Interaction with Ather Energy core team- several questions answered

Yesterday I got to interact with co founders Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain and core team of Ather Energy, as they held a press conference in Chennai ahead of A450's Chennai launch.

I've covered technical details of the vehicle in a separate post. In this post, I am presenting to you summary of discussions I had with Ather team- clarifies various doubts I had on the Electric vehicles and the ecosystem around it.

Q1: What do you think of swap-able batteries being planned by rivals like RV400
Arun Vinayak, Chief Product Officer, Ather: We had thought about it and decided to go with fixed battery approach due to multiple reasons
- Batteries are heavy. Ather's battery weighs around 20kgs, we don't know how much competition batteries weigh but they will be similarly heavy. Carrying them around daily to charge or swap is not very convenient. Tarun: Even if battery becomes lighter in future- it will still weigh 10-12 kgs after 5-10 years of research and improvement which is still heavy (that is like lifting and carrying an LPG cylinder each day)
- Once battery is made removable, its integrity is compromised. (One from the audience added that he has an electric cycle with removable battery- it is heavy and inconvenient and connectors often come off due to vibration when in motion)
- Our data reveals that 70% of our users use it for less than 17 kms a day. There is no strong case yet for swap-able battery. We have decided to go with fixed battery and build a charging infrastructure around it.
Q2: With connected ecosystem comes a privacy concern. Last year there was no option to turn off the tracking permanently (it would reset upon next start)- Has it been fixed now?
Swapnil, Co founder: Yes. (If incognito mode is turned on, it will stay like that till it is turned off)

Q3: Two third of India's electricity comes from non renewable source. Is it fair to say electric vehicles are zero emission and pollution free when pollution has already been caused where electricity is produced?
Tarun Mehta, co founder: That is bad PR against electric vehicles. A coal power plant is lot more efficient than an internal combustion engine. We've done the research that shows that for a same distance, pollution caused by a petrol vehicle is 30-40% higher than pollution that will be caused to generate electricity needed to cover the same distance in an electric vehicle. With more solar, wind based electricity in coming days, electric vehicles will only get more greener, even after considering any pollution electricity generation might have caused.

Q4: Why only white? Why not offer A450 in other colours?
Tarun: This is for branding purpose. We want to create an identity and help people realize white scooter with a green dot is Ather. We will probably offer more colours in future but not immediately.

Q5: Have you set any target for A450 sales in Chennai?
Tarun: Not yet since Chennai being our second city. But we hope to sell more than what we sold in Bengaluru

Q6: Are there any plans to set up Ather Grid in between two big cities (like in Vellore between Chennai and Bengaluru), to help people travel from one city to another?
Team Ather: No

Q7. Is the planned Govt mandate to move to EV by 2025 for all two wheelers under 150cc doable?
Tarun: Possible if big players (like TVS and Bajaj) come on board and commit to it.

Q8: Is there any technology/process for waste disposal/recycling of used lithium ion batteries?
Arun: Right now we have partners who can safely dispose off a battery. But we have 3 to 5 years to solve this problem of recycling/waste management, so we would not like to comment right now. We are sure we will find ways.

Q9: Can we control when the OTA updates happen?
Team Ather: Yes, they happen mostly when vehicle is put for charging

Q10: While a petrol vehicle's main expense is fuel, for A450 the major expenses will be Ather One subscription (Rs 700 per month), cost of battery replacement (approx 50k after 5 years= approx 800 per month) and insurance (approx Rs 300 per month)- almost Rs 1800 a month irrespective of usage. Can anything be done to reduce this? (Such as temporarily hold Ather One subscription or do something to prevent battery degradation etc if we are not planning to use the vehicle for few months)
Team Ather:
#1. There're cheaper subscription packages like Data+charge only, Data+ service only etc. AtherOne is free for one year, after that it is customer's discretion to unsubscribe or select a cheaper plan
#2. Think of AtherOne has an investment to prevent a bigger expense later, as it helps track vehicle performance and do timely service
#3. Battery replacement may get a lot cheaper in next 4-5 years.

Q11. What happened to A340?
A340 was introduced to offer a slightly cheaper variant, but everyone preferred the more sportier version which was costing just about 10-15k more. We were told that Indians often buy the cheapest variant but that has not been true in our case. Majority of our orders in Bengaluru were for 450. Thus we are not manufacturing/promoting 340 right now.

Q12. Will you be sharing your technology with investors like Hero to help them launch EVs in volume?
Tarun: No comments as of now. We are an independent company

Q13: One of my feedback last year was to provide a USB charging. Is it under consideration?
Arun: Not immediately, but we'll evaluate for future.

Q14: Commercial electricity is 2-3 times expensive than home electricity. What is the motive for public places like malls to provide charging infrastructure?
Tarun: This is true. As of now, even if we consider cost of commercial electricity, running an electric scooter is still cheaper than cost of petrol for same distance. However Govt is mooting a policy change to levy a lesser fee for commercial facilities providing charging infra for electric vehicles. If this comes into effect- may take a few years- more property owners will be forthcoming to provide charging infrastructure.

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