According to reports, Mobility, is one of the pioneers in the electric mobility space, clocking more than 18 years on the track. After many years of trials and tribulations with Reva (now Mahindra Reva), Maini has finally moved on to building an entire ecosystem of renewable energy-based infrastructure with his new venture Sun Mobility. In an interview with ETtech, Chetan Maini, the vice-chairman of Sun, talks about his first venture, government policies, Elon Musk and why his new platform is cost effective and tailor-made for India. Excerpts.
What were the challenges you faced when you launched Reva so many years ago?
I moved back to India in 1999 and launched the car in 2001. I could not launch earlier because back then, there was no way to register and certify electric vehicles. So there was a need to create a policy and also build a supply chain. In the next few years, we got over 100 suppliers across the country. Also, hiring the right people was difficult as not many were skilled in this field.
We used tubeless tyres in 2001, when even Mercedes didn’t have them. You suddenly had a car priced similar to Maruti and an automatic. We used lightweight plastic panels but consumers were not sure about this. So we kept a hammer in every one of our showrooms. Our customers were allowed to use the hammer to hit the car in the showroom. When consumers complained about the range, we used Palm pilots to upload the data and plug in the car.
Did Elon Musk steer ahead of you in the electric mobility race?
He had Obama and other government executives who supported his electric mobility efforts in the US.There was a good flow of capital and as a result, a lot of people in California jumped into this. You already had an ecosystem built around electric vehicles there. India, on the other hand, was completely enamoured by software and services. Product-related projects have only started recently here. Elon changed people’s perspectives. I moved back to India to create affordable electric cars. Interestingly, we had similar investors in 2005-06.
Has the government funding been adequate to drive electric mobility mission?
The big vision is to become an electric vehicle nation by 2030. We need more policies that could drive infrastructure development. There is a push from the government to get the policy framework right. Also, I don’t think a country like India can afford subsidies in the long term. For example, with LEDs, the government created policy, demand and effort accordingly. We have to reduce the gap between framework and actual implementation.
Why did Reva go to Mahindra & Mahindra?
In 2009, we were at the Frankfurt Motor Show showcasing what is now called e2o. The product was received well. Though we used to go to motor shows everywhere, electric cars were relegated to some corners.Suddenly after 2009, everyone started saying it is great to invest in such platforms. At that point, we had licence agreements with General Motors. But for the vision of electric mobility, I felt that having a smaller stake in the business is not enough. I thought Mahindra would help carry that vision forward. It was a very difficult decision.
How do you make your platform cost effective?
For us, renewable energy was Rs 10 a unit till a few years ago. It has come down to Rs 3 now. It is cheaper than gasoline now. That means, even if we lock my energy pricing today for the next ten years, it will still be lower.The energy shift is happening. If you truly want to get renewables in transportation, the only way is electric mobility. The battery costs are coming down.
If you take the battery and solar energy cost, the total cost is lower than gasoline. With Sun Mobility, you can refuel faster in terms of the batteries and it’s cheaper. We are aiming at an open architecture where multiple OEMs can come together.