The Indian automotive market is continuously stressing on moving towards electric mobility. The government of India too has made clear its intentions of promoting electric vehicles through the 2019 Union Budget, by increasing prices of fossil fuels and providing additional benefits to EV buyers. However, there is still a dirth of electric vehicle manufacturers in the country. In the four-wheeler space, there’s Mahindra Electric and Tata, though the latter is only catering to commercial segment at the moment.
Meanwhile, it’s the two-wheeler market that is seeing a major inclination towards electric mobility. Electric two-wheelers make a lot of sense as they provide the user a cheaper urban commute option, reduce pollution in our cities, and also come with tonnes of low-end torque, which aids ride-ability in bumper to bumper traffic. As a result, there are multiple companies that are trying to capture this expanding electric two-wheeler market, ranging from Revolt Motors (founded my ex-Micromax chief) and Bajaj Auto, with its latest Chetak electric scooter.
But if there is one manufacturer that managed to increase customer interest in the electric two-wheeler market in India, it is Ather Energy. Thanks to its unconventional styling and business model, Ather has become the go-to brand for premium and technologically-advanced electric scooters in India.
We sat down with the company’s co-founder and Chief Executive Office – Mr. Tarun Mehta to have an insider look at how things are progressing for this electric mobility start-up.
Q. It has been over a year since Ather Energy launched its first electric scooter in India. How has the market response been in terms of inquiries, sales, and customer interest?
We launched our first product in Bengaluru in 2018 to enthusiastic consumers and all our stocks are booked till September 2019.
While building the product from scratch, we actually have built the entire ecosystem. We released six major OTA updates since launch making this one of the fastest iteration cycles in the industry. The customer response has been overwhelming. We recently did a mass delivery event, where more than 70 vehicles were handed to the owners and since then we have been practically doing mass deliveries every week. We launched in Chennai this week and the response has been phenomen(enter some content from the press release)
Some of the major product milestones this year were the product upgrades, Chennai launch and 1000,000 + Kms total distance covered by Ather 450 which included 8,344 km traveled by one scooter. He visited places like Nandi Hills – Tirupathi – Hyderabad – Vijayawada – Amaravathi – Dharmasthala on Ather 450. Consumers traveled 387,580 km on Ride Mode and 218,014 km on Sport Mode
Q. The company initially faced some supply chain issues that delayed deliveries post-launch. Have you gotten on top of it now? By when do you expect to bridge the gap between supply and demand?
Since the launch we have managed to stabilize the supply chain, fast-track deliveries and ramp up production. We have sped up deliveries and about 200 scooters a week are being delivered. We are ramping up production and looking at acquiring a larger production facility. We have already installed 34 charging points across Bengaluru & 10 in Chennai. We launched in Chennai recently and are looking at opening more cities shortly.
Q. Congratulations on the recent funding round led by Flipkart co-founder, Sachin Bansal. With other big names like Hero MotoCorp in your investor list, how do you plan to utilize the available resources and business expertise from your investors to scale the company in the future?
Our recent of funding was a significant milestone because it was led by Sachin Bansal. Having an early investor reinvest in your company because of his confidence in your product and your vision for the whole automobile ecosystem, is exciting and gratifying.
This round of funding will help accelerate both our production and operation plans across the country. The intent is to make electric vehicles available across the country and we will be investing in charging infrastructure everywhere we go. We plan to open up multiple markets this year, which started with our Chennai launch in July.
Q. Ather scooters have recently been made available to customers in Chennai as well, in addition to Bangalore. What is your expansion plan for the next couple of years, both from the vehicle sales as well as charging infrastructure perspective?
Ather is now entering an aggressive expansion phase, with Chennai being the newest market and eventually scaling to 30 cities by the end of 2023.
Shortly, our manufacturing capacity is going to hit about 25,000 units annually. We are looking at another manufacturing facility with volumes between half a million to 1 million.
Our targets for Ather Grid go hand-in-hand with our expansion plans and we will look at setting-up 6500 fast charging points across India by the end of 2023. These are DC fast chargers that charge at the rate of a km a minute and can be used by 4Ws as well as 2Ws of any brand.
Q. There are rumors about the company working on a more affordable electric scooter. Any comments on the same? Would you like Ather to be accessible to a larger set of customers by scraping some of the technology that is offered in your current range?
What we have built with the 450 – we believe that product experience will be a market expectation going forward. From the software based features, to a great handling and performance – these are practical product details that every scooter should have. I wouldn’t want to cut significantly on these across our products.
As we expand across more variants you will see more price points emerging – but that’s just a natural varianting plan. Ather will not compromise on the product experience.
Q. The Ather 450 recently received FAME-II approval, thus resulting in an increased subsidy for your customers. What are your comments on the government’s steps to promote electric mobility?
FAME II has been a massive game-changer for electric mobility. Linking battery capacity and technology to the incentives is a great move to ensure that only good-quality products qualify. The newly announced GST reduction on EVs as well as the tax exemption on financing are going to further help with customer interest and demand.
Q. You are trying to build an online community through the forums on your website. Talk to us about why this is important for Ather. Any customer inputs that you have received through the forums that have surprised you and your team?
Ather Online Forum is a community of EV enthusiasts and Ather owners who are engaged in conversations about the EV ecosystem and how Ather is contributing to the same. It’s got an amazing amount of activity and has reached a level where Ather need not step in – community is able to run it almost independently. There are threads on product reviews, charging, new feature asks (software upgrades) and even accessories – which is funny because Ather formally has no accessories. The community itself has been designing them for a while now.
Recently about 51 of our customers from this community travelled with us to launch the Chennai market. They spent two days with new potential customers educating them about the product and sharing their experience with the 450. This kind of engagement and love cannot be bought and is possibly the most valuable thing that we have today started building at Ather. This is why the community is important for us and why we care about it.
There have been several software upgrades around navigation, document upload feature, ride analytics that were originally community asks that we built in and shipped over the air in the last few months.
Q. How has the Ather Experience Centre in Bangalore performed ever since you opened its gates? Share some insights on the kind of people that visit the showroom and what is the key interest-driver for them.
We have experienced a steady increase in footfalls at the Experience Center since we opened last year in Bengaluru. We noticed that the majority of our customers fall in the age group between 25 to 35 years. While some of the earlier consumers were electric vehicle enthusiasts, we see that newer consumers booking our vehicles are being introduced to the EV category by Ather.
The key driver for most of the customers is that they are seeking an upgrade from their petrol scooters as they value the new features and the better performance offered by Ather scooters. Most of our customers buy into the brand due to a distinct design of the 450 and the new features that it offers. The performance and ride dynamics of the vehicle are another big reason that customers point out.
Q. How does Ather take care of the after sales experience for customers? Do you plan to have dedicated service centers in the future?
User experience drives everything for us and the initial response from consumers has been amazing. Since our first deliveries in September 2018, we have been learning and refining our ecosystem with the feedback and our own journey. From service to charging installations, executing test rides to customer service resolutions, subscription models based on studies conducted on consumer needs – we have fine-tuned our offering and built a strong operating procedure. We have been steadily moving most interactions for customers online – from purchase, service to insurance renewal. The idea is to move away from offline and eventually automate a lot of steps and improve the documentation and tracking for customers. In the automotive market that alone would be a massive improvement in the user experience.
We are focusing on three major touchpoints:
•Search: A collaborative and personalized retail experience along with a website offering an in-depth view of the brand and product.
•Purchase: Reducing the hassle of visiting a dealership by offering online bookings and financing options including loan and lease.
•Ownership: Subscription plans that manage the everyday use of the vehicle.
Ather One is our flagship service plan and it covers all expenses and scooter maintenance, including data charges, public fast charging, home charging expenses, and periodic servicing, including consumables and roadside assistance. The other subscription plans like Ather Connect, as the base plan is called, covers over-the-air updates, remote diagnostics, ride recommendations and onboard navigation. The Ather Service plan, is a service-focused plan, offering additional vehicle service and roadside assistance as well as all those offered in the Ather Connect plan. The Ather Charge plan is a charging-focused plan which will offer home charging and unlimited public charging on the Ather Grid network.
Our business model does not have dedicated service centers instead we provide doorstep service as well as roadside assistance in case of emergencies. We don’t have dealerships, rather an experience center where we educate as well as provide a personalised tour of the vehicle and the facility to interested customers.
Q. What, according to you, are the key selling points of the Ather 450? Why should a prospective scooter buyer look at the electric options available in the market?
The following features should be exciting for a scooter buyer
Ather 450 can go from 0 to 40 kmph in 3.9 seconds. The top speed is 80 kmph and it has one of the quickest roll-on acceleration in the entire market.
AtherGrid is India’s first ever public EV charging network. Our scooters are synced with AtherGrid locations and you can find the nearest available charging stations on the dashboard. The charging points are located at malls, gyms, cafes and tech parks and are all fast chargers.
The scooters were built with a clean design philosophy – inside and out – which is reflected in the form and structure of the vehicle. This ensures that all parts homogeneously fit with one another in the overall design. A lot of details were considered for every part and component of the vehicle like the swing arm, rearview mirrors, even the side stand.
The sporty design of the scooter reflects its performance. Everything is designed to be as light and cohesive as possible. A forward leaning stance, a kicked out rear wheel, a compact tail section reflects the initial design brief to create and design a scooter that would not be a compromise but a vehicle that will be at par or better than any petrol scooter in terms of its meticulously incorporated features.
•Connected & intelligent
The scooter has a touchscreen dashboard, onboard navigation and diagnostics. Because of GSM connectivity, the vehicle receives software updates which allows us to push in new features and functionalities. The last set of OTA updates introduced new ride modes, guide-me-home lights and improved navigation features. The Ather mobile app allows owners to monitor the charge status and the health of the vehicle remotely, they can also push locations directly from their phone to the Ather 450.