EV megatrend fuels a new Indian entrepreneurial venture

by Sumantra B Barooah 15 Aug 2020

An electric vehicle (EV) doesn’t only have much lesser number of parts than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE), but the entry barrier to the EV industry is also quite lower than the one for the ICE vehicle industry. That explains the entry of Detel, a brand of low-cost mobile handsets, televisions, masks, into the emerging electric mobility industry.

This move also reflects the strong Indian entrepreneurial spirit. “The EV industry will be on the rise for the next 30 years at least,” Yogesh Bhatia, founder and CEO, Detel tells Autocar Professional. To tap this opportunity, Bhatia made the first move by launching Detel Easy, an entry-level electric two-wheeler, priced at Rs 19, 999. At this price, Detel claims the two-wheeler is the ‘world’s most economical’ EV The Detel Easy Detel Easy is powered by a 250 watt electric motor that offers a top speed of 25 kph. This specification allows the Detel Easy to be ridden without being registered, and the user need not have a driving licence. Bhatia is positioning the EV as a choice for teenagers and people who wish to travel short distances or run errands.

The Detel Easy has a 48V battery that can be fully charged in 7-8 hours, and offers a 60 km riding range in ‘ideal conditions’. Detel offers a free helmet with every e-bike, and the company says it plants one tree, geo-tagged, on behalf of every customer.

Bhatia says the Detel Easy has a localisation level of 60 percent currently, and the plan is to make it a fully made-in-India product. “We want to localise up to every nut and bolt in the vehicle, in the next 6 months or so,” says Bhatia. That may be a tall claim considering that there’s not a single Litium-ion battery cell maker in India yet. “You never know, tomorrow Detel may even bring a (Lithium-ion) battery maker to India. Anything is possible if the mission is strong,” says Bhatia and reveals that discussions are on in this regard.

The 46-year old entrepreneur’s mission includes launching Detel EVs in overseas markets too. According to Bhatia, the brand has already been registered in markets like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Dubai, parts of South Africa. “Our goal is to establish a trustworthy, value for money brand made in India that’s made for global markets too,” says Bhatia.

Right from its birth in 2017, the brand Detel has been offering products with some disruptive pricing. Its first product, a feature phone was launched at Rs 299 only. A year later it launched a television model for Rs 3,999.  Going by the revenue growth, the strategy seems to be yielding results. Bhatia says the brand’s turnover has risen nearly 9-fold over the past 3 years, from Rs 10 crore in the inaugural year, to Rs 87 crore in 2019. With the entry into the EV space, the target for this year is Rs 200 crore. Bhatia expects a fourth, or Rs 50 crore, of the total revenue to come from Detel EVs. The Detel EV plant in Gurugram can roll out up to 20,000 units currently, says Bhatia.

At Rs 19, 999 Detel Easy is not a profitable proposition. Bhatia has priced it aggressively as a market entry strategy. He wants to price the battery pack, the single most expensive part of an EV, aggressively too. Currently, a battery pack like the one in Detel Easy could cost around Rs 12,000. Bhatia wants to price it 25 percent cheaper when the customer has to change the pack after using the vehicle for 3 years or so.  He says he wants people to try out the product and gradually accept the brand in the EV space. In this phase the company also looks at understanding the EV industry well in order to design its future growth strategies. In the immediate future, Detel plans to launch a mid, and a top end variant of the debut model. Even as Bhatia harbours ambitious plans, he doesn’t plan to venture beyond two-wheelers in the EV space. “We will focus only on two-wheelers. We want to get bicycle users to upgrade to an electric two-wheeler,” he says.

SG Corporate Mobility, owner of the Detel brand, has its roots in the distribution business for 18 years. It has come a long way from distributing mobile sim cards and consumer goods. Over the years it has also established contacts with electronics suppliers in various markets like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Turkey. Some of the vendors in these countries, supplying consumer electronics goods, are also coming handy in sourcing components for EVs. Sourcing is also done from China.

With the consumer electronics business, brand Detel has got a retail network of around 10,000 touchpoints. A customer base of over 10 million people has also grown over the years. These will be leveraged by Detel to make inroads into the emerging EV industry in the country. Going by these figures, the first year’s target of selling 1 lakh EVs may not be too challenging.

The Detel EV project of SG Corporate Mobility has been in the works for over a year. It also shows the appetite for new growth opportunities, of entrepreneurs in India. So does the mask, oximeter, fog machine, sanitizer business under a new brand called DetelPro. At one level, a technology intensive business like EVs cannot be seen as just another opportunity for business, and clubbed with a set of other businesses, as it may not be sustainable then. Bhatia says he is clear that he wants Detel to be established as a respectable brand. Therefore, he has also planned for it to be run separately once he drafts a business succession plan between his two sons.