The Indian EV scenario is rapidly changing. While national and state governments have played significant roles in increasing EV ownership with policies such as FAME II and local subsidies, OEMs such as Tata and MG drew in more crowds by glamorising some gorgeous, feature-packed releases like the Tata Nexon EV, Tata Tigor EV and MG ZS EV. If this wasn’t incentive enough, the constant rise in fuel prices managed to turn the cost-conscious, value-seeking average Indian consumer.
And while this change is visible for four-wheelers, it is even more prominent in the two-wheeler space. While there were initial concerns regarding speed, range, and charging infrastructure, companies are increasingly putting these concerns to bed. As a result, this space is ripe for disruption and innovation. One such company is Jaipur-based HOP Electric. We spoke to co-founder Ketan Mehta to find out more.
“We’ve always propagated the shift towards renewables, clean energy and clean technology,” says Mehta. “As a renewable energy company, we always knew the potential of energy storage and batteries. Renewable energy will not work without batteries, and if renewable energy is the future, then the storage side of things needed to be our focus. We started researching the storage business way back in 2018. We realised that the first mover in this segment would be the electric vehicle space because the opportunity is much bigger there.”
Following the realisation that electric mobility would be the using batteries way before the energy space, Mehta and his team started digging deep into batteries and everything else needed by EVs.
They started with the chemistry and, once that was right, they moved onto developing the thermal management, making the battery lightweight, creating a connection system, and finally, building it to be automatic and plug-and-play. In short, they created their own battery swapping stations – but they didn’t stop there.
“When we went to the market, we realised that there were no good vehicles to work on,” says Mehta. “That changed the entire problem statement for us. Yes, we developed the battery. Yes, we developed the entire charging infrastructure like charging stations and swapping stations. But if there are no good products, it wasn’t going to work. For this to work, everything must work as a single unit, a single system. The battery must communicate with the vehicle, the vehicle has to communicate with the charging or swapping station, which, in turn, has to communicate with the grid to get energy out of it.”
“This is when the gap in the market became clear to us. If we’re hoping for the entire petrol two-wheeler eco-system to shift to electric, there must be a good product, good service, and a good network. If any of this is lacking, the entire ecosystem fails. We tried very hard to make this work with different OEM partners, but we could not. We quickly realised that if we were to ignore the product side of things, our energy side would fail too. It’s just then that the pandemic happened, and personal mobility became a big thing. That’s when we decided to venture into the product space and create our own electric two-wheeler offerings.”
Today, HOP is divided into two parts: HOP Electric and HOP Energy Network. While HOP Electric designs, develops, manufactures, distributes, and sells electric two-wheelers; HOP Energy Network focuses on the energy infrastructure business, which includes charging stations, swapping stations, batteries, and more.
“I’m proud to say that we are one of the very few companies that can boast of catering to the complete ecosystem. We don’t depend on anyone else in the entire value chain. Maybe we are a little late in terms of launching our products, but the background work that we have put in is paying us rich dividends right now in terms of quality of products and that we have launched, and the ecosystem approach is getting us a lot of appreciation,” says Mehta.
HOP Electric isn’t just relying on its ecosystem approach to differentiate itself from the other electric two-wheeler manufacturers.
For example, it uses connected layers, remote diagnostic functionalities and a 72V architecture – most rivals are still working on a 48V or 60V architecture. HOP Electric has also ensured that its products are tip-top giving customers superior performance, power and torque. Ditto for battery, where features such as aluminium casing, thermal management, active balancing, active balancing, and plug-and-play connectors become evident to users right from their first ride.
“The philosophy of the company is to create the differentiation through its product superiority, and not through sales, marketing, or branding strategies,” says Mehta. “Our products should speak for themselves.”
And from the looks of it, the future looks exciting for HOP Electric. Its Jaipur facility, currently standing at around 40,0000 sq. ft., is set to be expanded as the company predicts its current output will quadruple to 100,000 two-wheelers per year. Moreover, plans are afoot to set up a second manufacturing unit in South India capable of churning out 500,000 units per year by 2022.
Jaipur is also where HOP Energy Network kickstarted its battery swapping pilot earlier this year. There are currently five swapping stations, 50 batteries, and 20 riders, all of who have bought scooters without batteries. Each rider has a monthly subscription plan for batteries, where they run close to 70-100 km per day but can swap out their batteries in as little as 20 seconds.
“Our key learning from this has been the fact that a swapping solution is best suited for a B2B application, where the rider is riding for delivery or business, or they need to ride continuously for 70-100km every day, where they don’t have time to charge,” explains Mehta.
On the product front, along with its two electric scooters, the company will be launching its very own high-speed electric motorcycle in just a few months. Mehta confirms that this motorcycle is currently being road-tested and it won’t be long before it hits the market.
There are other plans afoot, as well. “While we cannot disclose any names right now, we’re in the middle of acquiring the technology of an electric scooter, which is much faster, better and high-performing than even the fastest scooter in India right now,” says Mehta. “Technology transfer is currently underway, but sometime next year we’re hoping for this scooter to take the Indian market by storm.”
But is Mehta confident about electrification in India? Will companies like HOP Electric be able to convince traditional scooter and motorbike riders that electric is the way forward?
“Never underestimate the power of technology. The best example of this is how the solar industry has taken over the entire world, just by the virtue of superior technology. When we started our first business in 2011, it was unimaginable that solar energy will power everything. We are not going to make the mistake of underestimating the way things will move.”
“It will move so fast that the traditional players would not realise what hit them,” he adds. “The transition that we’re expecting is that probably by 2026-27, you’ll see that 100% of the vehicles sold are electric. That kind of transition can happen. I’m very confident because I’ve seen it happen in solar and renewable space.
“From a consumer’s lens, when you drive an ICE vehicle and then drive an electric one, you tend to realise the difference instantly. You immediately recognise it as something better, or superior even, and then it is environmentally friendly. Most people want to align themselves with it. We are very hopeful that the transition will happen very fast, in the next 5-7 years at most, and want to contribute towards helping this transition happen.”