Credit: Naveen Munjal, MD, Hero Electric, is betting big on electric two-wheelers for their long-term cost advantage, convenience of charging portable batteries at home and eco-friendliness

Rev up the e-bike to save big on costs and do your bit for the environment

The future of EVs in India may ride on two-wheelers, which are getting electrified much faster than cars. These vehicles help you save nearly 40% on TCO or total cost of ownership

Namrata Kohli |  New Delhi

E-mobility is the one subject comedian and TV prankster Ashton Kutcher doesn’t joke about. An ardent user of electric scooters, he feels they are the future of green travel. Ditto for Justin Bieber who is spotted frequently taking to California’s streets on his e-scooter. Electric vehicles are green since they reduce pollution significantly. They are no longer a futuristic idea as people are beginning to explore them in some way or the other.

There is no bigger market for two-wheelers in the world than India. Yet we sold just 120,000 electric two-wheelers (e-2W) in 2019. But experts believe the next decade belongs to e-vehicles. Says Rajeev Singh, Partner and Automotive Sector Leader, Deloitte India: “I feel we are at the cusp of an explosion in e-2Ws. Whenever some new technology enters the market, it goes through an adoption cycle. Initially there are very few users but as their numbers increase in the market, others start to trust that new technology more. And suddenly you see a boom in ownership. Today when it comes to private e-2Ws, we are somewhere at the border, at the cusp, and are likely to see exponential growth going ahead. Over the next five years, I expect this segment to grow massively–at may be a CAGR of 50 per cent year-on-year.”

Some electrifying options

If you’re looking to buy an e-2w, your choices are motorised cycles, e-scooters and e-motorbikes, all of which run on rechargeable batteries, not on petrol or diesel. The key brands in e-2Ws include Hero Electric, TVS, Ather, Bajaj, Okinawa and Revolt.

Motorised cycles are actually just bicycles that come with an added electric motor and can reach 25 km/hr. They are generally priced at Rs 20,000-40,000. Electric scooters from brands such as Hero Electric, Greaves (Ampere), Okinawa and Bajaj, on the other had, can cost anywhere between Rs 45,000-1,20,000. The electric bike segment dominated by Revolt and Ultrviolete falls in a price range of Rs 90,000-3,00,000. Certain brands have been specifically focussing on the Indian woman, who has moved from riding pillion to the navigator’s seat. Brands such as TVS, with its latest launch iQube, have been focussing more on young buyers and women riders.

Which are the bestsellers in e-2W market? Says a spokesperson from BikeDekho: “As per sales data, Okinawa and Hero Electric are emerging best-seller brands in the EV segment. One of the most awaited electric two-wheelers in India is TVS Creon.” The fastest moving range within Hero Electric is Optima, a scooter available in four variants in a price range of Rs 46,538 to Rs 72,866 and a riding range of 70-120 km.

Different strokes, different folks

Different variants of e-2Ws are relevant for different segments. For instance, the ‘low-speed’ e-2W, which has a limit of 25 km/hr and requires no licence and registration, is ideal for those who travel short distances, such as students and delivery boys.

The second category is the city speed, typically 45 km/hr. This works well for the daily commuter and is the category automakers are betting big on. Says Naveen Munjal, MD, Hero Electric: “When we look at large cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, the average speed is below 22 km/hr due to traffic. We are pushing this segment of city bikes forward because here you are able to get the optimum balance of performance, ride, quality and durability of the vehicle.”

Most electric bikers are daily commuters who wouldn’t take their wheels outside city limits. But the resistance is coming from those who tend to use their bikes over long distances or for riding outside city limits. These could be explorers who ride once a month or even once in six months. They aren’t drawn towards e-2W as they are concerned about charging infrastructure if they move outside city limits.

Criteria for selection

As a buyer, you need to be mindful of certain key features an e-2W must have, such as ergonomics, design, quality, appearance, and warranty.

Opt for an e-2w that runs on a lithium-ion battery instead of the old lead-acid battery technology. Choose the right dimension. The best way to do this is to compare the e-scooter with your height and see if you’re comfortable riding it. Check safety features like braking, balance and battery protection in case of overheating/overcharging.

Look for performance. Speed depends a lot on the power of the battery and the motor output, and there are a number of options, with speeds between 25 Km/h and 80 Km/h. When it comes to riding distance or range, it depends on how you ride it, the capacity of the battery and the load you carry. For a normal commuter, a range of 40–50 km per charge should suffice. Most e-scooters available in the market can easily provide you a range of 50 km on a full charge.

Getting the two-wheeler math right

The total cost of owning an e-2w is much lower than that of a conventional two-wheeler. Hero Electric’s Munjal makes a strong case for e-2w and does some number crunching of the TCO (total cost of ownership) of these two segments. Let’s say you do 40 km a day using an IC (Internal Combustion) engine vehicle that uses one litre of fuel daily. If you look at a three-year period or 1,000 days of riding, you will spend Rs 90,000 on fuel at Rs 90 a litre. On top of that, you would have spent Rs 60,000 at one shot on buying the vehicle and Rs 500-1,000 a month on maintenance. An e-2W will cost you nearly the same upfront, and a fourth on maintenance. However, the biggest saving is the energy cost (fuel v/s electricity). If you are travelling 40 km per day on an e-2W with a 1.5Kwh battery, you are using only 1.5 units of power. Even at Rs 8 a unit, you are looking at spending only Rs 12,000 over that period of 1,000 days. So you save about Rs 80,000 over a three-year period. Munjal says his company has been able to bring down the price of an e-scooter to under Rs 60,000, while a bike running on petrol with a 100cc IC engine costs Rs 70,000-75,000. “The EV is now much cheaper, has very good performance, plus we offer a three-year warranty on battery, and five years on the vehicle,” he adds.

One issue today with an e-2W is the charging infrastructure. Fuelling a petrol bike is much easier and quicker, what with a fuel station every 3-4 km. However, e-charging is becoming better with several vehicles now offering portable batteries that you can take out and charge inside your house. Also, e-2W makers themselves, and in partnership with other companies, are setting up charging and battery swapping infrastructure at shopping malls, service centres and dealership outlets throughout the country.

Technology is improving and startups are trying to build the ecosystem in a frugal and faster manner. Newer innovations are the order of the day. Deloitte’s Rajeev Singh shares some key insights: “One of the things people are working on is how to make their scooters smart. How do I make my two-wheeler as smart as my phone, if not smarter? The ‘find-my-phone’ feature helps you locate your smartphone. Similarly, it is possible to locate my two-wheeler, and protect against theft, which is a huge issue with two-wheelers in general. The effort is on to help locate the two-wheeler or set off an alarm on the user’s cell if it gets stolen.”

The flip side

Safety remains an issue. Why aren’t two-wheelers picking up in India in the way they are, abroad? The reason is the huge number of accidents in the country. Says 45-year-old Delhi-based management professional Chirag Mehta: “I would love to own a two-wheeler and show my support for environment, but somehow I will never be able to and would certainly not allow my son to ride it, especially in a city like Delhi. The culture of rogue driving on the city’s roads deters me from buying one. I’m a big fan of electric scooters as a product. They are eco-friendly, and convenient for short distances – from the coaching centre and back for my son– and make economic sense. But I believe the driving culture (in Delhi) outweighs the positive aspects of this product.”

The high upfront cost and battery replacement cost every few years are also deterrents in a price-sensitive market such as ours. However, when you understand it in the context of its lifecycle over the next few years, you would know that the break-even point is faster in an e-2W than the conventional bike. The thing that companies are trying to do is come up with innovative ownership models instead of ones in which buyers have to pay all the money upfront.

The pandemic has paved the way for green mobility as people have seen what the environment looks like when no fuel-guzzling vehicles are running on the roads. Says Munjal: “People realise climate change is a real threat. During lockdown, they saw pollution levels come down. They saw clear blue skies, crystal clear water, birds out and about. They now feel all of this is achievable with greener choices. What’s more, the government is incentivising ownership of e-vehicles – all these factors make a strong case for them.”

Munjal says the pandemic gave them an opportunity to “rejig ourselves in some shape or form. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, there was this whole thing about offline versus online, and dealerships versus online platforms, but we were able to very effectively train the dealers on digital platforms, the use of social media or online selling tools. Today 70 per cent of our dealer network is trained on using social media and suddenly the reach has increased exponentially. E-vehicles fitted the bill perfectly as people were scared of using the public transport.”

B2B is fast moving

The fastest moving segment as of now in e-2W is actually the B2B segment. This covers everything from last-mile delivery by food chains and e-commerce companies, diagnostic centres carrying blood and other samples, college campuses, institutional areas, and many such applications. What makes a difference in B2B is that a delivery person’s electric bike covers 60-80 km in a day, against around 20 km for a B2C user. So the savings on fuel kick in faster, quickly making up for the higher upfront vehicle cost compared to a petrol bike. Companies such as Electrev Mobility help make the transformative shift from conventional fuel-based mobility to electric mobility, the last-mile movement of people and goods. Says an Electrev spokesperson: “It’s an asset-light model under which businesses don’t own the vehicles, and outsource their entire logistic operations to us. It is we who take care of the man and the machine. The client earns the tag of being eco-responsible. Many brands may want to use this as a marketing tool to say they are supplying everything using only environment-friendly two-wheelers.”

Experts agree that the adoption of e-2W will happen faster in B2B than B2C. Says Singh, “My sense is that the commercial two-wheeler segment–the B2B segment of two-wheelers–is likely to get electrified faster than the private segment. As a private consumer, I am riding a two-wheeler for hardly 6,000 km in a year but as a commercial user, I am riding 18,000-20,000 km in a year–thrice as much.”

The commercial segment may also find it easier to provide for the charging infrastructure at hubs. Battery swapping technology allows the user go to the swapping hub and replace his discharged battery with a fully charged one in under two minutes. That’s as quick or even quicker than filling a bike with petrol.

Table: Current bestsellers in the electric two-wheeler market in India

Top Brands Price (Rs) Specifications
Hero Electric Optima E5 58,000-65,000 Range: 80 km/charge, motor power: 1,200 W
Hero Electric Nyx E5 65,000-70,000 Range: 80 km/charge, motor power: 1,300 W
Ather 450X 1.27-1.46 lakh Range: 85 km/charge, motor power: 3,300 W
Bajaj Chetak 1-1.5 lakh Range: 95 km/charge, motor power: 4,080 W
Revolt RV400 1.03-1.18 lakh India’s first electric motorcycle came from Revolt Intellicorp. Its performance is comparable to a 125cc commuter
TVS iQube Electric 1.08 lakh Range: 75 km/charge, motor power: 4,400 W
Ultraviolette F77 3 lakh Range: 75 km/charge, motor power: 4,400 W

Inputs from BikeDekho

Table: Upcoming electric two-wheeler launches of 2021

Brands Expected price (Rs)
Hero eMaestro 1 lakh
Honda PCX Electric 1.25-1.45 lakh
TVS Creon 1.4 lakh
Suzuki Burgman Electric 1.2 lakh
Revolt RV 400 Cafe Racer 1.25 lakh

Credit: BikeDekho

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