Ola Scooter: iPhone or Nano of Personal Transport?
Although e-bikes or two-wheelers have been slowly making their presence felt with active encouragement from the government, the Independence Day launch of Ola Electric’s S1 and S1 Pro at Bengaluru created a buzz reminiscent of the launch of the Nano car 12 years ago. Ratan Tata has a personal investment in Ola, bringing in another interesting parallel.
 
So will Ola be the iPhone of electric two-wheelers? It has certainly positioned itself as such; founder and CEO, Bhavish Aggarwal is leading from the front with the claim of bringing in a ‘revolutionary’ product with the ‘best design, best performance and best technology’ that is ‘several generations ahead of anything in the market’.
 
The launch video is certainly compelling (https://olaelectric.com/). The question is whether Ola’s e-scooters will, indeed, create a revolution in the two-wheeler industry and deliver on his hope that “all two-wheelers sold in India should be electric by 2025.” The answer is important from the environment perspective as well. Remember, all the big players are already looking at this space, even though the sheer scale and size of Ola dwarfs them all, especially smaller players like Ather Energy, Okinawa, Hero Electric and Simple Energy, some of which are just entering the space.
 
I attempted to get a response to the Ola e-scooter from diverse sources including from social media. The public response is certainly overwhelming, but answers to some key questions are still elusive. Before we discuss them, here are some basics. 
 
At a booking amount of just Rs499, Ola e-scooter has received 100,000 bookings and will hit the market in October 2021. The scooters will be manufactured at a state-of-the-art facility spread over 500 acres at Krishnagiri (Tamil Nadu), with full economies of scale, an ancillary hub on the spot, with an annual production capacity of 10 million.
 
According to Entrack, Ola Electric Technologies Pvt Ltd, incorporated in January 2021 under Ola Electric Mobility as the holding entity, “will construct, implement, develop, operate and maintain a greenfield project for manufacturing electric vehicles (two, three and four-wheeler) at this hub.”  So the economies of scale and export possibility are both on a global scale.
 
Price, Features and Purchasing Power: The e-scooters are priced at Rs99,999, for the S1 and Rs1,29,999 for the S1 Pro, inclusive of FAME II subsidies but excluding those of individual states. Its press release says that after state subsidy, the S1 would cost just Rs85,099 in Delhi and Rs79,999 in Gujarat. The ‘best tech’ claim covers unique features such as super accelerating power, reverse mode, ‘hill hold’ feature, a flame-retardant battery, anti-theft feature, a touch-screen display with different customisable moods, modes and music through a proprietary operating system for multiple rider profiles and a keyless start through a smartphone app. Importantly, although Ola intends to manufacture batteries in-house, the first lot of e-scooters will import them from Korea.
 
 
According to Bike Dekho magazine, there are currently 178 electric bikes available in India starting from a price of Rs25,000 at the bottom end. Some, such as the Revolt RV400 (Rs90,799) and TVS iQube Electric (Rs1 lakh), are priced in the same range as Ola’s S1. Hero Electric India currently has a 40% market share with seven electric two-wheeler models starting at Rs47,000 to Rs80,000. So, Ola seems fairly competitively priced, especially with the technology and performance claims it is making. Also, as Prof Sanjay Bakshi, who recently bought an Ather e-scooter, says that if history is any guide, the product will get cheaper and better over time, provided it persuades people to make the switch in large numbers. Here’s a price comparison provided by Bike Dekho magazine.
 
 
Battery Charging: The real test for Ola’s e-scooters is whether it gets the issues around the battery right. These issues are complex, affect everyone differently, depending on where they live and work, and have a bearing on lifetime cost too. According to Ola, the S1 Pro with a 3.97kWh battery can power 181km on a single charge and top speed of 115km/hr. The S1 battery is smaller at 2.9kWh and can do 121km and has a top speed of 90km/hr. Ola claims that this is 30% higher than other EVs (electric vehicles), but the real range could be much lower on normal road conditions. A proprietary battery management system (BMS) will monitor usage; the battery itself is fixed and cannot be detached and carried home for charging (so important in metro cities with high-rise apartments and space problems). The benefit is that it cannot be stolen easily either. A fixed battery also eliminates the possibility of battery swaps as a way to save charging time and makes the rollout of a large charging infrastructure imperative.
 
I reached out to Ola’s PR agency, Ad Factors, to ask how many charging points are in place or will be installed by October 2021, when the e-scooters roll out. No answer. The team parroted the official line that its hyper charging network will have 100,000 chargers across 400 cities (https://olaelectric.com/hyperchargernetwork). On further prodding, I was told, “Ola plans to set up 5,000 charging points across 100 cities in India, more than double the charging infrastructure in the country as on date, and Ola will roll this out as per their sales rollout.”
 
This is perplexingly low since Ola has accepted pan-India bookings and the event coverage has claimed that e-scooters would have a simultaneous launch across 1,000 cities! It also remains to be seen how the company builds for power cuts that are frequent in most Indian cities.
 
At 36 minutes for a full charge, even at its fast hyper charging network (much longer at home on a 5amp charger), this may be a serious drawback, as opposed to the quick, fill it up and zip off alternative that traditional products offer. Adequate charging points at malls and offices are as yet only a promise and, while the smart app will find the nearest charging point, it still means a minimum of 18 minutes for just a 50% charge and more time in queuing up, if the e-scooters really take off. This would make it tediously time-consuming in metro cities where high-rise buildings and cooperative housing societies would also make home charging (which is already slow) a very difficult proposition.
 
Battery Life: This would have a significant bearing on the life-cycle cost of the e-scooter but I received no answer to a question about battery life. A moneycontrol.com article quoted Bhavish Aggarwal as saying it could last seven to eight years. But Ola has not made this claim on the website, blog or press release. If true, it would put the battery life at nearly twice the standard battery life. Surprisingly, nothing is mentioned about the warranty period for the battery. After a follow-up question, I was told that details of warranties “will be shared when purchase opens.”
 
The obfuscation is disappointing since the difference between an average three to four-year life and one that may be double would be a big selling point. As someone points out on Twitter, batteries keep losing life with usage and responsible companies should reveal battery life and warranty upfront.
 
Further, as Dr A Velumani, founder of Thyrocare, points out on Twitter, the cost of the battery and ease of disposing of them will be among the key factors that will influence the transition to EVs. There is no information on these issues either.
 
Favourable Climate
To Ola’s advantage, the environment today is hugely supportive and the bureaucracy is likely to help rather than place hurdles in the path of infrastructure development. For instance, in the middle of the pandemic, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) provided space for Yulu, an app-based e-bike on a pay-per-use basis that does not require either a driving licence or helmet. The initial response has been good. So it is likely that the government may help scale up electric charging infrastructure across the country. However, 36 minutes for a full charge is significant ‘commute time’ for all regular users and is bound to be a damper on a purchase decision. On the plus side, with a world-class product, Ola can always export its e-scooters even if India takes time to ramp up charging infrastructure.
 
So how do the traditional players view Ola’s big-bang entry into the two-wheeler space? I checked with one savvy competitor who thinks out-of-the-box and had some impressive work to his credit. “Specs claimed can be misleading; subsidies can evaporate overnight, and the technology is not remarkable only incremental – keyless start, reverse gear, etc, have been around for two years. We will know better when we’ve tested it,” he says (I have paraphrased it a little). Is he perceptive or wrongly dismissive?  Or has he got it right on issues, like infrastructure, that Ola is silent about? Only time will tell.
 

Comments
saharaaj
2 months ago
S1 should be compared with I phones high end phone and other E Scooters with Janta model like NANO let us see who get more mind space of customer. S is built around Tesla Ellon Musk theory make High end cars with snobbish value to disrupt the market . Indian market is price sensitive but way high end cars are being grabbed shows india is poor country inhabited by rich
Sp_murugan
2 months ago
Yes, there are several practical challenges related to battery - battery life & cost, time to charge, availability of charging infrastructure which would all be critical for sustainable growth of electric scooters. Looks unlikely for next several years.
pgodbole
2 months ago
Like most other technological innovations, I am afraid Ola will suffer from 'First mover disadvantage' (like telecom operators, where old companies are in trouble and latest ones are making profits). Nevertheless, wishing Ola all the success.
bhaskar.jain
2 months ago
Electric vehicles are not a "new technology" as we are made to believe. Ford's wife drove an electric car. Only thing which is improving is the battery.
kdwpdbgc84
2 months ago
Watch the documentary "Long Way up"on testing of Harley Davidson Electric Bikes. There are many hurdles to be crossed. Wish Ola all the success.
pvmblr
2 months ago
The fears expressed here are very irrational. Anybody who does not adapt to new technologies will be left behind, both consumers and big mass inertia conglomerates like Bajaj, Hero, Maruti. It was like early businesses who said they could do without a phone when phones were connected in the 1900s or that of mobile phones in the late 1990s. The big companies are only waiting for others to make the switch, and TATA is reaping the benefits already. Usage and running costs are ONLY one tenth. It justifies all the unfounded unfairly amplified fears and doubts expressed here. I have been using electric Ather for 1.5 years now and have easily saved more than Rs.45,ooo/- in fuel costs and another 10,000 in maintenance, oil changes, service costs, PUC certificates etc. I have already recovered close to 50% of my investment costs. And with the current costs of fuels, and covid related government expenditures, fuel prices will remain where they are. Not to mention the unwanted rattles of the ICE engines, and the total quiet, green appeal of the EVs. People are just afraid of change. Companies like Baja/Maruti will shut shop soon if they do not innovate their product line fast enough, 5 years max. MARK MY WORDS. Even if my battery dies down in another 2 years, a replacement battery will cost me only about Rs.20,000/- well justifying my expenditure, though the company had given me a 7 year warranty on the battery. The only flip side is that, You will save money only if you continuously run the vehicle on a daily basis, else the cap ex will never be justified, which is the same for any other such purchase.
pvmblr
Replied to pvmblr comment 2 months ago
Also to remember is that most journeys on a 2/r wheeler are rarely above 50-70 kms. Most average runs are not more than 30kms in a day. This is a fact that most people are not even considering. Every evening after you park at your home the only thing you need to worry about is chargin it. Next morning you have a full tank equivalent of your battery charge, enough to take you 70-100 kms depending on your driving style for my ather and easily 220 kms on a Tata Nexon Ev. Good enough for most wheeler urban journeys. Plus Ather and others has a pretty good charging network which is spread out and reliable. They are fast chargers and can give you a km of charge for every minute, if not more. Urban centre sl like Bangalore are ready for EVs today. Most malls, coffee shops and other locations have charging infra for than occasional fast charge and a max 30 min charge during a lunch break can get rid of the range anxiety.
Kamal Garg
2 months ago
I think most of the issues are on newer technology, charging tie-up and the things like that which will evolve over a period of time. However, customers who have more than 1 lakh rupees expect these issues to be right and resolved before the first purchase otherwise "a first disappointment and failure creates a long term wrong perception - very hard to erase/overcome".
For high rise buildings in metro cities, charging would be a problem, otherwise for normal tenements/ground floor residents charging is not an issue but, then, this is common for all the EVs.
However, as pointed by some one, the condition of battery and its working in rainy season/water logged areas/roads will have to be sorted out even before the launch.
karna6513
2 months ago
36 mins charging time should not be a big hurdle. A person might have to charge his battery every 2nd or 3rd day. In Mumbai, the battery lasts 3-4 days (a shorter commute distance as compared to Bangalore or Ahmedabad).
Secondly, the charging points will most likely be a tie-up with coffee shops or fast food serving outlets. So this should help pass the time.
I myself use a EV for my daily commute.
sha79
2 months ago
Thank you for this balanced and fair article, which covers all the aspects of the new venture.

We are going through a pivotal moment of transformation from petrol to electric, and the two-wheelers are the first candidates of this. The technology may look expensive, or unreliable today, but companies will innovate. Like every other technology that seemed nonviable in India at first (cell phones, TVs, OTT streaming, e-commerce, etc) this one will also evolve and become more mainstream.

It is sad to see that the established, cash rich, heritage two-wheeler companies have not done anything substantial so far. They have just been releasing media stories about electric bikes, but only new companies have shown real action. These companies will face the risk of obsolescence if they pursue on this path of neglecting electric technology.
CA Sameer Kashikar
2 months ago
What will be the electricity cost for 36 Minutes full charging?
ashprit
2 months ago
While a lot of talk of electric vehicles is happening and government is playing to the gallery for now, I wonder if finally government will encourage or discourage these…. Consider this, govt earns almost 50% taxes on fossil fuels and on the other hand it loses enormous amount on electricity thefts. With competitive politics, free / subsidised electricity is here to stay. If we have a massive shift to electric vehicles (include four wheelers), then govt finances will be worth watching. Plus, where will battery pollution go (disposal of old batteries?). Maruti has claimed in its annual report that for a country like India, CNG offers a better alternative (at least for four vehicles). Interesting days ahead!

As far as Ola, tall claims and social media PR for now. I wonder when all established vehicle manufacturers world-wide are struggling with chip shortages, how is Ola claiming these massive production plans in spite of being a newbie. Let’s see!
vikassrivastava2
2 months ago
My concern is if it can be used during the rainy season. I am living in Ahmedabad and during the monsoon like any other city, Ahmedabad too experiences water logged roads. Will Ola can be run in those water-logged roads? How's the battery going to work if the scooter is submerged in knee-length water? I think Activa and Suzuki Access definitely had the advantage over traditional Bajaj and LML scooters of running in those water logged roads smoothly.
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