Electric fleet companies help make business of small EVs viable

Ola electric cars
Gurugram-based electric mobility service company SmartE is planning a massive expansion of its fleet of lithium-ion-powered three-wheelers. The company offers first- and last-mile connectivity to over 100,000 riders every day on a shared basis (four riders) to and from various metro stations in the National Capital Region (NCR), mostly on a fixed route and for just Rs 10 per passenger.

“In the next 18 months, we plan a 10-fold increase in our fleet to 10,000 and to serve riders in more than 100 metro stations, mostly in Delhi, from the current 14, of which seven are in Delhi. The market is huge as even after covering so many stations on the Delhi metro, we have touched only 40 per cent of them,” said SmartE Co-founder Goldie Srivastava who has tied up with the Delhi Metro.  

The company is one of the largest private sector buyers of electric three-wheelers from Kinetic and Mahindra & Mahindra. Its new orders will give a big boost to electric three-wheeler players, providing them with economies of scale.

To support his ambitious plans, Srivastava has quietly built a charging infrastructure for 1,000 vehicles for the captive consumption of its fleet. He hopes to expand this to create a capacity for 10,000 vehicles and is even considering opening it up for public use but only for two- and three-wheelers. Drivers are not complaining: They take the vehicle at a fee but make 30-40 per cent more than when they did earlier. 

Electric fleet owners like SmartE or Bengaluru-based Lithium Urban Technologies, giants like Ola, and logistic companies like DOT that helps e-commerce companies deliver products, are playing a key role in kicking up sales of electric vehicles (EVs). This has provided much needed scale for manufacturers to help make the business viable.

To focus on EVs, Ola has recently spun off a separate company, Ola Electric Mobility, which apart from funding of Rs 400 crore from Matrix Partners, Tiger Global, and Ratan Tata, this week received $250 million from SoftBank.

So what does it plan to do with this cash? It has set ambitious targets for electrification of its fleet: one million EVs by 2022. But its immediate target, after their EVs have done over 4 million clean kilometers, is to get to 10,000 electric two- and three-wheelers up and running by the end of this year. It is also collaborating with several companies such as Kinetic and OK Play, which manufacture electric two-wheelers.  

Anand Shah, who heads the business, says: “We are in the business of producing miles, so any method through which we can do so in a more cost effective way which will benefit driver-partners, consumers and us is our area.”

Shah says that the viability of e-vehicles will happen if 10 per cent of all electric two-wheelers sold are electric. He hopes that Ola will help in contributing 2-3 per cent of that volume.

Ola is concentrating its R&D on the electric battery as well as the charging stations. It has stationed a couple of hundred vehicles in Nagpur and Delhi to get feedback and is partnering with e-scooter and e-rickshaw makers to figure out ways to modify their products to solve problems of longevity and more efficiency.  

Delivery and logistics companies are also seeing opportunities for their group companies to get into the assembly of e-vehicles. Li-ions Elektrik Solutions is part of a group that has set up a separate manufacturing company for electric scooters. “Many e-commerce companies have a compulsion to go green. Also, for a last-mile delivery company, operating costs on an electric two-wheeler are only 30 paisa per km compared to Rs 2.50 on a conventional vehicle. So, it makes business sense. We have a captive demand for the scooters and will also sell to third party companies,” said Gurvinder Singh, director, Li-ions Elektrik Solutions.

The two-wheeler has been built to cater to e-commerce and food delivery companies in that it can go up to 130 km on one charge, has a large cargo box with insulation, and will be supported by batteries that can be swapped. Li-ions has tied up with Big Basket, which will use half of the 250 bikes which will be produced in the first phase. It has also tested the scooter with Amazon, Swiggy, and others.  

Singh estimates that 1500,000-2000,000 two-wheelers are already engaged in e-commerce and food delivery and that demand will grow by over 28 per cent per annum. Cashing in on the opportunity of IT companies looking for a safer yet cheaper transport for their employees, Lithium is planning to double its fleet of electric cars to 1,800 by the end of this year for 25 clients. It buys all its vehicles from one company, Mahindra Electric being one of its largest customers.

Says Lithium founder Sanjay Krishnan: “Our price is 40 per cent cheaper to our clients compared to petrol or diesel cars. And this difference will only become higher once cars with BSVI emissions hit the market.”

To support its fleet, the company has also build an infrastructure of 500 fast chargers in the seven cities where it operates. Lithium is now also looking at opportunities to run electric buses and talks are on with Chinese manufacturer BYD to use them to provide last-mile connectivity in metros.


            Who is ordering EVs

  • Ola will have a fleet with 1 million EVs in the next  three years 
  • SmartE is ordering 9,000 more electric 3-wheelers this year
  • Flipkart has said that 40% of its last-mile delivery will be on EVs by March next year  
  • Lithium will buy over 900 electric cars from Mahindra Electric this year 
  • Zomato to convert 40% of fleet to power-assisted bikes in 2 years

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