Imagine a scooter that has a digital touchscreen dashboard instead of analogue dials, turn indicators that work automatically, multiple riding modes including a custom mode and changes the power mode when energy level is low. Ather Energy’s first vehicle could have these features and more. That explains why Tarun Mathur, who founded Ather Energy along with Swapnil Jain, wants to call it a smart vehicle company.
“We will change every single thing that goes inside (a scooter),” Tarun told Autocar Professional. It’s perhaps this approach and the product and business concept that has helped Ather Energy raise three rounds of funding worth over US$13 million so far from the government’s Technology Development Board, the Bansals of Flipkart and global investment firm Tiger Global.
In a country where electric vehicles (EV) have struggled to gain acceptance, Ather Energy is bullish about its proposition which it claims will be ahead of the rest. Currently, Hero Electric with a portfolio of 8 e-bikes is the market leader.
Tarun lists out some reasons why he is bullish. “Our power is almost 20 times than most of their models. We have 3X more speed, 10 times longer battery life and eight times faster charging,” he says.
However, Ather Energy sees regular petrol-run scooters as the “real challenge” to address. Faster refueling and lesser acquisition cost are two key parameters where an EV like Ather Energy’s will fall way behind. In the mid- to long term, it expects the dynamics to change. “The cost of ownership over four years is already the same as a petrol scooter and, over the next five years, I expect the acquisition price of the vehicle itself to match a petrol vehicle. So after that your total ownership cost starts dropping right from day one,” says Tarun. Ather Energy hasn’t finalised the price of its scooter but it will be priced at “less than one lakh” rupees. That compares to a little over Rs 60,000 for a Honda Activa in Bangalore.
Technology and innovation is one part of the story. The other part is building a network and a market for its products. The team of 45 people at Ather Energy should expect some exciting and challenging times ahead. Right now they are learning the technology and building the product. “The next 5-6 years will be quite interesting because we are going to learn scale. 10,000 (units a year) is not scale, it is a cottage industry. A million is interesting scale,” says Tarun. Ather Energy’s ambition is to reach the million mark by 2020. That is 100 times the initial production capacity!
How the journey started
Tarun, along with his team-mates, has started the entrepreneurial journey. But did he always dream to be an entrepreneur? “Absolutely not. I just wanted more time with my Playstation. I’ve been a big fan of computer games,” says the 25-year old, who graduated from IIT Madras only 3 years ago. The Ather Energy story may not have happened now if he had secured admission for an MBA degree in Harvard Business School. Tarun couldn’t make the final cut to get into the institute. The IIT education happened because it was a given that “if you are studying science, you might as well do engineering. If you are doing engineering, you might as well strive for IIT”!
Working in the entrepreneurship cell on campus and the many recent successful stories like those of Flipkart and Snapdeal enthused Tarun. “I realised the best thing you can do at this point is create value and the best way to create value is to start up,” says Tarun. No wonder that he counts Sachin and Binny Bansal among his role models. A holder of a patent for a lithium-ion battery pack design, Tarun looks up to Chetan Maini, and wants to meet Elon Musk.
Today's environment could be said to be the best in recent times to start a venture. With the government’s focus to promote EVs, Tarun and team couldn’t have asked for a better time.