Challenges and Opportunities While Electrifying Last-Mile Mobility

Challenges and Opportunities While Electrifying Last-Mile Mobility

Nirmal NR, Chief Executive Officer—Three Wheeler Businesses, Greaves Electric Mobility, 0

Nirmal NR, Chief Executive Officer—Three Wheeler Businesses, Greaves Electric Mobility holds nearly 19 years of experience as an entrepreneurial leader. Nirmal has a strong interest in organizational culture, especially how leaders can inspire and encourage teams to accomplish incredible things, and how purpose-driven teams can move mountains. He is also a firm believer in the long-term benefits of kindness at work for both individuals and organizations.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming the go-to clean technology for sustainable transportation. In India, there is a high demand for electrifying last-mile deliveries, thanks to the surge in e-commerce activities. To adapt to the new normal, last-mile delivery services are keen on ‘electrifyinglogistics innovations. To get a more realistic perspective on what is happening in the last-mile mobility segment, CEO Insights India magazine engages in an exclusive interview with Nirmal NR, Chief Executive Officer—Three Wheeler Businesses, Greaves Electric Mobility. Having been known for setting up new businesses, scaling operations and building purpose-driven teams, among others, Nirmal gave an inside view of the extent of electrification taking place in the last-mile mobility segment. Below are his observations.

Having had a long journey in the industry and leadership roles, what does success mean to you today?
I’ve been in the business for almost 20 years now, wearing multiple hats over the years. Yet, I’ve felt that triumph or success should be best associated with how many lives you touch or change. To me, or for the company at least, success cannot be limited to financial aspects. While it may be true that some of these aspects may lead to financial gains, the most important are the things that make an impact on the lives of people. For instance, last year, we touched the livelihoods of almost 50,000 people through the three-wheelers we sold. There might be bigger achievements out there, but in my opinion, this small contribution from our side is big. Similarly, we had moved a significant number of people from the concept of owning a car to sharing one through Zoomcar Ltd, which amassed around 25,000 hosts. These achievements, which touch the livelihoods of many people, go a long way.

You launched Eltra last year. What are the factors that contributed to its market success?
Last year, we launched Eltra cargo and Eltra passenger vehicles. The last-mile mobility in India is transforming significantly, even positioning the country ahead of China. We saw this market opportunity and focused on our innovative approach to bring the right features to fit into such vehicles. In a cargo vehicle, the demand was in the range of 100+ KM on full load, along with the right kind of gradability, load-carrying capacity etc. In the passenger vehicle, the range requirement was even further to about 150+ KM. We made it possible and went into designing. We built and tested the vehicles across lakhs of kilometers—in the coldest climates of Manali as well as the hottest climates of Rajasthan. We also ensured that our vehicles never have any downtime. Therefore, the amount of validation and testing we have done helped us succeed in the market.

How do you look at the mass adoption of EVs and their contribution to the economy?
The adoption of electric vehicles in India’s last-mile mobility is way faster and maybe only behind China. Both e-rickshaws and regular rickshaws constitute around 60 percent. Most of the two-wheelers used for delivery and ride-sharing are starting to become electric. The credit can be given to the economic sense it makes for the consumers. Since India imports a lot of fossil fuels, it is
partially the reason for the shift towards electrification faster, with the government incentives backing it. When it comes to online food delivery applications like Swiggy and Zomato, the average daily distance covered by a delivery executive is around 150 KM. Our EVs cover about 120 to 160 KM, which could reach about 4000 KM in a month and 50,000 KM. This amount could be run by individual two-wheelers in about five or six years. Such a large number of kilometers on a regular makes EVs a viable option. That is the secret behind this rapid adoption.

Tell us about the collaboration among the automotive industry leaders and how it helps with innovation.
I believe that there is a false assumption that the automotive industry does everything on its own. An ecosystem normally comprises tier-one and two suppliers, including OEMs, dealerships, and service networks, among others. This in itself is an example of collaboration. I’m a strong believer in partnerships because everybody cannot do everything. We have done partnerships, including technical partnerships with our suppliers who provided us with state-of-the-art technology around electronics, batteries, battery management systems etc. In the same way, we have partnerships with people who provide us with financing. Additionally, if you want to lease out the battery separately or the vehicle itself, we have partnerships that enable us to offer dealership networks. I believe that partnership/collaboration could help drive innovation. You can be an expert at making good vehicles, but you may need experts who know how to enhance them, sell them and create new technologies.

Should industry leaders expect a lot of technological transformations in the next few years?
A lot of changes are expected to happen. There is a reduction in innovation and the product lifecycle, with many products becoming outdated very fast. You will see a lot of new cars coming in the next two-three years. When you take the last-mile mobility, the scooters and three-wheelers are largely becoming electric. Yet, the bike/motorbike segment has barely graced electrification.

I ask you to be open, ready for changes and ready to be corrected.

All the vehicles we sell at Greaves Eltra are connected vehicles that collect data like location realtime. This data helps us analyze ways to prevent the breakdown of a vehicle. Additionally, analyzing data in realtime helps send warnings to avoid accidents or internal system malfunctions. Electric vehicles do require a lot of time to recharge. Alternatives are battery swapping and fast charging. But the way I see it is that there are horses for courses. Some cases may call for a battery swap, and some for fast charging. Now, if you could monitor the battery’s data while it fast charges, you could see and analyze the right temperature that should be charged, helping improve the vehicle's lifecycle. By putting user data to good use, there will be a lot more advancements in the vehicle, and the technology will move forward very fast.

What is your advice when it comes to locking success in the market?
I certainly believe in approaching every opportunity with a lot of humility. For example, the world you live in is different from that of the customer. I don’t drive a three-wheeler myself. This means I can’t tell what a three-wheeler owner goes through, which leaves me the choice to learn. I need to go and talk to customers to understand what they undergo. To sell a three-wheeler, I must listen to a dealer or financier to learn of their challenges. While newer opportunities are unfolding, including technology, which you could get a hang of, taking it to the market is very different. You need to comprehend the nuances. Therefore, I ask you to be open, ready for changes and ready to be corrected. There will be many times you will be taught humility by the market. Rather than letting the market teach you, please be humble to allow yourself to learn and grow faster.