Meet 23-year-old Guhan RP, the co-founder of Coimbatore-based Gugu Energy, an electric vehicle technology startup along the lines of Tesla Energy.
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“I was in my second year of engineering when I watched a Tesla video along with my friends, and it inspired us deeply. So, in 2015, we started building an electric car out of my parents’ garage. However, that initial spark of enthusiasm soon dissipated upon realising the cost of building one. But my passion never wavered, and instead focussed on building an electric two-wheeler,” says Guhan, speaking to The Better India.
Two years later, Guhan reached out to Kannan A, a Coimbatore-based industrialist and early-stage investor on LinkedIn, among other angel investors. Impressed by Guhan’s vision, Kannan soon joined hands and co-founded Gugu Energy. He also pitched in with seed capital of $250,000. Subsequently, they even got a CEO of Dubai-based private oil and gas corporation onboard who invested $500,000.
Today, the startup is making significant strides in battery technology, developing their R-SUV, which is a cross between a scooter and a motorcycle, and have a moped named Gugu, which is already in pre-production stage at their in-house R&D centre in Coimbatore.
With a top speed between 45 and 50 km, which is ideal for mobility in urban settings, the Gugu moped will come in two variants—the standard one, with a battery range of 80 km, and the long-range one going up to 180 km.
It will receive approval from the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) in three months, and be ready for launch in eight.
Equipped with remote diagnostics, advanced connectivity with smartphones, effective battery management system, cooling systems, and on-board chargers, the lightweight moped is seemingly ideal not just for personal mobility, but for bike-sharing companies and entities dealing with food delivery, courier services, etc.
Another exciting aspect is that the consumer can acquire the moped based on a subscription model.
“You pay a refundable deposit of Rs 20,000, and the subscription model will take care of service, maintenance and the vehicle, with the customer paying Rs 2,000 per month for a minimum retention period of 15 months. After 15 months if you don’t like the vehicle you can unsubscribe to our service and receive the Rs 20,000 alongside interest,” informs Guhan.
“The essential technology used in the moped and the R-SUV will be the same, but will differ in terms of form factor (complete design),” he adds.
Underpinning both the moped and R-SUV is the Gugu Energy-designed, first-of-its-kind lithium nickel battery unit that can supercharge a two-wheeler from 0-80 per cent in under 30 minutes, and offer a range of up to 100 km.
“The life of the battery pack will be 80,000 km or 1100 charge cycles which is will be more than six years of usage, and after 1200 cycles, the battery degradation will be 85 per cent. If the vehicle gives an average of 70km/charge, after 1200 cycles it will give about 55-60, which is 20 per cent less performance. So the battery will be good to last over a vehicle’s run time. But in the near future, Gugu will try to increase cycle life to more than 1500+ charge cycles which can eliminate battery life anxiety…,” said Guhan to the Financial Express.
Elaborating on this to TBI, Guhan said, “We have already crossed 20 patents with our battery pack manufacturing efforts. Our objective is to enhance the life-span of these batteries and make them water and fireproof, although battery swapping technology will not be available. You can charge these batteries at home or your office. Moreover, Gugu will try to increase the charge cycle to more than 1500.”
Conventional lithium-ion batteries have charge cycles ranging from 600-800, which is a maximum of three years.
“We are trying to increase it to five years and reduce the battery cell costs for 1KWh to $170-200. The standard in the market $200-250 from Panasonic to various Chinese manufacturers. We are currently at $185,” he quips.
To accelerate the development of the EV sector, you need low-cost batteries and institute the sort of core innovations Gugu is currently pursuing.
Several companies use lead-acid batteries, and there are different types of lithium batteries, like the lithium-ion or lithium ferro phosphate. Gugu’s focus is on how to improve the charge cycle of the battery, reduce the cost and automate the production process. Their focus firstly is on reducing the cost.
“We are eliminating cobalt content, the single biggest contributor to cost in battery pack manufacturing. It plays a key role in the thermal management system of the battery. Instead, we are increasing the nickel content and decreasing cobalt to about less than 5%. Another critical area of focus is safety, making it both water and fireproof,” says Guhan.
With these innovations in play, entities like Gugu could very well change the game for the electric two-wheeler sector and help India transition away from fossil fuels.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)