Chetan Maini, CEO, Mahindra Reva

Anil Mascarenhas, IIFL | Mumbai | December 26, 2014 11:03 IST

“EVs need an ‘ecosystem’ thinking that includes vehicles, charging solutions, battery lease schemes and such other services that enable people to adopt EV mobility.”

Chetan Maini, CEO, Mahindra Reva, co-founded the REVA Electric Car Company, India's first electric car manufacturer, in 1994. As the CEO of Mahindra Reva, he led the team that created one of the world’s greenest automobile manufacturing facilities. Chetan holds a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering (University of Michigan) and a Master's in Mechanical Engineering (Stanford University). He has over 20 years of experience in the development of solar, hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. and India. Prior to REVA, he worked for Amerigon Inc. (USA) and General Motors (USA).  His vision and pioneering innovations in electric vehicles have been recognized worldwide, including Mahindra Reva being voted as one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies in the world in 2013 by Fast Company magazine. Chetan was named as one of the top 50 most influential people in India by Business Week and amongst the Young Global Leader (YGLs) by The World Economic Forum to name a few. Chetan also serves as a member of India's National Board on Electric Mobility and Chairs the Personal Transportation Council, World Economic Forum. He currently holds and has filed over 30 global patents in electric vehicle technologies.
Mahindra Reva is a pioneer of electric vehicle (EV) technologies and one of the world's most experienced EV manufacturers. Founded in 1994 as the Reva Electric Car Company, the company was a joint venture between the Maini Group of Bangalore and AEV LLC of USA. Reva focused on creating affordable electric cars through advanced technology and launched its first model in India in 2001 and in London in 2004.  In May 2010, the USD $16.5 billion, Mahindra Group acquired a majority stake in the company, which was renamed Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Pvt Ltd. Mahindra Reva is headquartered in Bengaluru, India.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Chetan Maini says, “EVs need an ‘ecosystem’ thinking that includes vehicles, charging solutions, battery lease schemes and such other services that enable people to adopt EV mobility.”
To what extent has life changed for you after joining the Mahindra family? Have you got the desired results for your pet projects?
I believe that the synergy between the companies took place at a time most opportune for both. It has been symbiotic for both companies, since inception.
We have been able to expand the distributorship through this partnership with M&M’s well established network within the industry. The Group’s support towards sourcing channels has also been beneficial in strengthening the supplier base for Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles at large. In the operational areas, the company has been able to gain access to the group’s IT & systems. Integrating with the Group has also opened up opportunities to develop diverse electric versions of existing Mahindra Platforms. The teams from both sides are working jointly on various projects now.
And in turn, the partnership has accelerated the M&M Group’s vision of providing sustainable mobility solutions across a broader spectrum of vehicles and market segments. Mahindra Reva’s vision and activities fit in very well with the Mahindra Group’s aspiration to enable people and communities to Rise. In this regard, we share a common purpose that binds us together in this journey.
This year has also been great for us, as we showcased our next gen technologies like the Halo at the Auto Expo& forayed into Formula E. Engineers from Mahindra Reva have in fact supported Mahindra’s Formula Eteam with vehicle testing and tuning, race strategies and component & sub-system validation.
So, overall this union has helped us to further leverage our in-house technology, experience and passion for developing pure electric vehicles. With the Group’s continued support, we look forward to a brighter future for EVs in India and also expand our product portfolio globally with the launch of new products and technologies.
Electric vehicles / Hybrid vehicles are slowly gaining acceptance across the countries. However, it is not the case in India. What according to you is the key factor which is restraining Indian consumers from buying an electric car?
xEVs have gained popularity worldwide and they continue to gain momentum, with sales rising year on year. On the contrary, the scenario has been different in India. I wouldn’t say that consumers in India are being restrained from buying an electric car but there are certain factors at play that have anchored the Indian EV industry in competing at par with its counterparts.
This slow growth has been contributed largely by public awareness about EVs, which is fairly low, coupled with several misapprehensions around the technology. Primarily, EVs are very high on technology and battery management systems, resulting in a higher cost of the car. As a result, potential customers perceive EVs to be expensive, though in reality they payback within 2-3 years due to their lower running costs.
There is also a strong need for long term government policies and its timely implementation in the areas of R&D, EV infrastructure and incentives. The government has been working on an EV centric policy under NEMMP 2020 (National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020) to implement a plethora of incentives and other initiatives that would help boost the industry in India. With all of the above in place and a host of players, EV will be a more sought for mobility solution.
For mass sale of electric cars you also require suitable infrastructure like charging stations. How quickly do you think this can be built in India (at least in cities initially)?
For an advanced technology such as EVs, charging points or stations play a very important role, not just by providing ease of driving sans range anxiety but also creating a momentum for EV sustenance. Countries across the globe have witnessed a sprung of infrastructure providers, which is a huge impetus for the growth of the industry itself. This has further supported in making charge points easily and publicly accessible.
90% of the customers charge their EVs in the premise of their homes. Thus, as a proactive initiative, we began mounting home charging ports for our customers with purchase of the automatic electric Mahindra e2o.
Additionally, we have also put across a robust network of more than 300 publicly accessible charging ports in various cities. They can be spotted at Malls, Airport and several Mahindra dealer and service centres. These are also plotted on maps in the car’s built-in navigation system as well as on Mahindra Reva’s website.  One can also download the e2o’s smart app which shows all the charging points across the city, on a map. The individual can now plan the route to the nearest point accordingly. Installation of charging ports across the country will be our enduring effort. We are exploring these opportunities with various retail outlets, banks, more malls and parking bays, in order to set up wall-sockets and charge points.
Any form of public/private partnership in building this infrastructure across India will serve as a big business opportunity. It will not just fuel the growth of the EV industry but also open new business avenues.
You have frequently mentioned that government support in form of subsidy will boost sale of electric cars. By when do you expect the government support to come? Has the change in government hastened up the process?
Sooner the better. While it may be too early to comment, we are yet to see the proposed plans rolling.
How has the response been for your electric car “e2o”. Can you share some numbers like average monthly sales, total capacity? What is the launch pipeline?
We had set certain targets at the beginning of the financial year, whereinSales in India may not have completely fulfilled that expectation but despite the odds, we have received a very good response for our e2o.
Over the past few months as well, a rising trend has been noticed: more and more buyers are coming forward, people are keen on learning and some are well informed, mindsets are changing and month on month sales is slowly gathering a positive pace. Currently, we are able to meet this rise in demand on time, as our facility in Bangalore is capable of producing 30,000 cars per annum (across two shifts).
We have showcased our technical capabilities in developing futuristic advanced platforms such as “Halo”. With access to Mahindra’s platform, we are working on the electric versions of Verito & Maxximo. We also hope to announce new products in the coming year in India and abroad.
What are your plans for exports? Years ago you were looking at a franchisee model where you would provide technology and manufacturing expertise to a local partner abroad. Which countries do you plan to export to?
The company has gained an entry into new markets such as Nepal, Bhutan and Island communities such as Bermuda. With new products in the pipeline, we look forward to adding more to our global portfolio shortly. Come next year and Mahindra Reva will mark its presence across Western European markets.
Brief overview on the car market. What is the percentage share of electric cars in the global markets?
EV market today may be a small percentage of the global market but it has been experiencing 85% growth year on year and is expected to grow at similar levels. According to a recent study by a multi-government forum called Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI), under the Clean Energy Ministerial, EV sales has more than doubled over the past few years and will soon account for 2-4% of the global automotive market.
Global markets are smartly terming this era as the ‘third age’ of electric vehicles, starting with the mass-market introduction of EVs in 2010.Their R&D efforts are paying off due to support from respective governments in providing over USD 8.7 billion in investment since 2008. This financial aid has not just helped overcome ambiguity surrounding EV adoption among customers but also predominantly reduce battery costs, making EVs the most sought after mobility option worldwide.
Some markets like Norway have crossed the 15% mark of sales of EVs and other markets like China and UK have shown growth rates of 300-500% in the last few months.  The recent Deutsche bank report has been positive on the future of EVs and believes that it will not be a niche by 2020. The report states xEVs will reach a 9% market share by 2020, which is higher than India’s estimate of 5%. Mahindra Reva is long term committed to electric mobility and believes the right government policy can enable India to reach the global figures by 2020.
What is the sector prospects, its competitiveness, in our country?
The Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI), under the Clean Energy Ministerial, has estimated that there will be 20 million EVs on the road by the year 2020.India is one of the 16 member countries of this forum that is dedicated to boosting the growth of EVs worldwide. Majority of international territories are now evolved EV platforms and highly competitive in nature, where one can see a range of Pure EVs and Hybrid EVs, manufactured by numerous players. There has been both horizontal and vertical expansions. The statistics from the report also suggest that there is a strong correlation between sales and EV variety. This shows that more EV models coming to market will result in more choices for the consumer and could further increase sales. Global markets have also taken prospective electrification a notch up by engaging with private stakeholders to better align long term EV goals, discuss the role and intervention of the government, and keep the flow of investments going in R&D innovations and procurement for large scale EV use.
Likewise in India, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 was set up. Under the mission, the National Mission on Electric Mobility (NMEM) plan was launched. The plan highlights working with Industry and R&D organisations to deploy6-7 million xEVs on Indian roads by 2020.
India as a market has a huge potential for EVs. Various factors such as incessant stop-go traffic, long distance travel, fuel prices, and effects on health, noise & air pollution, stressful driving due to traffic and jammed roads make EVs a viable option in India. Having said so, a lot can be additionally achieved in this sector. I foresee a plethora of areas being met through niftier technologies in the future and these will not just meet the urban mobility needs but address other spheres of mobility in India such as public transport.
The segment will also get competitive once public awareness levels rise. Consumerism will shift to adoption of such technologies on a larger scale. With more and more erudite buyers, the EV sector in India will soon see enough limelight and players. Probably with more entrants in this segment, the Indian market will open up as similar to global markets. We also hope to see infrastructure partners that would manufacture and supply charging ports publicly, similar to other countries such as Ecotality, Autolib etc. There is also a need for public-private partnerships and also partners on other platforms such as OEM manufacturers, Battery manufacturers and Energy Solutions companies. Academia too can help burgeon this industry if a course is set in place that would create a knowledge pool on new technologies in the automotive area that will help churn engineers of the future.
With a growing niche in India for this segment, we would prove yet again that we have the home grown capability to showcase our technical expertise. I believe that there will be a gamut of xEVs on Indian roads backed by much better infrastructure and India too shall lead the way in mobility technologies and self-sustenance. There is a huge latent business opportunity that awaits to be uncovered.
You are known to be passionate about innovation. Tell us some innovations likely to be witnessed in the sector.
Our focus for innovation has been on making electric mobility affordable and on building great EV ownership and usage experiences for our customers. To name a few, today our EV drivetrains are already globally competitive on a price-to-performance metric, our vehicles are one of the lightest yet safest cars in their category on Indian roads. We have also created India’s first ‘connected car’. We will continue to evolve these technologies. The focus in the future will also be on much more advanced battery technologies that are also affordable at the same time, scaling up of power and efficiency and on fast charging points.
At a product level, there will be more developments and launches in the next year. Innovations will be expanded beyond the passenger car segment to commercial transportation and public mobility areas as well.
In terms of Location, raw material, labour. How is the company positioned?
There are very few cities in India, such as Bengaluru, that resonate with the economy’s growth. Today, it isrightly coveted for not just being the IT capital but also the Science and Technology hub of India. It hosts some of the most prominent establishments and R&D organizations that support in churning the wheel of bigger industries in the country such as Aerospace technologies, Automotive, Apparel, Electronics, Information Technology, Biotechnology, Life sciences, Pharmaceuticals, Engineering and Machine Tools, across sectors.
The city is not just a perfect location for the above but also rich in technical expertise and know-how. In this regard, our location in the heart of India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ near Electronic City in Bengaluru is quite well suited for the development of electric vehicles, both from the perspective of availability of engineering talent as well as from a supply chain perspective.
A significant part of our supply chain is located in and around Bangalore. Apart from batteries and few components, which are imported, rest is locally sourced. Once the required raw materials are procured, the same is assembled here in our facility. Our assembly process is quite streamlined and requires limited access to specialized skills and hence we do not have major labour challenges as well.
Last but not the least, it has been our experience that the citizens of Bengaluru are forward thinking and open to embracing new technology. It is to their credit that Bengaluru has today become the ‘EV capital’ of India.
Brief on your assets and technology
We are one of the most experienced EV players in the world with more than5000 EVs on road, that have covered more than 200million kms, globally. Our skilled teams and engineers, dedicated to R&D are one of our strong assets to-date, which forms 35% of our entire workforce.
The company has 36 patents filed & 14 patents received for core in-house technologies and technical know-how to develop drive trains, battery packs and monitoring systems.
We are also proud of our one-of-a-kind green manufacturing facility in Bommasandra, Bengaluru. It is India’s first and only IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) ‘Platinum’ rated facility. With its own individuality, all aspects of the manufacturing process and facility’s design resonate with our commitment to the environment and determination to use clean technology.
Your expansion/ diversification plans
By showcasing “Halo”, we have already proved our technical capabilities and engineering expertise. With launch of electric versions of Verito & Maxximo, we will be proving yet again that we are strong with our R&D and know-how. We are working on various other projects and look forward to displaying our proficiency in this direction of electric mobility.
Currently, we have presence in top metro cities in India and have plans for expansion in some identified Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities within the country in the next fiscal year along with entry into Western European markets.
Policy and regulatory framework – any impact?
Between 2010 and 2012, the central government used to provide an incentive of up to Rs. 1 Lakh per electric car for EV buyers. This had a favourable impact on EV sales in the country. But the subsidy was withdrawn in April 2012. This experience clearly demonstrates that there is a market for EVs in India. However, incentives in the area of R&D and Infrastructure is crucial, along with a favourable long term and stable policy. Hence the Government’s NEMMP2020 scheme has a laudable objective of providing such stability and transparency but it is imperative that this scheme be implemented timely.
It is also learnt that the NEMMP 2020 will roll in the next fiscal year as a pilot programme and the government is looking at spends of Rs 1000 crore.
What is your company’s vision?
The company believes in a B HAG- Big Hairy Audacious Goal, of becoming Earth’s favourite EV mobility solutions company. It is our belief that EVs need an ‘ecosystem’ thinking that includes vehicles, charging solutions, battery lease schemes and such other services that enable people to adopt EV mobility. Furthermore, we will endeavour to deliver such solutions and services in ways that create great ownership and usage experiences for our customers.
How many cars have you sold so far?
We have sold more than 5000 Mahindra Reva EVsin over 24 countries today and growing.
Give a geographical break-up? Which are the new markets you are looking at?
The company has a presence in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Nagpur and Pune. Overseas, Mahindra Reva is a known name in Nepal and Bhutan and across island communities such as Bermuda.
We have plans for expansion in some identified Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities within the country in the next fiscal year along with entry into Western European markets.
What about servicing and after sales?
With access to M&M group’s vast dealer network across the country, we have been able to provide timely after sales service to all our customers. The cars can be brought to the Mahindra service network. We have also setup an EV experience centre in Bengaluru, where prospective customers can learn about and experience EV technology. Alternately, the service team also provides home service by servicing at the customer’s door step.
In order to be able to provide on-the-spot servicing, we have created a radical approach to service, using our telematics solution. Each car has a mobile SIM card with a modem built-in that connects to our servers and transmits vehicle performance data to our servers. Our service engineers receive instantaneous alerts in the event of a fault in the car and can even fix some issues ‘over-the-air’ using the telematics system. In course of an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, then the service engineer can also visit the location of the car and can fix several issues on-site.
What are some of the constraints faced by the car user? What are you doing regarding the same?
At Mahindra Reva, we are always focused on making driving pleasurable and owning an EV a moment of pride. In this direction, our sales &customer teams have heard every customer and driven various positive feedbacks and testimonials through these years. Valuing these feedbacks, we included electric power steering (EPS) and increased the range to 120 km in the all new automatic electric Mahindra e2o. Several other features were also incorporated such as Hill Hold, ‘Connected Car’ technology and accessing certain features of the car through a smart application such as pre-cooling the car, lock/ unlock, regenerative braking, revive function and shift to vacation mode.
Many prospective customers have ambiguity about the Battery performance in the long term and its replacement costs. To address this, in January 2014,we launched the e2o care protection plan.
How many patents do you hold?
Overall 50 patents, of which 36 are filed and 14 received
REVA used to be sold under the name G-Wiz in the UK. Any other countries where it is sold under a different name. Do you change any of the features or design of the car for export market?
The G-Wiz is no longer in production. We are looking forward to launching a European version soon. Details of the same will be announced at a later point in time.
Your capacity and utilization levels? Any increase in capacity planned?
Our manufacturing facility has a capacity of producing 30,000 vehicles per annum (across two shifts). Currently, we do not foresee a need to increase capacity
What are your investment plans over the next couple of years? How would they be funded?
We will strongly be looking at new products and technologies as well as supporting electrification of a couple of models from M&M’s existing platform. New launch markets have been identified to maintain our leadership in this direction.



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