The team had an opportunity to drive the Tata Tigor EV from Udaipur to the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. A distance of 923 km using DC fast charging infrastructure.
The formation of the Udaipur lakes must have preceded the settlement of the region. Udaipur is the local minima of the Aravali range. We had lost almost a couple of hundred metres of altitude between IIM Udaipur and the city. On the way to Jaipur, we again had to climb a few hundred meters as we reached the tunnel enroute. Most of the old Udaipur city is situated around the Pichola lake. Could see some boating activity going on. Also some swimming, with both young boys and old ducks doing the rounds of the lake. Was tempted to try some local snacks, but alas there was complimentary breakfast at the hotel, so the culinary experimentation did not happen. Ended up buying some harbaara, carrot, cucumber and oranges. Our hotel was in an upmarket locality where every second building was a hotel. There were a lot of cabs parked waiting for customers to happen. Chatted up with a few curious cabbies and did the electric math with them. Unfortunately, both the Nexon and Tigor Ziptron are not available for commercial sales. Nudged them to consider the BYD. It is a damn good Innova substitute.
Had a nice early breakfast on the rooftop restaurant of hotel Viaan. Poha and Aloo Paratha washed down with some lemon tea. The restaurant served some honey along with the tea, but the alert vegan in me made me decline the honey. Abhishek took his own sweet time to get ready; it was already 1000 hours by the time we left. We stopped at the Fateh sagar lake. Very clean compared to Pichola. And home to the Maharaja’s palace.
Early Trouble - A bad omen?
The first big town that comes after you cross after Udaipur is Nathdwara. The road slopes down as you cross the flyover over the town. In order to control the speed, there are very uncomfortable rumblers every 15 metres. Thanks to the Tigor’s great suspension, I was overtaking other cars on the rumbler strips at almost double the crawling speed that other cars had slowed down to. I realised the wisdom of the local cars’ slow speeds after the third rumbler.
The Tigor slipped into Neutral from Drive without my having anything to do with the gear knob. The power was still on as the dashboard and LCD screen so the auxiliary battery was still connected. SoC was 83%, so there were no battery drain issue. Managed to take the vehicle to the side of the road from the center lane, thanks to the down slope. After 5 minutes of trying, I moved the vehicle further down where the flyover meets the road coming from Nathdwara town. There was a tamarind tree on the road side below the flyover. Took advantage of its shade, as we did not want the battery to heat up.
Called up the Tata Motors team, who were super helpful. I did a video call with the regional head of service at Tata Motors, Jaipur. The first thing that the TML team does when such a software malfunctions is to do a hard reboot. The computer of the car is connected all the time, even when you push the power off switch. You need to do what we used to do in old laptops and phones: take out the battery and put it back in. For the EV, this happens when you take the auxiliary battery out of the circuit. To do that, you take the orange insulated 10 number spanner that has been provided with the toolkit, and remove the negative terminal of the auxiliary battery. Then wait for 5 minutes. Based on video instructions from the service team, I did that.
Alas, the display still continued to show the HV critical error. The next action point was to open the dicky and remove the spare tire. Under the mating, on the floor was a bolted plate under which is the MSD, the safety fuse for the HV section of the vehicle. I was told to push down the MSD hard. It already seemed to be snugly fitted. Experiment two tried, root cause yet to be identified. Third experiment was to remove the plastic cover in the boot area. Had to borrow a Phillips screwdriver from a local mechanic to do that. Just below the cover is an aluminium box which is the PDU assembly. The Power distribution unit is where the electronic switches are housed. In case of any battery overheating or current surges, the switches disconnect the battery from the motor. There are 6 high voltage connectors attached to the PDU. All the connectors were checked, and all seemed to be well fitted. There was nothing to do, but to wait and watch.
Abhishek and Kamlesh had taken an auto to do some snacking in Nathdwara city. I wasn't feeling too hungry, so I continued sitting in the car and munching on the greens that I had purchased during the morning ride. The tow truck from the Udaipur unit of TVS logistics drove in at 14:30 hours. I accompanied the truck into the journey back to Udaipur in the truck. Tata Motors had also sent a cab, in which Kamlesh and Abhishek returned. The team at the Chambal Motors, the Tata Motors Udaipur dealer was quite helpful. Our vehicle was immediately taken to a pit for repair.
We had to run a diagnostic tool after connecting a Panasonic laptop provided by Tata Motors to the dealer. You access the car’s network through a port located below the steering wheel area of the dashboard. You just pull out the section as it is fitted using clips. No screwdriver required. The dealership laptop was not connecting to our Tigor, so another laptop was requested from SP dealers, the other Tata Motors dealership, which was just across the road. The new laptop arrived in10 minutes. After connecting, the laptop informed us that there was a problem with the PWM connection to the motor. We started a series of checks on the connectors. The connectivity between different pins of some of the connectors was checked. There was a lot of help being provided remotely to the local team. But unfortunately the problem still was not traceable. Tata Motors team decided to send over a technician from Jaipur the next day.
It was 1900 hours by now, and we knew that our naseeb was to stay one more night at Udaipur. We checked into Hotel Spirit, which was also located in the industrial area, just half a kilometre away from the TML Chambal service centre. My good night prayer to the guys in deep space was a hope that we should not do another night stay at Udaipur!
Decided to have a leisurely breakfast. Met with a fellow breakfaster, Chandrakant ji. He was in Udaipur to visit a few studios to check out some art. Chandrakant grew up in Bhuj, and then went on to do his education from Ahmedabad and Bombay. He left for UK in the seventies - and started an arts supply store. His son has now taken over the store, closed it down - and shifted to an entirely online model. Chandrakant now travels 6 months a year, with the spending money that the business gives him. His favourite destination is the South of France, where he sees art in every scene that he stares at. He is a fellow commuting cyclist - both in London and Bhuj. I wonder how he can use art to make cycling less infra dig amongst the motorcycle driving community that is India.
Kamlesh and yours truly walked down to the Tata service station, as Abhishek caught up on some work in his hotel room. We reached around 1030 hrs - and were very very very pleasantly surprised to see the Tigor unparked. Amit, our friend from Jaipur had reached around 0830 hrs and had immediately set to work. Our initial hypothesis was that one of the motor connectors had come loose. (That’s what the laptop tool indicated.) But Amit, did not think so. He set about removing and refitting the undercarriage battery connectors. And Voila! The car was back in action. We are still not sure which of the connectors was the culprit, which is a pity. Else, we could have shared the feedback with the TML team - and hopefully they could have done some rerouting or redesign of the harness in that area. It definitely was not the PDU connectors, as they had been double checked in front of us.
Amit then went on to take a 30 km ride with the Tigor, putting it on rough roads to see if the problem came back. It did not. By the time the car returned, the SoC was 53%. We took it to the MG dealership for a top up upto 93%. And then returned to the showroom, where Amit installed the latest version of the BMS software. We then went on to do a slow charge upto 100%. This was required for the BMS calibration. The vehicle was then handed back to us. Exactly 24 hours had elapsed since it had entered the showroom. Looked like deep space had answered the suggestive communication that I had been sending the previous night. We were ready to go.
Drive to Beawar, RJ
Picked up Abhishek and the luggage from Hotel Spirit - and we were on our way. This time Abhishek was driving - and we very gingerly went over the speed breakers of Nathdwara. The Aravallis continued for 50 odd km. And the wh per km hovered between 105 and 110. We were as usual driving with AC off. After 1730 hrs, the drive became really comfortable - as the desert starts cooling down fast. At 1800 hrs, we came across a very interesting restaurant - Pit Stop, located at Deogarh. We decided that it was worth making a pit stop. It is run by the Raja of Deogarh. It has a vehicle theme. The food was good, though on the expensive side. The tables need to be reworked - there is no place to put your feet below the Jeep themed tables. We met with the owner after we had finished our snacks and our photography. He gave us the good news that Tata Power is putting up a fast charger at his property. We could see that the installation had been done already. Commissioning though had yet to happen. It indeed would be a good pit stop on the Udaipur-Jaipur route.
Had some hefty snacks over there and declared to ourselves that dinner was done. Was 1900 hrs by the time we left. Abhishek took over driving duties - and we reached the fast charger at Beaver without any trouble. Was 2000 hrs by then. There were some initial hiccups in connecting with the charger, but it got resolved after 5 triese. In the meantime, we did try the call center, but Statiq only provided us with static. Thankfully, we did not need help from them. We had to charge it to 100 percent - and decided that we will come down after an hour to switch off the connection. There was a power outage at 2145 hrs and the charging stopped. Kamlesh had to spend another 20 minutes as he waited for charging to restart - and reach the century mark in SoC. He mist have felt quite sleepy after that - as he followed good etiquette and disconnected the charger. At 2330 hrs, he realised that the etiquette had been only partly followed. He had left the car parked in front of the charger. A MG owner came in for charging and Kamlesh had to be woken up to repark the car. My suggestion to Statiq team is that they have two guns at the charger, but only a single parking location. Some re-architecting of the space should be done such that you can park at least two cars next to each other at the charger.
After a relatively early finish to the day, it was decided that we will do an early start to our Delhi journey We managed to leave at 0530 hrs - it was a comfortable 23 deg C. It was a dark desert highway, and there was cool wind in the hair. We used a constant power of 2-3 bar, did some wind-cheating and reached Jaipur in 2 hrs 45 minutes. Average wh/km was 110. Not too bad, considering that the AC was on for the last 30 minutes of the journey. We looked up the Tata Power App and decided to land up at Ginger Hotel where we would have the same lovely breakfast we had had at Ahmedabad. We were destined to be hungry - the fast charger had yet to be installed. Hard luck. We then went on to the fast charger at 4 points Sheraton. Our luck followed. This one also refused to work - and kept on showing an error message. We proved to be third time lucky at the MG dealership on Tonk Road. It had a Tata charger which was working flawlessly. I guess when you use it everyday yourself, you ensure that it works. My advice to th EV community is to prefer the MG charger over others in the city. We had the same experience with the Jaguar in Pune and at Udaipur.
After a quick breakfast, we met with Akash, of Aha CruiseNext. Turns out, that I had talked to Akash about 10 years ago, when I had purchased a 3d printer from him. I happened to be his first customer - and it was good to have met him in person after so many years. 3d printers continues to be his bread and butter. Most of his customers are R and D centers and prototyping shops. Accuracy still remains an issue. He has made an interesting retrofit for the Nexon EV which does cruise control. The device has to be fitted in series with the accelerator. It also connects to the data bus of the vehicle to get speed and power data.
There are three modes - one which is the SuperEco - which is for hypermiling. It restricts the power to 1 bar. So you can get max juice out of the battery. Next is the Eco mode, which restricts the power to the Eco quarter of the vehicle. Then you have the coast mode, which just cuts out the regen - and changes the handling of the vehicle entirely. You also have a speed limit mode, which restricts you at a set speed. There is a central button which you press to set it to cruise control at whatever speed you are at. The interesting part of the control knob is that it connects wirelessly to the main electronics. So in a sense I worry about it getting hacked. Or worse still a kid taking it up to play when the car is being driven.
I found the cruise control mode to be nice. You can increment or decrement speed by rotating the knurled knob around the control disc. Aakash tells me that the same device would work with the Tigor EV too. Would be good to test this device for a few weeks and decided om its utility. A little bird tells me that the long range Nexon is going to have Cruise control, so will that be the end of Aha? Another worry area is warranty coverage for modified vehicles. Aakash is in discussions with the TML team - and they have yet to take a decision. But he has found the Tata team to be quite supportive. He recounted an interesting service experience that he had. His traction motor developed a crack. (This is a common problem with Nexon owners. Probably the result of design errors in the mounting bolts of the motor.) The TML team has replaced his Rs. 3 lakh motor under warranty, although they are aware of the modifications made in Aakash’s vehicle.
Would be happier if the cruise control is stick based like in the MG - I think having two dials and 4 more LEDs would add to the clutter - not just physically but mentally. I hope that the TML folks come up with that as an option soon. As far as Aha is concerned, Aakash should start working with two wheeler OEMs and get the concept of cruise control introduced in the two wheeler EV industry. You can watch a demo of NexCruise in this video here
We were to meet with Nishcal ji of BattRE, but we were running short of time. We had to do a 95% to 100% top up charge when we returned to the MG charger. This is typically the slow charge cycle in the BMS algo. Charging rate is between 1 to 3 kW at this time. So it takes about 15 minutes. We left around 1230 hrs. Took a break at the Statiq charger at Behror, about 130 km from Jaipur. For the Tigor 150 - 170 km is the sweet spot distance between charges. Given that the range is around 230 km, it leaves enough buffer in your tank, at the same time optimising stop time for charging. There is a food court at Behror, Highway Xpress. Prices are reasonable. Had the Rajasthani thali which had dal bati. Did not go down too well with me. Kamlesh and Abhishek found their veg sandwich to be more palatable.
At Gurgaon - Meeting the Statiq team
We reached the Statiq charger at Galeria Market, Gurgaon by 1740 hrs. Galleria is a busy market - and double parking is normal. Parking attendants usually push the cars around so that folks who have parked deeper can get their cars out. We had to take their help for parking the Tigor in the EV charger slot. There was a Mercedes parked right in front - and the owner had not put the car in neutral. We had to get the car in at an angle for it to start charging. 30 minutes later, we had to again manoeuvre the vehicle as a Nexon pulled up for charging. Discovered that the second CCS2 gun was not operational, so Madhur, our Nexon friend, had to wait till our charging got over.
In the meantime we chatted up with Akash, who looks after tech at Statiq. It’s a young and growing team. Statiq was started by 3 young engineers - all from Manipal Institute of Technology. Akash had spent 3 years at Tata Motors Lucknow plant before he joined Statiq. They were part of the Y combinator startup accelerator, and that experience has helped them in fundraising. They have currently deployed Delta chargers - but are in the midst of putting together their own chargers. One experiment that I thought will work out well is using a VIN based unique ID - which can then be linked to a common payment app, say the Fast tag. Like one Nexon user who did the Delhi Mumbai Pune trip was lamenting: 14 charging apps had to be loaded on the phone for his trip. There is some balance left in each of these apps. We need some across CPO collaboration ASAP, folks.
Meeting EV Owners
Capt Sanjay walked down from his house to meet with us. We then drove down to Sohna road to do a customer story. Ashish is the coordinator of the Nexon EV owner’s group in Delhi. Spent a few hours with him - and found out that he is a walking wikipedia on EVs and chargers. Ashish has dabbled in many businesses - the mainstay being construction. He spends some time in Vancouver, where his brother is a developer. He wants to do something in the EV space - and is quite well networked; would be interesting to see what idea he latches on to. He took us to his 13th floor flat in Malibu township on Sohna Road. It’s a lovely gated community, with more than 50% of the area green. You can feel a temperature difference as soon as you enter. Abhishek and Kamlesh spent some time with him talking about his ownership experience while Captain and I strolled around Malibu town. Was about 2230 hrs by the time we left. Captain dropped us off at our hotel and took the Tigor to his place for an overnight slow top up charge.
We started off in the morning at 0800 hrs. Captain’s house was enroute - and we dropped him off after having failed to convince him to come with us to Jabri. In Delhi, there is a lot of challaning happening because of a strict imposition of speed limits. (I was told later by a Delhi police official that more than 1.5 lakh digital challans have been issued by Delhi’s speed guns in the last 6 months. Most of them remain unpaid. Delhi Police waits patiently till the vehicle comes up for sale, and then recovers all the dues.) There is a court order which mandates that speed limits be shown before each speed gun. This helps as different parts of Delhi have different speed limits: I could see boards of 50, 60, 70 and 80 kmph. The safe thing to do is to drive at 60. The guns are forgiving for an error of 5% - so you can go upto 63 kmph - but beyond that - you are welcomed with a digital challan. There is a speed radar and a camera. If the radar notes that the vehicle is above speed limit then the camera gets into action. Delhi police has spent around 15 to 20 lakhs for each installation. The photos go to the central control room, where a police official sanitises it by removing photos of police vehicles and ambulances. Fun fact: there are no cameras in Lutyen’s Delhi. The bureaucrats have ensured a free run for themselves and their ministers.
Took a wrong turn about 7 km from Dhaulakuan and had to go an extra 10 km as a result via South Delhi. The Apple Carplay map sometimes takes time to load locations and you end up missing turnoffs. Joined the ring road and continued to Pitampura where we exited. It was cool to see all cars going in slo-mo at 60 kmph. Our wh per km was sub 105 with AC on - thanks to being in the windstream of a river of cars. GT road is now being made 12 lane upto Sonepat - and average speed was less because of the construction work. Speed limit is 80 kmph in this stretch. After Sonipat, the limit increases to 90 kmph. We had to do a charge at a Statiq charger in Karnal. We reached there around 1100 hrs - and found a Blu Smart MG taxi already charging. The MG can charge at a much faster rate than the Tata vehicles - so we were unsure of how the amps would get split up between the MG and the Tigor. We had even been indicated by a few fellow EV owners that sometimes the algo keeps the non MG vehicle waiting till Big Bro finishes his stuff. Turned out it was evens-stevens. Both the vehicles were fed at 18 kW! We celebrated with some sandwiches at Subway - and came back after 1.5 hours to continue our journey. I drove down to Mindtree school in Ambala - and handed over the keys to Abhishek - who continued the drive to the hill station of Jabli - with a planned short break near Chandigarh for a top up charge.
Reaching the Himalayas!
From Ambala, we had to do a quick top up at Dera Bassi in Punjab state. Here we charged for 30 mins and resumed our journey to the hills. Looking at the sight of the Himalayan mountains was such a relief as we have been driving in hot Indian states in the summer! Abhishek did the driving and the Tigor EV climbed the hills effortlessly. We reached the hill station of Jabli after climbing for around 20 km. Statiq has installed a fast charger at Jabli. There is also a slow charger for simple slow overnight charging. There are many hotels in the same complex. So people can stay there overnight. The air was fresh and crisp, the charger worked flawlessly and thus we ended our 923 km journey from Udaipur in Rajasthan to the Himalayas in Himachal state.