Mahindra recharges the electric line

Among the early auto majors in India to step into the electric car segment, Mahindra & Mahindra is finally stepping up its game. Hoping to make the most of a shift in consumer perceptions, the group is expanding its range of electric cars, offering it across price bands and working on providing better after-sales support with recharging batteries and other issues. The company hopes to leverage its understanding of the domestic market and take advantage of increasing environment consciousness among urban consumers to push forward its e-range of vehicles. 

It launched four new cars under the electric line and rebranded its offerings under a single entity called Mahindra Electric last year. The company has taken its time speeding up the electric drive; after taking over the Bengaluru-based Reva Electric Car Company in 2010, it had just one product on the road until last year. Now apart from the original two-door Reva, there is an electric hatchback (e2oPlus), an all-electric version of the sedan Verito (eVerito,) and a passenger and cargo variant of the Supro (eSupro). Mahindra Electric also has a new logo, the ‘plus ME’ symbol, and the brand stands for clean, connected, convenient and economically viable solutions, the company says. “We believe India needs electric to be accessible to the common man. Our aim was to enable mass market adaptation,” says Mahesh Babu, chief executive officer, Mahindra Electric. It plans to establish its footprint in the higher value segment too.

“Being in the mass market is not our only plan. We have just started some work towards an aspirational product,” Babu adds. However one of the big issues that the electric car has faced in the country is with post-purchase ease of use. Customers have found it difficult given the lack of charging stations and the fear that the technology will run out of power before the car gets to its destination. Proof of customers’ reluctance to buy into the electric drive lies in the poor numbers; Mahindra has sold around 7,000 cars in India since it acquired Reva in 2010. This is a really small number given the pace with which cars have proliferated urban streets in that time. 

Experts say that the big hurdles are lack of trust in the technology and lack of infrastructure. “Our brand is based on a strong technology base and high value-add. We will continue to innovate in technology and in the consumer space,” says Babu. The company is working with stakeholders to create an appropriate ecosystem and generate more visibility for electric vehicles, he explains. 

Babu says that the company is setting up battery charging infrastructure in malls, IT parks, within Mahindra-owned spaces and in other areas. The charging areas are branded ‘+me’ and are expected to bring more brand visibility too. 

The company is also pitching the electric car to large corporate campuses. A Bengaluru-based firm has already bought 150 cars from Mahindra Electric and e-commerce firm, BigBasket is also a customer. The company is talking to Amazon, Flipkart and other such firms. BigBasket, on a pilot basis, is using 50 cargo electric vans. Mahindra expects more cars to roll out across more campuses as organisations realise the real value of such transport. Dharmendra Mishra, vice president and head-sales, marketing and customer care, Mahindra Electric says that the the firm that bought 150 cars has already achieved a break-even since its running cost is just 70 paise per km against Rs 5-6 in diesel or gasolene. Mishra adds that the cars will continue to be positioned as ‘city cars’ until adequate charging and other infrastructure is built across the country.

Focusing on large campuses helps address the infrastructure issue, the cars are driven along predictable routes along which Mahindra Electric can set up its charging stations. The company has also worked on bringing down the battery costs. It is down to nearly $300 from $1,000 in the last three to five years. The idea, the company says, is to bring global technology at an Indian price. The push towards establishing the electric brand on Indian roads and making it affordable and easy to use comes at a time when the streets are abuzz with rumours of a Tesla entry. Experts believe that many more companies are eyeing the Indian market, which has grown by around 60 per cent during the last fiscal compared to the previous one. 

Electric vehicles have found greater acceptability in recent years as people have grown more aware of the consequences of air pollution. It has also got a boost from the leaders in business and government. Recently Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal announced that by 2030 all vehicles will be electric. The chairman of Softbank has already mentioned that he would like to donate one lakh electric vehicles to Ola. Even if 10 per cent of the proposed sales happen, the landscape for electric vehicles will change dramatically. And that is just the kind of track that Mahindra Electric is hoping for.

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