Along with thousands of you, Kamlesh booked an Ola S1 many months ago. And we were elated when we got an invite to a test ride. The location was the Wework campus near Magarpatta, Hadapsar in Pune. We reached to discover that we would have to shell out Rs. 200 to park our e20 inside the Wework campus. Beat a hasty retreat - and found kerbside parking about 100 m from the campus - and saved ourselves some serious money. More than a thousand people have walked in so far for the test rides in Pune. There were 10 scooters and a 100 strong Ola team to welcome us :-) Most of the team was involved only in crowd management. Welcome to the dealer-less Ola world. The sales area was in the reception lobby of the WeWork building. The Wework security team would walk in every few minutes so that the building denizens could navigate their way through this crowd to the outside world.
Seeing a scooter live and getting a seat of pants experience is very different compared to seeing Bhavesh and company doing their stuff virtually. About 300 scooters have been produced in the first lot at the Ola giga factory - and test rides are going on all over the country. In Pune, there were two scooters on display and another 4 scooters in charging mode. That left only 4 scooters for test drives. One suggestion to the Ola team is to have charging scooters being demo’ed, so that you can actually have two more scooters on the road.
If there is one take-away from the design language - it would be the beer crate. I remember the Etergo team taking that as the starting point for designing the scooter. These beer lovers needed a machine which would fit a beer crate inside. Etergo was probably the first scooter that started by first deciding the dicky area - and then building the rest of the stuff around it. That kind of vision is important - it has resulted in brilliant vehicles like the Tata Nano - which had a one line brief - sell it under a lakh. And believe me, the dicky is spacious. Bhavesh and company are doing a disservice by showing two helmets fitted inside - they should have stuck to the original beer crate. Or Amazon packages. Or Sunday veggies shopping. The gaadi has serious under seat storage - and it is going to be a killer app for the vehicle.
The 250 strong engineering team at Ola Bangalore has been putting their minds to redesign the vehicle for Indian conditions. Like 3 idiots and Five Point Someone, there is a significant desi-ess that has seeped into the Dutch Etergo design. Unlike the plastic monocoque Etergo, the Ola engineers have added a frame in which the battery is now housed. But one thing that they have forgotten is the gas cylinder. I remember riding my old petrol Bajaj Chetak, with its tunnel, and how I would have to put a brick on one side to load the LPG cylinder. (The other side had to be kept free because the rear brake was operated by a foot pedal.) Any mass scooter in India has to be able to comfortably fit the LPG gas cylinder test on the floorboard and Ola fails that test. The tunnel is a legacy of the original Etergo plastic monocoque design, where it would have definitely added to the structural strength. It is functional even now as the wiring harnesses run through the tunnel. But I would have been happier with a flat floorboard, aka the Honda Activa and the Suzuki Access.
One good thing about the Ola is that, unlike the Ather, there is no belt and fan noise. I personally found the Ather design language resonates better with me. The Ola is narrower and has much more plastic acreage than I would prefer. Some would like that - but I would think about what would happen when the scooter has a fall. The triangular pieces of plastic that cover the swing arm hinges are surely going to be the first to lose their sheen as they encounter gravel. Just take them away, Ola. Some nudity is welcome, even in the tradition bound fully clothed Indian society. Another thing that jars is the way the rear disc brake is tucked in next to the driving belt. It does make the rear wheel very easy to remove, but accessing the disc to change the brake pads - or remove stones that may get stuck will be a problem. Especially, since the center stand is provided only as an accessory.
I came in, believing that I would be moving around on a 70 kg Etergo inspired featherweight champion. But the Ola actually tips the scales at a super heavy 118 kg. The weight sucks when you are maneuvering in traffic jams or parking lots. But Ola’s defence is that most of this weight is close to the ground. The motor sits low, the battery is under the floor. The lower center of gravity helps in handling and in high speed turns. Also, the vehicle rides over rough roads better because of the additional weight.
When you peep into the rear wheel area, you find that they have done a neat job of fitting in the components there. You can see the motor straddling the width of the scooter, just in front of the dicky. These snug fits can only happen when you design an electric scooter from the ground up. Unlike the Ather, there are no cooling fans for the motor. There are fins on the motor, but no natural ventilation as the motor is deep inside the guts of the vehicle. The plastic skin is good for reducing high speed wind drag, but it also means that airflow to cool the motor and batteries gets blocked. There have been issues reported about motor heating when you use the Hyper mode for a long time. The Ola team should consider adding a motor cooling fan or improving the air venting. The motor is quite powerful. You tend to get thrown back as the accelerator is used. I would suggest a backrest be added to the grab rail. This will make the pillion rider safer when the vehicle runs in hyper mode.
One major change required because of getting higher dicky space has been the use of a horizontal shock absorber in the rear wheel suspension. The swing arm and the shock absorber are almost parallel to each other. We talked to Harpreet Kolli, who has worked on the suspension. He assured us that it has been tested over all kinds of terrains and loads, and has performed quite well. The single shocker at the rear is a standard design for most scooters. Starting from the old Bajaj days where there would be an engine on one side and a shocker on the other. Borrowing a leaf from the Bajaj pages, even the front suspension has a single shocker. Am not too happy with the offset front suspension design, even though it is aluminum die cast. I would have preferred the fork, which is the new normal for today’s bikes.
Quite a few bikes use a single rear shock at the center, but my concern is the angle of the Ola rear spring-shock. Road bumps lead to vertical movement of the wheel. Vertical shocks mean that the entire travel of the shocker can be in sync with the wheel travel. But with a horizontal one, the design gets complicated. As soon as the pillion rider gets on to the vehicle, you can see a movement of a few cm. The springs have to be much stiffer in this mode. What is the effect of this on ride quality? Kamlesh was quite comfortable riding pillion when we were navigating the kerbside stones trying to avoid traffic near the Magarpatta flyover. I also did a bit of a pillion riding behind Harpreet, but that was on smoother roads. Another corollary of this design is that you cannot use cheaper oil filled shocks, as cavitation problems occur during the horizontal swishing of the liquid. For that reason, Ola has had to go in with costlier gas filled shocks.
The banana batteries are snugly fitted under the floor, but alas are not removable. One thing that would have nudged the design team towards this decision is the size of the battery - a humongous 4 kWh. It would definitely weigh upwards of 25 kg. I expect the vehicle to consume about 40 wh per km on sport mode. So it should deliver on a real life range of 100 km. (It starts with 150 km as default when you are fully charged.) The battery chemistry is NMC, Though NMC is lighter than LFP, the chemistry is relatively unstable. In the case of a stone hitting the underside at high speed, there may be chances of the battery pack flaming up. In the interest of safety, some metal reinforcement below the battery would be welcome.
The company has chosen to get to 4 kWh using 56 V, 70 Ah. This is a refreshing change away from the 12 V multiples: 48, 60, 72, that have been the standard in the EV industry. Higher voltages mean lower currents and lower losses. My suggestion would be to have a separate mudguard over the wheel in order to keep the muck out of the motor. We tried finding out the charges for connectivity - a sore area for a lot of EV users, but Ola still has to take a call on that. There are no dealers you can go to, as Ola proposes door step service. The fine print on SLA should be interesting to read in the warranty and service clauses.
The TFT touch display is large. We did not get to see many of the widgets that Bhavesh has been promising. The navigation was not working in the demo machines. The cruise control was something that I would have loved to experience, but even that was not working. You have to do two swipes to check the wh per km data. In the current configuration, the speed font is quite good. Would recommend that the DTE font should be increased and maybe even the odometer one. Having a software enabled TFT means that these glitches can be removed easily.
Coming to switches - I found too many of them. The clutter means that you need to take your eyes off the road for even things as routine as switching off an indicator. There is a chance that there will be an auto shut off of the turn indicators later on, but till then I would have recommended a standard design of a single switch operating both left and right indicators with a push getting the indicator to stop. The knurling on the button gives important tactile feedback and should be there in all indicator switches.
The IP 67 rated front speakers were sounding good. You can enjoy your music as you ride. There is also a built-in microphone - and switches for you to connect to your calls while riding. The same loudspeakers can then broadcast your phone call to your fellow riders! Both these features, incidentally, are not legal as per Indian traffic rules. But I would be very happy if Bhavesh lobbies Nitin Gadkari and company to make these legal. I would still reserve my opinion on the Ola till I do a hundred km and ask my back how it is feeling. Am looking forward to getting my hands on the vehicle for this long ride: with the music playing loud, the vehicle driving itself on cruise mode and a beer crate in the dicky!
I used an electric car and an electric cycle for more than 10 years. I just sold my electric car after 7 and half years and I need some form of motorized transport to complement my eBike. So I booked the OLA S1. Why the S1 and not the pro? I don't need Cruise Control, Hyper Mode, Extra Range, Hill Hold. I can live without these features/gimmicks. Let's be honest here. Hyper Mode in the OLA or Warp Mode in Ather are gimmicks. In the city, it is impossible to use those modes consistently and on a regular basis.
Regarding range. The S1 has a 3 kWh battery pack. Let's assume around 2.7 kWh is usable energy. There is always some buffer to prevent deep discharge. So that comes to 2700 Wh. I don't know the exact buffer value. This could be lower or higher. For now let’s go with this. In EV’s, the way you measure how well you ride, is by checking the efficiency number. And efficiency is measured by wH/Km and you can see this value in a well designed EV. Assuming I get an efficiency of 25 wh/km, I will get a range of 2700/25 = 108 km. This efficiency number is my assumption and it will vary based on how you ride the vehicle. The way Atulji and myself ride an electric scooter is completely different from an average petrol scooter rider. We gradually accelerate. We let go of the throttle when we see a traffic signal ahead of us. We let the scooter coast as much as possible. We try to use Regen. All of this does not mean we will crawl at 25 kmph speed. We will touch high speeds too. Also we don't accelerate and brake and accelerate and brake like Petrol scooter guys. That is the Neanderthal way of riding. When you use an EV. Use it like a cultured lady and you will get amazing range! Another observation, no one in the EV community holds the brake and tries to accelerate. That is a disgusting way of riding. Again. Neanderthals do that.
The way I ride the OLA, I believe I will consistently get more than 100 km on the OLA S1, given the way I ride. If your efficiency numbers are in the mid 40s, you will get a range of 60 km on the S1.
Efficiency. Efficiency. Efficiency.
This is the magic number. And you will need to observe it. It was disappointing that I could not find the efficiency number in the current 1.3 BETA version of the software. We spoke to the OLA Engineer and he says the production version of the scooter will have 'widgets' that will show the efficiency.
That brings me to the other disappointing aspect. Unfinished software. Software is a huge part of a well designed EV and they did not show us many features. “Moods” - is one such feature. This essentially behaves like the “FACES” feature of the Apple Watch. I was looking forward to this feature. I feel, OLA should have preloaded at least one or two Moods for the test ride. There were no widgets, no flash forward apps, no demonstration of using multiple profiles. And, there was no demo of the most important software - Navigation. Apparently ‘Map My India’ maps are used here and not Google Maps. Google Maps apparently becomes expensive as there is a per request cost associated with it. For the end user, this is not ideal. As Google Maps is what everyone knows and understands. Most businesses are registered on Google maps. Anyway this is a minor grouch from my side. The Ola Electric mobile app too, is not ready. The fact that all of these important user experience features that will be used by people from day 1 of the purchase is not shown to test ride owners nor are they shown to media reviewers is disappointing.
Another observation is that when the SOC is 100% the DTE or range shown is 153 km on the OLA S1 Pro. Which seems okay to me. I’m glad they are not showing the 181 km ARAI number as the DTE. I feel that number is wildly optimistic and your efficiency numbers will have to be under 15 wH/km and that is virtually impossible in the real world.
Also the DTE shown will be the same every morning you wake up unlike the Nexon EV which shows variable numbers based on your driving patterns. I actually like the OLA’s method better. That is how it was in the e2o and and even in the Ather i believe.
Next. My most favorite feature on the OLA S1 is the way Regenerative braking is implemented. There are 3 modes of Regen
- Braking Regen
When u brake, of course some of that kinetic energy is sent to the battery
- Coast Regen
When you let go of the throttle, there is a slight regen happening. When I went down a flyover, I did feel it. You can sense the motor becoming a generator and there is slight resistance. The Regen is not powerful when you are coasting. But it is there.
- Forced Regen
And here you twist the throttle, 10 degrees in reverse direction and the regen gets more aggressive. There is more resistance and you get to a stop faster.
Guys, in my 2 km ride, I never once touched the brakes! The magic of Regen man. The way an EV is meant to be riden.
I love “One Pedal” driving in an electric car and this implementation of Regen satisfies me immensely. The fact that I can ride the OLA S1 in “One Pedal” mode is exciting :)
As far as ride and the hardware goes, there is nothing to complain about. Seating position is amazing. Doubles suspension is incredible. We went over bad roads and I did not feel anything. The scooter was firm and there was no Springy suspension we have observed in some electric scooter brands. Ride comfort was superb, much better than the Ather thanks to the wider and more comfortable seats. Mirrors were also much bigger, easier to adjust and useful than the ones on the Ather.
All in all, we are impressed. But there is a long way to go for OLA Electric to make this production ready. Without checking all software features, this feels like a BETA version of scooter. I would have been happier if they would have shown us the near production version.
We hope we can get a hold of the production variant soon and give a more detailed report. Everyone at PluginIndia sends a lot of positive energy to OLA, Ather and all amazing EV startups that will soon teach a lesson to the BIG ICE Mafia like Bajaj, TVS, Hero and others. They are dinosaurs and they are finished if they don’t keep up with the sheer technology innovation we are seeing with our startups.