Long before electric vehicles began dominating the discourse of green urban transport solutions in India, Bengaluru-based startup Lithium Urban Technologies (Lithium), founded by Sanjay Krishnan and Ashwin Mahesh, launched a 100 per cent electric taxi fleet in 2015, starting with just 10 Mahindra e20s vehicles.
In a little over four years, their fleet has expanded to 1,100 registered electric four-wheelers operating across 9 cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi, Noida, Gurugram and Jaipur, offering cab services to more than 30 corporate clients including Credit Suisse, Barclays, Google, and McKinsey.
Conducting about 25,000 trips per day, their fleet of cabs has so far completed about 100 million electric kilometres and aided in 20,000+ MT CO2 abatement and saved 8,500,000+ litres of fuel, according to the company.
By the end of the next financial year, it will look to add another 2,000 more vehicles.
“At Lithium Urban Technologies, we provide mobility services for corporate clients to not merely fulfill their employee transport needs, but also help them meet sustainability targets without crippling their budgets. We do this by using 100 per cent electric vehicles, which is good for the environment, their users and their profitability as well since the costs are lower than employing a fleet of IC-engine or CNG vehicles,” says Vikash Mishra, head of external relations at Lithium, in a conversation with The Better India.
Revenue and Charging Models
Lithium allows clients to pay a monthly revenue per vehicle and on a per-trip basis. By understanding that the operating cost of EV is about one-fourth and one third of running a diesel or CNG vehicle respectively, Lithium runs its vehicles throughout the day over any distance their clients prefer. Mishra claims that the transportation costs for their clients have come down to as much as 15 per cent as compared to a fleet of IC-engine or CNG vehicles.
“In Delhi NCR for a 24-hour service, where we are deploying say two drivers in 12 hour shifts each, the charges can range from Rs 80,000-1,00,000 per month. On a per trip basis, it ranges from anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 800 depending on whether they are travelling within Gurugram or Gurugram to Greater Noida,” says Mishra.
Moreover, Lithium can guarantee that these charges won’t drastically change for over a period of three years unlike fossil fuel-powered vehicles that have to account for fluctuations in crude oil prices.
Besides the vehicles themselves, Lithium offers their clients the entire ecosystem required to run their fleet. They own all 1,100 vehicles, have their own drivers, in-house developed technological platform that does the routing and scheduling of trips, and provide the charging infrastructure dedicated to that particular client.
At present, they are managing about 1500 charging stations for captive use, of which 300 are fast chargers and 1200 slow chargers. Slow chargers will take around 5-6 hours to ensure 100 per cent charge, whereas fast chargers take between 70 and 80 minutes.
Lithium provides three types of charging infrastructure.
- The startup provides charging infrastructure in the campus of the company which can be used by any employee, i.e. the charging stations that they have set up at Google.
- The second type involves a tie-up with a real estate developer like Embassy, to set up charging stations on their properties. Any user or company working out of their properties can use our charging infrastructure during working hours.
- The third type is the renewable charging hubs, where Lithium has set up infrastructure on real estate it owns. The first charging hub in the country is already running in Gurugram powered by Hyderabad-based rooftop solar company Fourth Partner Energy.
“At our hub in Gurugram, we can charge 30 cars at a time. We will soon open this up to private consumers as well although for the time being it’s for our own captive use,” says Mishra.
In the next few months, they will open a charging hub in Pune, and hope to establish around 25 such installations over the next few years.
So, how does Lithium schedule trips for their clients?
Companies let the startup know in advance the different shifts within which they would like the service. Once they receive a roster of the client’s transport needs 24 hours in advance along with drop-off locations, they plan accordingly which time the employees have to be picked up, dropped and the lag time they have to charge their vehicles. Based on the roster companies give them, Lithium works on how to plan their schedule based on charging time requirements.
Meanwhile, the drivers they hire are deemed as ‘service providers’ and paid a fixed monthly salary of upto Rs 20,000 or more depending on whether they pick up more shifts.
These drivers predominantly ferry their clients in the range of EVs provided by mega vehicle manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra, but Lithium is looking to expand to the Tata Tigor amongst others. The startup wants to operate a range of EV models that offer greater choice of services to clients like employee transport needs, inter-city travel and airport drops, etc. They essentially want to expand their EV vehicle portfolio to offer a range of services.
Instead of getting into Uber of Ola-like cab services for average customers. Lithium is happy to service corporate clients for the time being. Why?
“The short answer is lack of charging infrastructure. In a B2C segment like Ola and Uber, you don’t know in advance where the user is going to start and end the trip. When vehicles have a range limitation and an extensive charging infrastructure network doesn’t exist, it’s very difficult to plan your trip in advance. That is why our focus is on a scenario where we already know where employees reside and the office is located. It’s easier to plan your trip, vehicle, driver and charging time effectively. But let’s say in the future, when cities have very dense charging infrastructure networks, then the B2C segment is worth considering,” he says.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)