The electric scooter market has grown in massive leaps and bounds. The projection that e-scooters will eventually completely replace petrol ICE (internal combustion engine) scooters on our roads is, by now, a widely accepted premise. But, within the rising numbers that is proof of this accelerated adoption, are stories which point to emerging trends. Today, about 20 per cent of all scooter sales are of e-scooters. Yet, as many as seven out of ten buyers are actively considering making the switch to electric. Also, a break-up of e-scooter sales shows that premium brands are already poised to take over more than half the EV market this year on their way to more than two-thirds in 2024. And the top five players in the e-scooter market will be clocking three quarters of all e-scooter sales next year.
Ather has emerged as a strong, dynamic brand in the e-scooter segment with good recall amongst young buyers. The brand promise is proven, and its footprint has also become much more national both in terms of the number of touchpoints and charging station installations. The Ather 450X is now a common sight on urban and semi-urban roads and it continues to be an active test base for the company to gauge the BEV system performance on a real-time basis.
Ather’s engagement with its customers and its feedback ecosystem has allowed it insights into the usage of its e-scooters. These have, in turn, led to its fine-tuning of marketing strategy and plan new products that can better position the brand to a larger audience. Ather says that the new 450S and the revamped 450X series are the result of that feedback loop. Some of the insights that it has gleaned shows that the average scooter owner only rides about 28km per day. And connected to that use-case, Ather obviously realised that one e-scooter with one battery size isn’t going to be enough to take on competition on either side of the fence. So, the company is certainly reacting to new, emerging competitors and a maturing of the market, where a segmentation of e-scooter buyers is an inevitable progression. The claimed target for its new series is the sporty, performance scooter segment in the 125cc and 150cc displacement ICE class, though by now all e-scooter brands are eyeing the same segment. With the reduction in subsidies, there was also an imperative to find ways by which the 450X can still be kept affordable for this target audience.
Design and Features
The new 450S and 450X series are identical to the existing Ather 450X. The design is young, futuristic and very liked by customers in the segment. So, there really was no need for a major overhaul. But a few more differentiators would’ve been preferable, given the spread of variants that are there now. Ather has used the digital ecosystem for the 450 Series to enhance its feature offerings and in its attempt to position the e-scooter over a wider purchase spectrum, it has effectively created five price points. There’ll be a 450S, a 450S with the Pro pack, the smaller battery 450X and its Pro pack version and then the top-end fully loaded 450X with the larger 3.7kWh battery.
There would be some variation in the colourways, but the essential design for all these variants will be the same familiar one from the current 450X. The split panels with their sharp creases, key connecting parts exposed and in contrast colours and the sharp LED lighting keeps the design exclusivity in the new series too. Some plastic bits have been added and the small badging sticker on the side will identity whether it is a ‘S’ or a ‘X’. That’s it. The good bit is that the design hasn’t aged, and the scooter continues to get its hybrid aluminium chassis keeping it light, yet rigid. The only quibble about the 450X’s design has been that it is narrow, but that is determined more by aerodynamic needs.
The top-end 450X which is due to be relaunched with the new features will make its official debut in October this year. That and the smaller battery pack 450X will continue to get the 7-inch touchscreen. In the new 450S, the switchgear is entirely new and has been changed not just for better ergo and usability, but some of them like the 5-way toggle switch is now needed to choose from the menu on the new deep view digital display. This 1000:1 contrast display is not touch-sensitive, but Ather claims it is a big step up from other poor quality screens in other scooters, since the lettering is sharp, multi-segmented and clear. The display is also said to feature auto-brightness, a first in the industry. The other change that makes reversing/ park assist much easier is the single press button for activation, which earlier needed one to engage the brake levers and a switch. Reversing speed has been limited at 3kmph. The switchgear feels sturdy, and simple to use. The square toggle button is also fairly intuitive and let me scroll and choose from the menu of settings on the digital instrument screen. Embedded SIM features continue, but the screen now also gets multi-point Bluetooth connectivity, and so it can connect to a smartphone, while being connected to the tyre pressure monitoring and a headset.
There are a bunch of other new features under the Pro pack list. They include auto hold, auto turn indicator cut-off, emergency stop signal under hard braking, and guide-me-hone lights. But the one special features that could help newbies to the e-scooter segment will be the Vehicle Fall Safe feature. In the event of the rider experiencing a fall, and the Ather being dropped down the system shuts off the motor and the throttle doesn’t response for a fixed amount of time. The hazard lights are also turned on for added safety. Ather connect app features now include tow and theft alerts, turn-by-turn navigation etc.
The battery, motor and the proprietary BMS (battery management system) often total up to nearly two-thirds of the cost of an EV. This would be the case even with e-scooters. With the battery being such a big contributor to the price, and with the lower subsidies now under FAME, the general trend amongst e-scooter makers is to choose smaller packs. The 450S and the mid-variants of the 450X, as a result, get the smaller 3kWh battery pack. The usable capacity is 2.9kWh and the riding range per charge is rated at 115kms. Real-world riding range is a claimed 90kms in the most frugal Smart-Eco riding mode. Ather also believes that the average use-case per day and the growing charging infrastructure will alleviate any range anxiety amongst its riders.
With the new 450S being positioned as the entry variant with the smaller battery and the ‘non-touch’ digital screen, the electric motor’s peak output is also a lower 5.4kW, compared to the 450X duo’s 6.4kW. Peak torque is similarly a lower 22Nm, compared to the 450X’s 26Nm. Top speed is regulated at 90kmph for all variants, but the 450Xs are quicker in the sprint to 40kmph at 3.3 seconds compared to the 450S’s 3.9 seconds. For the new series, Ather engineers have also worked on the throttle mapping to reduce the snappy, jump from start acceleration that the previous model had, and after the official test ride, I can confirm that the mapping is now more linear with just that initial response being flattened. The 450S I rode still builds speed steadily and gets to 90kmph quite rapidly. Of course, in Sport mode it still is zippy and fun.
The lithium-ion battery pack is encased in the aluminium case and is positioned below the floor. It is IP67 rated for dust and water resistance. But what has changed is the additional sensitivity to detect moisture ingress, in the event of a crack in the housing. The smaller 2.9kWh battery pack in the 450S and the 450X (mid-variant) take about six and half hours to charge from zero to 80 per cent, and two more hours for a full charge via a wall-socket. Ather has come up with a unique solution where the system pauses the charging to ensure that the last 20 per cent is delivered only in the morning if the scooter is plugged in overnight. The 450X 3.7kWh battery version takes four and half hours for 0-80 per cent and an additional hour for a full charge at home. All variants are compatible with Ather’s fast charging grid which delivers a 80 per cent charge from zero in less than an hour.
The electric motor’s torque is sent through the e-transmission via a belt drive. Ather engineers have also worked on the regenerative braking system to make it is more intuitive, and in addition to active regen during breaks in acceleration, there is braking regen and now a coasting regen that is meant to allow for easier approach into turns. And coasting regen mapping is different for slower and faster speeds. And while I couldn’t ride my test mule 450S Pro for a full charge distance, during the half day I spent with it, the regen braking felt smoother, and more intuitive. There are also four ride modes to choose from - SmartEco, Eco, Ride and Sport - with the commensurate changes in performance and regen.
To easily distinguish the base versus feature-loaded, Ather now calls it the 450S and 450X Core variants and then there are the Pro variants of these smaller battery pack units. The base 450S Core is priced at Rs 1.3 lakh and the 450X Core 2.9kWh is Rs 1.38 lakh. The Pro pack variants are about Rs 13,000 over these prices. Ather’s offerings continue to be smart choices in the e-scooter market.