Sun Mobility partners with SmartE to better last-mile connectivity

by Mayank Dhingra 28 Nov 2018

As the segment of last mile connectivity remains fundamentally broken, with cities putting out a strong demand for sustainable last-mile connectivity solutions, Sun Mobility and SmartE - an electric vehicle owner and aggregator operating in Delhi-NCR, have come together to drive clean mobility in the city.

SmartE, which started in 2014, with on-ground operations beginning in October 2015, today has an EV fleet of 1,000 electric three-wheelers and caters to over 80km of last-mile connectivity rides every day in Delhi, Gurugram and Faridabad.

The company also has five self-established charging depots spanning 15,000 square feet each in these three cities, having a captive capacity of charging close to 200 of these e-rickshaws every day at each of these facilities. The majorly Kinetic-sourced, GPS-enabled e-three-wheelers offer economical rides to-and-from from all key stations of the Delhi Metro in the national capital region. 

While SmartE's vision has been to tackle the fundamental challenges of arbitrary pricing, range and unreliability of drivers in this largely unorganised space, Sun Mobility, which started off in 2016 and came into a tie-up with CV maker Ashok Leyland for a pilot in the CV space, earlier in February this year, aims to solve range anxiety associated with EVs by offering its interoperable battery swapping solution for two- and three-wheelers, as well as commercial vehicles.

Under the tie-up, the duo aim to deploy energy infrastructure for 500 vehicles (10 battery swap stations) in Gurugram by end of the ongoing fiscal, eventually expand to other key cities across the country. The swapping stations would require substantially lesser space than the conventional charging stations set up by SmartE.

While SmartE currently operates with a fleet size of over 1,000 vehicles in Delhi-NCR, it plans to expand to a fleet of over 100,000 electric three-wheelers across 20 key cities by 2022. Sun Mobility, on the other hand, aims to be an enabler to such vehicles and their operators by supplying energy and targets to power 20,000 EVs - both two- and three-wheelers - by setting up 500 swapping stations in top 4 cities by FY2020, and eventually powering a million vehicles through 12,000 swapping stations in top 15 cities by FY2025.

“Battery financing, charging infrastructure and degradation of battery performance in high temperature regions such as northern India are major challenges impending electric vehicle off take in India. Our technology-intensive swapping solution is modular, interoperable and cost-effective with our pay-as-you-go model,” said Chaitan Maini, co-founder and vice-chairman, Sun Mobility, at the announcement of the partnership in New Delhi.

Goldie Srivastava, co-founder and CEO, SmartE, said: “Mobility is set to become more and more shared, and it will go electric as well as more intelligent and connected in the coming future. Last-mile too is a very interesting use-case, where people are comfortable to sit in a slow moving vehicle and share their ride with other passengers. Our vision is to allow some sort of flexibility of price and comfort in that space." 

With migration from lead acid to lithium-ion batteries, SmartE was able to register a 35 percent increase in daily operations from 80km to 120km on its e-three-wheelers.

The company has now been piloting a project with Sun Mobility over the last one month, by hooking on to its battery swapping platform and has recorded a further bump of 40 percent in its daily operational range to 160km, by seeing a significant drop in vehicle downtime when on charge. The company has also observed a significant 50 percent improvement in driver incomes with this technological shift.

The collaboration has, over the last one month, completed 10,000km of field trials before ensuring the feasibility of these batteries into SmartE's passenger carrying electric three-wheelers in Delhi-NCR.

A modular battery ecosystem
While Sun Mobility offers an ingenious solution to the range challenge, higher acquisition cost and lack of infrastructure with EVs, its interoperable batteries which see maximum asset utilisation are designed to ensure long life by having different separators and cathode, and hence offer a lot higher life at 4,000 cycles with each 'Smart’ Li-ion battery averaging around 4-5 years, as against the 400 cycles (9 months) in case of lead-acid and 1,000 cycles (18-24 months) for a regular Li-ion battery. The batteries have three on-board computers, one each for GPS asset tracking, power and battery management.

“Battery swapping makes for a strong business case for us, and the earnings are not just from sale of energy, but, the model allso takes into account the re-usability of these batteries into other applications such as that for grid storage, once they reach around 80 percent of their efficiency level over five years of use, and are replaced by new batteries into the ecosystem,” Maini explained.

Sun Mobility envisions shared mobility as the key driver of electric mobility in the country, starting off with electric three-wheelers, both goods and passenger carriers, alongside two-wheelers for shared and personal use, and eventually moving to buses, where its pilot with Ashok Leyland is under validation phase.

Both Maini and Srivastava believe that it is the shared mobility space which needs incentives to move a lot more people substantially, than the personal mobility space, which would see acceleration in sales coming in by establishment of a good infrastructure network.

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