The internal combustion (IC) engine is on its knees, sputtering. Its end is imminent. And no where is it more apparent than in the dusty urban outcropping of Haryana’s Gurugram.

Zipping around the now-arterial national highways, which cut through several Gurugram neighbourhoods, are budding fleets of electric rickshaws, scooters and delivery vehicles, which move people and products alike. We’re standing on one side of this highway, where Tarun Sharma, the head of operations for DOT Energy, has just brought out their latest, self-engineered two and three-wheeler electric delivery vehicles. DOT is a logistics and supply chain startup that leases or rents electric vehicles (EVs) to e-retailers, logistics and food delivery companies. Some are stationed on the other side of the highway, and the rest dot the scraggy landscape of Gurugram.

“We use these delivery vehicles within a 1.5-3 kilometre radius. From the retailer’s warehouse to the customer. Currently, we charge the vehicles in-house,” says Sharma, pointing to a lone strip of four 15-ampere plug points in a dingy, overcrowded basement. Sharma’s keen to expand his delivery radius to Noida, over 50 kilometres away from their hub in Gurugram. However, he fears his vehicles won’t make it back on a single charge. “We need to swap batteries to make that trip,” he says.

DOT isn’t alone. There are plenty of use cases for battery-swapping. E-rickshaw companies like SmartE, delivery businesses like Swiggy and Milkbasket, and ride-sharing platforms like Bounce, are increasingly going electric. After all, EVs are eco-friendly and have cheaper running costs.

India’s had a decade-long tryst with electric mobility, but the lack of charging infrastructure has stunted the sales of EVs. However, the latest bend in the road—a shift from private to public electric mobility—has introduced a sense of urgency to the space. It has also rejigged the infrastructural priority from setting up stationary charging stations to battery-swapping.

“Swapping, as opposed to charging, can keep an e-rickshaw on the road beyond the usual 4-5 hours. Every business wants that extra revenue. Swapping would improve range and that makes sense for commercial fleets,” says Sanjeev Aggarwal, founder and managing director of Amplus Solar, a Gurugram-based renewable energy firm.

The rising use of EVs in public transport and delivery fleets and the abysmal lack of charging infrastructure has opened up a sweet spot between necessity and invention. An opportunity that companies like SUN Mobility are capitalising on.

SUN is a high-tech, battery-swapping platform for electric scooters, three-wheelers and buses. Launched in 2016, SUN manufactures its own Internet Of Things (IOT)-enabled battery packs, whose charge, range and efficiency can be controlled remotely. A 50-50 joint venture between EV manufacturer Virya Mobility 5.0 and private equity firm SUN group, this nascent battery-swapping startup already has an experienced set of leaders at the helm—Chetan Maini (who co-owns Virya) and Uday Khemka, an angel investor from the Khemka family-owned SUN Group.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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