It has been three-and-a-half years since Chetan Maini, who gave India’s first mass-produced electric car Reva (now owned by Mahindra), started SUN Mobility, a firm engaged in providing energy infrastructure and services for electric vehicles. Over the past three years, his company has developed smart batteries to power vehicles, and a unique battery swapping concept.
The co-founder and Vice Chairman of SUN Mobility spoke to T E Narasimhan on how the pandemic and government initiatives are impacting EV adoption, about his partnerships with 10 OEMs, including the recent acquisition of a minority stake in Bosch. Excerpts:
How is Covid going to impact EV adoption?
It's a fact that companies--OEMs, tier-I and infrastructure--have slowed down investments slightly as their sales have decelerated too. That said, green shoots are emerging due to the push by the government, B2B players adoption, and an increasing number of partnerships, all of which will help boost EV adoption.
E-commerce companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, BigBasket and others have publicly announced that they are going to increase focus on EVs and are aggressively pursuing phased plans as well.
The government on its part has made important announcements amid the pandemic. The most recent is the one by the MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport & Highways) under which vehicles can be sold without batteries, along with a note on energy for charging infrastructure.
You said a level-playing field is needed in GST. What are the other issues impacting EV adoption?
The GST on a battery is 18 per cent, but for an EV it is five per cent. GST for chargers is five per cent, but charging or swapping it is 18 per cent. GST should be uniform at five per cent. The government recognises it, and just needs to implement it. Another issue is while policies are announced, we need operating on guidelines and mechanisms.
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In this backdrop where do you see demand coming from then?
Demand for deliveries is high, tenders for buses have started coming in. Two-wheelers started gaining momentum, while cars will be slower, but there will be lots of products and options for the customers.
In deliveries--three- and two-wheelers–-companies are planning to have EVs make up 30-40 per cent of their fleets.
Q. It has been three-and-a-half years since you started SUN Mobility. How has been the journey so far?
Our focus is on two-wheelers, three-wheelers and buses, which account for 81 per cent of automobile volumes in the country.
The company has developed smart batteries, quick interchange stations, smart networks and plug-n-play docks. We have developed technology and piloted it successfully, and have entered into partnership with nearly 10 OEMs to scale business. We've set up in-house manufacturing for the battery system. Except for cells, we have indigenised everything.
Till date, our solution has powered 2.3 million emission-free km across e-three-Wheelers and buses and enabled over 160,000 trips. In the next 3-5 years we want atleast one million vehicles on our platform. We'd want to grow from 20 cities to 30-40 cities. We would have far more OEMs platforms. Today we are working with 10 OEMs, and will look at expanding to 30-40.
We aim to have 1,000 vehicles on the road and get into certain other segments including B2C, which is our focus.
How will the recent partnerships with Bosch and IOC help?
Bosch has a long-term vision and the technology. We get access to technology and resources. It also allows us to expand our network and look at global markets, where our long-term strategy is to expand our footprint.
The partnership with IOC is to set up battery-swapping stations at the latter’s fuel pumps to provide instant swapping services to EV owners. The plan includes gradually scaling it up to 20 fuel pumps and adding new cities.
Do you have any plans to raise further capital?
We continue to look for capital since we are a technology based company and need to invest a lot. We are looking at long-term financial partners, since its like an investor-driven project. We would be looking to raise equity at the asset and technology level.