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Ampere Vehicles chief ‘fully charged’ to serve her motherland

LN Revathy Coimbatore | Updated on October 22, 2018

Hemalatha Annamalai, founder and CEO, Ampere Vehicles   -  The Hindu

She was not born with a silver spoon. But the lessons that she learnt from her father and mentor Annamalai and the life that he lived seems to have inspired Hemalatha Annamalai, the Chief Executive of Ampere Vehicles, to lead a simple life with no airs about her rise.

That said, it is not easy to get hold of her these days as she travels quite a bit. She, however, makes it a point to stay in touch.

This correspondent met with her in the comfort of her home on a Sunday. A mother of two daughters, Hemalatha, now in her early 50s, does not look her age.

She is an early riser, up by 4.30 am, engages herself in workout between 5 and 6 am ( has a personal trainer who visits her home every morning) and then practices yoga and meditation for 30-45 minutes, followed by a walk with her dog.

After checking her mails on her return, Hemalatha eats a quick breakfast and prepares to leave to the factory. “I give directions to my team and then do some strategic thinking. I always consciously do things differently,” she says.

Return to India

She recalled some of the difficult decisions taken in her life — such as returning to India after spending close to two decades in Singapore.

“I wanted to come back for three reasons — to give back something to my Motherland, take on a larger project that will give a visible societal impact in rural and semi-urban markets and finally take to manufacturing, which even today is not considered a woman-friendly industry.

“More so, in the electric vehicle manufacturing space which was quite nascent when I started my venture here. Policies had only started to evolve. Doing business was not new to me, as I had experimented on small ventures in Singapore. I floated my first venture when I was 27 years of age in Singapore,” she says. “Over there,” she adds, “the processes were well-defined, whereas here in India, every day is a challenge.”

“We grew 100-200 per cent at the start of this journey, but the euphoria did not last long. The industry itself was in a mess because the government withdrew the subsidy abruptly and we had a big problem with the battery.”

‘Intelligent battery’

Batteries were not suitable for Indian temperate conditions, Indian road conditions and finance was not available for electric vehicles. Ampere resolved the battery issue by launching an ‘intelligent battery’ with a chip on top, acting like a spike buster for capturing voltage fluctuations/ swings in steady flow of current.

“We have come a long way since then,” Annamalai says. In electric vehicles, there are four key components – battery, motor, charger and controller. “We have a technology to get the life of the batteries back. This of course will depend on the condition of the battery.”

Asked about Ratan Tata’s investment in Ampere, Hemalatha vividly recalled her first meeting with the Chairman emeritus of Tata Group. “I heard he was visiting Isha Foundation here. I wrote to his office seeking an appointment. I did not get a reply immediately, but when it came, my joy knew no bounds. I had asked only for 15 minutes, but ended up discussing with him about my venture for close to an hour. He was quite impressed and committed to investing in the company. It was a blessing.”

Without revealing the Tata’s investment, she said “when Greaves Cotton came into the picture and took a 67 per cent stake in Ampere, they wanted all the 11 non-promoters to exit. So they are exiting. It is going to be only Ampere and Greaves from now on, both promoters working to scale up the business.”

“This exit will give us operational freedom. The non-promoters came into the picture to support us in the initial phase. But as we scale, we will need to look at the larger picture. Scaling the venture has been a struggle,” says Annamalai.

“The investment by Greaves Cotton at this juncture seems timely. I realised that the founding ethos of both companies matched, and they are cash-rich.”

“We have the technology platform and they have market access. Greaves want us to expand rapidly pan-India. So we thought it would be best to focus on our strength and complement each other. This has been a life-turning decision for me.”

Focussing ahead

“My vision now is to scale the business to ₹100 crore in five years. Our business last year was around ₹20 crore and we are confident of reaching ₹50 crore this fiscal.”

Returning to the present, she said Ampere is looking at affordable mobility and focussing on many things – technology, innovation, job creation. It has chalked out a five-year road map to make the puzzle work, but for this, the industry needs a five-year policy. (The EV policy expired in September).

“We are now in the second phase of growth and this can happen with the support of a larger partner. But if the policy is not fixed, we will not be able to pursue, monitor and execute our dream.

The biggest challenge was in creating awareness. This has started to take shape in the last 18 months or so. The policy has to be consistent. Even today, GST on battery is 18 per cent. On the one side, the government is saying we have to go on a low carbon footprint.

“I am only asking for removal of subsidy (claiming subsidy is cumbersome). Instead - both the state and Centre should consider removal of tax for 2-3 years — make it tax-free.” The industry will then grow by itself. E-vehicles today is an absolute opportunity.

The company has about 120 dealers across 10 states. Its annual production stands at 60,000 vehicles (mostly two-wheelers). Annamalai is looking to enhance this to 100,000/ year in 3-4 years.

“They have given us full operational freedom; asked me to continue as the Chief Executive. Ampere is my brain-child and I am proud to see it grow,” she said before adding “success is not money, fame or image, but a destination. It is only a journey and in this journey, people should walk, run and enjoy... for that’s all life is all about.”

Published on October 22, 2018

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