Shared mobility is likely to be the early adopters of electric mobility in India. With the focus on cost of operation and higher utilisation of fleet, taxis and cabs stand to gain much more by running their fleet on electricity than imported fossil fuels petrol or diesel. Even though cost of electric cars remains high and the options limited, new age mobility firms and startups have already started to line up investments in this area. Anand Shah, co founder of Ola Electric and senior Vice President at Ola shares his firm's e-mobility plans with Business Today.
Business Today: What is Ola Mobility's future strategy on creating charging infrastructure for electrical vehicles? How much, how many and what type of charging stations has it set up so far and what is the future roadmap?
Anand Shah: Right now, we are focussed on co-creating infrastructure to match the scale of vehicles that we want to deploy. We have been running several pilots with different types of electric vehicles, various charging solutions, and are working with several OEMs to develop seamless ways to ease operations of EVs.
One of the models that we are testing includes battery swapping, which seems promising because it lets OEMs supply vehicles without the expensive battery. It solves convenience problems for customers without having to over-spec vehicles with expensive batteries.
We are running large pilots in various cities for two and three wheelers to get a strong understanding of how to make this work at scale.
BT: Along-with the cost of batteries, are the cost of charging equipment also expected to come down in future? If so, by how much?
Shah: There is also a long way to go for battery advancement. Cost is not the only factor, batteries are complex, they have varying life spans depending on chemistry and form factor. Their performance is linked with the climate and environment. It is hard to predict specific amounts on charging infrastructure, but like most electronics/electrical components, economies of scale make things more affordable. Charging equipment doesn't have many fundamental new components and should not be a significant impediment to growth of the sector, but things such as charging speed, battery chemistry, density and availability of charging points will matter if EVs are ever going to rival the ease and freedom of conventional vehicles. No one has answers to all of these challenges yet.
BT: How many operational and in-operational electric cabs does Ola have in its fleet right now? Is lack of options in terms of models - only e-Verito, e2O plus and e-Tigor are available in 4 wheelers right now - a hindrance to the company's plans?
Shah: Through our pilots and fleet we have over a thousand EVs operating and we are intensely working on getting more vehicles on the road. As more OEMs introduce more products, they will get cheaper and better. Many companies like ours will look at them seriously. However, we are currently more focussed on enabling infrastructure that will let scale to be practical. This is in line with our plan to deploy a million battery-powered vehicles by 2022.
BT: Is Ola in talks to set up the infrastructure with public and private sector utilities and oil marketing companies as well?
Shah: We have been partnering with government stakeholders, energy companies, industry experts, scooter and e-rickshaw makers and various partners to understand how products and charging mechanisms can solve the needs of users. Our experiments are focussed on making electric vehicles a rational and financial alternative. We are willing to work with any complementary partners who have shared interests.
BT: What is your assessment of the kind of charging infrastructure needed - split between fast and slow chargers and battery swapping technology, if India has to achieve targets of full electrification for three wheelers, two wheelers by 2023 and 2025, plus partial transition in four wheelers by 2030?
Shah: The Nagpur project and current pilots have enabled us to get an operational understanding of running electric fleets. Our analysis has suggested that two and three-wheeler users are most adaptive to the speed of infrastructure - there are applications for slow charging, fast charging, and swapping. There is no need for a single solution for everyone - charging can be as ubiquitous as electricity for small vehicles. However, for heavy users and available battery technology, battery swapping innovations should be encouraged to flourish because they eliminate wait time, optimise land resources and require smaller batteries.
BT: What percentage of its personal transport business will be accounted for by its electric vehicle fleet - including two, three and four wheelers, by 2025?
Shah: Within the Ola ecosystem, we own several vehicles as part of Ola Fleet Technologies. Our mission to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2022 shows our intention of moving towards cleaner alternatives. In the next three to four years, we will continue to introduce electric vehicles in a planned and phased manner with a focus on two and three wheelers, given their viability and working to introduce 10,000 electric vehicles by 2020.
BT: What is the kind of investment that Ola has earmarked in the overall electric vehicle space over the next decade or so?
Shah: Ola Electric is backed by Ola's early investors such as Tiger Global and Matrix India alongside key veterans including Ratan Tata and Arun Sarin. As of now, we are focused on research and development, scaling up and delivering the right set of solutions to suit the Indian context.
BT: In your view how much cheaper is it to run an electric car as a cab vis a vis petrol, CNG or diesel vehicle?
Shah: An electric vehicle can be cheaper to operate, on a per kilometer basis, especially on the two and three-wheeler format, than petrol by far. For instance, TCO (total cost of ownership) of electric two and three wheelers can be reduced by up to 40% compared to ICE counterparts, in today's conditions.
BT: What are the key major challenges and pain points that need to be urgently addressed before electric mobility can take off in earnest in India?
Shah: We need to add the capacity to build EV specific components in India to the already flourishing automotive sector, including batteries and power train products. Access to energy - whether charging or swapping - needs to be as convenient as fossil fuels are today, and we need to encourage Indian innovation to find business solutions to do this. We need to target early demand for EVs with the customer segments who most benefit from the advantages of electric mobility.