Infinite Scrolling

Monday, 25 November 2019

Why are e-rickshaws such a success story in India?

E-rickshaws are now seen almost on every road in any city of India. This is a phenomenal increase in the number of these electric vehicles . Market sources say that there are 1500000 e-rickshaws on Indian roads[1].

On the other hand if you look at the other electric vehicles which are manufactured by automobile companies they have not yet penetrated into the Indian market in large numbers; so why is it that the e-rickshaw has become such a success?

There are many reasons for this phenomenon.

To start with in the year 2015 the rules were changed and e-rickshaws were permitted to run on roads. This gave a big impetus to the sales of e-rickshaws.

An e-rickshaw is a pretty simple vehicle. It uses lead acid batteries, an induction motor which gives the drive to the rear wheels through a differential, and there is a controller which controls the speed of the motor and therefore the vehicle. The motors are of approximately 800 w and lead acid batteries are easily available. On one charge the e-rickshaw will run around 80 odd kms. The max speed of 25 kmph. It is, therefore, a pretty simple vehicle.

The best part is that an e-rickshaw can seat 4 passengers along with the driver. It is available in the market for about INR 100000 which is less than USD 1500. Running cost is cheap and so it is viable for a person to earn his livelihood by running an e-rickshaw. And also it is plugging in to complete a huge need in India, that is the last mile connectivity.

While in big cities we have got the Metros which quickly transport large number of passengers, there is a shortage of reasonably priced transport for last mile connectivity. In fact e-rickshaws have largely replaced the pedal rickshaws which were earlier available for this purpose.

People are buying e-rickshaws because it is a technology which is easily available to them and e-rickshaws can be used for earning their daily wage and it is easy for them to use it.

Another peculiar thing which has allowed e-rickshaws to succeed in India is that traditionally if you see the Indian roads the traffic is very forgiving to the slower vehicles. Traffic is used to seeing a lot of slow moving vehicles on the road. For example before e-rickshaws we had the pedal rickshaws on our roads. The Indian driver is used to giving road space to the slower moving vehicle. This has worked in favor of the e-rickshaw.

As the technology required to produce an e-rickshaw is available within the general technology threshold of the Indian ecosystem. Much automobile designing is not needed. This has allowed a large number of small firms to manufacture e-rickshaws. This also keeps the costs low and makes e-rickshaws affordable.

If you were to make a proper EV, even a small car, it would need a detailed design process and would have to be tested. The manufacturer would need the ability to mass manufacture and to market and provide servicing stations. All these additional factors come in. New manufacturers of regular EVs have to surmount all these barriers to competition. But these barriers to competition are not there for the e-rickshaw manufacturers.

Another aspect is mass manufacture. For a normal EV setting up a factory for mass manufacture is an expensive proposition. And then you have to market in numbers. But in the case of the e-rickshaw a very large number of small firms manufacture e-rickshaws thus making them available in the numbers required.

These e-rickshaws almost literally market themselves.

Hence the number of e-rickshaws you see on Indian roads have ballooned and you see them everywhere in all cities.



Also see my blog posts:
My take on the future of EVs
Incentives and infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in India:
Electric Vehicles in India: we are at a cusp of change
E Rickshaw shows the way: an electric vehicle success story

Friday, 4 October 2019

My take on the future of EVs

I recently published an article on my website I am reproducing it here as part of my blog. Looking forward to seeing your comments.
Image by

Are electric vehicles the future?

By Jastej Singh Matharu
[The automobile industry is in an exciting new stage of transition in search for relevance]

As an automobile engineer all things related to motorized vehicles are of interest to me. What I find especially fascinating at the present juncture is the way the auto industry is changing and transforming.

Here in India the sector is passing through a rough time where the demand for vehicles has dropped and all companies are passing through a trying time. Even if you look at the larger picture around the world you find a similar drop in demand in many other markets.

It seems that the car industry the world over is going through a churn of sorts.

So what is really happening? Let us look at the new technologies which are now emerging. Technologies which some time back were considered to be niche and were used only by select  companies and are now being adopted by all as mainstream. For instance, owning a hybrid automobile has now become more or less common place. There are a large number of such models available from many companies.

These cars are running on the internal combustion engine which is being assisted by an electric motor. But what truly seems to be changing is the emergence of the pure electric vehicle.

While earlier pure electric vehicles were being produced by only a few companies now mainstream companies are coming out with a pure electric versions of even some of their best selling models.

So how does one determine where this changing environment is headed. The one thing which gives a sure picture of where things are going is how companies are investing. Where is money being spent by automobiles companies and by companies which buy automobiles in bulk.

Amazon is buying 100000 Revian EVs which will be used by Amazon as delivery vehicles. And the first 10000 vans are expected to go into service in just another 2 to 3 years [1]. This is a huge order. It is worth noting that Revian, the company which will supply the vans is a non mainstream automobile company. In fact it is a company in which Amazon has invested. Making it clear that Amazon feels that this is to it’s benefit. This massive investment nudging the automobile market towards an EV future.

It increasingly appears that the idea of EVs is something which is now amongst us. And it is emerging and getting reflected in various forms.

If you look at the two wheeler industry it can be noticed, that alongside the mainstream companies, a large number of startups have emerged which are offering pure electric  two wheeled vehicles.

There is an ease with which new companies are now able to start up and give competition to established automobile companies.

There would be many factors influencing this trend but it appears that one of the main reasons is the simplicity of the electric motor which is now replacing the internal combustion engine.

The internal combustion engine has been there for a century but the challenge with it  is that a vertical movement of pistons in an engine has to be converted through a crankshaft into a rotational movement.

Another issue is that the range of speed which the internal combustion engine offers. This range is insufficient to cover the entire speed range which is needed by the vehicle wheels which are being driven by it. So we have to bring in a gearbox and step up or step down the gears in order to cover the entire range. This brings in the need of a clutch, essentially losing the simplicity of mechanism.

On the other hand the electrical motor, which while being simple, is able to give us a torque curve which the combination of the internal combustion engine, the clutch and the gearbox arrangement can only aspire to achieve.

So in the electric motor we have a simple driving engine which is giving the best possible torque curve and which is more or less covering the entire range of speed which the driven wheels of the vehicle need.

So this simplicity of the engine, the electric motor, is making it possible for startups to build competing pure electric vehicles.

Once you got the engine and the transmission simplified things start to fall in place. The fact is that technology for manufacturing electric motor is well stabilized and this implies that startups can source these motors easily.

They do not have to go through a huge design and development cycle which would be needed for developing an internal combustion engine.

So as this idea of pure electric vehicle on our roads is taking root. If the mainstream automobile companies take time to switch to pure electric vehicle and the flow of change is not fast enough, then in all likelihood manufacturers may move ahead and create new markets which all companies will have to follow to remain relevant.

In a way compelling the mainstream automobile industry to move faster towards this change.

Recently there was an announcement that Tata Motors has developed a new pure electric power-train called Ziptron[2]. This is a clear indication of things to come as they will be able to fit this power-train to power many of their existing popular models.

Toyota, which is one of the front runners in developing hybrid vehicle technologies, is offering a vehicle which has solar panels fitted on it[3].

Jaguar which has made considerable investment in developing their pure electric car I-Pace. Similarly other companies have also developed pure electric models. It was recently reported that in the UK market the Jaguar I-Pace pure electric car has become a top seller[4] in it’s genre.

In an interview given by Ralph Speth the JLR Global CEO recently he has mentioned that the growth in customer demand of EVs is faster than expected and the supply of batteries is not able to catch up for sufficient cars to be produced[5]. More manufacturers of large batteries are needed to meet this demand.

A roadblock in this future of the EV is the issue of lack of proper infrastructure such as charging points. But even here if you look at the world over you find every country moving in the direction of providing more charging points.

It is remarkable that automobile companies are themselves taking interest in installing charging stations. It was reported recently that VW is planning to install 4000 electric charging stations in Germany by 2025[6]. Tata Motors has taken the initiative to come up with electric charging points in coordination with Tata Power and they are planning to create 300 electric charging stations[7].

The supply of batteries is likely to improve as companies invest in new battery manufacturing plants in anticipation of increased demand. Exide is opening a plant for vehicle batteries which will be operational by this year’s end[8]. Tatas are setting up a battery manufacturing plant with a large investment[9].

All this may lead to cheaper batteries which will bring down the cost of pure electric vehicles. Once batteries become cheaper and once we are able to have larger batteries than the cost of the vehicles will come down and their range will increase.

So it seems that the automobile sector is heading towards introducing more pure electric vehicles.

When we finally  move away from a pure internal combustion engine vehicle to a pure electric vehicle, there will be exaltation in being able to contribute to the reduction of pollution which remains a major problem in many large cities of the world. The consumer could possibly feel that by going in for an electric vehicle they may be able to contribute towards the reduction of pollution.

The internal combustion engine powered vehicle will be there for many vehicle applications which cannot be covered by pure electric vehicles. And there will be also be a large number of hybrid vehicles.

It does seem though that eventually, sooner rather than later, we will see a rise in the number of pure electric vehicles on our roads.

It is an idea whose time is here and the events occurring all around us today attest to that reality.

As Victor Hugo famously said “No force on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

[1] Amazon orders 1 lakh Rivian EVs as delivery vehicles, Autocar India.
[2] Tata Motors up the ante in EV space with new engine, The Economic Times.
[3] Toyota Motor is trying to figure out how to make a car run forever, Business Standard.   
[4] Jaguar I-Pace Tops Pure Electric Vehicle Sales In Q2 In The UK, Car and Bike.
[5] I wouldn’t say the worst is over for China: Ralf Speth, JLR, Economic Times.
[6] Volkswagen To Install 4000 EV Charging Stations In Germany By 2025. Car and Bike.
[7] Tata Motors partners Tata Power to install 300 EV charging stations. liveMINT.
[8] Exide’s Gujarat plant to produce batteries for EVs to be operational by year-end. Financial Express.
[9] Tata plans to invest in lithium ion battery manufacturing in Gujarat. Business Line.

Friday, 30 August 2019

The joy of design

"I enjoy my work and design like I paint" said my daughter Amrita. She added "Just like when I paint I seem to know where every leaf should go. Just like in a symphony where every note knows where to go. So it is in my architecture design".

She then said thoughtfully "it all comes together when every bit is exactly where it should be".

Amrita, an architect, runs her own firm Archam Design in Gurgaon, India.

Today, is her birthday, and we gifted her this book 'Peter Zumthor Atmospheres'.

These thoughts about her work, flowed from the experience of her holding this admired book which she asked us to gift her!

Just yesterday she completed her office. The first design of hers which is fully realized in the real world.

The process of this design being made on a computer and then coming about in a actual form was fascinating to watch.
At one point when we were discussing one of her drawings she said to me "A drawing never lies, what is beautiful in a drawing is beautiful in real life". Now that her office interior is ready it becomes clear to me what she meant. It is true.

The step from the drawing board, which is poetic, to the pragmatic real world, which is based on available skills and materials is a tenuous link. The connect has to be nurtured to get the best results. Every design does not therefore come out the way it was thought.

It depends a lot on the skills of the people who build based on the design.

For example, a skilled worker in India learns his trade as an apprentice. He may not have formal training. But he knows how to use technology. And he is a fast learner.

Here are a few instances which we came across in our recent experience.

The carpenters were very comfortable in using pdf drawings for their work. The electrician pulled up an online video to see the process for fitting a complex electrical fitting. Messaging with the team were through a messaging app. Photographs of the work were shared between us online.

So aesthetics of design and actual work on ground came together through technology to produce a beautiful interior space. This is a joy of design.

The photo below is from this space.

Interiors by Archam Design

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Milk from booths to milk from apps: how delivery of milk has changed

As a boy, holding a milk carrier made of wire and walking alongside of my grandfather on a chilly winter morning in Delhi of the sixties is what I remember. We would walk down, carrying the previous days empty milk bottles, to the milk booth near our house and stand in queue to get our milk.

It would come in bottles with a metal foil cap. Punching the cap with your thumb would open the bottle. The cream on the inside of the cap used to be a small but welcome treat.

This is how it was for many years.

Then came the automated milk dispensing booths. Bottles were no longer required. We bought stainless steel milk containers.

A token purchased from the milk booth attendant and slipped into the dispenser token socket would wondrously lead to the flow of an exact quantity of milk to the eagerly waiting container placed below in the dispensing slot. For some reason it was always exiting to see this happen.

So for many years the only way one got milk was by walking down to the milk booth.

That is if one did not buy it directly from a milk man who would come to your home and pour it into your milk vessel using his milk measure.

Branded milk starting arriving at our door steps once it started getting packed in poly bags. This was now supplied by the local grocery shops.

While earlier the milk was collected directly from the milk companies outlet, the poly bags were from a local shop to which the company supplied. This was a change in the supply chain.

The quality of milk would always be a point for discussion.

Recently milk of certified quality is being supplied by new companies. This is supplied through an app. Milk comes in poly bags. Reaches your door step like clockwork every morning.

What is more one can change the amount of milk you need any time by going to the app.

Convenience and quality have come together.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Liberating technology makes queues disappear

There was a time, not to far back, when buying a train ticket required a trip to the train station and standing in a long and winding queue for hours at times. A large part of the day had to be set aside for this.

Even when computers starting printing tickets the queues remained though the waiting time in the queue became much shorter. You see, before this happened train tickets were little printed cardboard pieces manually checked and punched by the ticket clerk. This took much more time.

The real change happened when we could print our tickets at home from the railways website. This single step liberated time for a large number of people, a huge amount of time.

The train ticket queue disappeared.

The airlines ticket queue was shorter. The ticket was a booklet of leaves made of fine and thin paper with each onward journey appearing on a separate tear away sheet. Online booking changed this and now we print them at home.

The airline ticket queue disappeared.

The bank teller queue would make you wait for withdrawing money.

The ATM made this queue disappear.

Online payment made the bill payment queues disappear.

Hours of waiting time for all of us has disappeared.

This time has been liberated from the queues!

Also see my blog posts:
We live in a world of apps
Customer experience: a people and technology milieu
Flow of technology changes our lives
Digital markets: when the computers decide
Window to the world: digital access as an enabler
From paper to pixels

Monday, 12 August 2019

First signs of more electric vehicles on roads in India

I have a hobby of looking out for electric vehicles.

In the last week I spotted two electric vehicle taxis!

I know, one swallow does not a summer make.

But this, seeing more electric vehicle taxis, is in my view is a big thing.

Why so?

A taxi driver will use an electric vehicle only if it gives him a decent income and is most importantly cheap to run and maintain.

Well there is good news here. The per km cost, purely on fuel or electricity cost, will cost five times more per km for an internal combustion engine vehicle as compared to an electric vehicle.

This is huge. Just this one thing can be a game changer.

In my view if an electric vehicle taxi can be bought for about Rs 6 to 8 lakhs, and if an exchange scheme or repurchase scheme is put into place say after 5 to 7 years of use, the number of electric vehicle taxis will multiply.

You have to just look at the quick rate at which the numbers of e-rickshaws have gone up.

Which shows charging time is not an issue.

So watch out for more electric vehicle taxis.

They may be the first signs of the future of cars on Indian roads.

Also see my blog posts:
My take on the future of EVs
More charging stations and cheaper electric cars: a virtuous loop
Are small electric cars viable in the Indian market?
Incentives and infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in India:
Electric Vehicles in India: we are at a cusp of change
E Rickshaw shows the way: an electric vehicle success story

Friday, 9 August 2019

We live in a world of apps

My father used to say "technology is neutral". The technology which makes the apps on our smartphones and our computers is neutral. It can be used for good or otherwise.

In my blog posts I focus on the uplifting changes brought about by technology.

Today, as never before a very large part of humanity is creating or using apps or even working for them!

The other day, when traveling back home, late in the evening I got talking to the driver of an app based cab. It turned out his home was not far from where we were going. "I am wondering whether I should sign off for the day after dropping you" he said.

He wanted to work more but was not sure where app will send him next, and he would have to drive back home all the way if it happened to be at the other end of the city.

In a way he was working for the app!

So he had to either go where the app sent him or sign off for the day.

I felt he was happy for the work the app gave him but also vary on how it will interact with him.

A little different from working for another human.

On the other hand the mutual rating system of apps make the work environment fair. For example in a taxi app, the customer gets to rate the driver and the driver gets to rate the customer.

So there is a degree of fairness. Human biases are reduced.

Freelance apps have brought down the old barriers for finding work. Individual to individual work is possible and is thriving. The mutual rating system works well here as well.

Being able to interact with an app has become a major mode of finding and doing work.

We indeed live and work in a world of apps.

Also see my blog posts:
Freelancing portals and the evolving work market
The Co-worker: the changing nature of work
Customer experience: a people and technology milieu
The way we learn, study, recruit or apply for jobs: it is all changing
Digital markets: when the computers decide
Window to the world: digital access as an enabler
From paper to pixels: how technology is empowering the way we invest.
Navigation then and now: how technology has changed the way we navigate.