Ola scooter is set to bring in a revolution in the Indian electric vehicle market. Promising a range of 180 km for Rs 1 lakh and with attractive looks and most-modern features, the Ola scooter has indeed created a buzz.
While Ola, the multinational ride-sharing company, has launched the scooter at a starting price of Rs 99,999 (ex-showroom), we can expect tax cuts announced by state governments to bring down prices further.
How will Ola fare? To understand that, we need to look the history of two-wheelers in the country.
Ola has understood the economic status of an average Indian before launching the two-wheeler that is equipped with innovative features. If you fill petrol for Rs 500, a scooter could give a mileage of 200 km, at an average cost of Rs 2.5 per kilometre. For the electric scooter, the cost will be in loose change. If you have a small solar electric unit at home, then the daily running cost will be nil. It can also boast of technical excellence that includes welcoming the owner by calling his or her name. Do not be surprised if Ola revolutionises the Indian scooter industry.
The beginning with Vespa
The Vespa that reached the shores of India from Italy in the 1960s gave birth to the first scooter revolution in the country. Then, it was not the common man's vehicle, but a symbol of high lifestyle and youth. In cities, businessmen, officials, military officers and those who believed that life is to be enjoyed zoomed on the Vespa. During this time, another scooter, Lambretta, arrived from Italy and became popular. Other scooters that hit the roads in the next few decades included Lamby, Vijay Super and Allwyn Pushpak.
When the nationalisation programme of the Indira Gandhi government derailed its plans, Vespa company packed its bags but we did not lose the scooter. Local partner Bajaj started making scooters based on the Vespa from 1971. Bajaj Vespas in the names of Super and Chetak ruled the roads without any rivals. The credit for making scooters affordable for common man should go to Bajaj.
In the beginning of 1980s, when Lohia Machine Tools introduced the Vespa P Series, the response was impressive. The company would have taken 21 years to honour the bookings it had received then. The company had to increase its capacity to honour its commitments.
The Vespas were the uncrowned king of Indian roads till it lost out to gearless scooters in 1990s. LML Vespas continued to be produced for the sake of it until the company closed down in 2018. A smaller range of Vespa scooters called Vespa PL170 was in production for some time during this period. (Made in India Vespa P series kits are available even now in foreign countries. These are meant for those who make classic scooters).
When gear vanished
1984 witnessed a revolution similar to the entry of the first Vespa to the country. That was when Kinetic Honda changed the ways Indians drove two-wheeler vehicles by introducing the 98cc gearless scooter. Those who were reluctant initially embraced the small Japanese wonder wholeheartedly. It was also the successful translocation of Italian technology to Japan.
Instead of kick-starting, the world moved towards pushing a button to start the engine. Reduction in the size of the vehicle made it easy to handle for all. It could even take a gas cylinder on its broad footboard, a key attraction that the new generation may never understand in times of home delivery. The Kinetic became the king of the streets. Not just men, women too took a liking towards it. Though it was produced until 2008, it started disappearing well before that.
When public started moving away from public transport to the luxury of a private one, the big opportunities of the Indian market came under global focus. Honda split with Kinetic and returned to India as Activa. From the first scooter it launched in 2001, Honda started selling scooters without local partners. A decade later, from the 2012 auto expo the Italian Vespa too started making scooters in India. Japanese manufacturer Suzuki is also a prominent player in the local scooter market.
Hero, TVS, Mahindra, Bajaj — these are the names that have outgrown their parent company. When Hero and Honda decided to start the JV called Hero Honda, Hero was just a bicycle maker and Honda the undisputed kings of the global two-wheeler market. When the Indian venture prospered, Honda was keen to take over Hero. No, said Hero. The dispute led to their split in 2010 and today Hero sells more numbers than Honda. TVS, Mahindra and Bajaj too have similar stories to tell. Above our expectations, all these companies are big two-wheeler manufacturers in Latin American countries and Africa. Their rivals today are not the old Japanese and Italian companies, but Chinese biggies that attack like locusts.
Will Ola succeed?
Let us return to Ola. Will it succeed? Yes, chances are high. But do not go after the one lakh pre-bookings; in Indian market one lakh bookings are not a big thing. Decades ago, when the market was just one-tenth of what it is today, scooters had garnered more bookings. But if three things come together, Ola will make history.
The winning formula
First Ola will have to ensure satisfactory aftersales service. The electric vehicle market is still in its infancy. There could be a lot of teething troubles, changes in technology. The company needs to provide satisfactory service to win over and retain the customer.
Second, battery tech. It is a big issue. Since it is a scooter, a 120 km range for even the lowest model can be counted as excellence, especially since most rivals still quote 60 km range. Even if the claimed range is 120 km, in real conditions it should at least 80 km, considering under our riding conditions. Moreover, the battery pack should last for at least five years; the battery and range should not deteriorate with every passing year.
Third, ease of charging. Since it is a scooter, the battery could be charged at home every evening or so. The scooter is meant for such day-to-day use only. The battery should be able to charge from a standard plug point from an inverter. Otherwise, it won't make sense and won't be practical in the country.
Start-up grows bigger
It began as a start-up. Last year, Etergo BV of Amsterdam acquired Ola Electric Mobility. The technology comes from there. It pumped in big money given the great opportunities in store for electric scooters. It built the world's largest two-wheeler factory at Pochampalli, about 80 km from Hosur in Tamil Nadu's Krishnagiri district spending Rs 2,400 crore. The factory is spread across 500 acres and a scooter is produced every two seconds. The annual production capacity is one crore. It will become fully operational in 2022. The delivery of the scooters will begin from October this year.
Everything is new with the Ola scooter venture. No dealership and no service centres. Though average scooter users may prefer to charge the battery at their homes, Ola is setting up more than one lakh charging points in 400 cities and towns. Booking has to be done online. Download the app and register, and you can do all these on the app. It will welcome the user by calling his or her name. More than one user profile can be created and saved in the app. When that person reaches near the vehicle, it will get going on its own. When service is booked, the mechanic will come home to carry out the work.
The Ola scooter has an attractive design and the new generation is sure to fall for it. It will be offered in as many as 10 colour options. Though compact in size, it has one of the largest storage areas, two helmets can be kept under the seat, app replaces the ignition key, has full LED lighting, disc brake, anti-theft alert system, geo fencing and navigation.
The scooter offers good performance too. It takes three seconds to reach 40 kmph from standstill and five seconds to hit 60 kmph. Ola offers a solution to those who think it would be quieter on the road. You could choose the sound you like from Bolt, Vintage, Care and Wonder. The scooter also gets three ride modes, including normal, sport and hyper. The S1 and S1 Pro models have an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 99,999 and Rs 1.29 lakh, respectively.
The Ola scooter has one of the highest ranges in the segment. In a single charge its S1 model will give a range of 121 km and the S1 Pro 181 km. The top speed of the S1 is 90 kmph while that of S1 Pro is 115 kmph. Both electric scooter models get 8.5kW of peak power. Full charging may take four hours and six hours respectively, while the batteries can charge up to 50% in just 18 minutes and this will give a 75 km range.