The Present and Future of Electric Vehicles in India | Mahesh Babu – CEO, Mahindra Electric

This is a show for the leaders of tomorrow. You’re listening to stories of innovators creating groundbreaking
technology and change-makers that are shaping the way we live our lives. I’m your host Hussain and you are joining me while we are peaking into the future. Welcome to The Spark Podcast. Hello and welcome to The Spark Podcast. Today we have a very special guest with us. He is an individual known to
spearhead the adoption of electric mobility in India. He is of visionary and an icon, and he’s here not just to make the biggest impact on the Indian automobile industry, but also to play a key role in the global adoption of electric vehicles. Without further ado, I’d like to welcome man himself The CEO of Mahindra Electric, Mr Mahesh Babu to The Spark Podcast. (Mahesh) Hi, thank you it’s
a pleasure to be there. (Hussain) Mr. Babu having acquired Reva in the year 2010, Mahindra Electric has come a long way. Not only do you have the most
diversified electric vehicle portfolio in India, but you also recently crossed a
landmark figure of 130 million electric kms – which is truly commendable.
But speaking of a bigger picture here, what is Mahindra Electric’s vision and
what are you trying to accomplish? (Mahesh) I think Mahindra’s vision on electric mobility is about creating a clean, connected and convenient mobility solution coming out of India very unique, opportunity out of India. We believe electric mobility has a key role to play in bringing down the challenges faced by
society in India, in terms of pollution, challenges on economic, challenges on importing oil, dependence on energy outside India. We have been pioneering electric
space more than a decade now, and we are closely working with various
stakeholders including the government. How do we make Indian mobility solution more sustainable and how do we take the Indian solution to the globe and see what does it fit in? I think that will be a great thing for us. (Hussain) You speak of your
vision itself with a great amount of self-belief. But tell us as Mr Mahesh
Babu himself, what has been your most challenging endeavour? (Mahesh) If you ask me my most challenging endeavour is to bring in an electrified last mile connectivity in India. if you look at India, India is very unique in mobility, like we have a lot of two-wheelers and we have a lot of three-wheelers – which is catering to the last
mile connectivity. And if you look at the three-wheelers it’s most economically viable. A three-wheeler driver is going to earn more money than when he drives a regular fossil-fuel auto. So my endeavour is to educate this ecosystem, but if you look at that three-wheeler today it’s clearly knit with the society in terms of
economics, city legislation and so on. So, my endeavour is to convert that last mile connectivity into – completely clean and connected solutions with electric mobility. (Hussain) When you say that this endeavour is one of the most challenging, what would you say is your inspiration? (Mahesh) The electric mobility space in India inspires me a lot because it is not an industry challenge, it is not a society challenge, I think it’s a country challenge. It solves trichotomy of the challenges the country faces. One is in the pollution where our cities
urbanization is giving a lot of pollution challenges. EV’s will remove the pollution out of the cities. The second one is on the oil import. India depends on 85% of oil in import. So it gives energy security
to India because if India in 2030, you want to do double the mobility than what it is today, then we can’t grow to the same level. Three, I think India’s foreign exchange is dependent on the amount of oil import bill we have. So it gives an Economic Security to the country. So for me doing an Ev is good to the society, country, to me and the citizens. So it inspires me a lot to do what I am doing now. (Hussain) We’ve agreed that the challenges that are faced are quite high and the stakes are high, but on the flip side, results are much better, considering the three points that you mentioned, pollution, the lower dependency on oil,
and the improvement of foreign exchange. However, a lot of these companies are actively looking to enter, experiment and innovate in the electric mobility space. It all comes down to how you position the electric mobility to the final consumer. What is Mahindra Electrics business model and what is being adopted by Mahindra electric right now? (Mahesh) It’s a very good question. See if you look at our business model, we have moved from – an electric vehicle manufacturer to electric ecosystem creator. So if you look at most of our products today, it is not just the vehicle. We are deep into technology and we are deep into mobility solutions where we are providing a mobility solution through EV’s, to a community, to fleet operators buy a software platform called Nemo, which removes the entry barrier for any fleet operators to get into the space because we offer it along with the vehicle. So anybody who wants to start the fleet operations can start within two days with our electric vehicles And our Nemo platform. By EV I think Ev is itself by technology removes a lot of entry barrier to start up when compared to one. so our huge in-depth knowledge of 130
a million kilometres in India, we have very safe unique learning about Indian conditions of temperatures, terrain, – which we can offer to our customers who can experience it. So we have a field knowledge, we have a platform knowledge, we have a technology domain knowledge of EV, – which I believe is a unique
business model what we offer to our customers. (Hussain) However when we look at cars like the verito, there are also cars that could work individually on the roads. How and where does Mahindra Electric position itself – when the competition rises within the electric mobility space? (Hussain) So if you look at our initial focus while we focus on the fleet, because most of the fleet are the target market for EV right now in India. We are also planning to sell our technology like toy trains and power trains to Ssangyong, who is our own group
company. By that we are trying to position as a technology player in EV space to the global market. So we are even talking with few other global OEMs to adapt our electric power trains, including battery to use our knowledge into electrifying their products. Having said that, so if you look at a personal segment, the personal segment needs a longer range technology, which will fast charge and globally acceptable. India right now is not mature enough to have a large market for personal EV segment, – which we believe will come in the next few
years. By the time Mahindra Electric’s technology of EV will be supplied to global players, and when India is ready, we will be easy to launch at any time. So that will be our take on getting prepare ourself for personal vehicles. (Hussain) So while talking about this you mentioned getting ready for the global market, And if we were to look at the global electric mobility market, China is at the forefront of it. Right from manufacturing to the policies that China has developed, it’s designed to encourage the sales of EV. What is that India can learn from Chinese electric mobility markets? (Mahesh) I think India has a bit of learning not only from China, I think globally from Europe, the US, we have learning from Japan. But very be specific to China, I think China has taken a very aggressive step on – electrification for the past few years and they have linked manufacturing, demand and government support, to the industry in a very seamless way to adapt local manufacturing a local demand and local development. I think that learning should be taken but India is a very different space, I believe India is a very knowledge-based society and not only just manufacturing, India should focus on generating IPR and development out of India. So to add to what China has done on manufacturing demand, I think India is also doing a lot of things. The Indian government has released a tender for 10,000 cars, A lot of movements have happened – specifically on announcing a green number plate, no permits for electric vehicles, Plenty of actions are being taken. But there is a lot of learning to India – because it’s good to learn from what’s happening around the world including China. (Hussain) So when you say China has taken a very aggressive step towards adoption of EV’s, when you want to enable or allow India to scale and grow as a market, a very prominent role would have to be played by the engineers the technicians or the workforce. How do we fare against the quality of the workforces? Since quite recently Bajaj Auto and TVS motors they – called the government’s targets
unrealistic and that were concerns that were raised, and I quote they would completely derail the auto manufacturing industry of India. It could also risk 4 million jobs. So is this transition something we’re preparing for or are we resisting it more than anything else? (Mahesh) I think for any disruption there will be a set of people who will embrace it, there will be a set of people who will be cautious. I would not say that we should not be cautious, we should be cautious but at the same time – you can’t delay or avoid something which
is very important to be done. I believe EV is a very important endeavour to be achieved as a country, and that’s the reason the government is talking about it. I also believe that while they talk outside I think each of them is getting prepared what they need to do – on EV as an industry. So if you look at the Indian auto industry, while there are a lot of media reports of people who are saying they want it, people who are saying who don’t want it, but internally I strongly believe that every single OEM are preparing themselves how to handle the EV challenge. There may be slight strategy difference, but I don’t believe anybody is ignoring it, because EV has become a main topic on every table including the breakfast table. (Hussain) With such huge automobile companies and automobile manufacturing companies in India or across the globe, there’s always a risk of lobbyists that are trying to resist the disruption, general lobbying techniques with the government to ensure that EV’s aren’t subsidized or the subsidies are reduced EV’s or the policies are slowed down. What’s your opinion on this and how can this slow down the growth or adoption of EV’s? (Mahesh)The EV story has gone beyond the lobby now. if you has asked me two years back, probably then I would have said yes,
lobby makes a big difference. But in the last two years what has happened, the biggest skeptics in Europe have started adapting EV. EV is no more one which can be ignored and can be manipulated by lobbying. We can delay it slightly but I don’t think you can avoid it. It is the need of the hour for the society. We are having challenges of urbanization if you look at India, India needs mobility for more than billion people. And the government today is very very aware of this, society is aware of this, and industry is to my knowledge I think in India is positive. While there will be challenges any new things you do any change management or any new adoption or technology you bring in, you will face
such challenges who will question the movement. And they are legitimate questions and we can’t ignore it. We need to understand and move forward and that is the job of pioneers and that’s our job we will do keep doing. (Hussain) Let’s go back to the point you made earlier about the infrastructure and city planning itself. When we speak about the roadblocks or challenges within the Indian market, we can also look at climatic conditions. This sort of reminds me of the event where the Fisker karma cars, – they were burnt in a parking lot because of a flooding situation that happened in New Jersey, and a couple places around the United States. With Tier 1 cities like Mumbai Chennai and Calcutta facing severe waterlogging issues, how will an all-electric India fair out to be? (Mahesh) I think the incidence of safety issues will arise out of not being done any International test methods or things like that. I can’t comment on what has happened in other one, but who I can vouch what we are doing in Mahindra. As Mahindra, we do about 1200 to 1500 safety tests before we launch our product. We took almost three years to launch a new battery with various testing. We have been selling vehicles for almost ten years and we have not come across any safety in stress in India, – with our vehicles. I think we need to understand the application very clearly, test it before we launch the product and that’s what Mahindra does and I strongly believe that we will continue to do that and to take care of the safety of the customers. (Hussain) However not all electric manufacturing or automobile brands do that. When that’s the case the fingers are pointed rather to the electric feasibility, whether electric cars, in general, are feasible. Don’t you think that itself could slow the industry down? (Mahesh) I think where hundreds and thousands of people will come and innovate, and the fittest will survive over a period of time. Hundred years back if you took an automobile industry, so many players in various topics but over a period of time, I think who innovates continuously, consistently and repeatedly only will survive. And since EV is at a very national stage now, it is very difficult to not allow any startups – and we should allow startups to go and experiment with safety in mind. Having said that there are certain global safety standards available in Europe, US and even in India that’s applicable. So long as you ask the safety test done by the regulation, by and large, you will be very close to the safety requirements. The only thing is you have to make sure that you test the vehicle across the country, across the temperatures, before you launch it which is a standard condition. And I’m sure even though there is a start-up they would not like to burn the venture capital investment – just by one incidence and they will be pretty careful on what they are doing before they launch. (Hussain) Despite all the scepticism and uncertainty in the minds of people, there are still a lot of startups like you mentioned that wish to capitalize on the opportunity of the EV space. Now EV, in general, is perceived to be very capital intensive and R&D oriented. Do you think there are business opportunities for entrepreneurs, – who want to enter the space with a relatively lower investment? (Mahesh) I think so because of while EV is technology intense, the mobility is still partner intense. If you look at the auto industry when it started partnering was not very popular. Today in a connected world, partnering is the popularity. So if I am a startup I want a partner. Let’s say I want to start a fleet and you have a customer in hand you can always come walk into Mahindra, partner with me and I will give you an electric vehicle. I will give you my NEMO platform then
you can straightaway go and start your test and you can partner with somebody who is doing charging solution. India has a couple of thousands of people who are in charging solution, so he can give you a charging solution somebody can give you a mobility solution, so it’s about a partnership, and when you do the right partnership and the right business model to earn value to customer and yourself, I think you will be able to do it. That’s where I believe a lot of startups are coming, not only just in creating an EV platform which is very capital intensive, there are a lot of startups in India coming around mobility solution – who want to use employee fleet employee commute for going to office and coming back kind of fleet, for various IT companies and BPO companies who just want to work on fleet management. Many players really help them to create a new business model. (Hussain) When it comes to electric vehicles, a lot of people have their scepticism based purely upon range anxiety and whether they would be able to meet the daily demands. What is your opinion on what should be focused on first? whether EV manufacturing is something that we need to really push into the Indian market space, or should we focus on the infrastructure charging stations and fleet management systems etc like you do? (Mahesh) My opinion is very clear that we’ll have to put the vehicles on the road first, Instead of telling story that you need charging and all that. And based on most of the study, it is clearly understood even where in the countries where fast charging is available, less than twenty per cent of the people actually charge in public. And even that 20%, almost 80% do normal
charging and only fast charging is 20% of them. So most of the time our personal vehicles are parked either in our office garage or in our home garage. it has enough time to get it charged and with the cities particularly in India, you are not going to travel two hundred miles a day unless it is a weekend or annually twice or thrice a year. So in such case nowadays you have plenty of self-drive cars. For example, India has zoom car. 350 days you are going to drive inside the city you can drive your electric car. On those 15 days, you can take any vehicle you want from zoom car at a rental and you can drive between cities, drive across the country and come back. So I think now the question of charging station is available across the country is very less. If you correct new mobility you don’t need charging stations across the country, you need only in cities. It is doable because of all-electric vehicles are going to be concentrated in the cities and when you want to go from one city to another you can always rent a car, take public transport, you can do whatever you want. Such facilities are available in the modern world of today. (Hussain) I’d like to ask you a question that’s on the mind of every EV enthusiast. If you want to choose between a plug-in supercharging station or a battery-swapping station, which one would you bet your money on? (Mahesh) Oh, I will bet on the supercharging station. (Hussain) And why is that? I think intrinsically when you look at a car and when you look at people who are buying a car, they are buying it with some personal connection to the device. Why would people buy very expensive cars just to power most of the time? Because there is a personal connect. And when you say that the vehicle’s battery is not yours people are not going to connect with it. and why you need is supercharging and swapping for people who are running fleet, not for the personal carrier. Because swapping creates a little bit more discomfort on your ownership uncertainty than charging, because you need to lease the vehicles, financing becomes difficult, if you are leasing – there are operational difficulties based
on swapping. But having said that, I don’t want to discount swapping. It needs to get mature enough like supercharger or fast charging, till it comes commercial. Right now I think it is at the concept stage, demonstration stage. It needs little bit more work to make sure it matches the customer needs of fast charging. When that is done I think both will be equally competitive over a period of time. (Hussain) Now to the last segment of the podcast and I want to ask you we can see the government really – push forward the adoption of renewable energy, promote the need for a cleaner environment and a sustainable future. Which policy of the government has benefited the EV industry in particular? I think India has plenty of policies, fiscal policies and non-fiscal. The Fame II policy which is incentivizing purchase of electric vehicles is one which is spearheading demand creation. Second I think we have a lot of non-fiscal incentives like green number plates no permits needed, Anybody can put in fast chargers across the country and it is privatized. A lot of policy measures have been done, both at the Indian central government level and the state government level. Almost five states in India they have come up with special EV policies, to give over and above incentives for the demand than the central government is giving and they also have come up with the adoption of EV in their government offices so there are plenty of action done and there is a kind of competition going on in India between states who’s EV policy is better than the other because all of them are realizing that EV is a new technology and any manufacturing growth in the auto industry further will come from EV technology. And hence most of the states are
focusing on improving its offerings to EV investment. (Hussain) As you said a lot of these states have competition amongst themselves – to see who can do it better. What is one advice that you would like to share with policymakers of our country? (Mahesh) I think in India it’s very simple. For the policymakers whatever policy you make, if you make sure it is implemented quickly I think that is the best thing can happen. To me in India till now, whatever policy has been written is sufficient enough to spearhead adoption but they have to make sure that the implementation happens fast. if that happens I think we there. (Hussain) Alright Mr Babu now coming to the end of the podcast, what is one myth about electric
vehicles that you can debunk for us today? (Mahesh) What I can say is people have talked about range, people have talked about many things. I think you talked about an electric vehicle if it is dipped into the water will get into flames, actually, it is not true. There are tests which we do that you put a completely electric vehicle into the water. if you put our Mahindra vehicles which are tested and certified by us into the water, You can revive it faster than the IC engine. It’s a myth that it is unsafe which is not true. (Hussain) Mr Babu what is one advice you would share with the individuals, – the entrepreneurs and engineers that are
aspiring to explore the field? (Mahesh) It will not be advice it will be an invite. I would say the EV industry is in very initial stages of innovation. it gives a tremendous opportunity for youngsters to come and explore the innovation – what’s happening in the EV industry and many of them say that the battery technology has matured, But I strongly believe it is just a start. Like our auto industry which has gone through century of innovation. EV industry is just starting and it’s I would say two decades old and it’s going to grow, have plenty of opportunity in data science, power electronics, embedded software, and it’s also an amalgamation of many technologies at one place. I think it creates a huge opportunity and let’s welcome and join the EV revolution. (Hussain) You heard that from the man himself Mr Mahesh Babu the CEO of Mahindra Electric, who’s pioneering and spearheading the adoption of electric vehicles across India. Mr Mahesh has been with Mahindra for over 20 years and under his leadership, Mahindra electric is now disrupting the Indian automobile industry and writing its future. Thank you for your time sir, it’s a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for joining us on The Spark Podcast. (Mahesh) Most welcome. It’s a pleasure for me as well. Thank you for listening to The Spark Podcast. You can now learn how to start your own green business and become a certified entrepreneur. Check out our courses designed by industry experts from solar energy to EV’s. I’ll see you in the next episode of The Spark Podcast. Till then, goodbye.


(1:04) What is Mahindra Electric’s vision and what are you trying to accomplish?
(2:09) As Mahesh Babu himself, what has been your most challenging endeavor?
(3:07) What has been your inspiration?

In Focus:
(4:09) What is Mahindra Electric’s business model and what is the approach that it is adopting right now?
(5:52) How and where would Mahindra Electric position itself after the rise in competition in the personal EV marketplace?
(7:11) What is that India can learn from the Chinese electric mobility market?
(8:42) Can workforce transformation become a bottleneck to the growth of the EV industry?
(10:12) What is your opinion on the lobbying done against Electric Vehicles?
(11:46) How feasible are electric cars in cities like Mumbai that face severe water logging issues?
(14:17) Are there opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to start-up in the EV space with low investment?
(15:54) Electric Cars on Roads v/s Building an EV infrastructure like charging stations. What should come first?
(17:43) If you had to choose between plug-in charging and battery swapping; what would you choose?

In Short:
(19:09) What policy of the government has benefitted your business?
(20:35) What advice would you share with the policymakers of our country?
(21:05) What is one myth about Electric Vehicles that you can debunk for us?
(21:40) Advice for Entrepreneurs in the Electric Mobility space.

Leave a Reply