How Indian is the Okinawa Praise?

by Rishaad Mody, Autocar India 26 Dec 2017

Okinawa Autotech is an Indian company set up in 2015 and headquartered in Gurgaon with a manufacturing plant in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan. Until now, the company has been selling its first and only product, an electric scooter called the Ridge, which we found to be one of the most realistic and ‘normal-feeling’ of the e-scooters on sale in India. 

Recently, the company took the wraps off its second product, a more powerful e-scooter called the Praise, which promises impressively realistic performance, including a top speed of 75kph and a possible range of 170-200km. 

Okinawa categorically states that the Praise is a complete in-house project, with “Complete vehicle design and component design by Okinawa, including a Li-ion battery for which Okinawa applied for a patent”. Interestingly, though, we have come across a near-identical scooter that's already on sale from Luyuan – a 20-year-old company with a big product portfolio in electric two-wheelers and a well-established presence in China.

The Chinese scooter in question is the Luyuan Rong Wei MNR-DAS7220-Z7. It has the same body work, an identical front and rear suspension setup with external canisters, and it even wears the unique front disc brake setup where a standard disc is surrounded by another wheel-rim-mounted disc. The electric motor appears to have the same spec as well, but there is no mention about the lithium-ion battery which Okinawa says will make its debut in the Praise later.

The few noticeable visual differentiators include the brand of tyres used and the Okinawa badging on the Praise in place of a Luyuan badge. The similarities between the two logos, however, are uncanny – they have the same shape/detailing and are separated only by the use of different colours. 

We reached out to Okinawa for more details and to find out if the two companies were partners in any way, if the Praise is a rebadged Luyuan, or if it is being assembled here under licence. The company denied all of the above and stated that Luyuan is a component supplier for some controller units used in the Praise and that the e-scooter is otherwise a true Okinawa product.

New e-motorcycle in the pipeline and future expansion
On December 19, 2017, the Indian electric two-wheeler manufacturer made a slew of announcements on the side-line of the launch of Praise. It mentioned that that the OEM was also currently working on a new motorcycle on the same 72V battery architecture and which was likely to be unveil the prototype at the Auto Expo in February 2018.

The e-motorcycle is slated to be launched in FY2018-19. Okinawa claimed it had invested close to $10 million (Rs 63 crore) in FY2018 towards establishing its existing production facility, maturing the mass production, setting up a dealer network and strengthening its new model development capabilities.

It now aims to invest another $30 million (RS 189 crore) over the next two years, wherein, in FY2018-19, it will focus on brand establishment and connecting with customers by setting up ‘Experience Studios’ in key metros across the country, as well as will work towards putting up charging infrastructure with governmental support.

The company will later set up a new plant with an annual capacity of 1 million units in FY2019-20, once its volumes become consistent and substantial in the ballpark of 150,000 annual units. The project is being self-funded and Okinawa will look for loans from banks to raise the capital for the next planned developments in the pipeline.

While its current dealership count stands at 106 outlets, the company aims to reach 150 3S facilities by March 2018 and then expand to 500 centres by FY2019-20, including Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns. It also mentioned that it was also applying modern retail methods and has tied up with Paytm and Droom for online sale of its e-scooters.


Identical twins?
Nearly all vehicles manufactured these days use some level of Chinese-soured componentry, and this applies to bigger luxury brands too. This, however, is not our cause for complaint here, and many brands already sell Chinese products in our market as well – there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the products meet the country's mandated safety norms. 

What has raised eyebrows is Okinawa’s claim to have developed a completely in-house product in India, while Luyuan already has what appears to be practically the same product on sale for both the domestic Chinese market as well as for export business. This evidence certainly questions the Praise’s Indian roots. 

At this point, we haven’t heard a convincing explanation for the similarities between the products as well as the company logos. We hope Okinawa will shed some further light on this as customers deserve to know the facts about the products they’re buying.