We had Eric Vas, who heads Urbanite Business Unit at Bajaj Auto. Will spoke about what it took to develop electric scooter the Chetak.
Abhay Patwardhan, earlier head of research at Mahindra Electric, who is now heading a battery startup, he spoke about Battery Management Systems.
Tejsingh Gaekwad who heads Tag, an electric 3 wheeler manufacturer spoke about about why Lead acid batteries will continue to be relevant.
Hemang Shah is founder EO Charging India, spoke about Charging Station business in India.
Getting Hemang onboard was a fantastic idea. He did the required coordination with Kamlesh and ensured that our livestream was up and running. We had 35 viewers during the live streaming. There have been about 1700 views to the uploaded video in the week that followed. Hemang's hospitality was superb. At the end, he treated all of us to mosambi juice. Puneet was also a big help, as he was the one who hand held the camera, in the absence of a tripod, for the entire two and a half hours. Must acknowledge help from Nitin B also, who did the camera holding when Puneet's hand gave up.
Saif Dhorajiwala is a director at Fourth Partner.( www.fourthpartner.co ) Though invited as a speaker, he had insisted on being part of the audience, as he was unsure about making it to the meet. He did make it and so we did an impromptu session with him. He talked about his main business of rooftop solar. And how they feel that charging stations is an area of synergy for their energy company. Fourth Partner is agnostic to battery and charger technology. Their job is to deliver energy, and they will do what their customers want them to. Saif believes the short term future of charging stations is going to be in fleet charging. Reason is that fleets are better able to sweat their assets better. Their charging station partner, Lithium Mobility, runs their EVs at least 250 km a day. Higher daily running is required to justify the extra investment that Lithium has to make for having only electric cars in its fleet.
Interestingly, our friend Hemang Shah - https://www.eocharging.com/india - has received an order from some housing societies for charging stations. Possibly, as more and more vehicles convert to electric in future, there will be more home charging solutions which will be required. It's difficult for individual society members to get the kind of load connection that might be required for fast charging. Slow charging however is not too much of a problem.
Tej Singh Gaikwad heads TAG Eutomotive, a three wheeler manufacturer. His main argument was that Indian solutions have to be designed for Indian scenarios. Today three wheelers are the biggest electric category in India and Indian three wheeler purchasers don't seem to be ready for lithium ion yet. A lead acid three wheeler sells for a total price of about Rs. 1.5 lakh. In contrast, only the Li ion battery for a three wheeler would end up costing almost that much. Mahindra’s Treo three wheeler has a 7 kWh Li ion battery pack. Estimate is about Rs. 15000 per kwh at today's rate. Tej also lamented the absence of Li recycling facilities in India. Li is a hyper reactive element, which is extremely hazardous to handle in its free state. In contrast, advantage of Lead acid is that once life gets over after a year, then 99% recycling happens.
Four batteries are required in a 48 volt system for e rickshaws. In Delhi, these are being sold at Rs. 6000 per battery, so a total of Rs. 24,000. The recycler offers Rs. 2,000 for a battery on return. So that means Rs. 10,000 back. This means only a recurring investment of Rs. 14,000 per annum, which represents less than 10% of the vehicle’s initial cost. This is doable territory for the frugal operations associated with an e rickshaw. And this is the basic reason lead acid batteries will continue to be popular in the near future for three wheelers. The realistic number of cycles for a lead acid battery is about 300. Tej has modified the chemistry and has taken this life to 500 cycles. Tej is also working on a solution where lead acid batteries can be almost full charged in 3 hours.
A BMS has a big role to play in battery safety - as it handles surge temperatures. Of course, the core function is to ensure a long life for the battery by balancing individual cell voltages while charging. Another customer interface that the BMS has is the SoC, which is analogous to the IC engine fuel gauge. Unlike a dip stick which can tell you the fuel left in a tank, the balance charge in a battery is arrived at by calculations and approximations. In lead acid battery vehicles, which don’t have any BMS, the balance charge is approximated by measuring total voltage. But the voltage variation in a Lithium cell is much lesser - about 700 mV from charged to discharged state per cell. So what happens is that the BMS does a constant multiplication of voltage and current drawn in order to estimate energy used. This is subtracted from the initial full charge energy status in order to get balance energy. Here is where good algos matter, else, you can be stuck powerless on the road because your BMS overestimated the balance charge and range.
The last speaker was Eric Vas. Eric heads the electric Urbanite part of Bajaj Auto. Every month 17 lakh IC engine scooters and bikes are sold. In contrast the monthly e bike sales are only 2,000. Eric believes that electric vehicles have not been able to sell well because manufacturers have not listened to the voice of the customer. The purchasing triangle is about Appeal, Economics and Ecosystem. Most EV manufacturers assume that it is the economics and transactions that are first priority in a purchase decision. But reality is that customers don’t buy technology, they buy brands. India's best selling > 200 cc motorcycle is the retro looking Bullet. Sells about 70,000 units, in contrast Bajaj’s KTM sells a tenth of that, about 5,000 units a month. To get to the mass market, you need the right type of product, and the brand’s age does not matter. If youngsters today are ready to buy bikes their grandpas bought, the resurrection of the Chetak - www.chetak.com - is also justified. You have old drivers, you have bold drivers, but you don't have old bold drivers. So top speed is not a priority for the Chetak. The reason for limiting speed is ½ MV square. Battery size goes up in square proportion to the speed.
Too much data confuses customers. Apple and Bose are examples of companies which don't talk about features. Bajaj is following in their footsteps. There is no spec sheet given to customers. There is a lot of stuff on the website. And is complemented by stuff which is given to the sales people on their showroom tablets. The idea is to simplify the customer experience. Instead of having to visit the showroom four times, the sale should be done in a maximum of two visits.
He reinforced Abhay and Tej’s view that Indian problems require Indian solutions. What Bajaj did while deciding on the Chetak’s specs was to look at the data on scooter usage. The modal scooter ride is about 30 kilometres per day, which is also close to the mean. So at 90 km range, which Chetak is designed for, you need to charge only once in three days. Priorities of any e bike purchaser: Battery cost, life cycle, cost per kilometre and the ability to charge. The Chetak offers a 3 years warranty or 50,000 kilometres on the battery. At the end of three years, when range is expected to drop to 60, it should still serve the customer’s range. Battery cost today is $ 180 - $200 per kilowatt hour. Eric expects battery prices to have fallen to 100 dollar per kWh by three years, which means that a replacement for the Chetak battery would only be about Rs. 20,000. Kinda ok. The one thing that Bajaj is trying to do is to set expectations right. The sales team is asked to check for availability of parking and charger points. And say no to folks who have a running of more than 50 km per day. The declared range of 90 km also serves to set expectations.
The problem with benevolent government policies is only with timelines. The lesser the government intervention, the better it is for business. Charging stations and substations are pipedreams as of now, because they all are dependent on government regulations and subsidies. But 15 ampere sockets are reality. So Bajaj philosophy at this time is charging is best done at home - leave it to the customer. The decision to not go for fast charging was because it would entail expensive cooling systems. As of now, Chetak batteries are simply air cooled by two fans. In fast charging, cooling requirements increase.
Bajaj has spec-ed the Chetak with the Activa in mind. Customers are educated about how though its performance matches the Activa, the extra initial outlay is justified when you look at total costs of ownership. One tradeoff that customers will have to make is range. Bajaj could have gone in for an oversized battery aka Tesla, as it would have helped get a longer life along with the extra range. But then the weight would increase. So it was decided to make do with reduced range. To match the weight, performance and power of the Activa, a 3 kWh pack was required. Bajaj Chetak is using NMC as LFP was not fitting the weight spec as it's got lower storage density. The Chetak probably has as many sensors as the Ather. But unlike the Ather, Telematics is free for a year. But later on, the customer has to pay. She is free to choose any provider. Bajaj philosophy is don't do stuff which vendors can do better than you can. The Activa BS 6 is about Rs. 90,000 ex showroom in Pune. With taxes, the on road price comes to about Rs. 1,05,000. The lower spec-ed Chetak matches this price.