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Greaves bets big on e-mobility plan with Ampere

Murali Gopalan | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

Nagesh Basavanhalli

Zeal scooter brings in new customers; more products in company’s pipeline

Nagesh Basavanhalli chuckles when he narrates the incident.

“I remember the housewife who would spend ‘x’ on a petrol scooter each month apart from service. Now she has an Ampere electric scooter where the total cost of ownership per month has come down by a fifth and she is pleased as hell,” elaborates the MD and CEO of Greaves Cotton.

Since the time his company acquired a controlling stake in the Coimbatore-based Ampere Vehicles, Basavanhalli is more than pleased with the way the story is panning out. The story he has just narrated came from a personal interaction with a customer who is now part of the Greaves/Ampere family.

“Ampere had done a good job for low-end affordable mobility and what we are doing now is to expand the distribution pan-India through Greaves Retail,” continues Basavanhalli. This meant going beyond the south and west to “places like Rohtak in Haryana”, now becoming top-selling markets for the company.

As he says, it has been an “interesting journey” with Ampere that has grown quite impressively to include new products like the Zeal, which reaffirms the focus on last mile affordable mobility. Ampere was largely in the lower speed where “they have a phenomenal track record”.

New models

With Greaves in tow, the duo is now evolving into higher speed options. “We have already launched the Zeal which is the higher speed version and has been getting good feedback. As part of the festive season, we are working on a couple of new (electric) products,” reveals Basavanhalli.

Likewise, while the average price in the lower speed was ₹35,000, the Zeal retails at ₹70,000. “Ampere had three products over the last 10 years and we have already launched one.. stay tuned for more,” he adds.

Right now, there is a lot of work underway on expanding the price range, product styling and going after different types of customers. The customer for the Zeal is a college student or housewife who also needs a licence or registration (which was not the case with the low-end products).

Thanks to the styling and cost of ownership, which is lower than a traditional petrol scooter, Greaves is now seeing a larger buyer base for the Zeal. “We told ourselves that there were 200 million people at the bottom of the pyramid who need affordable transportation. This will include college students, housewives as well as some middle-age professionals,” says Basavanhalli.

This is now becoming a reality with a wider customer base coming into the Ampere brand. As he adds, these are first time buyers, which is encouraging because “we can attract more with better products in terms of styling, design and performance”. Basavanhalli also makes clear that Ampere is the electric mobility division of Greaves and there is no question of co-branding.

Expansion

Between the Ampere stores and 350 Greaves Retail outlets across the country, things have worked from the south and west while pushing to the north and east as well.

“When we went up north with Zeal, the brand association with Greaves helped immensely. Everyone knows that we are are known for reliability, quality and low cost of ownership,” he says.

On the product side, it was quite clear that the company had to move the Ampere brand up to higher prices and different customer experiences.

The engineers in the Coimbatore-based company were more than capable since they had been working on Ampere products/technology all these years.

“We are now scaling up and giving them everything they need in terms of capex, expansion, management leadership bandwidth, aftermarket, etc. Some of our guys bring in the depth and experience, they can scale up manufacturing, bring in supply chain efficiencies, work with China/Indian partners and so on,” says Basavanhalli.

For now, the script is working perfectly with customers delighted with the design and experience of the Zeal as well as the larger distribution network.

“Over the last couple of months, we have touched at least 500 customers. I have personally sat in focus groups and realised that a lot of electric industry awareness is still not there. People do not have any idea what this is about except for the proverbial range anxiety,” says the Greaves Cotton chief.

Diverse talent pool

The good news is that despite the slowdown, there are banks who are lending to customers for their electric scooters. This has been a huge help, admits Basavanhalli, while attributing this to the Greaves brand, which is backing the project. He is also all praise for Hema Annamalai, the CEO of Ampere, who has done a “great job” on gender diversity and give opportunities to a host of people.

There have been recruits from smaller colleges who may not have had the means to study in premier institutions. With Ampere, they have had a chance in employability and skill development. “With our technical centre in Bengaluru bringing in the technology and very smart people, it is a great blend,” says Basavanhalli.

As he puts it, “these guys are willing to learn and soak it up” and between the two it is a great combination. The average age at Ampere is 26 years and the energy they bring to the table “is something else”. This helps “extract the best” from both worlds. The Ampere people are “hungry, humble and eager to learn” along with their counterparts at the Greaves Bengaluru tech centre. “We are constantly evolving and our growth is proving that the experiment is working,” says Basavanhalli. The partners are now jointly beginning to develop a lot of industrial type vehicles for the B2B space in textile mills and other industrial plants.

“This is where ingenuity of technology comes in thanks to their expertise. We are touching both B2B and B2C customers and in the case of the former, there are a lot of ride sharing companies seeking application-specific products from Greaves,” says Basavanhalli.

The company is working with some of them “primarily in Bengaluru” even where there are plans to expand to other parts of the country. “The good part is that the industry is still nascent, there is a lot of opportunity and the value proposition we offer is very strong,” he adds.

Strategy

All this fits in with the strategic business plan for Greaves Cotton, which involved getting into fuel agnostic solutions and services like electric and CNG. Apart form this, the other priority was aftermarket, spares and services where there are 350 Greaves Retail outlets today. The spares sales stores total about 5,300 (3,000 three years ago) outlets.

“When we look at our strategy of getting closer to the customer, organising the unorganised and extracting the entire value out of the value chain, we are on track,” says Basavanhalli.

Greaves Retail today sells two-wheeler Ampere electric and three-wheeler e-rickshaws. It has serviced 1.75 lakh customers thus far and some of these are new in terms of non-diesel (petrol, CNG and also electric).

According to Basavanhalli, the internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric will co-exist while CNG will pick up. “Eventually it is up to the customer to decide and it is companies like us that will have to give them the choice of fuel and ensure a clean and diverse ecosystem,” he says.

It is also his belief that disruption in mobility will create opportunities and this is where Greaves will pull out all the stops with diesel, CNG and electric.

“The mix from a diversification strategy will work and help us insulate ourselves during bad times,” explains Basavanhalli. It is also in this context that the company’s non-auto engine business will play a role. The additional cushion will come from the aftermarket and electric mobility.

“Greaves is now a systems/solutions player and we are helping customers with engines, aftermarket support spares, aftermarket service on the field, providing other solutions and so on,’ says Basavanhalli. According to him, the brand was already touching millions of customers with its engines and has now expanded its scope. “We were a shy brand and are now coming out touching people and hopefully customer experiences will take the story forward,” signs off Basavanhalli.

Published on September 20, 2019
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