Pawan Munjal, chairman at Hero MotoCorp, has had to field constant questions on the company’s future since it parted ways with Honda Motor Company in December 2010. He has managed to silence most queries, thanks to his company’s ability to defend market share. It’s the largest two-wheeler manufacturer in the world. As the future of electric mobility (e-mobility) knocks on the door of the Indian auto industry, Munjal, 65, tells Arindam Majumder about his future-ready plans — be it e-vehicles (EVs), ride-sharing or future technology. It has also lined up plans to inject Rs 10,000 crore in next-gen mobility solutions. Edited excerpts:
Is India ready for e-mobility?
It has already started. It will take some years for it to reach a sizeable level. The industry was being pushed to switch to EVs by 2025. What about the ecosystem? It’s not the industry alone. It’s more difficult for the components industry. There has to be skilling. There are 20 things that need to move collectively.
With your experience, how much time will you give it to mature?
Currently, we don’t have any experience in electric. I am not willing to place any timeline on that.
Your rivals Bajaj and TVS had the first step forward with e-products in the higher end of the market. What’s Hero’s plan?
I am going to take you back a few years and ask which company first revealed the intent to make an EV product. In 2012, there was no push by the government. But we started working on a hybrid scooter. Also, we have invested a lot of money into Ather Energy. Thirty-five per cent is not a small stake. We are working on EVs through research and development (R&D) and incubation. We are not in a tearing hurry. We will come out with a product which will be accepted by the market and get us the volumes. What volumes will we have with a Rs 1-lakh product? As a company, we will not restrict it to a segment. We will have an elaborate portfolio. Since it’s a niche segment, we are focusing on a product for the mass market.
You have made sizeable investment into Ather Energy. Will Ather be Hero’s platform in e-mobility?
We are already present there via the investment. It may not have the Hero branding, but it has Hero’s backing and Hero’s money. We are working on mass-market products. Today, Ather is not a mass-market product. It’s more on the premium side. So, our journeys are different.
Hero is working on a modular mobility concept. Do you plan to scale up the model and get into commercial production for your electric foray?
We have not yet looked at the commercial production concept for modular mobility. It’s still early days. One of our innovation teams has come up with the idea. We think it’s a good concept with a bright future. We have to do a lot of work on the project itself.
Will you personally incubate start-ups in the mobility space which will reap dividends?
I have been investing in start-ups. It includes companies in the mobility space as well. But that has nothing to do with the company.
As a company, you have announced an investment of Rs 10,000 crore in R&D. Will it include solutions in the alternative mobility space too?
Our engineers are working on various projects. The projects include alternative mobility, including electric.
Will ride-sharing take off in the two-wheeler segment?
Yes, it will. It’s very tough to predict the timing right now. But there is no going back — whether electric or ride-sharing. This is why we are putting our might behind it.
Will you look at different products to cater to the ride-sharing segment?
That’s something we need to evaluate. There might not be a need to have a separate line of products, but variants of those catering to the ride-sharing business.
Will you look at strategic partnerships for your future mobility journey?
We are open to all kinds of partnerships, whether it’s EV or technology or ride-sharing. Whenever there is a good match available, we will certainly evaluate.