How long do you think have electric cars been in existence? Five years? Ten years? Try 185 years! Yes, the existence of electric vehicles predates that of the gasoline-powered vehicle by almost 80 years.
Between 1832 and 1839, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invented the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. After that, the first mass-produced electric vehicles appeared in America in the early 1900s.
Soon, due to limitations such as primitive battery life, rechargeability and usage, gasoline-powered gas overtook the market as the people’s go-to choice.
Electric vehicles during the mid 19th century to the end persisted very bleakly. That was until the 90s.
Major brands like GM, Toyota and Nissan, started making electric vehicles, and they soon became popular. Movie stars to everyday people began to prefer the electric vehicle.
The trend lived up to its hype. To a degree, the EVs made many people environmentally conscious as well.
But the trend soon saw its downfall. In the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Director Chris Paine explores the reasons behind the EV’s demise. From batteries of that age to the role of the government, the documentary delivers some harsh truths about why the electric vehicles lost its hold.
India is not new to the EV game. It has seen EVs since the 2000s with the Mahindra Reva selling over 4,000 of its electric vehicles worldwide by 2011.
Electric bikes and scooters were also produced to satisfy the Indian market. But the EV game never really took off in India.
For example, in 2016, the sale of electric and hybrid cars contributed to only a small fraction (about 22,000 units) of the three million passenger vehicles sold in India.
The major concern of EVs in the country was the following – infrastructure, parts and design.
Bringing a significant change to EVs by tackling all of the above concerns in a very creative manner is a Bengaluru startup– Ather Energy.
Ather Energy is an electric vehicle company founded in 2013 by IIT graduates Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain.
Speaking to The Better India, Tarun recalls the journey of their startup. “In early 2015, we were a group of 12 talented and young people, working together to build Ather.”
Unlike any other electric vehicle company, Ather had their priorities sorted: Delivering high-performance electric vehicles that were affordable for the Indian consumers.
Doing this wouldn’t be easy, they knew. “With over 55 prototypes, 50,000 kms on road testing and with over a million manhours, we had finally achieved what we had started– a great electric vehicle that India needed,” says Tarun.
They have two main products currently–the Ather 340 and the Ather 450. Both filled with tons of specifications that would leave any technological-savvy consumer satisfied.
But what makes Ather stand out? What is Ather doing differently from other EV makers?
The Charging Infrastructure
One of the main challenges of EVs in India is the charging infrastructure. Take the case of Ola’s electric vehicle pilot.
Ola launched the electric vehicle pilot in Nagpur, in 2016. By 2018, they had to shut down the project even though it had an investment of eight million dollars. One of the reasons: lack of charging points.
This has led the public to become sceptical about the electric vehicle environment ever taking off.
Ather cleverly bypassed the challenge by building AtherGrid– a series of public electric charging stations in Bengaluru, way before the release of the product. It also delivers a charge of 1km/1min with remote monitoring of charge via the Ather app.
This reassures any customer that the company is committed to the EV ecosystem. And along with the purchase of the scooter, Ather will build a charging station right in your home so that you don’t have to worry about it not being charged every morning.
Tarun shares, “The AtherGrid is a boost to the electric infrastructure in India and what’s more, it is open for all-electric vehicles.” And not only that, Ather also provides you with an emergency charger which connects to any 3-pin outlet to charge at normal speeds.
Tarun also added that the AtherGrid would be continuously expand to meet the demands of the customers not only geographically, but also by features.
Parts and Service
EVs have not seen much mileage in the Indian market, and this makes it harder to acquire spare parts. This is also a concern for customers when it comes to buying EVs, let alone any other vehicle.
The Ather 340 and the Ather 450 will have no trouble in this, assures Tarun. “Almost all parts of the scooter are indigenously made and procured from local manufacturers, meaning we will have spare parts whenever necessary.”
Tarun says that only the main motor of the scooter is imported while most of it is assembled here with trained technicians.
And this where Ather’s service also comes into play. Tarun informs, “With Ather One subscription, customers get periodic maintenance with costs for labour and parts covered under the plan.”
Ather One is a subscription that you buy along with the scooter. It gives you unlimited free charging and even pays for the electricity consumed by your scooter at your home. Along with that, you also get a 24×7 roadside assistance.
The availability of parts and services instantly becomes a major plus point for most Indian customers. Couple that with other advantages, people sure ought to be considering EVs as a serious option.
Most EVs have a bad design. Let’s just get that over with. From Reva looking like a deformed sponge to electric scooters that look way too puny, EVs suffer from a lack of attractive design.
And it has become very natural for customers to give equal importance to how a vehicle looks as to how it performs.
“EVs are the future of vehicles, and that’s the design we wanted to give– Futuristic! We wanted it to look cool, and now it does,” says Tarun.
Ather is a testament to how futuristic design is an eye pleaser. The bold lines, the eye-catching shape and its minimalistic design, are sure to turn heads no matter which road you are on.
Along with the design, it seamlessly integrates better features. From the interactive touch-screen dashboard to an ever-upgrading software connected to a 3G system, both the Ather 340 and the Ather 450 not only look stunning but deliver on technological specifications.
Setting The Trend
When asked if the Ather 340 and the 450 will bring about a change in the EV market in India, Tarun said, “Yes, of that I am sure. It’s time that India moves to a cleaner form of transportation, not just for the sake of the environment but also for better modes of transportation.”
If that happens, would it not bring in more competition for the Ather? Tarun answers, “That would be a good thing, it would mean more options for customers in the EV range, and ultimately an even-playing field.”
But as of now, the playing field of the electric vehicle is almost non-existent. And with a starting price of about Rs 1.1 Lakh for the Ather 340, how is Ather competing with other automobile industries?
To this, Tarun offers a comparison, “Let’s take an average 110 cc scooter priced at Rs 70,000. This amount does not include insurance, petrol, taxes or services. Whereas, the Ather 340 and the Ather 450 come with insurance and GST included, with the lowest interest rate. Plus, you get free unlimited charging for the first year. In the long run, it is not only good for your wallet but also for the environment.”
And it doesn’t end there. The government scheme–Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) provides a subsidy of Rs 22,000 which is also included in the final price.
Ather is ticking off all the hallmarks of an awesome product, from the features, the design to the service and support. It is setting the trend of EVs in India, and it is the start that India needs for the electric ecosystem to pick up its pace.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)