The Udyan Express reached KSR Bengaluru on time, after having been delayed by more than 50 minutes enroute. The Udyan has a lot of stops - and I guess that is what makes the train popular. It even had a First AC compartment which was fully occupied. No pantry car though. Bengaluru railway station thankfully did not have any queues to exit, and though I had my Covid tests in place, no one bothered to ask me.
As soon as I got out of the station, I walked into the Majestic bus stand. Even before I could get into the walkway which connects the bus stations, I found a bus going to Hosur via Electronic City. The ticket was a reasonable Rs. 25 - and I walked to the hotel - YC Residency - from the stop on Hosur Road. The bus took almost 1.5 hours to reach. And the 4.5 km walk took almost the same time. I had a nariyal paani break in between. It was an enjoyable walk through the offices of the two biggies of the Indian IT industry - Infosys and Wipro.
Kamlesh landed up by bus an hour later - and he took exactly the same route that I had taken. He reached the hotel around 1145 hrs. The check in was at 1330 hrs - and there were no unsanitized rooms available, so we decided to take an Ola to go to Kropex Motors, the Tata Motors dealer at Singasandra. We chatted up with Jayasuriya, the state head of TML for Electric Vehicle sales. Ok, let me correct myself, state head of Tata E Mobility - as of 1-Jan-22 the unit has been spun off into a separate company, after the billion dollar funding. Discussed the issues that TML owners have been facing. Most of the discussion was about the Nexon, as there are very few Ziptron Tigors on the road. The good news that Jayasuriya shared was that production is being ramped up - and can touch more than 2,000 vehicles a month soon. There is a backlog of more than 800 Tata E vehicle customers, waiting for delivery, in Karnataka alone. The company is in the middle of evaluating which of the models to electrify next. Candidates are: Safari, Punch and Altroz. My suggestion to the company would be to actually build a grounds-up EV. If not, then at least try to get the Nano back - that is a car which is screaming out to be electrified.
Another piece of news that Jayasuriya shared was that the charger actuator jamming problems faced by Nexon owners are on way to being resolved. A pouch is being provided to cover the actuator area to prevent mud from ingressing the actuator area. It would be a good idea to retrofit this in existing Nexon's. There was some delay in getting the number plates arranged for the media Tigor. We took the opportunity to go back to the hotel - have a quick shower followed by lunch at the Udupi hotel next to the hotel. We returned back and the dealer flagged us off at around 1515 hrs - with crackered confetti!
First stop was HSR layout, where we visited the office of ObenEV, the new kid on the EV block. This is a company that has been set up by Dinkar and Madhumita, both alums of IIT KGP - surprisingly the law program. This is the duo’s second startup. The first one is https://ipexcel.com/in/ - which is very much what both were educated in. IIT KGP runs the law program exclusively for engineers. IP Excel has a team of 60+ now - and has been in steady state mode for a few years now. Quite a few of their clients were from the EV industry, so the duo decided to resign their board positions at IP Excel (they still continue to be share holders) and jump into the EV pond.
I test rode the scooter and the entry level bike. Found both of them to be fun to drive. The entry level bike has relatively smaller tyres - reminding me a little bit of the Navi, though the tyres are not as small as the Navi’s. But these two are not the go to market products. The first entrant is going to be a mainstream sports bike. The company’s main designer is the guy who has done the styling of Bajaj’s Dominar. The team is not very big - my guess is about 20 people - but most of them come with some background in EVs. They are going to make investments in plastic moulds and aluminum pressure die casting moulds before production starts. The current model had 3d printed parts and aluminum that had been machined out of blocks. The advantage is that you can get a production model feel even in the prototype.
The bike is kind of naked - so the plastic acreage is limited. In the Aluminum the most challenging part is going to be the battery cover, which is going to have fins. I have asked them to rework the fuel tank area and see if they can fit the charging cable in that slot. The charging port standard is also something that they can relook at. A Chigori or Lotes would have been a better choice. The design has a mid drive motor - which is sourced from a company in HSR Layout itself.
Dinkar’s previous company had been providing a lot of consulting in the EV space, so he already has a good connect with component manufacturers. And he assured me that Oben is not taking the Chinese assembler route to market. Oben is assembling their own battery packs - and it was heartening to know that they are taking the LFP route, albeit with cylindrical cells. They have not put the bike to too many road tests. I think they will need to do a few lakh km of road tests to uncover field problems.
Distributors have been appointed in 5 states - who will in turn be appointing dealers. So they have gone the established way - and are not looking at the Ola way of going direct. Insha Allah, the dealers will end up doing the testing for the Oben team - and helping them refine the product.
From the Oben office, went out to one of the closeby watering holes with my friends Uddipan and Prashant. This was a place which they used to frequent in the Wipro days when the duo used to work together. As Uddipan and PK gulped down their beers, I had 4 glasses of nimbu paani, which I would make myself. We had lovely vegan food - and got dropped off at my hotel at 2230 hrs.
Capt Sanjay landed up from Gurgaon around 0100 hrs in the morning for the trip. He had flown down to join us. Captain is a veteran of not just the Delhi, but the Indian EV community. He still holds the range record for an E2O - 178 km. Is an auto buff - and has owned cars of all sorts. He joined Air India in the late eighties, after finishing his flying school at Rae Bareli. His first car was a Premier Padmini - an air conditioned one, mind you. He went on to own a Rover 2000, which was the most handsome looking car of its time. In the early 2000s he picked up his first electric car - the Revai. His garage currently houses, apart from the e2o, a Toyota Prius and an Isuzu pickup. He also owned a MG eZS for a year. He is looking at adding more electric beasts to his stable. For a start he has his eyes set on a Sonalika Electric tractor. The tractor is going to be for the new 35 acre farm that he has purchased year ago. It is about 80 km from Jaipur and 150 km from his Gurgaon house.
Captain worked for many years with Air India before he switched over to flying private jets. He used to fly the Boeing 777s at Air India - and he now flies the Global Express. There are about 12 of these flying machines in India with an impressive set of owners: the Marans, the Ambanis, the Kalyanis, the Bajajs, the Jindals. The jet routinely flies at an altitude of 50,000 ft - and can do Bangalore London non stop. Captain shared a lot of interesting aviation anecdotes. To jot down those will take an entirely new blog, but here’s a sample. As part of his training at Air India, he was put though a simulation of oxygen deprivation. He was given a writing assignment - and as he wrote the oxygen level in the chamber was got down. He was surprised when he was shown his writing later on. He could not decipher the scribbling that happened during his oxygen deprivation stage. The effect is akin to swigging down a 700 ml bottle of whisky. At 50,000 ft you only get 3 seconds to put on your oxygen mask before deprivation kicks in. I was curious about this low figure, as I imagine most of us can easily hold our breaths for 30 seconds. But at that altitude, the air is literally vacuumed out of your lungs. Captain told us of an incident in Europe where the pilots did not realise the pressure loss. The passengers were all masked up - as the mask fall is automatic in case of pressure loss. But that is not the case in the cockpit. The pilots lost consciousness - and 30 minutes later the plane crashed.
Though ETD was 0715 hrs, it was almost 0745 hrs by the time we left. Followed Google Maps to hit Hosur road - and from then on the Maps was switched off. Managed to beat the morning crowd and exited the city without too much trouble. We realised quite early that the Tigor’s fast tag had a zero balance - so we ended up paying double the toll on the first three gates. A SOS call to Jayasuriya resulted in 1000 Rs appearing on the tag - and from then on it was easy going. The first halt was Krishnagiri. We were down to a SoC of 30% by the time we hit Krishnagiri; this was because we had not charged the car from the time we picked it up at the dealership. Even delivery at the dealership was with a 95% SoC.
Zeon’s fast chargers ensure that the car and its occupants are nourished in parallel. Sree Saravana Bhavan was located next to the charger - and as the car charged, we dug into the VFM breakfast platter. 50 minutes later, the car and its occupants were at 100% SoC and good to go. Captain took over the wheels from then on and took off. Captain tells me that most pilots drive like him - they will get tickets not for driving too fast, but flying too low! We had a small stop for some coconut water - and found our coconut seller also selling castor seeds.
We reached our next pit stop, whose name I was only able to get into my RAM memory. (Kamlesh reminds me that it is Sankagiri) Karthik, the cofounder at http://zeoncharging.com was waiting for us there. He had driven down from Tirupur to spend time with us. As we just started our charge, another Tigor drove in. We were in no hurry, so we stopped our charging and handed over the fast charger to our friend, Sridhar. We tried doing a slow charge in the Zeon AC charger - but there were communication protocol issues - and so the charging refused to start. We tried out the AC charger on the MG - and it worked fine. The Tatas have to work better with charging station operators to ensure that these bugs get sorted out. Karthik informed us that an AC charger is more of a comfort blanket - as it would save us only a few minutes of charging time.
We chatted up with Sridhar as his car charged. We realised that most Zeon customers are long distance road warriors. The minimum monthly fuel bill that they run up is Rs. 5,000 upwards. Come to think of it, this would be a good marketing strategy for EV OEMs. Go to petrol pump owners and find out who are people who are big time consumers. It makes economic sense for these guys to be early adopters. Though it sometimes can create funny situations. I remember reading about an Air India event to honour the frequent flyer who had the most miles under his belt. Turned out that the gentleman was an employee of a courier company - whose job was to carry parcels on the Delhi Toronto flights as checked in baggage!
As soon as Sridhar had finished a 90% charge, he vacated the station. This is an interesting charging station etiquette. The last 5% takes much more time - and so if you have another person behind you, you are not expected to do a full charge. Karthik informs us that such traffic jams happen on weekends and in holiday seasons at this particular station, more so during breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Zeon should look at happy hours to encourage people to have early or later meals. Much cheaper to manage demand than to manage supply.
What worries me is that the chargers are expected to have a peak utilisation of just 30%. Or about 6 to 8 hours a day. With the average vehicle charging at about 15 to 20 kW, that means about 120 to 150 units a day for Zeon. Wonder how they can up that number? Two wheelers are not going to be frequent users of charging stations - though Ather has set up its charging points at some Zeon locations. One idea would be to cater to the commercial segment. More goods vehicles than buses - because buses would also want to do the same mealtime charging that car owners prefer. Another idea that we discussed was using this for charging swappable batteries. But we ruled that out soon because slow charging is preferred for swappable batteries - as degradation is reduced in slow charging. Even Tata requests its customers to go in for one slow charge after every 4 fast charges.
At our Coimbatore hotel, we did try convincing the hotel management to allow us a slow charge, but the plug point was away from the parking - and the electrician did not have a 2.5 sq mm wire. ( Note: Thanks to active persuasion from Karthik and diligent follow up from Captain, the Coimbatore hotel management had managed to slow-charge the Tigor through the night.)
From Sankagiri, Karthik offered that I can drive his MG eZS. I had had some backseat experience in the MG, and wanting to add some frontseat experience, so I immediately agreed. Surprisingly, more than 50% of customers at Zeon chargers are MG owners. I guess if you are paying 10 lakh more for 100 km of added range, you must really have long distance in mind when you purchase an MG.
Compared to the Nexon, the MG has a bigger and lighter battery below the floor. The reason for the reduced weight is that the MG choses to go with NMC chemistry. The NMC cells usually show a life of 2000 cycles in the lab, compared to the 4000 of LFP. Compared to the Nexon’s 8 year warranty, the MG’s standard warranty is 5 years. You can pay extra to make that 8 years. What I am not sure is the battery degradation committed to in the warranty terms of Tata and MG.
I liked the MG gear shifter. It has a nice haptic click when the gear is shifted. And unlike Tata’s dials which can rotate forever, the MG’s dials only can do a quarter turn - either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Also, there is a blue LED that lights up below the appropriate gear as soon as it is selected. And to get into parking, you only press the shifter top button. Am told that Tata's will follow suit soon and switch to this shifter design.What I really loved most about the gaddi was the cruise control. Most MG users don’t use cruise this feature too often. They try to put it in action on highway cruise speeds of 80 kmph. You can’t stay too long on cruise control at that speed, as it automatically disengages when you press either the accelerator or the brake. (With the accelerator, the vehicle comes back to the set cruising speed when you let go off the accelerator.) What you really need to do in cruise control is to set speed at 65 kmph and live life in the slow lane. It’s a Zen feeling. With the cruise control on, managed to have a lovely conversation with Karthik on Jared Diamond’s excellent book Guns, Germs and Steel. (In case you are interested, do watch this video: https://youtu.be/i885hopsw6E) We debated about why Coimbatore’s Kongu region was richer than the delta region south of Pondicherry, which had much more water. Incidentally, we are still searching for answers, so dear reader do enlighten us if you have any hypotheses about the same.
Going back to the cruise control, all you need to do to put it on is to press the push button on top of the cruise control lever. The car then maintains the speed it had at the time when the button was pressed. You can also increment or decrement this speed by toggling the lever up or down in short bursts. Speed changes by 1 kmph on each of these toggles. I was told by some folks actually manage zero pedal driving by using this toggling for braking and accelerating on the highway. Apart from the price, the only other drawback fo the car is its suspension. It was too soft for my liking. It does lead to good comfort on most highway drives, but it creates problems on bad roads - and at higher speeds.
Meeting amazing Nexon EV owners
We stopped at a small town about 80 km short of Coimbatore and had a chai break at Dr Madan Kumar’s home. Madan, a laparoscopic surgeon, works mostly with rural hospitals. His dad started a hospital in the eighties in the town, which Madan helps run even today. His wife, a gynecologist, looks after the hospital, as Madan moves around for his surgeries. Madan’s daily travel is about 150 km - and he reckons that in a few months time his Tata Nexon would have paid up for itself. He compared the Nexon’s running cost with the Audi Q3 that he sold to get the Nexon, and reckons that he has saved Rs. 7.5 lakh already. As of Jan 22, he has already covered 85,000 km. And this is just in 18 months of ownership.
The fun part is that the Nexon is on a healthy slow charging diet most of the time. Madan has got 15 A sockets installed at all the hospitals he works with - so whilst Madan is at work in his surgery, a 15 A socket is doing its work with his Nexon. As a result, he has seen almost zero degradation in range. He also showed us the tyres which still have deep treads. In the Audi he would have to change tyres every 30,000 km. But with the Nexon the original set is still going strong, Madan credits this to the regen braking and the single pedal driving style that he has adopted after becoming an EV owner.
Madan is very tech savvy - and actually founded a telemedicine company about a decade ago. www.icliniq.com They seem to be a company with a very strong sense of ethics. Most of the revenues come from the US - but customers come from all over. They have catered to clients from more than 170 countries. The first consultation is free. There are three types of consultations - a written query which is replied to by a text message. This costs Rs. 99. Next is a phone call, which costs Rs. 199. And then you have a video call, which costs Rs. 299. When Icliniq started, bandwidth was scarce - and so they had to pivot to text messages from the video calls that they had envisaged would be the bread and butter product of the company. Text accounts for a major share of the business even today. What I liked most was how they delete customer identity information and put all the text queries on their site. If someone wants to browse the FAQs then they don’t need to pay for consultation. They do about 700 consultations a day - and are probably the only telemedicine company in India which makes profits. There is another preventive healthcare startup tha Madan is working on - and would love to volunteer with that company.
Our last encounter of the day was with Pallani, who is a MG owner who can put even Madan to shame. Pallani does 10,000 km a month! He runs a solar EPC business - and has interests in rainwater harvesting and organic farming. He wins the Zeon’s heavy user award hands down. We asked him whether he is worried about battery degradation with so much of fast charging. What Pallani does is actually charge 50% at the fast charger - and then go back home and put the MG for slow charging for the balance 50%. Good going, Pallani! He was a gracious host - and took us out for dinner to a local organic restaurant - where we hogged on ragi and banana flower dosas. For the first time in the day, we imagined our Tigor complaining - for she was missing her meals while we hogged. Have promised her an early morning heavy breakfast before we head for Ooty.
Finally we reached Coimbatore and the hotel manager actually managed to get a 4 sq mm wire and rigged up our Tigor and got it a slow charge overnight. Gracias, Senor. We shall definitely visit your hotel again.
Started the day with a visit to India’s first owner of the BYD B6 car. Jayraman is an industrialist in Coimbatore whose primary business is in coatings - he is a walking encyclopedia in that area. He tells me that PPG originally developed the Electro Deposition technology for Henry Ford’s Model T. Jay’s factory is a rare one which has zero effluents. He runs his own ETP, and he assures me that it is a very expensive one to run. There are no liquids that come out of the plant. The solid powders that come out are sent over to cement plants who use it as an ingredient in their manufacturing process. They require just about 1500 litres of water a day to top up their vats. The rest of the water comes from recycling.
Jay’s first EV was the DC motor Reva, which he bought way back in the early 2000s. He got his MG eZS a year ago - and he has been quite happy with it. So was his wife. Both of them go to work. There are 3 locations that the family has their business interest spread over. They have a machining setup and are also distributors for a pharma companies in the region. So both of them have to travel a lot every day. The BYD is going to be Jay’s car now. We took the car for a short spin with Jay at the wheel. It’s spacious in every sense of the word. Rear seats, Front seats, Dicky - all of them are oozing space. But the best thing that I liked about the car is it’s frugality. In spite of its size and 2 ton weight, it sips energy which is in low Nexon territory. The 72 kWh battery delivers a real life range of 450 to 500 km. That means about 144 wh/km. (The BYD folks use kWh per 100 km - please spare us guys and move on to wh/km.)
The car costs about 30 lakh on road. And is currently sold only to corporates. GST benefits will happen if you are in the travels or hospitality business. At that price point, one would have expected some creature comforts - but like the Tigor most of the money is spent on giving the car that solid LFP pack. With BYD’s proprietary blade cells, it probably is the best car in the country. Must check out if they use air cooling or liquid for the battery pack. My guess is that it must be air, which is the reason that the wh/ km figures are so low. Easier and more energy efficient to pump air than coolant. The battery is warrantied for 8 years / 150,000 km. I think it should last 15 years. I loved the gear selector. It is the same one as the MG’s. You get good feedback when you change gears - and a bright blue LED lights up under the P/N/R texts on the dash when you select that gear. To get into P mode all you need to do is to press the central disc. What I also loved was the single choice of speed - Economy. The car is designed for long distance drives - and it does not offer you sporty choices.
Having said that, there are parts of the car that are pretty ordinary. Seats are Ok. The front seat adjustment is manual. The dash plastic is average. There is what looks like a mobile phone wireless charger, but turns out it is just a placeholder for your mobile. There is a pedestrian alerting sound that comes on when you are at speeds below 20 kmph. I found the sound quite irritating. (Am told that the MG also has the same - but it can be switched off in the software. I hope Jay can also switch it off.) Worst of all, there is no Cruise control.
For me it turned out to be a good tech demonstrator for what makes BYD the king of Chinese roads. If BYD comes up with the same frugality in a car the size of a Tigor, with a real life range of 300 km, I would be tempted. The price point is such that the cab operator would have to be charge at least Rs. 15 to 20 per km to recover investments. If we are looking at 20% RoI, the operator has to make Rs. 6 lakh per year. That is about Rs. 2,000 per day of profit. Throw in costs of the driver, electricity and maintenance, that would mean a minimum revenue required of Rs. 3,000 a day. Assuming an average running of about 200 km a day, you will need to get to the Rs. 15 per km mark. But it is a spacious car - and I would definitely pay more money than I would pay for an Innova hire.
We were treated to some lovely coffee by the couple. The house is designed by a Bangalore architect. Loved the garden. One kaizen was the toilet switch - it was at ground level - and you use your feet to switch it on and off. That is quite neat.
Drive to Ooty
It was almost 1030 by the time we left. We switched on Google Maps and left for Ooty. Made a pit stop at Mettupalayam where Vari Energy Private Limited (VEEV) has set up a fast charger a few months back. We had to download the statiq app and put Rs 1000 in the wallet, even though we had to just charge 10 kWh. But what the hell, we were checking out chargers. Kamlesh and Sanjay had some light snacks at the local A2B Udupi restaurant. I had hogged at the buffet breakfast at Coimbatore, so for once I skipped lunch, consuming a few bananas that I had purchased en route. Captain Sanjay refused to let go of the steering wheel on the drive up. We discovered an interesting bug in the Tigor on the climb. The wh/km is not programmed to show more than 250. We did a small sampling of 5 km and watched the SoC drop about 7%. So we were consuming about 1.4% for every km of the climb. At 260 wh per percent point, this meant 260*1.4 or upwards of 350 wh/km was being consumed in climbs. We consumed about 53% of our battery by the time we hit Hotel Darshan at Ooty. Distance covered was 60 km from Mettupalayam, as we had a slight detour at Conoor. Here’s the efficiency math for the trip: about 14,000/60 or 240 wh/km. This was because we did some downhills enroute and got regen. On one occasion we saw our SoC actually go up by one percent.
At Conoor, we had wanted to catch up with Mansoor Khan, who used to run a very interesting homestay there. He is more famous of course as the director of legendary movies like QSQT and Jo Jeeta Wahi Siqandar. He had got in touch with us at PII when he was researching e bikes. He later on did a talk for some school students that I helped moderate. Here is a link to the blog based on that talk: https://peepaltreeschool.org/parent/society/script-hero/
Zarryl Lobo had recommended that we meet with Jayram at Conoor. We diverted to Sim’s garden and caught up with our friend. As we waited for him we were lucky to spot a Malabar giant squirrel at play. Jayram works with Google and has been staying at Seattle for two decades before that. He used to be based out of Chennai for a few years - even though Google offices are in Hyderabad. He would commute to Hyderabad every other week, and be on WFH the rest of the time. He figured out he could do the same out of Conoor. One more advantage is that his parents stay close by - in Palakkad. At Google, Jayram works on the call center software that is used by different Google teams. His better half is also on WFH mode. They have a 6 year old daughter who is being home schooled currently. The couple has rented an Air BnB - but have purchased a house close by. Jayram was looking at buying a used E2O, but one of his friends who has one has had service issues. You need to go down to Coimbatore for most repairs. He has currently got a Ford Ecosport, and is thinking of what EV to invest in. We would strongly recomment the Tigor - we have driven it in the hills - and it worked really well. We hope to meet him next time with his new EV.
We did meet with another MG eZS owner who was doing some gold jewelry shopping in Ooty. I was surprised why people would drive up for that. But he told me that the jewelers at Ooty have the best designs. And why Coimbatore, people from Kerala and Mumbai also come to Ooty for their gold shopping. Our friend is again in multiple businesses, one of which happens to be garden flexible pipes.
The interesting part of his business story was realising how hose sales went up 50% in the first 3 months of lockdown. People started finding time for tending to their gardens. Sales are incidentally back to normal now. Our friend’s better half is also a driving enthusiast. The travel genes have been transferred to the daughter, who wans to be a pilot. Capt showed off his photos in the cockpit. And I asked the young one to start by flying paper planes. If she does that for a month, Captain is going to start flying lessons for her!
It’s 8 deg C on a nice winter morning at Ooty as I type this part of the blog. Have been curious about the history of Ooty, so did my Wikipedia research. Udhagamandalam was originally a tribal land occupied by the Badaga, Toda, Kota, Irula and Kurumba. Tipu Sultan captured Nilgiris in the eighteenth century. The Nilgiris came into possession of British East India Company as part of the ceded lands, held by Tipu Sultan, by the treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1799.
The first part of the name (Ootaca) is probably a corruption of the local name for the central region of the Nilgiri Plateau.Otha-Cal literally means "single stone". This is perhaps a reference to a sacred stone revered by the local Toda people. "Mund" is the Anglicised form of the Toda word for a village, Mandu.
Ooty is in the Nilgiri hills, meaning the "blue mountains", so named due to the Kurunji flower which blooms every twelve years giving the slopes a bluish tinge.
Did a lazy start from Hotel Darshan. Gulped down 8 idlis for breakfast. Was great weather for a walk - but I think last time’s cycling to Ooty was enough exercise for a lifetime in the Nilgiri hills. Captain decided that he wanted to drive down the ghats too, so that he could contrast the experience of the down with the up. We switched on Google Maps and reached the intersection where the new ghat meets the old ghat. We were shooed away from the old ghat by the local police, who advised us to take the longer route. Fortunately, our friend Vikram, had had a word with the local SP office and forest officials. So after 10 minute of consultations between the two departments we were shooed in.
The old ghat with its 36 hairpin bends is what we wanted to test the vehicle in. This ghat is now reserved for traffic coming up to Ooty - and to some extent for local downhill traffic. This is the same ghat that I had cycled up 5 years ago with my friends. Here is my blog on that trip: https://peepaltreeschool.org/parent/travel/ooty-cyclog/ Now we were to go down about 2000 m in a 20 km stretch, an average gradient of 10%. Just to give some context, the maximum gradient that NHAI allows on 4 lane highways is 2.5%. If you were to go down the new ghat, the distance more than doubles.
In the Masanagudi ghat, you had better have fantastic brakes. We were going to be relying on regen for our braking. We started the ghat with a SoC level of 92% at the top of the ghat, as we had topped up the vehicle at Hotel Darshan in our overnight charging. The regen was amazing - we were pumping in about a percent every km. Which was fine till the halfway mark of the ghat. Regen in EVs stops working as you approach the full charge. After all, where are you going to be pumping all that energy into? With the Tigor after 98% SoC, regen stops. Post this, you are only on your brakes Unlike ICE vehicles, there is no engine braking in EV's! So to use ICE parlance, we were literally going down in Neutral. That heated up our brakes like crazy. Later on, when we were talking to Vikram, who is also a Tigor user, we found that the total regen down the Ooty ghat for the Tigor is about 11%. We should have started at 85%.
One more software bug was uncovered on the way down. The average SoC is programmed to show a minimum of 53 whkm (and a maximum of 250.) Ooty ghats break both the minima and maxima assumptions of the TML software team. The average wh/km down the ghat is 3 kWh over 20 km. Or -150 wh/km. Hope this bug gets sorted out soon. We did try going up the ghat in between to consume some battery, but there were limits to that as the Forest department checkpost guys would have found such behaviour too fishy. We waited at the bottom of the ghat to cool down the discs and add some fertiliser to the local fauna. But we were again shooed away from there - by our forest guard friends.
Meeting Tigor EV Owner
Our friend Vikram runs a lovely resort, https://junglehut.in/ at the bottom of the ghat, right next to the mighty Nilgiri ranges. The resort was started by his dad, after retirement from Brooke Bond. He used to work as a manager of one of the Ooty tea gardens. Vikram and Anushri, along with their kids - Vir and Ila - stay there today and have 15 rooms on the property. What I liked most was the deer grazing next to the rooms. Guests are not allowed to get their dogs along, so Jungle Hut environments are deer friendly. In addition to spotted deer we also spotted some wild boar on the Jungle Hut campus. Vikram tells us that the deer like spending nights as non paying guests of the property. And of leopards who know of this. And of nights when hunts take place and a lot of alarm calls go out. Once in a while, Jungle Hut is also frequented by elephants. A few years ago the Jungle Hut family had tried setting up a kitchen garden - but found that they were growing veggies more for the local fauna than for hotel guests! Vikram has been a rallying enthusiast in his younger days. And he thinks EV's have the potential to become great rallying machines. Good torque. Few moving parts - so lower chances of breakdowns. He is hoping to do a rally in a Tata Nexon soon. Hope Tata Motors sponsors one for him, so that they can send a message to the rallying community that EVs have arrived. I assume that we will need to triple the current Nexon battery capacity to compete with the ICE Mitsubishis and their ilk. Vikram took us around his garage, where he has his Merc and a few jeeps. One of his friends has parked an Audi TT at his place. Vikram uses a Triumph bike too. What I loved most was his vintage Vespa 150. It reminded me of the days when my dad used to drop me off to school on a similar vehicle - the Bajaj 150.
During the lockdown, Vikram used his labor force to help some of his city friends. The womenfolk created some sewing kits and embroidery frames. Even though business has returned back to normal, Vikram has got in some folk from the neighboring village and engages about 15 women in this work even today. Capt Sanjay goaded Vikram to install solar panels and geothermal air conditioning, something that Sanjay himself plans to do at his new 35 acre farm near Jaipur. It was 1230 by the time we bid our goodbyes and started our journey to Mysore. Captain was Fevicol-ed to the driver seat, so I continued to be the navigator. The road was pretty straight. We left Mudumalai forest and entered Bandipur, which is basically the same forest - but different states insist on different nomenclatures. Bandipur is on the Karnataka side, Madumalai on the Tamil Nadu side. Our Karnataka registration meant that the forest guards did not ask us for RT PCR certificates :-) The road quality was good - most of it was 3 lane. We reached the Mall of Mysore at 1500 hrs with a SoC of 50%. Not too bad for 135 km of travel.
Wind Sailing at Mysuru!
We met with Capt Arvind over there. He took us out on his E2O for a super heavy lunch at the newly started MTR 1924. It was a 10 course lunch and if my memory serves me right, this is what we had: Grape juice, Masala dosa, Wada, Bisellebela rice, Rasam rice, Sambar Rice, Curd Rice, Badam halwa, Sheera, Icecream with fruits and paan. Btw, there were repeats available, in case anyone dared to ask for them. I think one should have fasted a few days before entering MTR. We then drove down to Capt Arvind’s lovely house, not too far from Lalitha Mahal. His wife is an architect - and has tried to create a worthy competitor to Lalitha Mahal on their 10,000 sq foot property. Capt Arvind grew up in Bangalore, which continues to be his primary residence. He is the same age as I am. Did his Computer science B.Tech to please his parents. Got his first flying licence around the same time that he got his degree. Got married to his college sweetheart soon after college. They have one son, who is now gainfully employed in the US. Vikram decided that the first vehicle he wanted to buy from his own earnings was going to be a plane. Decided that entrepreneurship was a possible way to put his plan in action. Dabbled successfully in areas as far flung as gyms, cable connections and car rentals. Upshot was that circa 1996 he accumulated Rs. 1.5 lakh in the bank, borrowed 4.5 lakh from friends and was the owner of his first two seater plane. The plane was parked at Jakkur airfield in Bangalore. His entrepreneurial activity then shifted to flying. He did that for a decade, starting a hobby flying club, offering services like cloud seeding, even buying off the company that had made his first aircraft. In 2008, in one of his characteristic random oves, he decided to move on. He shifted base to Mysore and became a student of the LLB program of Mysore university. Even before he had finished his course, he was hired by the Asst Solicitor General of Karnataka. This gentleman was soon promoted to become a judge of the High Court. Vikram assists one of Karnataka’s most eminent lawyers today.
That is when he is not indulging in his latest hobby - sailing. That is what we guys did when we went across to the backwaters of the KSR dam, about 30 km from Mysore city. The dam is home to the famous Brindavan gardens. Vikram has helped start the Royal Mysore Sailing club. It currently has about 20 members, with its chief patron being Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar XI - the current lineage of the royal family. Vikram is the most active member and has done a great job. We could already see more than a dozen sailing and other boats parked at the jetty. We went sailing in the dam reservoir. There was a 4 knot breeze - and it was a nice Zen experience. We got into a physics and vector forces discussion with Vikram. He told us that a boat gets its maximum speed, not by going in the same direction as the wind, but when it is at an angle of 45 degrees to the wind. Vikram mentioned that the speed of the boat is a max of 70% of the wind speed. I remembered reading an article which said that sailors could exceed wind speeds too. Kamlesh dug this out later to prove my point - https://www.surfertoday.com/windsurfing/bjorn-dunkerbeck-hits-windsurf-top-speed-of-103-67-kmh
There was some adventure as a fishing net got entangled in the emergency outboard motor. Capt Sanjay had done some sailing in Dar-es-Salaam, so he was the one who was handed over the rudder. Kamlesh was made to lean over to add to the steering. And I was sent ahead of the fore sail to set the centre of gravity right. It was dark by the time we returned. We furled up the foresail to cut speed as we approached the jetty. The final bit of steering was done using a paddle. Lovely experience - but I need to improve my swimming skills before I repeat it.
By the time we left, it was already 1930 hrs. For a change, Capt Sanjay let me take over the wheel. We had to go through village roads for the first 25 km. Roads were rough - but full marks to the Tigor suspension. Took all the bumps and potholes with ease. Speed went up as we joined the Mysore Bangalore national highway. A lot of 6 laning work was going on - but we still managed good speed, probably because of the late hour. Averaged our usual 70-90 kmph, but this time with AC off. The car turned in figures of about 120 wh per km in the overall trip from Mysore to Bangalore. We were to charge at the Zeon station on the outskirts of Bangalore, near Hotel Kadamba Veg. There was a small scare when we realised that the Zeon app was indicating a fault at that particular charger. We slowed down to more sedate speeds on getting this information. My friend Uddipan had recommended that I stop over at Channapatna enroute. It's a town famous for its wooden toys. These are two factories we had recommended we visit: Kids Montessori World and Channapatna Toys. Unfortunately we crossed Channapatna at 2100 hrs and most businesses were closed.
We went on and reached Kadamba Veg at around 2200 hrs. We realised that it was night curfew time in Bangalore and restaurants shut down by then. Not that we needed any more nourishment after that MTR meal. But the Tigor was definitely hungry - the SoC was down to 14%. We prayed to Mr Hanuman and plugged the car in. Alas, no show! Then Capt Sanjay had the brilliant idea of unplugging, switching on and switching off - and Voila, charging started. I think we had not switched off the car the first time we plugged in. We need to explore charging protocols to come up with our own charging checklist. 20 minutes into charging, there was a blackout. The lights came on in a few minutes, thanks to a generator backup at the hotel, but obviously the Zeon charger did not have the genset backup. Fortunately we had already gotten the SoC up to 45% - and so were good to go.
We reached our destination, Hotel Lemon Tree, Electronic City at around 2330 hrs. We had taken the NICE road and it took us barely 30 minutes to reach. We found an interesting protocol on the NICE road. Most cars use the shoulder for overtaking, especially when you have one slow truck overtaking another slower one. Another piece of good news on the NICE road is that they accept FAST tags now - so we did not have to spend too much time at the Toll Booths. The road ends near Hosur road - and Google Maps did not falter as we used the service road to enter Electronic city. Our booking was mistakenly done for the same day checkout. We had to rebook to continue to stay. Capt took the Tigor to a Zeon fast charger at Forum, Koramangala before checking into the Leela near HAL airport.
The Tigor EV performed brilliantly during the journey. It effortlessly climbed up ghats and also easily touched highway speeds. We met Tigor EV owners who get more than 220 km per charge. We only wish, Tata sold the car for less than Rs 10 lakhs and it will sell like hot cakes.
The best part of the journey is meeting wonderful EV owners. This was a classic PluginIndia drive - Its all about meeting real EV owners. Their stories inspire more people to go for EV's. Ultimately that is the reason we are doing this.
Finally, we would like to thank
Mr Jayasuriya from Tata Motors, Bengaluru for lending us their Tigor EV
Mr Karthik and Mr Nallasivam from Zeon Charging for creating the amazing EV Charging Network. Do visit their website.
Hotel Darshan in Ooty who gave us free overnight destination charging.
All wonderful EV owners we met during the journey.
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