Upstarts Can Give Your Scooter An Electric Makeover
Want to turn your old petrol-driven scooter electric? All you need is Rs 20,000.
Bounce, a ride-sharing upstart based in Bengaluru, has come up with a retrofit kit that adds an electric motor and a battery to an old internal combustion engine two-wheeler.
EV adoption was important for the mobility firm but it couldn't find partners, Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder of Bounce, told BloombergQuint in an interview. So, it started working on converting conventional scooters as a pilot, he said.
“We soon realised this can be a big market for both fleet and even personal mobility—for those who want to go electric but can’t afford.”
Bounce is one of the companies offering battery-powered kits for two-wheelers as an affordable option. Other startups providing the service include Etrio and Meladath Auto Components. Much like the CNG-retrofit market, they are banking on explosion in demand for electric scooters in India’s nascent EV market. More so when petrol now costs Rs 100 a litre in many cities.
Bounce has already converted its fleet of 1,000 scooters. Hallekere said the company is opening the service for two-wheeler owners. The kit comes with a swappable battery with a range of 65 kilometres on a single charge. That compares with the 60km range on a litre of petro for Honda Activa 125.
“Customers have to pay Rs 80 per swap, and they are good to go,” Hallekere said. “They also have the option to buy the battery,” he said, adding that a kit with outright battery purchase will cost Rs 50,000. And all components are approved by the Automotive Research Association of India.
Meladath Auto is offering what it calls an Ezee Hybrid kit to convert a fossil fuel-powered scooters into electric hybrids. That gives a rider the option to switch between petrol and electric modes.
Priced at Rs 40,000, the kit gives a range of 40 km per charge and will be out of its beta or development phase soon, said Rakesh Meladath karunakaran, a former Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. executive.
The team is also working with fleet owners to turn their motorbikes battery-powered. “The pilot is on, and once over it is expected to convert nearly 20,000 (motor) bikes to electric.”
Etrio targets commercial vehicles and is converting Tata Ace. The company started with the Maruti Alto but quickly moved to logistics as the passenger vehicle market is yet to warm up to the idea.
“We realised that e-commerce firms were big on EVs and were struggling to find the right cargo for the last-mile delivery,” Deepak MV, co-founder at Etrio, said over the phone.
The startup has converted 50 Tata Ace units so far. But with rising fuel prices and the government’s push towards scrapping old vehicles, the firm now has an order book to retrofit 5,200 Tata Ace units with electric kits.
Retrofitting should be seen as critical contributor to not just de-carbonise environment but also decongest roads, Deepak said, adding that the government should recognise it as a form of electrification. That will be an important lifeline for people who can’t afford to purchase new electric vehicles, he said.
The Cost Bump
Hallekere is hopeful of retrofitting a million units in two years, but others aren’t that optimistic. Cost is one reason.
While the cost of converting a scooter ranges between Rs 20,000 and Rs 50,000, it’s much higher for bigger vehicles. An electric kit for a Tata Ace mini truck, mostly used for delivery, could cost as much as Rs 7 lakh.
“Retrofitting is a great solution but the concern remains on the financial viability of it in the absence of any subsidy,” Shalendra Gupta, co-founder of Altigreen Propulsion Labs, which started with hybrid retrofitting but later shifted to full electric transport.
The government offers subsidy on new electric vehicles, and not on conversion of older ICE-based units.
Even financiers are not keen to fund retrofitting as it’s not promoted by government, Deepak of Etrio said. It’s an expensive affair--in case of four-wheelers, 80% of the vehicle is changed to make it work, he said. “Inclusion in FAME 2 subsidy could help reduce the cost by at least 20%.”
Rahul Mishra, partner at consulting firm Kearney, said many of the businesses offering retrofit options have existed for a while but haven’t seen a lot of traction. “There will be pockets where specific business cases will find interest and opportunity, especially in those segments where people would want to sweat their assets.”
It might not make sense in passenger vehicles where the total cost of ownership is almost comparable, he said.
Naveen Munjal, founder of Hero Electric Ltd., said the industry should not focus on retrofit technology. “The vehicles are designed for ICE engine, not for electric,” he said. “It is a niche and can work in certain cases but there is no large volume game here.”
Gupta of Altigreen doesn't agree. Retrofitting will not just be one of the fastest and easiest ways to drive electrification, he said.
"In India, people continue to use vehicles even if they are sold in the secondary market, so retrofitment can really help reduce pollution from the existing vehicles which continue to ply on road," he said. "It will go a long way in improving urban health and reducing carbon footprint."
And the cost challenge can be solved by providing subsidies, he said.
Hallekere said his company has approached the Karnataka government for subsidy on retrofit kits. “If that happens the, retrofitment will take off in a big way.”