Sri Harsha Vardhan Kanumalla, the CEO and founder of Uton Energia, a Hyderabad-based electric vehicle startup, makes an interesting observation. (Image above of Uton Energia’s bike called fortyfive.)
“Statistics reveal that the average distance of commute for an Indian is around 6 to 8 km [one way]. Even with such a reasonable distance, most Indians spend a significant portion of their day on the road. This is primarily because the average speed of Indian commuters is just 17 kmph. In urban dwellings, a commuter spends almost 7 to 10 per cent of their day on the road. Coupled with the rising price of fuel, it is safe to say that most people are figuratively, and literally, burning their money while they are stuck in traffic,” Harsha tells The Better India.
Responding to that requirement, Uton Energia launched its range of light-weight electrical vehicles for city commuters called fortyfive in February 2021. The EV caters to small distances and exceeds the mechanical performance of light-weight and costly aluminium-framed vehicles in the low-speed e-bike segment.
Commuters on the fortyfive don’t need a license or registration to drive this e-bike in the city, since as per regulations two-wheelers with a maximum speed of 25 kmph don’t require them. Priced at just Rs 35,000, their e-bikes are built of high carbon steel and designed to withstand a weight of 120 kgs, despite weighing only 6.8 kgs.
Last Mile Connectivity
The idea for his startup emerged from the need to fill a gap in the EV segment.
“Prior to establishing Uton Energia, I was working at a Bengaluru-based automotive startup. The office where I worked was about 6 km away from my residence. While I would use the metro train facility to reach the office, obtaining last mile transport was a challenge,” says the founder.
Harha felt that his idea for a startup could address last mile connectivity concerns in the larger transport ecosystem. And so, Uton Energia was established in January 2019. “It began with a team of three people in possession of core mechanical and electrical engineering expertise,” says Harsha.
He adds, “Working out of our establishment in Hyderabad, the development of the fortyfive e-bike took close to two years with multiple prototypes and iterations before launching it for sale in February this year. Our key focus was on commuters travelling less than 10 km to work.”
“What’s more, there is a presumption that EVs are expensive to buy and inconvenient to use because there is no EV infrastructure in place. Our line of EVs addresses both concerns — it’s priced at Rs 35,000 and offers customers on-board diagnostic systems which do away with the need for a dealership. Our components come with a two-year warranty to replace components,” he says.
This range of e-bikes comes with a removable battery, which can be charged anywhere in your office or home in less than 75 minutes. The cost of charging the battery completely is roughly about Rs 6 (less than 1 unit of electricity) and one full charge can take you 65 km.
Unlike many e-bikes, Uton Energia employs a Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor (PMSM) motor for better efficiency and a 675 WH (Watt-Hours) lithium-ion battery.
Their mid-drive motor, manufactured in India, gives more torque of about 75 Newton metres (Nm), which is both weight-centered and lowered. This allows the rider to have a better and more stable ride. Meanwhile, the 20×4 fat tires mean that commuters can navigate on any terrain. However, to get the best out of the vehicle’s suspension and the optimum acceleration, the startup recommends maintaining a constant tire pressure of 30 psi. The e-bike is completely throttle-based, which means commuters don’t need to peddle it.
Uton Energia claims that it’s the only e-bike in their segment which provides hydraulic disc brakes, while other e-bikes in their segment employ mechanical disc brakes. “With hydraulic brakes there is no brake cable involved in the process. Mechanical refers to when you pull the brake lever the brake cable is being pulled, which in turn pulls the brake calliper. This pulls the brake pads into the rim,” notes this description.
Hydraulic brakes are higher end, perform better than mechanical discs and more efficient than mechanical disc brakes so commuters need to apply less pressure at the lever for an equal level of braking power. Mechanical brakes require maintenance due to the cables stretching and the fact that the pads start to wear out. Meanwhile, both the motor controller and battery management system (BMS) of the fortyfive are connected to the startup’s in-house smartphone app, through which users receive regular updates on any potential issues that may come up.
“Our emphasis is also on how the battery and motors are behaving. For example, every component in the battery and motor are monitored through our app and potential issues with them are raised to the user on the app. Our app monitors 23 different parameters of the vehicle, particularly the battery. The app allows you to monitor the status of your vehicle — whether it is the real-time status of the motor, the health of the battery or its degradation, the distance traveled and the remaining distance you can travel without recharging. The issues raised can be largely solved remotely unless the vehicle has experienced extensive physical damage. For example, if there is 15% battery charge left, the feedback helps users adapt to the required speed that helps them cover the necessary distance,” says Harsha.
Made in India
While Uton Energia claims to manufacture its own electronic components like the BMS, it’s only 30 per cent of the components deployed on the fortyfive. The rest is sourced from Indian vendors, which are then assembled at their small production unit in Hyderabad.
Having said that, their long-term objective is to build their production capacity to such an extent that they no longer depend on third-party vendors. The startup is looking to garner investments to expand its production capacity. At present, the startup is on course to deliver its first order of 50 units of the fortyfive by the end of April 2021 to its customer. People can pre-book their fortyfive e-bike on their website.
The bootstrapped startup’s founder mentions, “Funding from the Nidhi-Prayas grant, which is issued by the Department of Science and Technology, helped the company build the vehicle’s prototype. The government grant came as a validation of the product’s potential capabilities to add value to the country’s micro-mobility space.”
“We source 95 per cent of our components from India except for lithium-ion cells and other smaller pieces which we import from China, South Korea and Japan. In the two years we spent developing the e-bike, we worked on making a product that offers greater functionality for everyday commuters and affordability. We designed the whole e-bike system accordingly. For example, if you see the basic frame structure we built, it has been designed in such a way that it requires minimal manufacturing even in comparison to a conventional e-bike. At the end of the day, it’s facets like these that allow us to offer premium features like hydraulic disc brakes, mobile app connectivity and removable batteries,” says Harsha.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)