“You have to match the convenience of the gasoline car in order for people to buy an electric car,” opined Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, the ‘Iron Man’ of the tech world.
The significance of this statement lies in the fact that it perfectly explains why electric vehicles aka EV have not yet become mainstream despite the unrelenting efforts of governments the world over.
In India, spearheading the EV revolution through technological innovation are none other than startups. Hailed as the third largest startup ecosystem in the world, India has around 5,000 to 5,200 startups, all of whom are striving to harness the power of technology to solve pressing problems in education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.
Even in the country’s electric vehicle sector, there is a growing legion of innovative, adventurous startups that are working to fight pollution from traditional vehicles by introducing futuristic, zero-emission mobility solutions. Among them are well-known EV startups like Ather Energy, ION Energy, Emflux Motors, and not so well-known names such as ATI Motors and Tork Motorcycles.
Interestingly, the EV startups has also been garnering attraction from investors in recent years, with giants such as the SoftBank Vision Fund and Finnish state-controlled energy utility Fortum actively scouring the Indian EV landscape for prospective investment in startups. Then there is billionaire Sajjan Jindal’s JSW Group, which is currently forming alliances with global companies, including China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.
Recently, in December 2017, two-wheeler maker TVS invested $700K (INR 5 Cr) in Bengaluru-based EV startup Ultraviolette Automotive for a stake of 14.78%. Earlier, in May last year, ION Energy secured funding from the founders of OMC Power, Nippo Batteries, and others. Prior to that, in October 2016, Bengaluru-based EV startup Ather Energy raised an about $27 Mn (INR 180 Cr) investment from Hero MotoCorp against 26%-30% stake.
In this article, the fourth and final in an ongoing series on electric vehicles, we at Inc42 wanted to list eight promising EV startups based in India that are currently working to strengthen the country’s electric vehicle ecosystem.
Eight Startups That Are Stepping On The Gas To Drive EV Adoption In India
Ather Energy is the brainchild of IIT graduates Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain, and is among the few EV hardware startups in India. It is a startup focused on designing and selling premium electric two-wheelers for the Indian market. In February 2016, Ather Energy launched its first smart electric scooter, the S340, at Surge Conference in Bengaluru.
Features like user profile-based sign in, onboard navigation, pre-configured drive modes like sport and economy, allow a personalised experience. Its integration with the S340 mobile app keeps the rider connected with the vehicle, helps the rider configure ride and profile preferences, and sync navigation routes remotely. Predictive analytics and aggregation of ride statistics enable customised recommendations.
Ather Energy currently has a manufacturing facility in Bengaluru. According to the website, pre-orders of the S340 scooter will open for Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune in the coming months. The product itself will only be sold through the online channel with doorstep delivery and service.
The startup originally received $70,141 (INR 45 Lakhs) from the Technology Development Board of IIT Madras’ Department of Science and Technology in 2014. Earlier in 2014, it raised $1 Mn Seed funding from Flipkart co-founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal and Raju Venkatraman of Medall Healthcare.
In May 2015, Ather secured around $12 Mn (INR 75.33 Cr) in a funding led by Tiger Global, in a bid to fuel development, testing, production and the launch of S340. A year later, in October 2016, the startup picked up another $30.6 Mn (INR 180 Cr) investment from Hero MotoCorp for 26%-30% stake.
What makes Ather Energy unique is that it is the first Indian startup to completely design and manufacture electric scooters domestically. It is also one of the most well-fund companies working in the electric vehicles space in the country, with over $43.67 Mn in its war chest from big names like Tiger Global and Hero MotoCorp. A potential unicorn, Ather’s impressive contribution to the Indian electric vehicles space also received the government’s recognition recently.
The Ather S340 is covered under the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) scheme, which promises incentives ranging from $28-$452 (INR 1,800 to 29,000) on electrically powered scooters and motorcycles.
Founded in December 2015 by BMS College of Engineering alumni Niraj Rajmohan and Narayan Subramaniam, Ultraviolette Automotive is an EV startup that primarily works on electric two-wheelers and energy infrastructure. The Bengaluru-based EV startup reported a total revenue of $5K (INR 3.21 Lakh) in the last fiscal year, shooting up from $480 (INR 31,570) in FY16.
In December 2017, Ultraviolette raked in $700K (INR 5 Cr) in funding from two-wheeler maker TVS Motor Company. In exchange for the investment, TVS acquired a 14.78% stake in the startup. Prior to that, it was running as a bootstrapped startup, with a self-funded capital of $77.5K (INR 50 Lakh).
Big players in the automobile sector like TVS, Ford, Honda, and many more are set to launch their own EV models in 2018, in line with the government’s electric mobility initiative. However, except for Tata Motors and Hero, most of these established homegrown automakers haven’t made any substantial investment to either build a robust EV manufacturing ecosystem or to facilitate any fundamental research.
Battery production is another area that India currently lagging behind. Backed by TVS, Ultraviolette is working to ensure faster adoption of electric vehicles by making battery-powered electric motorcycles available to Indian consumers.
The startup aims to build an ecosystem that addresses the transportation needs of an urban environment by designing and developing electric motorcycles and battery packs with a modern premium look.
Based in Mumbai, ION Energy is an energy storage startup that is working to build a layer of infrastructure to enable faster adoption of high power electric vehicles in India. The company is in the business of high-performing batteries and electric vehicles, explained founder and CEO Akhil Aryan during a recent interaction with Inc42.
ION Energy currently leverages deep proprietary technology that combines its strengths in design, electromechanics, and battery management systems, and software.
Apart from deploying its own systems and infrastructure, ION Energy will license a chemistry-agnostic and extensively cascadable architecture that enables rapid product development for customers that demand high-quality battery systems.
Over the past two years, the team has developed a power source that is based on more efficient and eco-friendly lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, it has designed a custom proprietary battery management system, which is connected to every single cell of the battery pack. The technology measures current, voltage and temperature on a real-time basis, and balances the entire battery, thereby increasing the life of the battery.
In May 2017, the startup reportedly raised an undisclosed amount in angel funding from a clutch of investors, including Sushil Jiwarajka, chairman of OMC Power and founder of Nippo Batteries; Aakrit Vaish and Swapan Rajdev, the founders of Haptik. Executives from Times Internet, Dentsu Aegis, Salesforce, and Credit Suisse also participated in the round. The fundraise was reportedly utilised towards product development and bringing the technology closer to mass manufacturing.
According to the company’s official statement, ION Energy is currently planning to raise Series A funding later this year. More recently, in February 2018, the startup announced the acquisition of French battery management company Freemens SAS, as part of a cash-and-equity deal. The acquisition, according to Aryan, was in line with the energy storage company’s aim to expand its portfolio of customers across India, the US, and other parts of EU.
In India, startups like ION Energy are striving to reduce dependence on petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. By focussing on building affordable lithium-ion batteries, ION Energy is also actively taking part in the Indian government’s electric mobility mission.
Touted as the country’s first electric superbike maker, Bengaluru-based Emflux Motors was founded in July 2016 by ex-Jugnoo executives Varun Mittal, Ankit Khatry, and former designer at TVS Motors Vinay Raj Somashekar. The startup is registered with Startup India and has received a small grant from PRAYAS for developing its technology for the EV charger circuit.
At the recently-held Auto Expo 2018, Emflux Motors showcased EMFLUX ONE, the first model of its electric superbike. The superbike is equipped with the company’s proprietary Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), master controller, and a complete in-house drivetrain technology, which includes motor, motor controller, battery pack, battery management system (BMS), and charger circuit.
Speaking to Inc42, Ankit said, “We will extensively test EMFLUX ONE using both software simulations and real-world testing for 100K kms. We will also be working with some professionals to verify our test results.”
With the goal of making EMFLUX ONE available to the public by the beginning of 2019, Emflux Motors is currently working on a top-down model approach for its electric superbike. According to the founders, the long-term mission is to deploy 10 Mn electric two-wheelers in India by 2027 with its two-pronged market focus.
The startup was initially bootstrapped with capital raised from the co-founders, friends, and family, followed by a round from some serial entrepreneurs including Samar Singla (co-founder of Jugnoo and Click Labs). It is now looking to close another funding round from its existing investors, Brian Fabian, and others.
Twenty Two Motors
As one of the 12 startups that got the opportunity to showcase at this year’s Auto Expo, Twenty Two Motors is clearly one of the torchbearers in the Indian electric vehicle industry. Founded in August 2016 by Parveen Kharb and Vijay Chandrawat, Twenty Two Motors is a Gurugram-headquartered smart scooter startup that aims to make cutting edge EV (electric vehicle) technology affordable for the current generation.
A user-centric mobile application provides a touch solution to all aspects of the vehicle, while geo-fencing allows security against theft. Geo-fencing alerts the owner once the vehicle is beyond the defined geographical boundaries.
Talking at the auto show in February, Vijay Chandrawat COO and co-founder of Twenty Two Motors said, “We are the only company in the world to provide matchless features such as state-of-art sensors, smart features, lithium-ion storage, and the Internet of Things.”
Earlier in April 2017, Twenty Two Motors raised $1.6 Mn in a Pre-Series A round of funding, led by Ishwar Singh, CEO, Haryana Industries. Farhaan Shabbir, former director of Harley-Davidson also joined the investment round.
The company plans to sell more than 200K units over the next coming three years. Also, it will launch its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bhiwadi, Haryana, that will be operational by Q2 2018. Twenty Two Motors plans to roll out 50,000 vehicles per year with an investment of about $ 70 Mn over a period of two-and-a-half years.
A 50:50 joint venture between Virya Mobility 5.0 and SUN New Energy Systems, SUN Mobility is an EV company led by Reva Electric founder Chetan Maini and Uday Khemka, vice-chairman of SUN. Based out of Bengaluru, it is striving to accelerate mass EV adoption and usage by serving as a universal energy infrastructure and services provider.
SUN Mobility plans to revolutionise the transportation sector by deploying a unique open-architecture ecosystem built around a network of quick interchange battery stations. These stations, predominantly powered by renewable energy, will refuel electric vehicles at a cost lower than and a speed faster than conventional petrol pumps. As claimed by the company’s spokesperson, SUN Mobility’s quick interchange stations are easy to install, require limited space, and work on a pay-as-you-go model. They can also be tracked by a smart network.
In July 2017, SUN Mobility entered into a strategic alliance with Ashok Leyland in the area of mass electric mobility. The partnership is geared towards creating an integrated ecosystem comprising Ashok Leyland’s electric vehicles and SUN Mobility’s proprietary battery technology, along with a network of quick interchange battery stations.
To expedite the establishment of these stations, the startup is also looking to partner with multiple OEMs that can integrate SUN Mobility’s battery solution into a range of innovative electric vehicles — cars, buses, rickshaws, scooters etc. The smart batteries are modular, easily swappable, highly secure, and IoT enabled.
Led by industry veterans like Maini, the startup is taking a rather innovative route to accelerating the transformation of mobility towards sustainable, eco-friendly solutions by providing a complete smart energy infrastructure integrated with electric vehicles, smart batteries and clean energy.
With Ola founders Bhavish Agarwal and Ankit Bhati and CoCubes COE Harpreet Grover as backers, Tork Motorcycles is one Indian EV startup that has received a lot of good press since its inception in 2010. Founded by mechanical engineer Kapil Shelke, the company has so far designed, developed, and produced five electric motorcycles, applying Shelke’s learning from motorsport into practical and reliable electric mobility solutions.
Tork’s first electric motorcycle is named T6X. It has IPR over its battery management system, control systems, motor tuning, drivetrain, and overall product integration. The motorcycle is designed to enable a significant reduction in the overall cost of operation.
The company has secured a total of $746K (INR 4.8 Cr) till date. Originally, in 2016, the Pune-based electric bike startup raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding from the Ola founders and a group of angels led by Harpreet Grover, co-founder and CEO of CoCubes. Recently, in February 2018, reports surfaced that Tork Motorcycles received $194K (INR 1.25 Cr) from founder Kapil and the Ola founders.
Around the same time as its last fundraise, sources said that auto component maker Bharat Forge Ltd (BFL) was looking to take 45% stake in Tork Motorcycles for a cash value of $4.5 Mn (INR 30 Cr). The investment was to be completed in three tranches over the next two years, raising the startup’s valuation to about $10 Mn (INR 67 Cr), the report stated.
Based out of Bengaluru, ATI Motors is quite possibly the oddest, yet most inspiring startup in this list. Started last year, the company’s founding team comprises 16-year-old child prodigy Saad Nasser, 52-year-old former IISc professor of computer science Dr V Vinay, and Saurabh Chandra.
The startup is building an autonomous electrically powered cargo vehicle from scratch that is controlled using algorithms. The vehicle has a tadpole configuration, with two wheels in the front and one at the back. It comes without a steering, relying on its unique configuration to make turns and rotate full circle at one place.
Equipped with a number of smart sensors, along with Lidar, radar, and four cameras, it runs on a battery system built in-house, which, incidentally, can provide refrigeration during transport. Thanks to its lightweight design, the electric cargo vehicle can achieve a range of up to 200 km, even with a payload of 500 kg.
The loading area will also allow snap-on custom modules — such as storage with a lock, refrigerator, garbage compactor, or even thermal imaging cameras — for security or inspections. Although primarily a cargo vehicle, it can double as a mobile autonomous platform. Scheduled for beta testing in 2018, the design for prototype one is nearing completion, announced Saurabh recently on his Medium page.
With so many innovative startups driving innovation across all aspects of the electric vehicle ecosystem — from designing futuristic, zero-emission EVs and ebikes, sustainable batteries and charging infrastructure — to enable faster adoption of high power electric vehicles in India, the Indian government may just be able to get closer to its now-abandoned vision of making India a fully EV nation by 2030. All the government needs to do is support these startups by taking a clear stand on an EV policy and clearing the hurdles for the EV revolution.
This article is part of a series dedicated to the analysis of the electric vehicle landscape in India. In the previous articles, we delved deeper, focussing on the initiatives launched by the Indian government as well as established corporates and startups to bolster the country’s EV market.