India has the potential to lead electric two-wheeler race: Sachin Bansal

Sachin Bansal, former CEO of Flipkart, is betting big on India’s electric two-wheeler space. An angel investor in Ather Energy, an electric scooter start-up from Bengaluru, Bansal on Tuesday infused an additional capital of Rs 223 crore in Ather in his personal capacity. In an interview with ET, Bansal said Ather has plans to sell over a million units annually in the next five years and reckons the company has the potential to lead the EV two-wheeler space. Edited excerpts.

What gave you confidence to invest in Ather Energy?

The attraction for me was the consumer traction that they got recently. The consumer feedback has been amazing. People have made their own fan clubs. I use the vehicle myself and whenever I have ridden around in Bangalore, it turns heads, people want to talk about it.

They are giving over-the-air software updates on scooters. This is like using a smartphone after using a feature-phone all your life. Both can make calls, but you can’t compare them. I have been with the company for more than 4 years now and I have seen them closely. This is also the most complete team in India by far. They can do R&D, design the product, manufacture their own batteries, make their own software, handle vehicle assembly and they have their own retail presence.

Is the higher price tag of Rs 1.2 lakh a challenge in the way of mass adoption?

We were also worried about the sticker-shock of the vehicle. But customers have understood the math completely. With the leasing options available, now they see that this is exactly the same, or even more affordable than owning a petrol scooter. While the sales numbers are small, every big thing has small beginnings.

Competition from other start-ups and mainstream players…

From the competition perspective, a lot of noise has been made by a lot of players. Even TVS has invested in a company in Bangalore. From whatever we have seen so far, Ather is the only real electric scooter out there. The approach of this team is very different from well-set manufacturing focused Indian auto players. They are more of manufacturers, that’s their core competence, while the team here is more of a consumer experience company.

Your target?

I believe this market is going to be huge. There will be space for multiple players. India’s auto sales in five-six years will be 30 million or so and we are targeting a million out of that. I am sure the market for electric scooters will be greater than a million units. But I think Ather will be uniquely positioned to lead.

Competing against big players with deep pockets…

They have the financial bandwidth, but you see it wasn’t Nokia that built the best smartphone in the world, it wasn’t Walmart that built a large ecommerce company. If it’s about capital, then Volkswagen should have built the first electric car, not Tesla. If you are uniquely positioned, then capital will come.

But you are still burning cash…

I think it’s a long-term play. I am taking a long-term view. I keep telling the team that this is a lifetime effort, not a five-ten-year play.

What do you think of the government’s push for EVs?

The government’s push is extremely necessary at this point of time and they are showing the right signs. The way they have formed the FAME-II policy, it’ll make sure that India builds its own manufacturing muscle rather than becoming just an importer and assembler. We have a chance to actually lead the global market in electric two-wheelers. I don’t think China has produced a company which has done well outside China.

Will you be looking at electric three-wheelers?

I come from a consumer-tech background, so I understand the consumer side much better. Three-wheeler is more of B2B. I believe in investing in areas which I can wrap my head around.

The last few investments that you made were via debt route. Why have you preferred equity here?

That is completely separate. It’s more of treasury investment of the company that I have incorporated that’s completely focused on financial services. This is my personal investment.


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