The Indian market is one where a family vehicle doesn’t necessarily always mean a four-wheeler; it could very well be a two-wheeler, especially in the case of low to medium-income families. But, with companies like BMW and Tesla glamorising the electric mobility in the four-wheel space, there is little awareness when it comes to electric two-wheelers.
This is changing with companies like PuREnergy bringing well-designed, value-for-money two-wheeler EVs to India’s consumers. Such is its focus to deliver India-centric solutions, that the company has taken to designing lithium batteries itself.
Auto Futures caught up with PuREnergy Founder Dr. Nishanth Dongari, who spoke about the company, its offerings and the electric two-wheeler space in India.
Dr. Nishanth begins by telling us how PuREnergy’s story began. He says: “PuREnergy was founded in 2016 and was incubated at IIT Hyderabad. In the beginning, for a year and a half, our core operational plan was to offer a hybrid energy storage solution with solar and lead-acid battery. However, since I am an academician, I was looking for someone with managerial expertise to join us as the CEO and COO, who could take the entire business model of the company forward.”
“That’s when I connected with Rohit Vadera, who was my hostel-mate and from the same department as me from IIT Bombay. He had previous experience working in the energy sector start up. Our frequencies matched and that’s how Rohit joined as the CEO of PuREnergy.“
Funnily enough, Dr. Nishanth started PuREnergy with very different use case to what the company does today. It was a time when he just returned to India after living in Germany and was taken aback by the sheer number of power cuts that happened. He sensed that moving forward, a well-designed energy storage solution would see great demand.
He urged students working under him to take this idea forward in 2015-2016, but most of them chose to work for companies rather than go down the entrepreneurial route. And when no one did, Dr. Nishanth decided to pursue entrepreneurship alongside his role as an academician.
He’s currently also working as an Associate Professor at IIT Hyderabad.
“As soon as Rohit joined, we both felt that to take the company to the next level, we needed to be looking into doing more of product development, and if necessary, even manufacturing. We zeroed down on Lithium battery design and manufacturing. To be honest, the need presented itself. We were already working with solar-hybrid ESS, where we were using lead acid battery, and that’s where we needed an eminent battery upgradation to lithium batteries.”
He adds: “At IIT Hyderabad, we have a very strong team of PhD, MTech and BTech students, as well as interns, who are actively working on the battery design. When we say battery, it is not the cell; we are not interested in getting into the cell chemistry level. Instead, we’re focussing on aspects such as packaging, CV spinal connections, the design of the casing, the way thermal management has to be in-built, software programming the battery management system and so on. It’s been close to a year that we’ve undertaken extensive R&D, which we’re looking to translate into reality in the upcoming months.”
Solving the Battery Problem is Key
On the back of the success of its electric scooters, it will be launching electric motorcycles also by mid-next year.
“In India, there are two main areas where EVs are causing some serious disruption, especially because of their running cost. The major conversions (from ICE vehicles) to EV will happen wherever the user is sensitive to the running cost. One area is the logistics space, while the other is the two- and three-wheeler space, where users are sensitive about the per kilometre running cost.”
“If you consider the two-wheeler segment in India, the quantities are massive when compared to any other country in the world. It’s more like a typical consumer product from an Indian context. Although electric two-wheelers were launched way back in 2008, they completely vanished to resurface now, and according to our research, largely due to the problem with the battery technology, which is exactly what we’re trying to solve,” says Dr Nishanth.
“We sensed that the battery is a major technical component in EV two-wheelers also. It’s one of the most expensive components. When you look at the picture in its entirety, then it also happens to be one of the most-technologically important components in the electric two-wheeler. This is why we took the plunge and set up this factory co-located with IIT Hyderabad. It’s situated in one and a half acre area. So far it had been 19,000 square feet, where the operational area was 9500 square feet. Now, just a couple of weeks back, we have started construction to add another 17-18,000 square feet of operational area, which will be ready within the next one-one and a half months.”
He adds: “Once the entire operational area is active by October or November, we will be manufacturing 1000 electric scooters, and also 3,000 kwh of battery capacity. We are upgrading both the battery production line and the EV assembly line.”
Explosive Growth in The Number of Electric Two Wheelers
While Dongari is highly optimistic of India’s future when it comes to electrification, he’s also aware of the challenges of the current ecosystem. To start with, he says, it’s extremely difficult for smaller vehicle manufacturers to source components from leading suppliers, since these suppliers do not source components to companies whose volumes do not match those of established OEMs. But while he believes that this problem will be circumvented with time, there are some others that need immediate attention.
“We must appreciate the GST reduction to 5%. However, if someone is importing the entire vehicle from some other country, he’s getting the entire vehicle at 5% input and 5% output. But some companies like us, who are making the major components like the battery and other things, are attracting the input GST at 18% and 28%, while my output is at 5%.”
“These are trivial things that the government should understand. On one hand you’re saying ‘Make In India’, but when someone who is actually making in India is getting penalised, because of some parts that he’s importing,” he says.
“The other thing that they should seriously consider is push the banks and financial institutions, since none of the banks are giving vehicle finance to electric two-wheelers and if they do end up providing, the conditions are extremely punitive on customer, dealer and the OEM. It’s a major problem. For instance, they say that the manufacturer has to buy back the vehicle if something happens to it, which means that we’ll have to pay the rest of the EMI if anything happens to the vehicle! And then there is also the problem of charging infrastructure, or should we say, the lack of it.”
But that said, Dongari is extremely optimistic about the Indian market. “Despite everything, I think the electric two-wheeler market is going to explode in a matter of one year or so,” he concludes.