Newsmaker of 2021: Bhavish Aggarwal

by Nilesh Wadhwa 26 Dec 2021

From the mega factory in Tamil Nadu to the claimed crores worth of orders, Ola Electric’s boss has to walk the big talk.

Love him or hate him, you simply cannot ignore him. From the first sighting of Ola Electric’s scooter in January through to the official reveal in March and its ‘Future Factory’, located on a humungous 500-acre site that equals 378 football fields or 25 Delhi T3 airport terminals and billed to be the most advanced two-wheeler plant in the world, everything about Ola and Bhavish Agarwal, Chairman and Group CEO, hogged as much of the news wires as did Elon Musk for their commentary.

It is worth to note that SoftBank has invested around $280 million (Rs 2,072 crore) in Ola Electric, helping the 36-year-old Aggarwal set his sights high. His overarching goal is for Ola to become a full-fledged mobility solution provider be it in the form of shared mobility or launching EVs under the Ola Electric brand to a used-vehicle marketplace under the Ola Cars brand. He wants to do it all. And in an Atmanirbhar way.

The Ola CEO's EV mission first took shape when it acquired the Dutch electric two-wheeler start-up Etergo in mid-2020 and followed it up with a number of high-profile appointments. March 7 was when India Auto Inc woke up to Ola’s announcement of setting up a 2-million-units-per-annum plant in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu. Total capacity would be a whopping 10 million units with 2 million units to be ready by June 2021. At full capacity, an Ola scooter will roll out every 2 seconds. Ola's retail dynamic completely cuts out the two-wheeler dealer with a direct-to-customer approach.

On August 15, Aggarwal launched the Ola S1 and S1 Pro and also released a video where he commented, “Despite this huge market (in India), scooters which are essentially urban mobility vehicles for the youth haven’t been innovated upon for decades. These vehicles, the ones which are currently in the market, are completely out of sync with the aspirations of India — boring, dull, slow, clunky and just don’t represent the future. What’s more, the electric vehicles, which were supposed to be built for the future and currently in the market are even worse than their ICE counterparts, in almost every aspect.” His comment was on the fact that despite big launches in the form of Bajaj Chetak, the product's sales have not taken off. Clearly, ample ammo to rile both conventional and also existing EV OEMs.

Three months later, the straight-talking Bajaj Auto MD Rajiv Bajaj, at the launch of the Pulsar N250 and F250, quipped that he would place his bet on BET (Bajaj, Eicher and TVS Motor Co) who have OATS (Ola Electric, Ather Energy, Tork Motorcycles and SmartE) for breakfast.

It’s early days yet for Ola but the promise that came with 100,000 bookings in one day doesn’t seem to have been fulfilled. There have been considerable delays in Ola scooter deliveries, the full price needs to be paid upfront and more Olas on two wheels need to be seen in the real world. As is said in the world of branding, Ola's name could be both a challenge and solution in the real-world acceptance.

Will Aggarwal be able to walk the big talk? CY2022 will bring more clarity on that aspect of this evolving story.

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