Hero MotoCorp, the world’s largest maker of motorized two-wheelers, said it will start its EV journey in March with a scooter developed fully in-house, but said current technology and battery prices prohibit the launch of electric motorcycles aimed at the mass market.
The company has already announced that it would launch an electric vehicle in March, but has now given more details about it strategy.
Finance chief Niranjan Gupta also confirmed that the product that the upcoming scooter will have a traditional, in-place charging battery.
“First, it will be charging, then swapping, may be later in the year,” he said.
“That will cater to both types of consumers in terms of their charging preference, plus of course the convenience [factor] and range anxiety, which we need to solve.”
Earlier in the year, Hero MotoCorp tied up with Taiwan-based Gogoro, which has a successful battery swapping technology and solution, in an effort to incorporate battery swapping technology into its bikes.
At the time, the Indian company indicated that scooters with this technology could hit the market as early in 2021.
However, the launch of scooters with swappable batteries seems to have been pushed back to ‘later in the year’.
Swappable batteries offer a quick way for a customer to refuel his bike and get back on the road after exhausting his battery. At present, most electric scooters only offer a range of around 40-50 km per charge.
While this is okay for local shopping and running errands, riders could end up getting stranded if they venture too far afield, or forget to charge their scooter.
Battery swapping bikes will come with swapping kiosks that are established in parking lots and petrol pumps where the customer could ride in and replace his low-charge battery with a fully charged one at a nominal charge.
There will also likely be monthly subscription plans that entitle customers to swap their batteries at such kiosks free of charge.
Gupta also revealed his company’s take on the crucial issue of speed and power in EVs.
Currently, most of the electric scooters sold in the country have very low top speeds, and can often be seen chugging along at 20 km/h.
However, said Gupta, the new line-up from Hero will not be based on such compromises.
“Whether a customer drives at a high speed or a low speed, everyone prefers [to have a] certain speed to be in the scooter. India is not a market where people would be happy saying that the limit of my speed is only X, which is lower than the current scooters which are there.
“In our view, the benchmark for the customer would be ‘Am I getting a similar comfort, speed, convenience and range, as I’m getting on my current scooter. That is the bare minimum that we need to address on the customer part of it..” he said.
He said manufacturers seem to be focusing more on the technological and engineering side of electric scooters, as is expected in any new product or segment, but will have to start paying attention to customer aspirations and desires soon.
“Currently, what is happening is that the tech is becoming the core and the rest is getting a bit ignored, which will come back when the customers start picking up deliveries and start riding.
“That’s our view on that – that it needs to meet the minimum benchmark of the current scooters for the customers to migrate, and the tech will be a plus on top of that. The convenience of the customer cannot be compromised, whether on the speed or the range part of it,” Gupta said.
Gupta was not very optimistic about the prospects of electric motorcycles, despite the presence of models like RattanIndia Enterprises’ Revolt that promises 150 km per charge and a top speed of 85 km/hour in a motorcycle costing around Rs 1.25 lakh.
Gupta said the motorcycle customer typically travels much longer distances compared to the scooter user, and therefore, range becomes a much bigger issue in motorcycles than in scooters.
While the range issue can be addressed by increasing the size of the battery, this will also push up the price of the vehicle, as lithium ion batteries are extremely expensive at present.
“EV penetration, at least over the next several years, will be driven by scooters, and thereafter, as the battery technology develops, where you can pack more in less and costs come down..may be, the other technologies [may step in]. On the current battery technology which is already there or is in the works, we don’t actually see motorcycles happening,” Gupta said.
“To cater to the motorcycle customer, your battery pack size and capacity has to be far more…There are some players who have tried, globally, but they’re on the super premium end, but as far as the commuter and the general segment is concerned, it’s far off,” he said.
Most of the electric scooters sold in India at present cater to the local errands customer, and are powered by the much cheaper, but much-lower-capacity batteries based on lead acid technology. These bikes cost only around Rs 35,000, but offer top speeds of only around 30km/h, which can create a safety hazard on major roads.
The proliferation of models with lithium-ion batteries could change the image of the electric scooter once and for all, as such models are likely to give a range of around 80 km — 3x what lead acid models give — and a top speed of 50-55 km/hour.