September 1, 2012: Chetan Maini, Chief Technology Officer, Mahindra Reva Electric Cars
Mahindra Reva's CTO speaks to Sumantra Barooah on manufacturing electric cars from the new state-of-the-art plant in Bangalore and the bottom-up approach that will see significant jumps in power for the next level of performance.
You have inaugurated a new plant with new electric cars set to roll out soon. Big day for you, isn’t it?
This is something more than a launch. Cars will come and go, but what we are starting is a philosophy. People need to start seeing that, how things will be in 2020. You are going to have connectivity, clever cars today. All these things are possible today. In the next 5-7 years, it will become much better once it starts to spread. Imagine if there are 100,000 cars and they use one of the solutions of solar charging, they will recover the cost in a year and a half. Between 2-4 in the morning when there’s less consumption, you charge your car. People are already doing this in Germany and in other countries. The moment deregulation comes in electricity, you will have things like this. It’s going to be far bigger. While product is important, the idea of today’s launch was to show that it can be far beyond that.
What about remote charging, in case of emergency? Is that still on the cards?
We are going to talk about it at the time of launch. It’s a product called Revive. At the launch, we’ll talk about 15 more such new technologies that we've incorporated in the NXR.
From a mobility point of view, how close will the NXR be to a conventionally comparable car?
The idea is that in city driving it’s going to be easier, parking will be easier. The automatic and other technologies will make it easier to drive. The idea is that it should be better. Is your car going to go from Delhi to Agra? No. The entire design and technologies are aimed at convenience.
Having invested in such a facility, and the vision that the company has, Mahindra Reva cannot be a one-model company for long.
We’ll probably see a variant coming out every year, on this platform or other platforms from our plant. We are also separately working with the Mahindra Group on powering some of its products.
What other segments can the company be present in?
At present, nothing on the cards. What you are going to see is the synergy between M&M’s automotive sector, Mahindra Reva and SsangYong. We will see strategically what works best. Our expertise will be in the technology front. Leveraging the Group strategy is happening. We need to see by 2020 that there’s a reasonable of electrification within all platforms. We have to grow significantly in the next 6-8 years.
Tell us more about the bonding process and the pre-impregnated body panels in your production process.
We found that most customers are wary of the scratches or dents that their cars get within months of buying. That triggered us to look at leveraging the improvements in polymers and plastic. At the same time, lightweight is very important for us. Recyclability is also very important. So, all three came together and fit very well to move to the next level. To accommodate these, we changed the process and designed accordingly. It saved us several hundred crores of rupees, which would have been required to set up a paint shop, or a body shop.
Recently, electric carmaker Tesla launched a high- performance product. Will Mahindra Reva concentrate only on the other end of ‘practical’ affordable cars?
I think you will have more performance products. You can make (electric) cars go from 0-100kph in 4 seconds. You can make them go 400 kilometres. No problem. The challenge is it costs more to do it. In the market we are talking about, customers are looking for value for money. It still likes performance, but it likes value for money. We will offer products with higher speeds, European versions that will be different from the Indian version. People here will also get it, but at an additional cost. There are two ways of moving up the chain. We will have a bottom-up approach, unlike Tesla which I think has a top-down approach.
What kind of band would you look in Mahindra Reva’s performance-oriented products? The NXR’s range will be around 100 kilometres, I think.
Yes, we will have products that will be 50 percent more of that probably. That will be maybe in a year’s time. You will see significant, not incremental, jumps, in power level or something else. It will be significant jumps which will give you the next level of performance.
How do you see the various key overseas EV markets shaping up?
The USA market was 25,000 last year. This year, they plan to sell 60,000 EVs. In 1998, 6,000 hybrids were sold in the first year of launch between Prius and others. For electric, 20,000-plus in the first year. Now they are doing a few million hybrids. If the right policy framework is there, and two or three manufacturers come out with EVs, with awareness built up, it will be a different ball game.
China is another big EV market. Would it be your key focus market for exports?
China is big more in electric two-wheelers. From 40,000 electric two-wheelers in 1999 to 100 million now! We do 10-12 million two-wheelers ever year, and they do 20-22 million electric two-wheelers. It’s definitely one we are exploring. Our export markets are ones that are going to start to have good supporting policies and framework. For example, if Norway is taxing regular cars 100 percent, and electric cars at zero percent, it’s a favourable market. In Denmark, it’s 170 percent tax on a regular car and zero percent for electric cars. In France, you get a 5,000 Euros subsidy. In the UK, the £8 congestion charge is waived off for electric cars. In the US, it’s $7,500. Fundamentally, energy security is a huge issue. Its impact on inflation and the economy is huge. We are hugely dependent on oil imports. If a portion of the cars go electric, the dependency will be less.
Are power outages an area of concern?
Today, we have power deficit in peaks (hours). But a lot of places have power surplus in the middle of the night. At 9am, everyone turns on the AC, industries come on and that results in a huge load. Between 6 to 7pm, there’s a peak again, as everyone goes home while industry is still closing. But say during 2 to 4am, electricity usage is not that much. But if something is expensive, when it is less, then people will use less. When it is cheap, people will use more. Take it one step further. Imagine, there are 100,000 electric cars in Delhi. Each vehicle can give 10 kW of power back to the grid. At 9 in the morning, when people go to work, people plug their cars in. This is not very farfetched. 100,000 cars will give you 1,000 MW of power. A power company need not spend on new transformers and put distribution in place, and spend around Rs 500 crore on them. It can buy power from people at say Rs 10 per unit. All the cars are connected, so billing is easy. And in the morning, when power is cheaper, car owners can buy power back at a cheaper rate. You make money on your car, you support the grid and you balance the grid! When you think of solar, when you think of windmills, the challenge is they go up and down. Electric vehicles, when the volumes go up, will be great balancers. Yes, today there may be a case when there’s no power. But cars can be charged quicker. It’s more of a misnomer. You also have to understand probably today in a household, a car would use less energy than an air-conditioner.
Now that Reva is part of the Mahindra Group, would you look at EV-powering infrastructure?
Yes, definitely. We are evaluating it. Besides our products, as a business we are licensing plants like this (overseas). Earlier, we had anMoU with the Australian ministry. We had anMoU to look at such plants globally. It’s a licensed way of doing it. We are looking at the infrastructure business. Fast- charge stations, Sun2Car are all infrastructure solutions. These will become businesses. We may work at these ourselves or look at partners to expand these businesses.
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