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“The future of mobility is electric and connected”
The e-2W space in India is coming into its own. It is perhaps the fastest transitioning segment of the e-mobility sector. Well set in the race is Ather Energy, an electric vehicle company with two e-scooters in the market, one of which - 450X, was recently launched. Ashok Thakur, Chief Editor, ETN finds out what the young and dynamic duo of Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain (founders of Ather) have to say about the buzz around e-mobility and its future.
Left to Right: Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain at the launch of Ather 450x
Ather manufacturing facility
Q: Things seem to be going well for the 2W EV sector – competition, govt support, infrastructure, awareness – all seem to be moving in the same direction… when and what do you think would be the turning point?
A: Yes, things will fall into place progressively is what have been experiencing from the time we started. We now have more competitors, more products, which is a great move to the future. We have always believed the turning point will be when the market has good quality products; everything else will follow. This has also been Ather's philosophy.Enter your text here ...
Q: Your take on govt initiatives towards making components in India to facilitate EV manufacturing, and encourage EV ownership. Realistically, how long do you think it will take?
A: Last year saw the government adopt policies and introduce measures to accelerate EV adoption in the country. From policies like Fame 2 to GST and the IT benefits, 2019 was a year of great strides being made towards an electric future.
All these initiatives have overall increased the conversation around EVs as well as the purchase preference among scooter buyers. We have also seen the demand remain constant across markets we operate in. This positive consumer sentiment is facilitated in a large part due to the initiatives introduced over the year and we are expecting an increased demand of high performance EVs this year.
Q: As a manufacturer and a start-up, what according to you are the hurdles that need to be addressed to make the electric transition smooth?
A: We started in 2013 with the belief that the future of mobility is electric and connected. We wanted to build a product line that is differentiated in design as well as the ownership experience. Since then we have launched in two markets and have been able to significantly address manufacturing and supply related issues.
When we started off, the challenges we faced revolved majorly around the absence of a vendor base to help with building the vehicle or the components that went in. Delivery timelines were affected most by this. This led to us developing in-house capabilities, and today the majority of the components that go on the vehicle are designed by us. With the opening of a new manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu, we will be ramping up production and aiming to cut down on delivery time. This also gives us the ability to launch in new cities and expand our footprint.
Q: Apart from the price, what are the other deciding factors for a buyer?
A: Through our interaction with customers over the year, we observed that though price is a deciding factor on many occasions, the average Indian consumer today is willing to pay more for better performance and service. We have received positive responses from our customers for the after sales service and the unmatched performance of the product.
We believe that customers today are demanding better products with improved features and willing to pay for products that provide the value for the money spent.
Q: How important do you think having the technology edge is, to score over conventional vehicles?
A: At Ather, technology drives all manner of product development. Technology has helped us in understanding exactly what the customer needs enabling us to develop features based on customer preferences. This gives us an edge over other conventional vehicles and paves way for vehicles that are not just a mode of commute, but a platform for future mobility products and services with connected, intelligent features.
Q: Why the nomenclature 'experience center' for a showroom? How is it different? How many exist, how many are planned for this year?
A: Ather Space is a narrative based experience center. The company's product line is the first in its category in terms of the features and technology and these products required a space that would allow prospective customers or enthusiasts to come and 'experience' the vehicle.
Ather Space is built on a design studio theme. The space reflects the clean, purposeful, transparent philosophy of the brand. We believe in delivering a personalised experience to the customers. The experience center is not a point of sale to the customers but a place to educate them about EVs by allowing them to experience the vehicle.
The experience centre, Ather Space, is located in Indiranagar, Bengaluru and Wallace Garden in Chennai. Ather recently announced plans to collaborate with partners to open dealerships across the country. The response has been very positive, and we will be opening in ten major cities across the country by the end of the year.
Q: It's not only your EV, but the usage choices (like subscription packages and leasing option) you've built around it that seem interesting, tell us some more about this.
A: Ather has designed new innovative ways to disrupt the industry using technology to provide a delightful experience to our customers. Right from the pre-order to post-purchase the whole process is made hassle-free using technology. Ather has built an ecosystem of differentiated experience introducing the first of its kind business models in the 2W industry, - starting with Ather One subscription plan, the leasing plan, experience centres, the doorstep service model, customer support, consumer experience and the after sales service.
Having partnered with Hero Fincorp for loans, Autovert for leasing and four subscription plans, we are providing the customers a variety of ownership models. This is a first of its kind ownership model in the country.
With the launch of the 450X we have released two variants in the form of two performance packs: Plus and Pro. Owners can switch between the packs at their convenience. Each pack offers a variety of smart and connected features and ride capabilities. Customers also receive free battery replacement in the event of battery degradation, ensuring consistent performance throughout the registered life of the scooter.
Q: Fill us in on the progress on the Ather Grid and Ather Dot front.
A: As we are expanding across cities in India, we are also installing the Ather Grid charging points across cities as well. We have set up more than 53 CI points in Chennai and Bangalore. We continue to set up Ather Dot at the residences of consumers. Home charging being the preferred method to charge has been the most successful method till date.
Q: How has the infusion of funding impacted your growth plans? Which area are the funds being focused on and why?
A: We have been fortunate to have credible brands and venture partners as part of our growth journey. Funding from investors not only reaffirms our belief in the product but it also shows their support to our vision of an electric future. The funds raised will be majorly used in expanding the footprint by starting deliveries across the country and launching new models.
Q: A new manufacturing plant, launch of 450x, more experience centers; what else on the Ather horizon?
A: Now, we are focusing on the things we have on our plate, but definitely we will announce our future plans in terms of products and expansions soon.
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