‘In another 1.5-2 years, the EV industry will be at a tipping point. The massive scale will come.’

by Sumantra B Barooah May 12, 2017

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As India prepares to take a big leap in electric mobility, Coimbatore-based Ampere Vehicles has launched the country’s first indigenously developed EV charger. This is part of the company’s strategy to provide other key EV components – motors and controllers. Hemalatha Annamalai, founder and CEO of Ampere Vehicles, speaks to Autocar Professional's Sumantra B Barooah.

How did the idea of the electric vehicle charger come up?
The EV space in the country has come to a growth phase. Now it is ought to grow. In another year and a half to two years, the industry will see massive scale. It, however, has not been growing to that extent, largely because of lot of import content in the technology being brought into India, instead of focus on indigenous development.

So, we, as a company have invested in R&D since our inception and when we wanted to get active powertrain from within India, there were no suppliers. Largely, people are importing chargers from abroad, which we thought would not work in the Indian conditions, because Indian power conditions, grid conditions, as well as the road conditions are completely different. Hence, we wanted to make chargers for our own use.

What went into this project and how do you think it would help the ongoing electric mobility drive in the country?Around four years ago, the Technology Development Board (TDB) had come to Coimbatore for a road show, where they invited new companies and we also went and demonstrated what we were attempting to do. It impressed the TDB very much and they immediately believed that this will really benefit India in a large scale. We had developed the prototype for the charger at that point and we received the feedback from them to commercialise it.

Since we are a growing company, we didn’t have all the resources at that point to go in and commercially sell the chargers. TDB pitched in there and assured to support us and lend us a soft-loan, particularly for the development of the power train, which includes motors of 350W, 500W and 800W capacities, controllers and chargers.

How much loan did you receive from TDB for the project and what is your action plan to commercialise it?
It is a very small soft-loan, with very low rate of interest. The project, including development of motor, controller and charger, itself is of very small cost of Rs 10 crore, which is part-funded by us and TDB funded the rest of the amount. We already have three reference customers for the project and we’re now aiming at scaling up and that is why the launch of this product was imminent. TDB again would be supporting in terms of bringing up ministers to talk about local development of such technologies, in line with the goals of the ‘Make in India’ scheme.

Since inception, how much of investment have you made at Ampere?
We have been gradually making progress and have infused quite a bit of capital. Though, the exact numbers cannot be disclosed as we are in the process of raising further money. But, we have been steadily growing and attempting what we set out to achieve as a company. And since India has always seen more focus on services than product development, we are very happy to be working in the direction of Make in India.

What is the structure of the workforce at Ampere Vehicles?We have a 120-strong team, with 30 percent women employees and a R&D group of 30 engineers at our facility in Coimbatore.

What all future product segments are you looking at?
We are in expansion mode right now and are targeting the three-wheeler space, basically the load carriers. Our assembly unit for such vehicles is being established and it will be completed by September 2017.

What do you think about the current scenario of the Indian EV space infested with Chinese components and is there a scope for Indian players?

I think the market right now for sure is full of major components, like motor, controller and chargers being imported from China. The government also understands this situation, but the problem is that sometimes the small traders simply go ahead, import and sell imported components to the EV manufacturers. Now, when indigenous component development happens, we will even see many investors come in and put the money. Only volume is the sole requisite now, which will change everything completely.

What are your further plans for the chargers?
We will be supplying the chargers to OEs in the EV space. We have already sold close to 3,000 chargers through our own network, including pieces sent out in the aftermarket for replacement in the vehicles already on roads, which sum up to 225,000 units sold till date. Since our charger is universally applicable, we intend to supply it to various EV manufacturers across the board.

What is the price and life of the charger developed indigenously by Ampere?
The charger is priced at Rs 1,700 per piece, and comes enclosed in a rugged casing. It is a portable charger and comes with a 12-month warranty from us.

From a commercial perspective, how does the charger made by Ampere compares to others?
The imported ones currently prevalent in the market are low cost because they do not have major functionalities, and they even affect battery performance. We are providing a micro-controller-based charger, which offers much better quality, reliability and aftersales support too. The price premium of Rs 400-500 is very marginal, and that too is at the current production volume levels, which if expanded to 20,000 units, will make the price benefit from economies of scale and bring it down further.

Is the charger compatible with lead-acid or Li-ion batteries?The charger in production is for lead-acid batteries and the one for li-ion batteries is currently under development and will be complete by July 2017.

What is the size of the EVs sold in India?
India has sold close to 220,000 EVs till date. FY2015-16 saw close to 22,000 EVs being sold across the country. FY2016-17 was similar, with Ampere having sold 10 percent of that total national number.

What are Ampere’s targets for FY2017-18?
This year, we aim to focus on chargers and bring them to the market and increase their sales, both to OEs and in the aftermarket. Also, we plan to introduce a new electric two-wheeler, in the month of June 2017, primary for the middle-class segment. It’s going to be a very nice-looking vehicle and we anticipate good demand for it.

We are also doing the second round of our fund-raising activity this year and after that, we will be launching a full-fledged Li-ion scooter in September 2017, which will give head-on competition to a petrol-run scooter.

What will be the salient features of this Li-ion scooter?
This is going to be a very powerful electric two-wheeler, which will be sold through in a proper commercial fashion, and will also be requiring going through a vehicle registration process when a customer buys it. This is unlike how electric scooters have been sold before, with no registration requirements. We still not have worked out on its price and it would be announced at the launch.

Is Ampere also planning to enter the three-wheeler space?We are already selling electric load-carrying three-wheelers, with a large focus being majorly in the B2B operations space. We would be introducing another three-wheeler in this financial year.

How much capital are you planning to raise through funding and by when will it be done?
We are planning to get close to Rs 40 crore. We raise money only when we are close to needing it. We are very careful in our fund-raising activities and in what we want to commit back to our investors. So, we’ve been doing it consciously because sometimes big money is also not a good sign. We should be able to close this round in the next three months.

When do you plan to turn profitable?
I think managing sales and cash flow are of prime importance for any start-up and we are hopeful of being profitable by this financial year.

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