It could be “a big subject across the world” but Diego Graffi is not daunted by the prospects of electric mobility in India.
“We were the first to launch a hybrid scooter in 2007,” says the CEO & Managing Director of Piaggio Vehicles. “We are already producing electric two-wheelers for Europe and will launch the Vespa electric soon.”
To that extent, his company is ready in terms of technology even for India, which is right now in the midst of an e-mobility fervour. The Centre is keen that the entire automotive ecosystem embraces the electric option by 2030 even though this is a tall order even to the die-hard optimist.
“We will always keep an eye on the specific needs of this market for e-mobility,” says Graffi. “We will just not carry over an application we have somewhere else for India and will be ready when needed to develop something particular.”
This will mean focusing on extensive localisation of all critical parts where talks are already underway with suppliers.
While conceding that China is a supermarket for electric two-wheelers, the Piaggio India chief insists that India will require something more specific in terms of power and torque since the needs here are completely different.
“One issue is the range, which we can achieve and this is where the battery and costs matter, which means there is a lot of work ahead,” says Graffi.
It is also his conviction that the internal combustion engine will still be around and will not disappear overnight with the electric vehicle onslaught. “I feel the electric powertrain will run in parallel, though with smaller numbers,” he says.Biggest advantages
From Piaggio’s point of view, the biggest advantage going forward is access to competencies in its Italian headquarters, especially when it comes to technology, products and, of course, investments.
Graffi admits that costs will be “a challenge for sure in new technology” but this is where the challenge lies in finding the right solutions as all this “is part of the game”.
And even while sceptics are cynical about the e-mobility drive in India, Piaggio sees this move as “a lot of good and positive pressure coming from the Government and environmentalists” in cleaning up the air. “We feel that are good conditions to make this change happen,” says the CEO.
While e-mobility is still many years away, the task closer on hand is the transition to Bharat Stage VI emission norms, which come into force from April 2020.
Effectively, this means that there are barely 29 months left before automakers get ready for this mega change, which will see a jump from BS IV to VI.
“Piaggio will be ready comfortably ahead of the deadline, perhaps by 2019,” says Graffi. Once things are in place, the Italian automaker intends to “cross-fertilise its experiences in India” on BS VI and, later, e-mobility with other parts of the world, especially on affordability.
“This is a cost-sensitive market and the lessons learnt here will come in handy elsewhere,” says Graffi. “We see the emissions trend being replicated across the world that means the experience in India and Europe will spread and we can leverage our competencies effectively.”
On the work front, the Piaggio India boss has been enjoying his tenure since the time he took charge some months ago. As he says, “it has been fun with a lot of things happening”. The market has seen its share of ups and downs in recent times but is now stabilising after the disruptions of demonetisation, moving from BS III to IV and, more recently, the Goods and Services Tax.
With two diverse businesses in the form of commercial vehicles and two-wheelers, Piaggio also has to contend with the reality of different market dynamics. “Large CVs were suffering but things are coming back on track while in two-wheelers, the market has always been there,” says Graffi. “We are now ready and settled with network expansion going on well.”Different experience
Beyond this, the company is keen on giving its two-wheeler customers a different experience through products such as Vespa and Aprilia, which are traditionally premium. Apart from the price tag, it wants to drive home the premium message in technology, riding and the dealership experience.
“Our products are perfect in terms of riding, design and styling. We are not looking at market share and it has never been our priority,” says Graffi. He is only too aware that market dynamics in scooters are changing rapidly which gives him cause for optimism in the premium space that still has not evolved on the same pace as motorcycles. “We are young in the market and believe there is enough space for more players,” declares Graffi.