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As the electric revolution hits India, India’s e-commerce giant Flipkart has come out with its plans to achieve complete electrification by 2030. Mahesh Pratap Singh, Head Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Flipkart Group spoke to Auto Futures about the company’s plans, how it is going about it and more.

“Flipkart announced nation-wide plans to introduce Electric Vehicles (EVs) for its last mile deliveries as a part of its sustainability commitment, with an aim to reinvigorate efforts towards building technologies for solving crucial environmental and civic issues. We are the first e-commerce platform in India to introduce electric mobility for deliveries at scale,” says Singh.

“As a homegrown e-commerce player, the Flipkart Group has always taken a very proactive and holistic view in conducting its business responsibly, including all aspects of sustainability and usage of natural resources. In line with this, the objective has been to introduce electric vehicles in our logistics and delivery network, in a phased manner and scale it to 100% electric transition by 2030. This number is close to 25,000 electric vehicles in our logistics and supply chain network.”

To help me understand the benefits of electric mobility in the e-commerce space, Singh explains: “Over the past couple of years, the interest in more sustainable modes of transport has increased significantly in India as several cities continue to be faced with greater pollution levels than ever before. As the spread of e-commerce increases throughout the country, it becomes a business imperative to be more responsible in the way our delivery agents operate across the country.

“Electric mobility has increasingly become one of the most scalable options for reducing our tailpipe emissions while maintaining our operating efficiency across factors like affordability and productivity. All our early adopters are seeing EVs as a way to balance their dependence on fuel prices as well as seeing benefits of an enhanced driving experience. As the manufacturing ecosystem evolves, we are seeing much more sturdy variants that are suited to e-commerce.

“As a business we understand the importance and long-term value of scaling adoption of EVs into our ecosystem not just for reduced carbon emissions but also for maintaining business continuity and will continue to drive closer to our ambition of 100% electrification of our fleet.”

In August 2020, Flipkart joined international non-profit organisation, The Climate Group’s, global electric mobility initiative, EV100, which brings together forward-looking companies committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

“While the technological aspect of EVs is highly dependent on innovation and leveraging ecosystem synergies across levels, we do understand that at the scale that Flipkart is operating, it is important to look beyond existing market offerings to built-to-suit efficient vehicles,” says Singh.

Mahesh Pratap Singh

“A few things that we are doing on ground and taking a step by step approach includes partnering with some of the leading electric vehicle manufacturers (including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric and Piaggio and many others) to procure electric vehicles which can be directly deployed for delivery, getting the right logistics partners to help procure these vehicles across geographies, placing requirements in service contracts, installing charging infrastructure close to our 1,400 supply chain facilities, conducting awareness programmes, and encouraging delivery executives to use EVs.

“We are also actively working with these partners on many aspects of electric mobility, including vehicle design, range, load capacity, etc., to build customised vehicles that are best suited for the e-commerce industry.

“We have recently onboarded Mahindra Logistics Limited (MLL) as one of our key logistics partners for deployment of electric vehicles across our logistics fleet, helping build supporting infrastructure and technology such as charging stations and parking lots and training workforce.”

For an e-commerce company with the sheer size and presence of Flipkart, getting all stakeholders onboard with an ambition such as this could be a task in itself.

“As we continue to engage with the e-mobility ecosystem, the response has been quite positive from every member. We have seen tremendous support from our OEM partners and vendors from the moment we publicly announced our ambition. We continue to work with and evolve our adoption alongside innovators and large industry players to bring EVs to every delivery that Flipkart does across the country. This has meant working with manufacturers, charging infrastructure providers, ground operations, delivery partners as well as policy makers. The excitement towards holistically making this work has been contagious,” says Singh.

“It has been our endeavour always to make sure we bring the best technology and reflect the ambitions of our stakeholders whether for consumers or sellers on our platform. The same is true for all our sustainability initiatives across the product life cycle. It is important for us to be better so that our consumers and sellers can rely on us without compromising on their beliefs to see an environmentally positive India.

“The support we have received from our community for all our sustainability initiatives has been quite exciting and we hope to bring many more such innovations and initiatives to the forefront.”

While the announcement to go completely electric might have come in 2021, Flipkart began with its electrification plans back in 2019.

“We were one of the first companies to dive headlong into the EV transition at a time when neither the vendor ecosystem nor the infrastructure was prevalent. We do believe that we have made significant progress in shaping the ecosystem to a point where a lot of large companies are now able to adopt and strengthen their own commitments as well. That is a win not just for us individually but for the entire sustainability space in India,” explains Singh

“Talking about scaling up, we have already started deploying two-wheeler and three-wheeler EVs in multiple locations for delivery across the country, including in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Guwahati and Pune, to name a few cities. We have over 450 EVs in our logistics fleet currently and growing every month. We are further collaborating and working with leading OEMs and local players to procure and deploy EVs across the country while supporting the required infrastructure growth.

“We have also been conducting various pilots across other locations while studying the nuances and optimising various factors such as vehicle range, vehicle load charging stations, and even the vehicle design. As we progress, we will have many other partners come on board to make this transition possible. As a responsible corporate citizen and industry leader, we are proud to lead e-commerce’s transition towards sustainable mobility,” he adds.

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As businesses, we need to move away from being transactional agents and move towards becoming a force for good.

As India sets out to fulfil the electrification goals that it has set for itself, companies like Flipkart are leading by example for others to follow. I was keen to know that being a non-mobility player, whether Flipkart was hoping for any support from the government or industry bodies in its endeavours.

Singh says: “Over the past few years, there has been significant development in EV related policies starting from the federal incentive structure under FAME I and II as well as state-level EV adoption targets and policies in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat etc. to pro-active states like Delhi which are providing a robust mechanism for the country to develop EV infrastructure for manufacturing capabilities as well as making it easier for EV users to obtain vehicle registrations and provide further ease of doing business.

“We do also know that deployment of EVs is a shared responsibility between public and private partners. We must galvanise our workforce to come together and form stronger relationships with various stakeholders, including government and industry bodies. Since, the EV ecosystem is fairly nascent in India, we do need manufacturing incentives as well as public charging infrastructure to come up.

“We would need support from governmental bodies to ensure that the time required to scale operations in any city is optimised. Learning from various other countries as well, if as an ecosystem we are able to create preferential treatment for EVs whether it be in ease of registration, differentiated lanes or even more recognition for EV drivers we could see much higher adoption rates.

“As businesses, we need to move away from being transactional agents and move towards becoming a force for good that will collectively and meaningfully contribute to faster and effective execution. If sustainable development is to achieve its potential, it must be integrated into the planning and measurement systems of not only businesses but also across central and state authoritative bodies.”

The company hopes to add a minimum of 1000 electric vehicles to its fleet over this year and continue to build partnerships to rapidly scale in the coming years. According to Singh, the company’s OEM and logistic partners will be the key enablers and Flipkart is looking at fostering similar ecosystem partnerships along the journey.

“Flipkart has already started deploying 2-wheeler and 3-wheeler electric vehicles in multiple locations for delivery across the country, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Guwahati and Pune, to name a few and have a clear ambition of wanting to fully transition all our fleet to only using EVs,” he says.

“Currently, there is a significant push across e-commerce to adopt different electric vehicles to substitute bikes and vans. It has been very exciting to see the entire industry adapt to this and it marks a very positive change towards a more sustainable way of doing business. So far, we have only tapped into the city logistics space of first and last mile operations. However, there is a lot of ongoing design and development to bring larger vehicles to service long-haul distances as well as need for increased payload and volumetric capacity,” concludes Singh.

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