For many employees of Indian IT giant Wipro, the daily commute begins not with the roar of an engine, but rather the low humming of one. Close to 120 of the three thousand cabs Wipro contracts for the transport of its employees, after all, are electric. While Wipro’s electric fleet is but a drop in its transportation ocean, the company is keenly aware of the benefits—more specifically, as a company representative wrote to The Ken in an email, a 4-5% cost saving since they incorporated electric cabs in November 2018.
It’s this extra efficiency that has Wipro ready to almost double its electric fleet—to 200 cabs, according to the company representative, by March 2020. And it’s also what Lithium Urban Technology, the country’s first fleet of all-electric cabs, is counting on to take it to the next level.
While most players in the electric vehicle game have targeted the consumer segment, Lithium has its eyes focused on disrupting the enterprise space. Or more accurately, corporate travel. Thus far, it already boasts a marquee list of high-profile businesses who use its services—Google, too, is a customer.
This sort of traction makes it tempting to believe that Lithium has its business down pat. However, five years after it was founded in 2015—by Sanjay Krishnan and Ashwin Mahesh— Lithium hasn’t scaled the grand heights it was tasked with reaching.
The fragmented and unorganised market for ferrying corporate employees is worth roughly $4 billion and has about 500,000 diesel cars, according to industry executives. The promise is obvious, for EVs and otherwise. Corporate transport has predictable routes, timings, and pick-up-and-drop points. That makes it easier to handle ‘range anxiety’—a euphemism for concerns over how far an EV can travel before it runs out of charge. It is also a far less crowded market in terms of disruptors. Even now, Lithium and other organised players make up just 5-7% of the market, one of the executives estimated.
Lithium, named after lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that power everything from smartphones to EVs, is the largest EV fleet operator in India with about 1,100 cars. All of them are either e-Veritos or e2Os, made by auto major Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M). Besides the regular features of EV cars such as remaining charge, navigation etc., Lithium’s software can also detect if an unauthorised passenger boards the cab or reroute efficiently if a passenger cancels. Both of these feed into its key pitches to potential clients—passenger safety and fuel-efficiency.
The cost of running an electric car is about Rs 1.05 ($0.01) per kilometre (km), about a quarter of the Rs 4.50 ($0.06) it costs to run a diesel car, according to The Ken’s calculations. That means Lithium has been able to undercut vendors operating diesel cars by 10-15%, according to Vikash Mishra, the head of external relations at Lithium.