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"India is well positioned to become one of the leaders in EVs in the world"

Mr Mahesh Babu, CEO, Mahindra Electric

Sep 12, 2017 12:48

Mahindra is already a force to reckon with in the automobile industry. Keeping pace with the changing trends, the company is making strong headway in the electric vehicle segment. Mr Mahesh Babu, CEO, Mahindra Electric shares his perspective on the current standing and future plans of the company in an exclusive interaction with IBEF. Edited excerpts:

What has the Indian consumer’s reaction to Mahindra Electric’s vehicles been like? What lessons has the company learned?

Mahindra entered the electric vehicle (EV) space in India 7 years ago, and since then our journey has been a very exciting one. We have used the technical expertise of Mahindra Electric, with the deep customer insight of Mahindra and Mahindra, to launch products which suit the Indian market conditions.

Over the years, our vehicles have driven millions of kilometres, the data from which we have used to improve the technology further. In a sense, this is a collective learning along with our customers—the pioneers of EVs in India. For example, we realised that ‘range anxiety’ is something that customers struggle with. To address this concern, our upcoming strategy, EV 2.0, consists of products with 200-350 km range. Charging infrastructure is another area of concern, and while conversations have begun to establish the infrastructure, we ensure that all our products are easily chargeable at home through any regular 16 amp socket easily available. Our customers truly have been a very strong pillar of support and have motivated us to keep improving.

Except retail customers, our commercial and fleet partners have also played an important role in our journey so far. Working with them has helped us prove the business case of choosing EVs for fleet and logistics segment. And now, we are happy to see that EV adoption is steadily increasing across the various segments that we currently offer products in.

Based our learning through the years, we announced our detailed future roadmap: EV 2.0. This strategy has been crafted to increase adoption of EVs in India exponentially.

Do you think competition in the e-vehicle sector will drive it forward?

The ecosystem that is required to bring about a complete transformation of the mobility scenario of India needs multiple stakeholders working together. This includes the Government, customers, organisations to set up charging infrastructure, and of course more OEMs joining hands. We are the pioneers in the space and are now looking forward to working with these stakeholders and welcoming other players in the industry. We believe that our experience in the industry and in promoting adoption of EV technology for the Indian market will help us lead the movement. The future is electric and more hands working towards this future will only bring the nation closer to achieving its vision.

In terms of infrastructure, is India heading in the right direction to accommodate electric vehicles?

One of the biggest gaps in the EV ecosystem of the country is in the charging infrastructure; and for EVs to be adopted nationwide, an extensive and reliable charging network is indispensable. The government has offered incentives under the FAME [Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles] scheme for charging infrastructure development, but there is a long way to go on that front.

We are very happy that preliminary discussions on setting up charging standards for the country have begun. At present, these include plans for both charging stations as well as battery swapping facility (specifically for three wheelers and buses). Keeping this progress in mind, we are also preparing our products to be compatible with suitable charging options. We are also actively participating in discussions and looking forward to the government rolling out the Bharat Charging Standards for high and low voltage systems, soon. This announcement will be followed by an influx of industry players to develop the EV charging network in India. The recent stories around NTPC, Tata Power and other players going live with charging infrastructure pilots seem very promising.

Mahindra Racing is doing quite well in the Formula-E championship. How important is the racing series for Mahindra Electric?

Mahindra Electric and Mahindra Racing teams work closely with each other as the opportunities for cross-learning as well as implementation are definitely plenty. The teams work towards improving the technology for the ‘race’ and bring the right technologies from there to the ‘road’.

But apart from the technology, the biggest contribution that Mahindra’s Formula-E team is making is in the space of consumer education. Its exceptional performance in the recent races has proven that EVs are high performance vehicles and we have the know-how to bring that performance to the roads.

We are all very proud of our team’s performance and hope that the winning streak continues in our favour!

What about electric 2-wheelers, especially considering how large and important that market is in India?

The current sales figure of electric two-wheelers in India is way more than four wheelers. This indicates that the segment will not be completely ignored, and the industry is definitely looking at it as a segment with great potential. However, for us at Mahindra Electric, our focus will remain on four-wheelers, and other mass mobility products like electric three-wheelers and buses.

As the global automotive industry switches from internal combustion engines to batteries, how is India taking advantage of this upheaval to become a major player?

We are just at the brink of exponential growth in the EV segment, and India is well positioned to become one of the leaders in EVs in the world. The Government is very positive about going electric and is promoting the industry with multiple positive policy decisions. In addition to this, there is also a noticeable increase in renewable energy sources, especially solar power. Together, EVs and solar energy hold the capacity of propelling a truly clean mobility scenario.

This combination of resources will help us develop products and solutions which are differentiated and address market requirements that aren’t looked after by high-cost EVs currently available in other markets.

As a country, we also have the unique combination of weather and terrain conditions, a young and talented work force much larger than any other country in the world, with many thousands of engineers qualifying from our institutes every day; as well as a value-conscious population. The workforce in India is also especially skilled in software development, which is a big advantage to leverage for EVs. Combining these factors with robust policy initiatives under ‘Make in India’ and Industry 4.0, India can become a global hub for R&D and manufacturing of EVs.

What can we expect from Mahindra Electric in the near future?

Having recently announced our next phase of EV development, EV 2.0 based on three broad pillars of Technology, New Products, and Mobility Solutions, we will be looking at the mass-market segment with electric products in the bus and 3-wheeler space. Apart from that, we will also be looking at high-end products that will be high-performance vehicles for the luxury segment.

While we are already available in Nepal and Sri Lanka, India will remain our primary focus. We believe there is a lot of be done in the country presently and we have only just started.