Business Standard

Will Hero Electric be third time lucky?

Hero Electric is using lessons learnt from its past trials to build a strong base in the electric vehicle market

- SANGEETA TANWAR

The government’s renewed push on electric vehicles (EVs) has prompted manufactur­ers to revisit their business strategy so as to take advantage of the country’s ensuing transition. Hero Electric, in particular, appears well-placed to lead India’s transforma­tion as it actively seeks to learn from its past forays into the EV market.

The company’s earlier trials with EV vehicles, in 2000-01 and 2004-05, haven’t met with much success. The key reasons for this include poorly designed products and the lack of focus on marketing strategy, besides external factors such as currency fluctuatio­ns and volatile oil prices that contribute­d to the eventual collapse of the EV market in 2009.

Hero Electric had entered the EV space with the battery-mounted bicycle which failed to lure buyers. Looking back, Naveen Munjal, managing director, Hero Electric, says, “After our market debut, we realised that when one is looking at the transporta­tion sector, people are aspiration­al. They do not want to move from one bicycle to another. Rather, they want to graduate from a bicycle to a scooter or bike and eventually a car.”

The next big revelation for the company came on the product front. Its vehicles, powered by a heavy lead-acid battery, had high centre of gravity — its balance point. This didn’t make for a balanced vehicle in terms of the driving experience. On top of this, awareness of the product was low. Customers were confused as to how it functions, how to charge the battery etc., even as lack of marketing focus also did not help.

Having dabbled with the market since 2000-01 and having test marketed technologi­es and products, Munjal and team once again took the plunge into the EV industry and rolled out its first electric scooter in 2007. Since then, it has been focusing on getting the product form factor right and building a robust dealership network. The company is developing different vehicles taking into considerat­ion various use cases. It is targeting consumers as well as corporate sales. For example, within the consumer segment, some vehicles are designed for family use (mothers going to market) and young drivers in the age-group of 15 to 18 years. At the same time, Hero Electric also has high-speed EVs to compete with bikes and scooters.

Most importantl­y, all the new launches will be powered by lithium-ion battery that is much lighter than the lead battery. A lighter battery gives the company the leeway to innovate with vehicle design and makes it easy for users to charge the removable battery.

Taking customisat­ion to a new level, the EV manufactur­er is offering buyers the option of installing one or two batteries in their vehicle. Vehicles powered by a single battery would run for 60 km per hour whereas those sporting two batteries would run for 130 km per hour.

In terms of product offering and pricing, Hero Electric wants to have a play in both the mass market as well as the premium segment. Accordingl­y, the company’s high-speed vehicles are priced between ~34,000 to ~48,000. And those powered by lithium-ion battery are priced at

AFTER OUR MARKET DEBUT, WE REALISED THAT PEOPLE IN THE TRANSPORTA­TION SECTOR ARE ASPIRATION­AL NAVEEN MUNJAL Managing director, Hero Electric

~46,000 and go up to ~84,000.

In corporate sales, it is looking to grow the e-commerce segment with specifical­ly designed delivery vehicles with back seat raised support for easy driving. According to industry estimates, ecommerce giant Amazon alone plies 60,000 delivery vehicles every day. Most of these are old and polluting vehicles that can be easily replaced by EVs.

Hero Electric is also experiment­ing with the design of its e-rickshaws for mass commute. It is awaiting government guidelines including type of battery to be used in such vehicles and testing and safety norms before launching e-rickshaws at scale.

The company has launches planned up to 2019 and it is going to roll out two to three models every year.

The country’s largest electric two-wheeler company, Hero Electric has 65 per cent market share. Reportedly, it sold 15,000 units in FY 2017. It aims to sell 25,000 units in FY18, 50,000 units in FY19 and 100,000 units in FY20.

Even as the EV market collapsed, the company kept investing in its distributi­on network. It has 300 exclusive sales and service outlets, and 500 touch points across India. Over a period of time, it has also moved from a credit- to cash-based model.

Munjal is not wary of the competitio­n, rather he welcomes it. “The competitio­n will help grow the EV pie. Even as our market share will go down, the overall volumes will increase drasticall­y. Also, we have already built our brand. We have a certain level of experience that others don’t.”

There can be no substitute to having a dealership network service centre close to buyers, and Hero Electric has meticulous­ly built one. It has a manufactur­ing plant in Ludhiana, and is exploring options of setting up a plant in south. It is looking for a large plot close to sea ports which would not only help meet growing domestic demand but also help facilitate EV exports to neighbouri­ng countries.

 ??  ?? In the consumer segment, some vehicles are designed for family use and drivers between 15 and 18
In the consumer segment, some vehicles are designed for family use and drivers between 15 and 18

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