delivery plan for customers. Here is my blog on our meet.
Abhishek joined Ola about 3 months ago. He used to work in the fintech space earlier. We were soon joined by Varun Dubey, the Chief Marketing Officer. Most of the talk was centred around issues that the EV community has been raising about the scooters. We started with what the PluginIndia team appreciated most about Ola Electric: the audacity of their goals. How Ola is pushing the ICE industry to give up oil addiction. About how we love the dicky centric design of the scooter.
And then arrived at issues where the community wanted some clarifications on. The first one was obviously deliveries. Varun had an interesting take on this. When Ola took possession of the land at Krishnagiri, most skeptics in the media and the auto world had predicted that it would take three years before the first scooter rolled out of the factory. After having despatched 4,000 scooters in Dec 21, the same media gentlemen are now talking of one month delays! The central government’s Vahan data takes some time to get updated, but very soon we will get to know whether they have become the top selling electric scooter in the first month of launch itself.
The good news is that the supply chain is catching up - and Jan numbers may be more than double the Dec numbers. I hope that they can touch the 5 digit mark for Jan 22. Ola is reopening bookings on 21-Jan-22, so I guess they are ready with the production.
Later on Bhavish joined us on the lawns, and he talked about using the huge capacity of the Krishnagiri factory for global production. Bhavish is a good listener - and apart from asking us what we thought about the current EV competitive landscape, he was interested in knowing our views on 4 wheelers. Having just done a lovely trip on the Tata Tigor EV, we felt that it was a space which needed more players. For a company like Ola that wants scale, the magic numbers are going to be a sub 10 lakh price and a 200 km + real life range. An optimistic that with his usual audacity, Bhavish and team can surprise the Indian EV space by being the first to get into local cell manufacturing at their Giga factory. PluginIndia team has been promised a visit to the Future Factory - and we hope to report on that when we make our next trip, in March 22. Another promise that we managed to extract from the Ola team is to expedite delivery of Kamlesh ji’s Ola scooter, so that we can start our long range tests.
To Bhavish, I tried to draw the Tata Nano - Ola S1 analogy. About how Nano also had one lakh folks who paid up the advance. Fun fact, the Nano then cost almost the same at that time as an Ola S1 costs today - one lakh. The Nano was a great product. I owned it for 5 years. Yet it failed. Most people cancelled at the booking stage itself. The Tatas went through their own production crisis at Singur. But my analysis tells me that the failure was in positioning. It took Ratan Tata some time to realise what Henry Ford had learnt a century ago: entry level cars will always be second hand ones. GM overtook Ford because Henry bhai did not see anything beyond the Model T - and when people wanted to replace their old Model T’s he had nothing more to offer. The newer customers were buying second hand Model Ts and the older ones the new GM cars.
In Ola’s case the team has to ensure that they don’t take their eyes off After Sales service. A lot of the current generation of customers have had their expectation setting done by Amazon. They expect that once they place on order online, delivery will happen in 24 hours - maybe 48 hours at max. Though a lot of auto companies are now associating themselves more with consumer electronics, reality is that you don’t need to go to an RTO officer to register your fridge, TV or laptop.
Ola scooters, unfortunately, have to. So there are delays. And for Ola it is a learning curve. Dealing with multiple RTOs, each having its own individual norms. Having said that, going direct has its advantages. ICE dealers have had their main income not from sales, but service. With its intrinsic low maintenance design, the EV cannot and should not generate service income for a dealer. So going direct becomes an interesting model. Ola is not only saving itself margins. (Some of the EV companies are offering margins of between 10 to 15 % to their distribution partners.) But Ola can ensure that service infrastructure is managed better. Individual dealers will find it difficult to justify service manpower on their own small customer bases.
Service, if not handled well, can turn out to be Ola’s Achilles heel. A lot of the dealer community, threatened by this approach, is already badmouthing Ola. To start with a negative word of mouth is a disadvantage. Any lapse on the side of service will be hara-kiri. Ola needs to ensure that customer complaints are turned around under 24 hours. Having door step service is definitely a convenience. But not at the cost of increased downtime.
We also talked of innovation and peer learning. In the world of e-commerce, what is missing is the sense of community. Fora like WhatsApp groups and blogs can foster some of that, but we believe that real bonding requires sharing of some real chai. As Bhavesh sipped his chai from his kulhad, and I had the black tea from mine, we chatted about how we can build that sense of community at Ola. We felt that organising rides and talks would make a lot of sense. The veterans of the EV community can then take on the task of educating the newbies about the best way to get the most out of an EV. This is a model that in Ola’s lingo - is scaleable. And frugal. All it costs is a sponsored cup of chai. And the rest of the magic is woven by the users themselves.
Varun shared a short clip of their battery manufacturing - and it looked impressive. Most of the cell assembly is done by robotic arms. A majority of Indian battery packs use resistive welding for making battery interconnections; the better ones use laser welding. Ola has gone one step ahead and uses wire bonding. Each pack is not only put through mandatory electrical testing - but also a shower test to ensure that the IP 67 rating is achieved in practice as much as it is in theory. The banana battery design ensures that the cells are only 4 deep, so heat management will be easier. There are vents provided in the scooter for cooling both the battery and the motor.
I pointed out to Varun what I felt could be a heat management issue that vehicles could face in the monsoons. The finned motor sits right next to the rear wheel. When the motor cooling fins get a mud coating during the monsoon, there could be overheating related performance issues. Also, with the motor located deep inside the scooter belly, cleaning the fins - even with water jets - can be difficult. My suggestion would be to have an inner guard around the rear wheel so that the mud splashing can be reduced. Varun mentioned that the Ola team has actually taken the scooter through waist deep water. Now that’s something that I would be scared of doing with an electric, but it seemed reassuring to hear that.
The biggest crib that we heard from the Ola team members is that the company has put its internal team on the lowest priority when it comes to deliveries. It definitely is good PR, but not good for quality. Dogfooding is a term which loosely can be understood as that the humans who make pet food need to eat if themselves before they give it to the dogs. This way they can experience what it is like before their customers do. The Ola team needs to dogfood so that they can experience the joys and the pains of the bikes in sync with the early adopters. Here is an excerpt from Team BHP about a service issue that cropped up when the vehicle had been driven for less than 35 km after delivery. I quote:
Waiting for the service engineer to show up! Removed it from charge; tried doing the reset step again; power and the reverse button pushed simultaneously for 10 seconds. Not having fancy features is just fine but the basics also screwed up? The bike has not even been driven much. They need to beef up support staff. Apparently, service engineers were busy with 3 other bikes and hence the delay! The service engineers were able to resolve the issue in 2 mins. They realised that the screen wasn’t getting the data in the first instance. They opened it below the screen and a wire was loose. Clipped the wire in and done!
How would it have felt if the scooter being ridden by the lady who assembled the scooter at Krishangiri had broken down. And she was told that the connector she did not tightly fit on the assembly line was responsible. She would definitely do her job better when she experiences this.
Exhilarating Ride - OLA S1 Pro
We ended the day with a 10 km ride with Varun and Abhishek on the 100 ft road towards Indiranagar. Put a high powered motor with peak of more than 5 kW on any bike and the first impression for any petrol head is wow. The torque and the acceleration give an adrenalin rush which requires more than 500 cubic centimeters of cylinder space to match. But this is the easy part - any of us can go and buy these motors off the shelf. What mattes is how well the motor integrates with the rest of the vehicle. And the Ola does that well. I had done a 2 km ride in Pune. Followed that with this 12 km ride. Averaged 50 kmph in Bangalore traffic. Achieved a top speed of 91 kmph. The low center of gravity, thanks to the underfloor battery and the under dicky motor made handling good. You could zip around through the traffic with the vehicle glued to the road. Am glad to report that not a single vehicle overtook me - not even Varun’s Ola which had reported a max speed of 105 kmph.
This was extreme city riding - and we returned figures of about 50 wh/km. With that kind of riding, I guess we will get about 4,000/50 = 80 km range. (The S1 Pro has a 4 kWh battery pack.) The million dollar question that Ola riders must be answering as I type this - what is the highway range with average speeds of 60-70 kmph. Most city rides will be more efficient that what we did. We will wait for a few weeks for Kamlesh’s scooter to happen. And get ya all those answers.