India’s first smart and connected scooter, S340, will hit the roads soon. In an interview with Business Line, Tarun Mehta, cofounder and CEO of Ather Energy which makes these vehicles, shares the company's vision.
How do you plan to market the S340?
Ours will actually be the first smart vehicle in the country. We are taking pre-orders on our website which again is a first. Instead of opening retail showrooms, we plan to launch experience centres which will have engineers instead of salesmen. Anyone can visit these centres and experience technology. They will get to know how the battery and charging work and what it means to own a connected vehicle. Then you can have a test ride as well.
What would the typical customer profile be like?
Our customers will be mostly tech enthusiasts.
Whoever is the target buyer on Day 1 will form 100 per cent of the market today but will become one per cent (of the market) 10 years from now. The core will basically consist of those who get excited by technology and expect the differentiation to come from there.
What we have from a tech perspective is so far more differentiated than anything else in the market. It could be the drivetrain, usability or interface. We want to start from these guys and capture 100 per cent of the 100,000-strong market. There are plenty of such people in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune.
How much capital have you raised thus far?
We are expanding our network, trying to set up charging infrastructure and investing more in R&D. We raised nearly ₹75 crore in the last round of funding from Tiger Global and will need another ₹100 crore in a couple of years to build the network and charging infrastructure.
The homologation bit will happen in a couple of months. We have about 100 people working for us and will probably add another 100.
The factory at Whitefield can produce 50 to 60 vehicles a day and we plan to launch the S340 in Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune soon.
Two-wheelers typically carry out a host of tasks right from carrying people to heavy loads. Is the S340 robust enough to do all this?
Yes, it can carry out the kind of tasks a normal petrol vehicle can do. The S340 is more ergonomic and ridiculously well balanced. It has a lower centre of gravity, accelerates fast, is 20 per cent lighter and can accommodate two helmets under the seat.
We are designing it for Indian conditions. It can carry 200 kg and can operate on all sorts of roads and potholes. The shock absorber is sourced from the same company which supplies to TVS and Honda. We expect to price it between an Activa and Vespa.
Once you have a charging point, you can charge 80 per cent of the battery in an hour. We expect to put several charging points across the city as well as in buyers’ homes. You can get about 75 km on a single charge and it is six to eight times cheaper as well. There is no maintenance or greasing and it is only tyres and tubes.
How was it to see something like this develop from scratch which hardly happens in the Indian auto space?
Basically, we hardly have any product companies in India except for a handful. There are examples like the Bajaj Pulsar which has its roots here but, fundamentally, we have very few industry groups which understand how to take a product from concept to actual launch and through its complete cycle. As a result, we did not see the starting journey at all and missed out on the middle pieces too.
Typically, the first vehicles that came into India were not built here but imported and assembled. As numbers grew, local production began which then involved setting up machines/processes and replicating the systems of the parent plant. I do believe what India missed out in the bargain was learning to do things on its own which is super critical. If there was an ecosystem, people would have understood the pain of the supply chain. When your projections change and when you are negotiating for the first time, you should know which vendor to approach when the numbers scale up from a thousand to 10,000 units.
Was it difficult getting the right talent for this project?
In many ways, our engineers are part designers who can see the full journey. They should know what issues will come up when we start selling one lakh vehicles in a city. We need different kinds of engineers who are not easily available. At the same time, we have been lucky to have the right ones in our company. These people should have the big picture and talk about integration of hardware and software. These are basically curious and I think the ones we have will probably say, ‘It may not be the best job but this is the best thing at this point of time’.
Is an electric car on your radar?
We have got nothing against it but are busy building a scooter. We want to make it a success . We will eventually do a car but only several years down the line.