The Indian market has seen a growth in electric vehicle sales over the last year as the adoption of EVs spreads further thanks to the incentives offered by state governments, so having a supporting infrastructure is a must. To promote wider usage, the swapping of batteries can play a key role.
This is where Battery Smart, a swapping network for electric two and three wheelers recently announced that it has completed a milestone of one million paid swaps. While the first million took around two years, the company expects the second million to come much faster. Speaking to Autocar Professional, Battery Smart co-founder, Pulkit Khurana, said, “We are doing around 11,000 swaps every day and the we expect the next million to come within the next two months.”
Khurana is quick to add that rather than the numbers, the company is “More concentrated on the coverage and customers”. He says that the swapping numbers will enable the company demonstrate the scale and experience. The target, he says, is one million swaps every day.
Co-founded Khurana and Siddharth Sikka, both IIT-Kanpur graduates, Battery Smart is targeting a $17 billion swapping market in India by 2025. Operationalized in June 2020, Battery Smart is on a mission to make the adoption of electric mobility simple, economical, and accessible. In February 2021, Battery Smart announced its Seed-Round, led by Orios Venture Partners and in November 2021, it raised $ 7 million in a pre-Series A round, led by Blume Ventures and Orios Ventures.
At present, the company has operations in India, including Noida, Gurugram, Faridabad, and Panipat, and is moving towards its goal of making EV adoption simple, economical, and accessible. By December 2022, the startup is planning to reach 25 cities. After that, it has identified a few cities in northern India which it plans to foray into including Amritsar, Varanasi, Agra, and also Kolkata.
Battery Smart’s major customers are in the three-wheeler segment and account for 85 percent of its swapping. This is also the main reason why they are present in and around Delhi-NCR where the e-rickshaws are more popular. “We realised there were two million plus e-rickshaws on the road which were struggling with the lead acid battery. Every six months, the batteries have to be replaced. Also, the drivers have to charge for 10 hours a day which affects their daily business. So we decided to focus on this segment,” he said.
Then, he says, as two-wheelers took shape, we opened for two-wheelers and now for the cargos. There are around 200 plus two-wheeler customers every day. The rickshaws are also the main reason why we are not present in other cities like Bengaluru. However, the aim is to service everyone.”
Battery Smart offers a monthly subscription, where the customers can change any number of batteries. Around 50 percent of users opt for this, eh says while the rest pay for the per swap. The cost for battery swapping differs from place to place. The company’s data-driven methodology and battery telematics have enabled it to grow exponentially. The IoT-enabled batteries on its network and the data generated are being utilised for network planning and ensuring EV users have access to two-minute swaps within a one km radius with zero wait time. With 4000+ registered drivers on its platform and over 200 Swap Stations live and operational, the company claims it has been able to powered 30 million emission-free kms till date.
The start-up has partnered with local garages, parking lot services and Kirana shops to set up the networks. Also, all their stations are partner operated and are geographically located where the requirements are more. In August 2021, the company partnered with GoMechanic to set up swap stations at their locations. In early 2022, Battery Smart forged a partnership with Zypp Electric, a shared electric Mobility startup, to integrate 2000 Zypp Electric two-wheelers onto its network.
Around 80 percent of their partners have also expanded the capacity based on requirement. “This clearly indicates demand. Metro stations, bus stands are where the requirement is high,” he said. “With our IoT enabled batteries, we can determine usage, driver behaviour, traffic requirements at particular stations etc. Based on that, we set the swapping network,” Khurana said.
He also emphasised that the network has to expand intelligently. “We cannot cold start in a city with 100 stations. We cannot have customers waiting for the batteries. It takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes to fully charge the battery.”
In order to expand usage, Battery Smart is in discussion with e-commerce players who typically do not own the fleet directly and can ideally use the battery network. The company has also kicked off discussions with state governments for their smart city plans. It has also partnered with a few companies for the disposal and secondary usage of the batteries. “We are a supplier of energy requirements. Our customers can be any player like the government, fleets etc. We are agnostic of that and we are here to supply the requirement,” he added.
“Within the next five years, we look to scale in most of the cities. Our prime aim is to serve a million vehicle a day,” he concluded.
The promise of swapping
With most OEMs making an EV along with an in-built battery, does swapping a battery have a future? According to Khurana, it is an emphatic yes. He adds that there are a couple of concerns that that prevent a wider adoption of EVs in India. For one, the average user cannot afford a normal EV today, be it a two-or three-wheeler. Also, there is an issue of charging for commercial use cases. Besides, they have to change the battery for every 2-3 years which is a recurring expenditure and then range anxiety too. Swapping solves all the three problems,” says Khurana.
He says that when there is a network of swapping stations, one can charge and replace batteries anywhere. Also, with the batteries owned by the network, there is no need for separate investment and the customers need not worry about deteriorating battery life, cost, proper charging and more. “Those problems are solved by us,” he stated.
“Swapping moves ownership of batteries from individual to network and is more advantageous than charge stations because it needs less space. When you do not own the battery, a user will not mind exchanging it. This is what we are trying to do for two, three-wheelers and cargo vehicles. To create a large network there is a need to be interoperable and we do that from day one. The battery we work is one kind which suits all the vehicles we serve. It is like one battery for two-wheelers, two for the three-wheelers and more based on the load for the cargo three-wheelers. It is modular in size,” Khurana said.
This feature was first published in March 15, 2022 for AutocarProfessional Magazine.