Scooters Is The New Benchmark: Tarun Mehta, CEO, Co-Founder, Ather Energy

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Ather Energy is in the process of developing an electric scooter, which promises a lot, unlike traditional scooters. To start with, the scooter being developed will not only compete with electric scooters, but with every scooter in the market currently.

The electric scooter, called the Ather S340 being developed by Ather Energy will host a lot of segment first features such as built-in navigation, personalised profiles, different riding modes, and the ability to sync with personal devices. The S340 will be on par with any other petrol scooter sold in India, but with zero emission, and packed with technology.

As exciting as it sounds, we at DriveSpark wanted to know more and the best person to speak to was Tarun Mehta, the CEO and Co-founder of Ather Energy, and also an IITM graduate. And this is what he had to say.

tarun mehta interview

Why an electric scooter?

The total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle and a petrol vehicle is similar over a couple of years. Over the next few years, many manufacturers will get into the electric vehicle space. We reached out to electric vehicle owners and what we found out was that people love the technology, but hate the products that are currently on offer.

It was either due to build quality, such as using cheap parts or for the reason that it was not a good fit for customers. Electric two-wheeler companies are making scooters for people who cannot afford an entry-level petrol scooter. That makes the scooter affordable, but quality and reliability is also low. Most of the parts are made in China and assembled here. The range is low, top speed is low, and so is the build quality of suspension and batteries, that will need replacement every year.

So who are you targeting?

Ather Energy is targeting early adopters who are willing to buy electric scooters purely for the environmental saving aspect, or because they believe in the technology. And not for those looking for an entry-level scooter.

The early adopters could range from any age gap, be it 18 or at 40 years old. These are people who have enough buying power, and if one is in that situation, one would clearly be willing to pay a little more for a better quality scooter.

Why would you compare your scooter to regular petrol vehicle and not with another electric scooter?

It is a very simple reason, the electric scooters available today are appalling. There is no point comparing our scooter with something that is not up to the mark, and makes no sense for the market. The existing electric scooters make sense for a very specific market, say for example like rural areas where petrol is not readily available, or you don't want to spend too much money on a two-wheeler.

Also, the electric scooters that are sold currently don't require a licence or registration. If one feels that getting a two-wheeler license or getting a vehicle registered is too much of a hassle, the current electric scooters being sold makes sense for them. On the flip side, our scooter needs to be registered and requires a valid driving license as well. We are in the industry to build a good scooter, and it just happens to be electric. That is the main reason we compare ourselves to petrol scooters.

What kind of range are you expecting from the Ather S340?

The range of the Ather S340 is still under test, and we cannot give you exact figures. We believe, the S340 can achieve a bit under 100km on a full charge, and will also charge quicker compared to the other scooters in the market that take up to 8 hours to charge.

So what kind of new technology will the scooter feature?

The scooter will feature smartphone connectivity, different driving modes, and navigation. The riding modes will allow a rider to change the throttle sensitivity and power delivery. There will be a custom option where a rider can input the details, along with preset options like the ones found on high-end performance motorcycles. The user interface (UI) will be made very simple for the user to operate.

Navigation — Won't that be a distraction to the rider?

We are working on that aspect, and the UI will be made in such a manner that it will not distract the rider by showing all the minute fonts and details that a regular map would show you. A rider would be shown only the major turns when travelling at high speeds, and when the rider slows down, only the minute details would be shown on the navigation.

The reason and the usage of providing navigation is to make the rider's life easier. With our custom navigation, the rider will know where he is going, instead of using a mobile phone map, which is distracting and dangerous.

Is there a possibility of showing real time traffic as well?

We will most probably use something like Google maps or Nokia maps, which already has real-time traffic data, but we will just work on the UI to make it more friendly and less distracting.

The prototype of the scooter was supposed to be ready or unveiled last October (2015). Why was there a delay?

We postponed our development by a couple of months. The vehicle works, but the electronics integration has not been done yet. Development takes a lot of time, and we decided to push it for another six months to make sure everything is in place and is tested.

What aspect of the scooter was given particular preference?

The design was given special preference. We rendered an image of the scooter first, before anything else at all, and we are trying our best to stick to the original design and not deviate too much from it.

Do you see any other scooter manufacturer as a threat?

Yes, we expect very stiff competition, but in about two to three years. I would expect almost every manufacturer to get into making electric scooters, and once they are into it, we will have competition. We see scooters itself as a benchmark and not electric scooters. For the moment, there will be not much competition since there aren't any noteworthy contenders manufacturing electric scooters in India.

Tell me something about your team. You have a lot of youngsters, how did the team Evolve?

True, we have a lot of youngsters who are dedicated to making the product successful. Even on a Sunday, you could see employees in the office working, and there were days when the team stayed back in the office overnight working on the project. The team has even taken a paycut, but their dedication has only grown over time.

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Story first published: Wednesday, January 6, 2016, 11:11 [IST]
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