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Exclusive Interview with Founders of Ather Energy

Faster charging and better batteries hold the key to mass adoption of EVs says Tarun from Ather energy India

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Exclusive Interview with Founders of Ather Energy

GoEvnts/EVHUB.IN Team had a conversation with Mr. Tarun, founder of Ather Energy, the green technology company in news recently for rising external funding in electric bike segment. In this interview Tarun shares his journey so far with Ather, their startup story, about their product S340, his insights of EV market in India and many more.

Can you please share some information about your company? When and where it was started? What is the story behind its inception? What is your team size?

Ather Energy is currently designing a smart and connected electric two-wheeler for Indian market. Both me and Swapnil (cofounders) are graduates from Department of Engineering Design, IIT Madras. We started Ather in 2013 in Chennai.

While at IITM, I was associated with various product development teams and had been actively involved in the entrepreneurship eco-system (C-TIDES) at the institute. Swapnil was a part of the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) team of IIT Madras and both of us had worked on several products together. Driven by our core interest towards clean energy, we quit our jobs in the 2013 to start work on battery packs which we realized to be one of the biggest shortcomings in electric vehicles in India. Eventually, realizing that the problem isn’t just the battery pack, we were drawn to the idea of designing and building a completely new electric vehicle.

Today, Ather Energy is committed to building an uncompromising electric vehicle and seeks to lead the transition to sustainable transport in India. The team currently comprises of 55 employees (mostly in product development) who share the commitment to develop a product from the ground-up.

With your startup journey till now, how do you feel about India EV market in customer perspective, supplier ecosystem perspective and what are the gaps you find in India electric bike market ?

Indian automobile sector has certainly evolved and especially the electric vehicles market where there is a lot of interest around hybrid and electric vehicles. But to convert this interest to trust and faith, a customer has to be presented with an uncompromising vehicle that would actually be even better than any petrol two-wheeler. The real challenge is to break the existing perception of electric vehicles amongst people.

In order to identify prevailing gaps and existing outlook on electric vehicles, we spoke with close to a 100 people that included several electric vehicle users. The response we got was very encouraging as people wanted to use an electric vehicle but not something that would require an overnight charging time and still would take probably double the time to reach a destination. All and many other such aspects are taken good care of with S340. An Ather user will be up for a totally upmarket riding experience.

In terms of supplier ecosystem, the current scenario is quiet substantial not just in automotive sector but across industries. There is really no need to reinvent the chain there.

What battery technologies you are currently using in your products? What in your view point will be the right battery technology (in existing technologies) optimum for range, battery life and price and why ?

The S340 has a lithium-ion battery pack that we are designing and building in-house at Ather. Inherently, lithium ion cells can charge up several times faster than lead-acid. Add to this the fact that most Li-Ion chemistries will last more than a thousand cycles even under extreme usage and climatic conditions and that they are 3X lighter and 3X more energy dense – they are easily the best choice for any product. Their upfront cost is higher but the price differential is coming down by a fairly constant 8% annually.

I would expect the condition to remain favorable for Li-Ion for the next decade since most competing chemistries are still at a lab stage today and will take 4-5 years to mature and another couple of years to compete on price.

We all know that for survive in EV business one must be self-sufficient in research and technology development. What are your company research interests in electric vehicles perspective? Why do you choose these research interests?

As a young company among giants we believe that technology is perhaps our biggest differentiator today and will be our single largest moat and edge over the coming years. So goes without saying that we are investing every single bit of resource into technology development. Typical product development exercises force one to focus on the immediate product deliverables but Ather is trying to invest in the mid to long term also. Esp. on battery packs and drive-trains.

Additionally, as a design philosophy we believe in vertical integration. This makes it imperative for us to keep as much technology under the same roof as possible.

Currently How many electric bikes made by your company on road? What are your target geographies? How are you foreseeing the change in the sales trend in next 3 years?

Ather S340 will be our first product that will hit the market early in 2016. To begin with we are focusing on Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and maybe Pune.

The overall two-wheeler market in India is 16M strong today and is expected to grow to 32M by 2020. The electric vehicle market alone is estimated to grow to 5M by 2020 aided by government support at the national and state level. That is a $7B opportunity for EVs alone in India in the next 5 years.

How do you feel about current ecosystem in India for electric bike business? How far the government incentives are of advantage for business growth? Do you suggest the government any other types of incentives which will accelerate the EV business scene in India?

Govt. of India has revived the ‘Green Subsidy’ for electric vehicle manufacturers in the budget this year under FAME- Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles.

Broadly under it electric vehicles will be eligible for a sales incentive which OEMs can directly pass on to the customers. At the start of a technology adoption curve there is a lot of resistance from the market and the early adopters are making a lot of bets: bets on the company, on the technology and on the product experience. As a society we need alternative transportation solutions to evolve at a faster than regular rate and everything that we can do to push through the technology development and adoption phase is necessary. So from that sense the incentives will help accelerate the adoption greatly.

The most important thing that the government needs to ensure is that the incentives stay in place at least until the adoption of these technologies reaches a critical mass. The government has played with the guarantee in the past and that has hurt the market in a negative way.

Additionally, I feel that the government must create incentives for local design and manufacturing.

It would be the loss of the century if the Indian auto industry does not build the required eco-system for EVs and misses the bus this time.

World knows you were funded. This is an inspiring feat to many greenpreneurs who wants to foray into the green mobility business. Can we know little more about your journey of funding and how your team motivated the investors? What is investors perspective on EV business in India?

Post our inception in the year 2013, we first raised an amount of Rs. 45 lakhs in February 2014 from The Technology Development Board under Dept. of Science & Technology – Govt. of India, IIT Madras and Mr Srini V Srinivasan, another IIT alumni and founder of Aerospike.

In December 2014, we raised a seed round of of $1 million from Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. Recently, Tiger Global invested $12 million as part of our Series A.

We have been very fortunate in finding investors who understand product development and the importance of IP in today’s otherwise crazy startup market. It’s important to give a company like ours a few years of focused time to develop the product and mature the technology and investors play the most important role in that. Since the start our investors have completely believed in our vision and have backed us at all stages. I think our efforts with the prototypes have paid rich dividends and have converted investors at all stages the best.

While Sachin, Binny and V. Srinivasan are big believers in electric vehicles, Tiger has the vision for the entire sector. The belief is that electrification is an inevitability and hence the focus on better products and technology with Ather.

What are your future plans for Ather Energy, which you feel is going to revolutionize EV industry and how?

Further to the vehicle launch, Ather will consider getting into more vehicles and charging infrastructure in the year 2016.

We believe that faster charging and better batteries hold the key to mass adoption of EVs and would like to steer Ather into solving those in the coming years.

Currently EVHUB gets many inquiries about business opportunities in electric bikes domain , What is your suggestion to aspiring entrepreneurs who are passionate to working in electric bikes domain.

Build prototypes. If a picture is worth a thousand words then a prototype is worth a thousand power-point presentations.

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About the Author

Murali krishna, an electrical engineer by profession with technical expertise in electric vehicles and bldc motors, a passionate blogger, founder of Goevnts.com & Evhub.in. He can also be connected by Twitter and Linkedin.

His articles can be read at – click here

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