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The last six months or so has been nothing short of a public relations nightmare for electric scooter manufacturers. From Ola Electric to Pure EV and Okinawa Autotech, there has been no shortage of footage of electric two-wheelers catching fire in India. The spate of battery fires even resulted in Ola recalling over a thousand of its electric vehicles (EV) this April. 

The consequences are telling. Ola’s registrations have been hit hit The Economic Times Ola Electric slips to 4th spot as EV registrations fall amid fire fears Read more  hard. And now the government is on its tail—Ola, Pure, and Okinawa have all received received Zee News Ola, Okinawa, Pure EV gets show cause notice from govt on electric scooter fires Read more show cause notices. But where the other companies may be on wobbly ground with the government, Ola has an in. Enter Ola Mobility Institute (OMI), a think tank belonging to the ride-sharing company-turned-electric vehicle powerhouse.

Set up in 2018, OMI is the brainchild of Anand Shah, co-founder of Ola Electric, the former head of BMW’s autonomous driving division, and a seasoned lobbyist with close ties to the Indian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). And since its founding as an “independent” think tank, it has carried with it not just Ola’s name, but the weight of its commercial interests. 

For instance, OMI’s May 2019 roundtable discussion on the viability of battery swapping as a method to enable early scaling was followed by Ola Electric Mobility launching a battery swapping station just four months later. Ola Electric is the EV arm that was spun off from ride-hailing giant Ola Cabs.

Two months later, Ola Electric inked inked Live Mint BSES, Ola Electric to jointly install battery charging stations in Delhi Read more  a deal with the national capital’s two power distribution companies to establish battery swapping and charging stations in the region. 

And that’s just one example. Over the years, OMI’s pet project of the season has overlapped with Ola Electric’s business interests many times. And its policy stances have shifted in tandem. Like its jump from shared mobility to battery swapping in 2019, or how it has dialled down its advocacy for battery swapping after Ola Electric shifted focus to fast-charger networks. 

“There have been deviations from an independent vision and more research driven by Ola’s business interests have been undertaken by OMI.

AUTHOR

Shruti Sonal

Shruti is a Delhi-based reporter who looks at India's clean energy ecosystem through the lens of the intersection between businesses, policy and environment. She has previously worked with Reuters and Outlook Business.

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