Tarun Mehta, the CEO of Ather, is a happy man. This month, two things happened that boosted the fortunes of the company, which is India’s leading high-performance electric scooter maker. First, petrol prices in many Indian cities breached the Rs 100 (US$1.5)/ltr mark. Then, the government increased its subsidy for electric two-wheelers by 50%.
With this bump, says Mehta, the Ather 450 Plus—a variant of the company’s flagship scooter 450X—is now just 15% more expensive than comparable high-performance petrol scooters. “At these prices, you don’t just convert early adopters, you even convert mass-market buyers. You now just need enough awareness and distribution,” Mehta tells The Ken over a phone call.
Sales for the Bengaluru-based startup are stronger than ever. Over the past week, claims Mehta, the company has clocked some of its highest number of bookings ever. This, Mehta emphasises, despite most of the company’s experience centres still not fully active.
Three years on from launching its first scooter, Ather is now present in more than 18 cities across the country. In February, it opened a new production facility in Hosur, Tamil Nadu, which is capable of producing upto 110,000 scooters and 120,000 battery packs. It’s a bold statement, considering that in all of 2020, India sold just over 27,000 electric two-wheelers.
Of course, Ather isn’t the only one cresting the electric two-wheeler wave. Ola Electric is building its Future Factory, which is expected to churn out 10 million electric scooters a year by 2022. This, too, is a bet that electric two-wheelers will likely power India’s electric vehicle revolution.
While Ather and Ola Electric stand on the cusp of massive opportunity, other startups trying to build electric bikes from scratch have been pushed to the brink. Most of these businesses are struggling to get across the finish line—actually launching a finished product. While many grand announcements were made, launch dates have been repeatedly deferred.
“It has been a few years since Ather launched, and no other products from companies like UltraViolette, Orxa Energies, and Emflux Motors are out in the market,” says an executive from the EV industry who did not wish to be identified.
It isn’t that the ingredients for success aren’t present. It’s more about bringing them together. When Swapnil Jain, Ather’s CTO, spoke to The Ken on the sidelines of the launch of the company’s experience centre in Kochi, Kerala, he spoke about the need to merge three worlds—automotive, electronics, and software. India has no dearth of talent across these fields, but they have traditionally operated in silos.
Combining these three, however, is easier with deep pockets, and most electric two-wheeler startups are running on fumes.