Smart Scooters in India

Start-Ups Hope to Disrupt the Electric Two-Wheeler Market

The Indian government has been pushing for a fully electric scooter fleet by 2030, as it aims to address alarming pollution levels and cut the national fuel bill. It’s an ambitious goal considering that India was ranked 177 among 180 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Performance Index. The country imports about 80 percent of its energy supply, and is struggling to counter the environmental fallout of surging car and scooter ownership.

One obvious place for the country to start is by shifting the population away from petrol-based scooters to electric ones. India is the largest two-wheeler market globally, with over 17 million petrol-driven scooters and motorcycles sold in 2017, and more than 150 million on the road. This ever-expanding fleet is clogging city roads, causing some of the worst traffic and pollution levels in the world.

Electric vehicles have so far only played a tiny role in sales of two-wheelers. According to data from the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India, only 50,000 electric two-wheelers were sold in the country in the fiscal year ended March 2017, although this figure is more than double that of 2016.

During the first half of 2018, several start-ups have emerged to take up the challenge and have launched electric two-wheelers.

Last week, Ather Energy, a start-up from Bengaluru, began taking pre-orders for its new flagship electric scooter, hoping to introduce a mass-market vehicle within two years.

Ather has raised $43 million in funding from some of India’s best-known investors, including Hero Motor, the nation’s largest manufacturer of two-wheelers. The company’s ambitious plan is to put 2,000 of its scooters on the road through August 2018, and up to 100,000 over the next couple of years. Ather also hopes to expand to nearby Chennai and Pune during that period. The vehicles are priced at about $1,600, a sum that includes a subsidy of 22,000 rupees (about $320) under the government’s Fame scheme to help spur adoption of electric vehicles.

In February 2018, at the India Auto Expo in New Delhi, Twenty Two Motors, a newcomer based near New Delhi, showed off its Flow e-scooter, with a price tag of almost 75,000 rupees (about $1,100). The business is targeting the country’s tech-savvy customers with its artificial intelligence-enabled, cloud-connected vehicle. This also features GPRS, GPS and other sensors that allows a driver to use a mobile app to start and stop the motor, and remotely diagnose any problems. By comparison, Honda Motor’s popular gasoline-powered Activa scooter sells for around 60,000 rupees (about $900).

Smart scooters are an intriguing concept for India, but there are significant infrastructure challenges to support a sizeable fleet of electric two-wheelers. The Indian government will need a clear policy road map to enable this goal, building out a charging network and agreeing on standards.

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