I wonder often about the economics of experience centers. One must credit Apple for this movement. In a way it is a good way to make customers understand the challenges of technology. But if you are dealing with a mature technology, or if there ain’t much of explaining to do when a customer sees a battery pack or a motor, is the experience center justified?
Nilay, from Ather looks after charging stations. He told us about the company’s vision about how charging stations are going to play a major role in reducing customer anxiety, The current model of charging station economics at Ather is to fit It, forget it. The company is not keen to start charging customers for charging. One of the reasons is that the revenue they expect is so small, that it may not be worth their while. Another reason for the no-charging scenario is rentals. As of now, Ather’s sell to parking location owners is about how a charging station on their premises will mean a locked in customer for an hour. Ather installs the Exicomm manufactured station at its own expense. And also bears the electricity costs. The premise owner is expected to chip in by just providing the space. However, once Ather starts asking the users to pay, the space providers may also start demanding their share of the moolah. Currently, the pie is too small to cut, so best to let go of all charges.
Ather’s vision is that as more and more companies get into the charging space, customer adoption will increase drastically. Ather is currently encouraging non Ather vehicles also to use the charging slots. Even they don’t have to pay as of now. Kamlesh had been facing issues when he went to the station to charge up his non Ather electric scooter. We realised that it was because of a faulty Ather app design. On Kamlesh’s small screen iPhone SE, the 'start charging' button goes outside the screen - and there is no provision of scrolling down. We used a regular Android - and the PURE EV Etrance NEO, charging did start up. Note that you can do fast charging only if you have the CCS port that Ather uses in its scooters. If you want to use the conventional 16 A plug, then have to go in only for slow charging.
Surya talked about how the Ather hydraulic brakes have been calibrated for a 8 kg force, in keeping with the Indian MV norms. However, scooters ike the Activa exert their max braking at pressures of 20 kg. This difference in force has led customers to believe that Athers are super sensitive on brakes - and some customer education is required for that. Methinks, that once ABS gets incorporated into the scooters, then this issue will vanish. As of now, like the Activa, Ather also has a Combi-brake, which also activates the rear brakes, when you press the front brake lever.
We were told that the company is learning quickly about manufacturing challenges. The Chetak definitely has better finishing and suspension, thanks to the decades worth of manufacturing experience. Ather can continue to occupy the Sports positioning, but my recommendation is not at the cost of range. If they are benchmarking themselves with the Tesla, then Ather needs to be reminded that apart from giving F1 acceleration, the Tesla Model S also had 300 miles of range. All acceleration and no range makes Ather a dull boy. The 2.9 kWh battery has to be upped. Else one can come up with a software locked version, where the motor controller can optimise solely for range - and deliver a 100 km range consistently - with a top speed limited to say 65 kmph. The other low hanging fruit is regen. Ceterus paribus, an aggressive regen can definitely add a few km to the range.
My biggest worry about Ather is their ability to listen. The top management has got into a cocoon, thanks to the PR machinery that surrounds them. They live an echo chamber of assumptions that are rarely revalidated. It took many months of customer cribbing for Ather to come up with a zero monthly charges plan. And I assume the same will be true for range too. I only hope that Ather doesn’t miss the bus - and finds itself left behind by the TVS's and Bajaj's of the world.