Bumpy road of technical challenges ahead for India's heavy-duty EV mkt
Entry of brands like Tesla and Jaguar in the electric vehicle (EV) space in India has further fuelled the demand for efficient automobiles. With this, comes the technological upgrade and demand of EV charging stations across the country, to ensure the ease of owning an EV and the last mile delivery assurance. Prashant Radhakrishnan, Vice-president and Head (Sales & Marketing, India), SEMA Connect spoke with Bizz Buzz on the growing demand of EV infrastructure amenities amongst residential real-estate and e-commerce giants in the country
Electric vehicle segment in India is enjoying a positive momentum and so do the allied industries such as EV hardware, charging stations. What are your thoughts on the rising demand for EV infrastructure in India?
If you look at the base of EV infrastructure, it is already available. We need final end points of distribution which is actually setting up charging points at various place. The reality is that you can charge EVs anywhere, even at your home itself. If you purchase a two-wheeler or four-wheeler, you get a charging cable along with it. These chargers will work with domestic electric supplies. Two-wheelers have smaller battery, 2kwh-3kwh sizes. Charging them is not an issue, you can do that with your 5 amp plug point.
The more vehicles are sold in the country, the more infrastructure for charging will also come up. But in some way, in order to sell more EVs, you need to have supported infrastructure. The real challenge in India and around the world, the demand will come naturally when there is better quality of EVs available in the market.
Heavy duty EVs comprises a minute fraction in the market. Do these vehicles require separate infrastructure?
In heavy vehicles, the problem is that we don't have too many (heavy duty) EVs. The other challenge is the size of the battery. The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the battery and hence the longer it will take the battery to get charged. So, the challenge is from heavy vehicle point of view, is the amount it would take to charge. So, in such cases provisions like fast-charging would be predominant. Yes, in India, the numbers are quite miniscule. I know a lot state governments are talking about the buses to be converted into EVs. But in my opinion, it is going to take a long time for those kinds of markets to mature, especially considering the factor how heavy-duty vehicles can be charged up with large batteries.
The challenge of introducing heavy-duty vehicles is not from the government, it is a technological challenge, and the industry needs to resolve it.
How much did the first wave of Covid-19 affect SEMA Connect business operations or revenue generation?
We are just launching our products in India now. We started our launch operations for Indian market only in April 2021. We've been here for years now, but India has been only our backend for all R&D, technology development, design and manufacturing, which we have done for outside markets. In 2020, our manufacturing to the US was impacted by Covid, especially in all the months when there was lockdown.
The difference we have noticed is that prior to 2020, a lot of our demand was coming from commercial real-estate. In Covid, since everybody started working from home, what we saw the demand shifted to residential real-estate. People wanted better (EV) charging in the house. A lot more of sales has shifted to residential real-estate.
Have you set any targets for India for this year?
Yes. We do have some goals, focus segments. I am not at liberty right now to discuss specific numbers, but I can tell you that the main segments that we will be focusing in India will be commercial real-estate, residential real-estate, large corporations, tech parks as well as retail. By retails, what I mean is malls, and public parking spaces, etc., which will be useful for the public. Right now, our product is only for four-wheelers, but by the end of this year, we will be coming up with products for two-wheeler and three-wheelers, which I think will be of immense value in India. The other segment of focus will be on e-Commerce since e-Commerce giants are trying to shift to EVs for their last mile fulfilment.
SEMA Connect has been manufacturing from India to other countries for almost a decade. When and how was the decision taken to sell your products in the domestic market?
We decided to launch our products in India in the late 2020. Given the governmental policies, the new EV two-wheelers like Ather, Bajaj Chetak, TVS and now Ola Electric and Tata bringing in new range of EVs, India is today in the top-5 passenger car vehicles markets in the world, the market has seen a boom in the last few years.
Are there are any other countries where you would be launching your products?
Not in this financial year. We've got our hands full along with complications of Covid. Because of lockdown in Karnataka, our shipment to the US has stopped from our factories. We see demand from emerging markets.
Unlike 2020, the second Covid wave in India has brought in state-wise lockdowns in selective regions. Has this disrupted the manufacturing operations or R&D in any way?
Yes, our manufacturing activity has been disrupted. We had to shut down our factory in Bangalore in this latest lockdown. There was a previous version of lockdown in April, where we were allowed to work. Till May 24, our factories will remain shut, along will delays in shipments and deliveries. On top of that, our R&D centre is also in Bangalore. That has been a big challenge since our engineers can't access the R&D facility. In R&D side, power and electric is not something that you can do from home. You need those chargers to test the machineries. This has hampered us in some ways. Hopefully, this doesn't continue and we can recover from these shut downs.
Have there been any revenue losses?
For our operations in the US, fortunately, we planned just before the second wave and built up some inventories in the US. We've shipped more products from India and stocked it in the US. Right now, we haven't had any revenue losses, but if the lockdown continues then without a doubt, it will hit us. Because if we are not able to move our product, then it's a challenge on the sales aspects.