Ather Energy’s e-Scooter Set to Drive India’s Clean Energy Initiative

What is Ather Energy?

Ather Energy is a Bangalore based startup which is designing a smart electric two-wheeler. The startup was founded in 2013 by Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain. Presently, they are a team of about 40 employees (mostly engineers) developing an e-scooter which has been conceptualized, designed and engineered in India. As the company claims, “The electric scooter will be the first of its kind which will be smart, connected and futuristic.”

Driven by their core interest towards clean energy, Tarun and Swapnil quit their jobs in 2013 to start work on battery packs which is one of the biggest shortcomings in electric vehicles sector today. Eventually, realizing that the problem isn’t just the battery pack, the team was drawn to the idea of designing and building a completely new electric vehicle and that is how Ather Energy came into being.

What is the startup’s aim?

“The electric vehicle segment in India remains underexplored in comparison to what it is globally. While the need of the hour is to have more vehicles that can offset air pollution caused by fueled vehicles, several people in India are still not convinced about the idea, largely because of the  performance of the current electric vehicles. With the help of the Ather scooter we plan to provide a potential next-gen e-vehicle to help solve the growing pollution and related issues,” says the team.

What is the product’s specifications?

The Ather-S340 is a connected vehicle powered by lithium-ion battery pack, featuring a digital touchscreen dashboard. It has a light-weight aluminum chassis and offers a top speed of 75 km per hr.

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Some of the features in the smart dashboard will enable users to create personalized profiles, choose riding modes and help them set other ride preferences. Being a connected scooter, it will ensure that all vehicle data is constantly logged and monitored enabling on-board diagnostics and issuing notifications for any maintenance.

Who is it competing with?

Presently, the startup is competing with a couple of players in the sector like Hero Electric, Ampere & Mahindra Reva.

Problems and challenges faced by the company at different level?

Tarun Mehta, Co-Founder said, “Building the team and keeping the focus on the product is extremely critical at Ather. We spend a disproportionate amount of our time in hiring and debating the product specs. Another challenge has been finding the right partners and investors for the venture. Hardware startups are still few in number in India and have a longer development cycle. Finding the right people to back you is very critical to keep the vision alive.”

What is the market size and opportunity?

The overall two-wheeler market in India is 16M strong today and is expected to grow to 32M by 2020. The electric vehicle market alone is estimated to grow to 5M by 2020 aided by government support at the national and state level. That is a $7B opportunity for EVs alone in India in the next 5 years.

Total amount of funding raised till now?

In February 2014 the company raised an amount of Rs. 45 lakhs from The Technology Development Board under Dept. of Science & Technology – Govt. of India, IIT Madras and Mr Srini V Srinivasan, another IIT alumni and founder of Aerospike. In December, it raised its seed round of of $1 million from Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal.

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Recently, the company secured an amount of $12 million from Tiger Global. Total funding raised has been used in product development, testing and production.

Startups’ product launch, present and future plans?

Launch: The vehicle is expected to be ready for test rides by end-2015 and the official launch is scheduled for early 2016. The price of the scooter is still not finalized.

Future plans: “Post 2016, Ather will consider getting into more vehicles and charging infrastructure. We are looking forward to becoming the biggest brand in electric vehicles by 2020,” says the team.

Charging Infrastructure plans: Ather scooters will come with an on-board charger which, when compared to the vehicles of today makes the entire process of charging very simple. Additionally, the charging time has been brought down from 6-8 hours to near 1 hour.

Ather on being asked as to why product startups or hardware startups make much more sense in India right now? The company said, “Hardware startups typically face higher upfront costs and longer development times. But they, run the advantage of massive scalability (due to commoditization of a lot of hardware and massive manufacturing support in places like China) and significant real-value creation that is hard to wipe out even in the worst of times. That makes businesses with a focus on strong design, branding and IP very resilient.

Globally there is a momentum that is building up as more investors and partners see the tremendous value that a hardware startup generates. India has had a manufacturing and design eco-system for decades now and has a cost advantage compared to many other countries, from a design and testing perspective. There are a lot of things which are lining up – government support (Make in India), investor interest, access to talent etc.”

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