The Pune-based Firodias have been in the automotive business for long. After some business restructuring, Sulajja Firodia Motwani, the third-generation entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Kinetic Green Energy & Power Solutions, is leading the Group into the emerging electric mobility era and trying to build a sustainable business. The new "start-up" was incorporated in 2014. Sulajja joined the family business in 1996, after an MBA in the USA and a 4-year work stint there. In an exclusive interview with Sumantra B Barooah, she talks about scaling up the business after selling around 25,000 electric three-wheelers so far, plans for the USA, and what keeps her going in an industry which is largely still a man's world.
Kinetic Green can be said to be your baby. How do you plan to scale it up now?Kinetic Green is definitely my baby and I founded the company five years ago. We have been one of the pioneering companies in the sector. Today, it is very fashionable to be an EV company. When we started it was still early days and with a lot of passion and conviction in the technology we began the journey. Battery prices were almost $800 per kWh then and now they are down to $200.
I believe we have established ourselves as one of the leading companies in the EV sector and definitely as the leading company in India for electric three-wheelers. All our vehicles qualify for all government support. We have over 150 exclusive Kinetic Green dealers across the country.
We are now entering the next phase of our company's growth. This year we will cross Rs 100 crore in turnover. In FY2021, we are targeting Rs 300-400 crore. All the initiatives have been taken, our products are in the market and with the kind of traction we have gained with the customers and the kind of the policies being clarified, I think we are ready for a faster ramp up and take it to the next level. With around Rs 400 crore, we would be one of India's largest EV companies in terms of sustained revenue.
Do you intend to have any partners on board?
We have started thinking about the Series 1 funding. We are looking to raise about US$ 30-odd million. We would look at investing more capital in the business aggressively. We are very uniquely placed. We are a pure-play EV company without any legacy and we also come with a lot of automotive experience and a well established brand.
How far have your reached in terms of localisation of your EVs?
Kinetic Green is at over 90 percent localisation currently. The first EV that we built had more than 70 percent import content. In 20015-16, we had absolutely no supply chain or anything and we have built a supply chain here. Now we are 90 percent plus and very soon we are going to be 100 percent localisation (doesn't include imports by any supplier) . We are building the powertrain and all the mechanical components locally. Group companies like Kinetic Communications and Kinetic Taigene are also our partners.
Any new segments beyond three-wheelers?
In three-wheelers, we are in both the passenger as well as the cargo solutions and low-speed to high-speed. But another segment that we have been working on is the segment of EVs like golf karts and buggies under the alliance with Lamborghini. Earlier we were assembling and selling golf karts, buggies and tourism vehicles in India under the Kinetic brand.
The Lamborghini brand has been licensed exclusively to the JV company (75 percent stake of Kinetic) for global markets. It is for golf karts, buggies and tourism vehicles. Globally, the golf cart market is over a billion dollar market. Almost 40 percent of the market is in the US and Canada. Other key markets are Middle East, Australia, the UK, France and Germany.
The large part of the market is now for non-golf kart applications like hotels, resorts and airports. In some countries it is also being used as a street vehicle for neighbourhood rides, and that is a very fast growing segment. The leading brands cover 40 percent of the overall market. The rest is with various brands, including some from China. There is a lot of room for differentiation and for a new brand to enter.
Our models are being designed by Italian designers with a very different kind of sensibility. They do not look like a typical golf kart. We plan to launch it in the market by November (2020). It will be developed in India and the US will be a key focus market. Right now we are looking for distributors there. Some of them are already Lamborghini associates. We might enter the Middle East first and later on we might even set up an assembly unit in the US.
Do you sometimes think over the decision or maybe regret exiting the two-wheeler business?
The feeling is mixed. We grew up with that business, we were very attached to it, and I think Kinetic has done some fundamental revolutionary things in that space. It built some iconic brands with strong legacy. At the same time, I think we took the right call and we were able to restructure the Group when it was needed even though it was a hard decision. We had to keep the interest of the employees, the suppliers and the customers in mind. It was a brave decision and of course we miss it.
Right now, we are looking into doing something revolutionary in the EV space. The sweet spot we are working on is green mobility for the masses. It is a new technology but made affordable for the common man in the three-wheelers.
How would you define your journey in the automotive industry so far?
I have been part of the Kinetic Group since my childhood. I am very attached to this business and related at a very emotional level. I love what I do and l love being a part of this industry. It's like second nature to me. I have worked in it whole-heartedly as a professional. It is beyond bread, much more than a job. It is something for the society, for the nation, for the family, for the people. I have never thought of my gender as a positive or a negative. I have just given my best to it and I have worked as hard as a man! I love what I do and I'm glad to be part of this industry.
A set of must-have attributes to be a successful entrepreneur according to you.
I would say it is about perseverance. Being an entrepreneur, the buck stops at you. You have to be self-motivated and there will be many challenges that would come your way and you have to stay in the game and take the direction which makes sense. Your end goal may not change though your path may change. There's no such thing as overnight success. So I think perseverance and commitment.
(Interview transcribed by Ujal Nair)