Features Monday, December 08, 2014 - 05:30
Siddhartha Mishra| The News Minute |December 8, 2014 | 01:50 pm IST Having people on the same “wavelength” as you helps, and the engineer in Tarun Mehta will agree. Less than a week ago, the founders of Flipkart, Sachin and Binny Bansal along with Raju Venkatraman of Medall invested $1 million in Chennai based start-up, Ather Energy. “When I invest, I primarily look for people that have disruptive ideas which have the potential to bring about a marked change in their respective sectors”, says Sachin Bansal, co-founder and CEO of Flipkart. Incubated in IIT-Madras, Ather Energy started up with Tarun and Swapnil Jain last year. A team of two has swelled to thirteen trying to push the proverbial envelope in manufacturing and standardizing the electric scooter in India.  “We looked at the current state of the market and there were mediocre products floating around that had low speed and power and battery issues”, Tarun explains in an interaction with the News Minute. “Quite often they’d have parts imported from China and there was no development here”, he points out.  For a country which aims to have seven million electric vehicles on its streets by 2020, we have not been spoiled for choice. The e-scooter market is something customers are wary of with issues of speed and reliability creeping in, making them take the plunge for a petrol scooter that will have higher running costs.  “We met customers who’d purchased e-scooters and also those who were backing the technology and proposed we’d build e-scooters with no compromises on features but at a higher price”, Tarun says. With a chuckle he adds, “And we were surprised they backed us”. On being asked how the new investment helps, he says, “We’re mainly looking at development of prototypes and technology and testing while ensuring no compromise on the product”. The product, of which a prototype sports a lithium-ion battery and will be available for test drives in Chennai and Bengaluru, is lighter than most petrol scooters and can reach a top speed of 75 km/hr.   The proposed dashboard on the scooter.  Speed, an issue bemoaned in e-scooters generally may not be an issue here and may match petrol scooters, a bridge Tarun wants to cross.Thirty-six lakh scooters were sold in India last year, an increase of 23 percent from the previous year, with motorcycle sales only increasing by four percent. The market is cluttered with options aplenty and the scooter is making a comeback with the Honda’s, TVS’, LML’s, Mahindra’s and Hero’s.  In a market which may be burgeoning, how does Ather plan on encroaching market space with not only the promise of clean e-scooters with low running costs? “We want to build a better replacement for typical petrol scooters”, he says. “And as we cannot compete with manufacturing on such a large scale like a Honda or a Hero, the price may be a bit high initially, he adds.  “Let’s just say it will be more expensive than a Honda Activa”, he says. “By how much, 10 or 15 thousand we don’t know yet”, he adds, trying to make his point clear.  Unconventionally or conventionally, it’s not about the money.  “We got in touch with the Bansals as we had respect for them for establishing Flipkart when everyone said that the online shopping scene wouldn’t take off in India”, says Tarun. “For me, the biggest return on investment will be the fact that not only do I get to encourage entrepreneurship, I also get to hear new ideas and learn from them at the same time,” says Bansal.  The common view of having an idea to cause a shake-up and breaking new ground seems to have resonated with the Bansals, and for Ather Energy, it’s now testing time, not testing times.
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