Ola Electric Mobility is barely a year old. Carved out of the ride-hailing giant Ola in 2019, Ola Electric was spun out as part of Ola’s “Mission Electric”—a self-imposed mandate to put “a million electric vehicles on the road by 2021”. 

A million is an eye-ball grabbing number. So is a billion. Ola Electric raced towards unicorn status—a valuation of $1 billion-plus—thanks to a $250 million shot in the arm by SoftBank. An undisclosed investment in 2019 by steel-to-hotel magnate Ratan Tata took Ola Electric over the gilded unicorn finish line.

The company’s ample fundraising rounds were also accompanied by an almost 200% growth in hiring, drawn from the ranks of traditional automotive companies like Tata, Mahindra, Hero, and Piaggio. But there has been little to no clarity on what Ola Electric will actually do. 

Right up till now.

According to information sourced by The Ken, Ola Electric’s plan to get to a million EVs is by designing and creating its own electric three-wheeler auto, and lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries. 

“That way, we control the whole EV supply chain,” says an Ola Electric employee, who wished not to be named as he isn’t authorised to speak to the media. The aim, says the employee, is to quickly create a formidable ecosystem by leveraging Ola’s current scale as the largest ride-hailing service in India. 

Ola has already tied up with engineering major Bosch to design and manufacture the li-ion batteries, and is negotiating with other component manufacturers for the electric auto. As a senior industry executive told The Ken, Ola Electric has set up an internal committee to invite bids from potential component partners. 

Designing an auto—and its batteries—from scratch is a bold move, one totally unprecedented in India’s nascent EV sector. Companies usually stick to their knitting. They’re either manufacturers like Hero, Ather and Bajaj; battery-makers like Bosch and Panasonic; or service providers like ABB and SUN Mobility, who’ve set up charging and battery swapping stations. 

From scratch

“Through our earlier pilots, we realised that we’ll have to specially design a vehicle for shared mobility usage. And it has to be priced reasonably,” says a researcher with Ola Electric. There is currently no scaled-up electric auto service in India

Ola Electric, though, wants to do away with these distinctions.

“Ola wants to own the whole electric ecosystem, from vehicle to battery. In the future, we want other players to source from us,” says the employee mentioned above. 

In the long run, Ola wants to disrupt the shared mobility market. With a fit-for-purpose auto, a self-designed battery, a pan-India presence in 125 cities, and almost 200 million riders on its platform every day, it is arguably in a sweet spot to do so. 

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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