Rakesh Meladath Karunakaran and his wife Winnie Gangadharan established Meladath Auto Component, a startup based in Bengaluru, in 2016. The intention was to become an IC (Internal Combustion) engine-based technology company working on a business to business model. However, when they reached out to investors, most had just one question. ‘Why should we invest in an IC engine-based technology company when the future of automobiles is electric?’
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This question compelled the couple to think about a future beyond conventional fossil fuel-based automobiles.
And they went back to the drawing board.
“But we didn’t want to become another startup making electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers or cars because there are enough players in the market. We believe that the problem wasn’t the unavailability of product solutions, but adaptability and accessibility. We don’t have accessible technology on e-mobility platforms,” says Rakesh, speaking to The Better India.
Seeking an easier solution to address these concerns, they went about developing a retrofittable conversion kit for petrol scooters or an e-kit called the Ezee-Hybrid.
Once fitted into a petrol scooter, it would turn the vehicle into an electric hybrid scooter.
When customers transition from fossil fuel to electric, they leave behind a lot of accumulated petrol vehicles running on the road. It’s not easy to get all of them off the road. In India, the e-mobility revolution began a couple of years back. However, if you compare sales figures between IC engine vehicles and electric vehicles, electric mobility solutions lag far behind in adaption when compared to traditional petrol vehicles.
“It’s not a question of product availability. Consumers are concerned about issues like range anxiety, charging infrastructure and serviceability. How reliable is the vehicle? If it breaks down, are there facilities to ensure that a service centre nearby can fix it instantly? These are some of the basic concerns people have, before anyone buys an electric scooter. The government has been aggressively pushing FAME I and FAME II subsidy models to make electric mobility solutions attractive to adopt. The results of subsidising are yet to translate into significant sales. The problem of lesser adaptation extends far beyond the product availability and subsidy,” argues Rakesh.
“Electric mode upto 40 km and then switch to petrol”
After the Ezee Hybrid is fitted into the existing petrol scooter, it becomes an electric hybrid. This means the scooter runs on two power trains individually through a MODE Selection switch – Petrol Mode or Electric Mode. The commuter can ride his scooter on electric mode upto 40 km depending on load and speed. Once the battery runs out, they can switch to the petrol engine mode.
“When the vehicle runs on petrol mode, the battery charges by itself. In other words, it’s a free charging process without losing any real mileage in the petrol engine. This product is infrastructure-free because the battery pack can be charged by the vehicle’s own petrol engine. Moreover, this battery pack is removable and you can charge them at home with a domestic charger. It takes about 2-4 hours to charge the battery pack,” says Rakesh.
The converted scooter will carry a lithium ion battery pack with a range of 40 km and can attain top speed upto 40 kmph. If commuters want to ride faster, they can just switch to petrol mode. More importantly, Meladath wanted to ensure the product is simple in adaptation.
“One of the features of our product is that adaptation to electric does not require any modification, welding, cutting or fabrication job at all. The kit is completely retrofittable. We didn’t want to add any complications to the existing system. Our end objective is to really hit the rural markets because that’s where the real demand for scooters lie. Since our hybrid doesn’t need charging infrastructure and petrol costs are high. a customer there could be more inclined to make that switch to electric,” argues Rakesh, on the scope of this product.
To convert these vehicles, the startup wants to empower existing mechanics and technicians for deployment. They want to enable an ecosystem for micro-entrepreneurs from around the country. What about the price?
“We haven’t arrived at a decision on how much this e-kit would cost in the market. However, we have received tremendous market feedback for our product, and are thus reconfiguring our potential price. We also want to access FAME II subsidy,” he adds. They would reach out to FAME II committee for subsidy access to enable faster adoption of “Ezee Hybrid”.
Despite the progress they’ve made, the startup does need to raise additional capital and is seeking entities who are willing to invest. Their e-kit is expected to hit the market sometime in the middle of next year following extensive field trials.
“Rakesh’s idea on electro-mobility for the common man with the conversion kit for petrol scooters is an industry moving one and needs to be supported by all in the transportation ecosystem. The team deserves a good reward from the market for their innovation and I am sure it is just a matter of time when that happens,” says Dimitrov Krishnan, Vice President, India Business at VOLVO Construction Equipment India, speaking to Economic Times, who has also mentored Rakesh.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)