-wheelers face is the charging infrastructure and the lithium-ion batteries themselves. What plans does Ola have to provide charging infrastructure and also source the batteries at lower costs? 

We’re building a multi-layer comprehensive solution to this. First, we will have an excellent range. Second, we are exploring building a comprehensive charging infrastructure across key cities around the world. Our customers will be able to use this with just a tap through the Ola app and rapidly charge their scooters in minutes.

In addition to this, the Ola Scooter is equipped with a unique banana battery that can be easily removed and charged from a regular wall socket. So, with this combination, we believe that instead of range anxiety, customers using Ola’s electric scooters will have range confidence.  

Which will be the biggest market for Ola Scooters as the prolific users in this category tend to be courier companies and food-delivery start-ups. How will the investment in Vogo, a dock-less scooter-sharing solution, play out with the launch of the two-wheelers? 

The Ola scooter that we will be launching is for the end-consumers — people who are looking for best-in-class technology, breath-taking design and fantastic performance. It will be the first of a wider range of our electric two-wheelers. It has already won several prestigious design and innovation awards around the world including Marketing Innovation award at CES and the German Design Award.

It features many firsts including the unique removable banana battery that is easy to carry and can be charged anywhere, as well as intelligent software.

One of the reasons cited for the partial failure of the government’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles (FAME) incentive scheme is that most of the electric two-wheelers sold in the market do not qualify for subsidies under the scheme due to a high threshold level. Hence, the scheme has not been able to attract customers to switch over to electric two-wheelers. How does Ola plan to overcome resistance to the adoption of the scheme? 

We are committed to bringing our customers the best product. We believe that the product, its ownership experience, its features and the overall value proposition will be widely appreciated, and that itself will drive its adoption.

Ola’s decision to enter the electric two-wheelers segment, according to analysts, is because of Ola Cabs’ business slowing down. Will that affect the overall business plan of the company? 

Our ride-hailing business is fundamentally strong and has seen significant recovery post-lockdown across India and international locations. In fact, in many key cities, we have seen more than 100 per cent recovery, where we have not only recovered but also actually gained market share.

We believe it will only grow from strength to strength because as the world is opening back up, consumers are preferring safer personal mobility options such as ride-hailing instead of public transport. 

The electric mobility business is a separate business and an area we have been investing in over the past few years to go deep and understand the fundamental challenges that need to be addressed so that we can accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in the owned space as well. 

Published on January 11, 2021

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