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‘Our solution will allow quicker transition to electric mobility’

K Giriprakash | Updated on June 28, 2018

Both Maini and Khemka are upbeat about the venture’s prospects

Chetan Maini (right), and Uday Khemka, Vice Chairman, Sun Mobility   -  SOMASHEKAR G R N

Chetan Maini and Uday Khemka discuss their new initiative in e-mobility

Chetan Maini, the man who ushered in the electric car wave with Reva, is now working on interoperability of batteries. He has joined hands with Uday Khemka, Vice-Chairman of SUN Group, to float SUN Mobility that is intended to accelerate mass electric vehicle use. Excerpts from an interview:

What do you have to say about the constantly changing goalpost for electric vehicles (EVs)?

Chetan Maini: Perhaps the goal of 100 per cent electric has moved but the idea of having e-mobility in a large way is huge. Several states are coming out with EV policies and the ball is moving in the right direction. The industry will start seeing movement instead of waiting for a policy.

Do you support the views of some car-makers that hybrids should precede electric?

Maini: My two cents about hybrids is that the country’s growth rate of vehicles is very high. Our pollution is also very high. We need solutions that are much more absolute.

While hybrids are good, they took off way back in 1997. To have a policy on hybrid 10 years ago would have made sense but we need to move ahead to the next phase. One way to do that is while new vehicles go electric, existing ones can go hybrid with kits.

How would you push the case for battery swapping?

Maini: The regular charge at home works great if your two-wheeler or car does about 30 to 40 km within the city. What if you wanted to make a trip from Bengaluru to Mysuru and back? Now you get a product that meets everything.

Are you worried that this could be a Reva encore in being ahead of its time and could meet the same fate?

Maini: I don’t think so and this is because the whole country is moving electric. We are just offering a solution that allows the transition to happen quicker. Also, if a consumer can buy a product at the same cost, and the cost of energy is lower, then they might like to try it. This can increase adoption versus paying twice the amount for a product in this area. We are not the final touch and feel but just giving you the energy. Let manufacturers decide on the product.

Is space a challenge for this initiative?

Uday Khemka: Actually, you don’t need parking space. For normal charging, you need a parking lot. Here you just need someone to go zip, zip and zip and they can park anywhere they like.

Typically when you look at it, an autorickshaw will take five hours to charge. The e-rickshaws in Delhi take five hours to charge. Now each of these stations does 14 swaps in an hour (the little station that you saw). And you can put two more on either side so that would be 50 swaps. The size of 50 of them, with 50 swaps an hour, is almost the size of one-and-a-half rickshaws. When a city wants to go fully electric, you need real estate space. In fact, the throughput of that is that it is faster than a gas station. The gas station is around four to five minutes while our solution is around 1 to 1.5 minutes.

How about the issue of drawing energy from the grid?

Khemka: Yes, this is a valid point. In the case of our larger bus stations, it’s a little easier since they consume around 1 MW of power. Most states, including Karnataka, allow you a 1 MW level to have power purchase agreements.

So, we could have a PPA outside Bangalore, where solar farms are being put, to buy renewable energy in a particular area. Over time, we would opt to buy as much as we can. Our stations create stabilisation in the grid unlike the fast charge surges.

What is your reaction to the Ather Energy business model?

Maini: Actually, Ather started with swapping. We are open to working with them and others.

Khemka: So say there is a guy who wants to use an Ather type of scooter for deliveries and stuff like it. And he has extra deliveries to do today but cannot charge on time. But, suddenly if he can swap out in a minute, then he says this makes sense. But, for someone who wants to use it as a personal scooter, this option is not relevant to them.

What about charging stations?

Khemka: We would either own or franchise them. So, it would be a model that would actually fall into that category. There would be some deposit given by someone and some earning on this area.

Would it be right to infer that with your model, a manufacturer gets a whole lot of options?

Maini: Exactly, and not only that. What happens is that technology is rapidly changing. You just bought that scooter with the fixed battery and if something better came out next year, you would be stuck with it. Now here, you’re buying it as a service. It is like an upgrade or like updating your plan on your phone. So, you are not tied into a technology that is rapidly changing but actually riding the wave.

When would you have the infrastructure ready?

Maini: We are doing trials right now and will probably start having city pilots at a reasonable 500 to 1000 levels in the second half of this year. By the end of this year, we will start to scale up. We will start with one city and get the thing rolling. Once everything is ready, it is a very scalable solution and by the middle of this year, you will start to see the energy infrastructure coming up.

Khemka: Our group has brought in $6 billion to India through our venture fund capital. With the right contract structure, we can provide a solution where the city or state does not need to invest anything. By providing longtime transportation on a per km basis, I hope to be raising billions of dollars of long-term capital, not only from our groups, but also pension funds.

Published on June 28, 2018

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