As the former Head of Design at Mahindra & Mahindra, Ramkripa Ananthan is known to have led the team that designed the Mahindra XUV500, XUV300, Marazzo, Thar and XUV700. She also contributed in designing the Bolero and Scorpio. After leaving Mahindra last year, Ananthan branched out to set up her own design studio, and she’s now created a concept electric vehicle. We catch up with the design veteran who has created a small EV prototype, using upcycled materials, for last-mile connectivity.
Tell us something about the concept car that you have created.
Today’s customers seek sustainable options, manufacturers want to be environmentally and socially responsible, and refurbishers have access to millions of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). The concept, which we have created at KRUX Studio, is an exciting solution which connects these three stakeholders.
The concept is an electric, micro, mobility vehicle, and has a very small footprint. We have made a working prototype to showcase the first- and last-mile mobility experience of this concept. And being really small and light, it can have more range even with a smaller battery.
And what is very interesting is that 20 percent of the vehicle is made of upcycled parts – parts which have been recycled and used differently. I have used door assemblies, plastic housings, wheel housings, the front bumper, the steering wheel, headlamps and tail lamps - basically anything that is plastic and will become landfill.
And the prototype is completely enclosed because I am using an existing door. The only thing is that I used a surrogate (chassis), so it’s slightly bigger than what I planned.
What is the target audience for your compact car?
It is for point-to-point, shared application, and not personal owning. Maybe people don’t want to have reused parts for personal ownership, but if the vehicle is shared, then why not. Suddenly their eco-consciousness is awoken. And honestly, there is no alternative.
How will you manage the upcycling of parts?
22 million vehicles are going to reach their end of life by 2025. So I am saying is let’s upcycle, because we can extend their life. Electric vehicles can utilise upcycling since they don’t have any vibrations, and I am not touching anything below the floor, in any case. I am suggesting the use of upcycling for only the parts above the floor, or the top hat, that is, for applications which don’t have vibrations. For instance, you can just reupholster and use the seats. Redo the paint and touch it up a little. As a result, suddenly, you have parts available, and you don’t have to invest heavily.
What was the thinking behind creating the concept?
In an OEM (original equipment manufacturer), all the customers and scenarios are considered for conceiving a product brief. A design services company, like Pininfarina, gets a brief and it designs to a brief. Even inside an OEM, we design for our customers, for our portfolio plan, and for our vision. Even if there is an idea out there which is relevant, we won’t do it because it doesn’t fit our plan.
So, with this concept, I am finally trying to show people what goes behind conceiving the product. I, sort of, did a free thinking of what’s happening in the world, and I connected a few dots. For instance, a customer in an urban area has to deal with congestion, pollution, and a lack of alternatives for a certain type of transport. And the younger customers are even more aware of climate change.
There is another thing happening, where investors are very keen for companies to show an environmental and social conscience. And there are ELVs, which the government has been talking about for the past few years.
What is the commercial or business objective behind the concept? Are you pitching it to customers or the automakers?
This is not really for the end customer. The business angle for me, as an entrepreneur, is to show companies what I can do. In that sense, use me as a think tank, and not just as a design service, where you will give me a brief and I will design it. I can do that, but as can others. One part of the pitch of setting up a design studio myself is to say that I can create these really differentiated products.
The same concept can also be configured for carrying cargo – we can just remove a few parts and, of course, we have to change the suspension for taking a slightly higher payload. So, the concept’s conversion to a cargo vehicle is very simple. There is a huge potential for such an application, especially with delivery services like Big Basket and Zomato.
I am hoping to convert a bunch of people, they can be OEMs or EV start-ups, because the concept is very quick to market, has very low investment and has a sustainability perspective.
Ola Electric partners with Ramkripa Ananthan’s Krux Studio