Almost every week there is one more addition to the list of ‘branded’ reasons why the immediate future of two-wheeled commuting is going to be e-scooters. Last week’s addition was the new Vida V1 Pro from Hero MotoCorp. After a string of new launches over the last couple of years, the electric scooter market has emerged as the fastest growing category, setting a blazing trend for others to follow. Hero comes a bit late to the e-scoot party. Recent entrants like Ola, Ather, TVS and Simple (OATS for short according to Mr Bajaj) have already jostled into position to take on both older brands like Hero Electric and Okinawa and to slug it out against ICE scooter brands like Honda and Yamaha.
The boffins at Hero MotoCorp have smartly spun its delayed entry into e-scooters into a candid story; something their recent marketing spends would meant to disseminate. But the point they want you to focus on is how serious the largest two-wheeler maker is in wanting to transition from ICEs (internal combustion engines) to EVs. A bit ironic, you could say, given that all its current success comes from its popular ICE motorcycles and scooters. But, then again, preparing for the future is never a bad idea.
The company has chosen to launch a new brand for its electric foray, and so all its future e-scooters and motorcycles will be under the umbrella brand Vida by Hero MotoCorp. The first to hit the roads later this year will be the V1, and it gets two variants-the V1 Plus and the V1 Pro. I put a few laps on the Vida V1 Pro at Hero MotoCorp’s testing track at its tech centre outside Jaipur. Here are my initial impressions.
Hero MotoCorp officials say that the e-scooter is like a smartphone on wheels, obviously referring to the perceived user-friendliness and forward-looking ecosystem that the latter is associated with. The target audience is similar too, with young two-wheeler riders expected to form the target demographic. The design of the Vida V1 Pro is appropriately futuristic, with dual-coloured, floating panels and LED light tubes within its headlamp and tail-lamp giving off that stylish, modern vibe. The V1 Pro has a slender, aerodynamic profile overall, but its split seats offer a relatively wide seating area. The red panels on my test mule looked like armour slapped on to the body, and though I initially thought that the gaps were for airflow, apparently they are not meant for that. Similarly, though the floor board panels form a chunky profile, they don’t house the batteries. The V1 Pro also gets a curved flyscreen in black, slim LED turn indicator pods, and a wide cast metal grab-bar at the rear.
The rider can access all key info on the 7-inch TFT screen mounted on the handlebar. The switchgear for all the controls is on either side of the handlebar, including some interesting additions like the SOS and cruise control buttons. The split seats can be apparently removed independently and changed into a single seater using a DIY kit that is expected to be available at a later date. At the launch, a photo of a retro version of the V1 Pro with a single seat, white-walled tyres and a sloping rear section was put up. I hope that it will also be considered for an official launch.
The Vida V1 Pro gets all the trappings of a digital two-wheeler. While the switches and button controls are a bit fiddly, the one that catches my eye is the 7-inch TFT screen that acts as the interface for the rider with the e-scooter. The HMI screen is touch-enabled and, via an embedded SIM, can also get over-the-air (OTA) updates. Smartphone connectivity is via Bluetooth and a dedicated app enables the rider to use multiple connected bike features, including geofencing, remote immobilisation, tracking, anti-theft alarm etc. There is also an SOS button in case the rider needs some urgent assistance. The touchscreen provides all the key scooter performance and battery-related information, including speed, mode selected, battery state of charge, riding range, and turn-by-turn navigation.
The seating position was perfect for me. The overall ergonomics is also good, though some rough edges were there, which I was told would be ironed out in the final launch versions. What I was riding was a second production prototype. Under seat storage is a bit less, with the two battery packs taking up considerable space. But you can choose to ride with only one pack if you need the extra storage. To assuage the rider’s range anxiety, the Vida V1 Pro also gets a limp mode, when depending on the state of charge, the bike allows it to be ridden for a distance of 8 km at a restricted speed of 10kmph to reach a charging station.
One of the surprises in the Viva V1 is the pair of removable lithium-ion batteries that it is being offered with. The fact that it doesn’t feature sealed batteries doesn’t take away any of the overall appeal of the e-scooter. And the two individual battery packs have been aesthetically packaged; sized like oil tin cans and have a usable handle at the top. But they weigh 11.5 kg each, and so it would be a task to carry them up to an apartment for charging via a wall-socket at home. Thankfully, though, there are two other charging options available, including an under-seat plug point and a fast charging/public charger socket under the handlebar. And since the charge adapter’s type and protocol are shared with Ather (Hero MotoCorp part owns Ather), there should be enough public charging stations that Vida V1 owners will have access to from the very beginning.
The battery chemistry is NMC (nickel manganese cobalt), and the two variants of the e-scooter get two different usable capacities. The V1 Pro gets a 3.94kWh pack and the V1 Plus gets a 3.44kWh pack, with the former getting a rated riding range of 165km and the latter a range of 143km. The real world riding range will be lower based on traffic and riding conditions and the chosen riding mode. There are four riding modes to choose from, including Sport, Ride, Eco, and Custom. Custom mode can be set up by the rider, with notionally 100 different individually selectable regen levels. One of the unique aspects of the V1 Pro is its highly sensitive and calibrated throttle, which, in addition to the variable acceleration levels, can also be twisted in reverse for variable regenerative braking levels. Of course, twisting it in the opposite direction in “reverse mode” also offers parking assistance.
The Vida V1 features an integrated e-drive unit that includes a PMS e-motor (permanent magnet synchronous). Instead of the more common hub-mounted motor, the Vida V1 gets a swing-arm mounted motor with a direct transmission. The IP68 rated motor (for water ingress and dust resistance) delivers a peak power of 6kW and a continuous power output of 3.9kW in both the V1 Pro and the V1 Plus. Top speed is restricted to 80kmph in both variants and the 0-40kmph acceleration can be done in 3.2seconds in the V1 Pro and 3.4seconds in the V1 Plus.
I test rode the V1 Pro on a couple of tracks at Hero MotorCorp’s innovation centre in Jaipur. Both were clean, well-laid tarmac, so I can’t really comment about the suspension’s suitability, for which it features dual forks for the front and a mono for the rear. The 125kg scooter feels agile and quite nimble going into corners too. The V1 Pro’s weight distribution has a centre bias, giving it good stability, and helps it handle quite a bit of lean into corners, in fact to a point where the side-stand scrapes tarmac.
Hero MotoCorp is saying that the V1 will benefit from a whole ecosystem that the company is planning to build around it. And so it won’t be just an e-scooter. The charging network, the Vida cloud-based services, including remote diagnostics, augmented reality, etc. The V1 Pro and Plus are also being offered with warranties for the motor and battery. The idea is to offer long-term peace of mind to customers, say company officials.
But, the Vida V1 Plus and Pro are priced at ₹1.45 lakh and ₹1.59 lakh, respectively (ex-showroom, Delhi). At that price point (this is after reducing the FAME subsidy), the V1 is the most expensive e-scooter currently. Can it attract buyers with its promise of quality, convenience, and a package of ecosystem benefits?