Chetan Maini has been one of the pioneers in the electric mobility space for more than 18 years. After many years of trials and tribulations with Reva (now Mahindra Reva), he has finally moved on to building an entire ecosystem of renewable energy based infrastructure with his new venture Sun Mobility.
In an interaction with ETtech’s Aritra Sarkhel, Chetan Maini, vice chairman, Sun Mobility talks about his first venture, govt. policies towards electric vehicles, Elon Musk & why their platform is cost effective.
What challenges did you face when you launched Reva many years ago?
I moved back to India in 1999 and launched the car in 2001. I could not launch earlier because back then there was no way to register and certify electric vehicles. So there was a need to create policy and also build supply chain. In the next few years, we got over 100 suppliers across the country. Also hiring the right people was difficult as not many were skilled in this field. We ended up using tubeless tyres.
In 2001, even Mercedes didn’t have such tyres. You suddenly had a car priced similar to Maruti and automatic. We had set up centres in tubeless tyres. We used light wave plastic panels but consumers were not sure about this. They were used to fibre glass. Every showroom of ours had hammers. Our customers were allowed to use the hammer to hit the car in the showroom. Consumers would also complain that it didn’t give range. So we used Palm pilots to upload the data and plug in the car.
Did Elon Musk steer ahead of you in the electric mobility race?
He had Obama and other government executives who supported his cause for electric mobility in US. There was a good flow of capital and as a result lot of people in California jumped into this. You already had an ecosystem built around electric vehicles there.
India on the other side was completely enamored by software and services. The product related projects have recently started. Elon changed people perspectives. I moved back to India to create affordable electric cars. Interestingly, we had similar investors in 2005-06 that came in.
Has the government funding been adequate so far in the electric mobility mission?
The big vision is to become an electric vehicle nation by 2030. We need more policies that need to drive the infrastructure for the same. There is a push from the govt to get the policy framework correct. Also, I don’t see India as country can afford subsidies in the long term. For example with LEDs, the govt. created policy, demand and effort accordingly. We have to reduce the gap between framework and actual implementation.
Why did Reva go to Mahindra & Mahindra?
In 2009, we were at the Frankfurt motor show wherein we show cased what is now called e2o. The product was received well. We used to go to motor shows everywhere and always few electric cars were showcased at some corner. Suddenly after 2009, everyone was saying it’s great to invest in such platforms. At that point we had license agreements with general motors. But for the vision of electric mobility I felt that having a smaller stake in the business is not enough. I thought Mahindra would help carry that vision forward. It was a very difficult decision.
How do you make your platform cost affective?
For us, renewable energy was 10 bucks a unit a few years ago and it’s come down to 3 rupees. It is cheaper than gasoline. That means that even we lock my energy pricing today for the next ten years, it’s still be lower. The energy shift is happening. If you truly want to get renewable into transportation, the only way is electric mobility.
The battery costs are coming down. If you take the battery and solar energy cost, the total cost is lower than gasoline. With Sun Mobility, you can refuel faster in terms of the batteries and is cheaper. We are aiming for an open architecture where multiple OEMs can come together.
Source: ET tech