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Regen e-bikes revving up India’s green transition through local manufacturing

Regen e-bikes are 100% made in India, with at least half of the components manufactured in Raipur

Regen e-bikes revving up India’s green transition through local manufacturing

At the recent EV India 2023 Expo, Bizz Buzz had a chat with Anurag Dubey, the All India Head of Regeneration E-Bikes, Central India's first electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer. Since 2018, this leading two-wheeler manufacturer from Chhattisgarh has been building 'Desh Ki Sawari' - as they proudly call their Relecto Regen e-bikes - making them in India for India and the world, with a particular focus on motorcyclists in India's rural heartlands. In the wake of the government's gigantic push for clean energy, Dubey discusses what it is like accelerating a petrol-free India in the backdrop of the broader EV landscape

Are Regen e-bikes 100 per cent made in India?

Yes, indeed. At least half of the components, including essential parts like chassis, panels, body parts, nuts, and bolts, are manufactured in Raipur. Other details, like motors and controllers, are sourced from different vendors across India. Our batteries are sourced from Ipower. We are committed to supporting domestic production.

How has the market responded to electric bikes so far?

The adoption rate could have been faster, but there's progress. People must grasp the total cost of ownership for e-bikes versus petrol motorcycles. Many middle-class folks still hesitate to go electric due to the higher price tags of e-bikes. They overlook long-term fuel savings. But this mindset is now seeing a shift. The governments also pitching in– they've removed custom duties on lithium-ion batteries, and some states waived road tax and registration fees for EVs. Plus, they're slapping pollution charges on traditional engines. Currently, EVs hold 8 per cent of India's auto market share, but it's growing steadily. With climate regulations looming, we might say goodbye to traditional engines sooner than we think.

What do you think of the imported e-bikes flooding the Indian market?

Many companies have been importing EVs from China and selling them in India, often neglecting the after-sales services. But we're not just doing a business; we're building a brand. In India, a single influential recommendation, like your 'papa ji' approving a product, can lead to three generations of your family becoming loyal to that brand. Here, peer group influence plays a crucial role in shaping buying decisions. It's not always about personal preference; it's often about what your neighbors are doing – a prevalent status symbol mentality. Recognizing these trends, we've worked tirelessly to create a brand that resonates deeply with the masses. We understand that riding electric bikes requires a different skill set compared to traditional bikes, which is why we prioritize educating our customers so they are well-prepared when they ride our e-bikes home.

Can India excel in EV manufacturing, even as China has already established itself in this industry?

There's no reason why India can't! It's all about having the right vision. Presently, India is under the leadership of Union Minister Gadkari, and whether it's building roads or manufacturing vehicles, he has a unique growth mindset. We're leveraging his approach and aligning our efforts accordingly. Our goal is to introduce products that not only look and feel Indian but also resonate deeply with the Indian identity.

Speaking of vision, how effectively do you believe the ‘Make in India’ initiative can be implemented?

The key is to eliminate unnecessary imports and reduce costs. Anything that can be produced domestically must be produced domestically. It is utmost critical to identify such items. I recall a trip to China where I noticed three motors that appeared identical, yet their pricing and performance differed significantly. Initially, we imported motors for sampling when we started. However, we've since shifted gears and begun manufacturing our own motors right here in India. Even our lower-end e-bike models now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the higher-end ones in terms of both quality and performance.

Can India support robust EV research and development (R&D)?

Our R&D has led us to the moon! And it's absolutely pivotal for our sector's growth too. We have experts in various Indian cities tirelessly pushing the envelope in electric bike innovation. While I can't disclose all the details just yet, we're building something gamechanging for e-bike charging.

Interesting! Could you shed light on the gamechanging features of your e-bikes?

Our e-bikes offer rapid charging, typically taking just three to four hours to reach full capacity, and they offer impressive ranges from 125 to 150 km, depending on the battery's power. What sets us apart is our use of low-cost, non-toxic, and highly safe lithium magnesium ferrophosphate (LMFP) batteries, which eliminate the risk of explosions or fires. Also, we use FRP material for the body. In the event of a severe accident, it may crack but never shatter. This fire-resistant material, also employed by the Indian Railways for their new trains, is both durable and cost-effective.

Are you pursuing international partnerships?

Absolutely, with the government's backing for expansion! Our primary target for exports is the Indian diaspora abroad. Countries like South Africa favor Indian products and are cautious about Chinese alternatives. Vietnam also holds promise. Despite the Philippines' current preference for Chinese goods, we aim to gradually introduce high-quality Indian alternatives. While China may excel in quantity, consistent quality is where we stand out.

How does the Goods and Services Tax (GST) affect your business in light of Prime Minister Modi's emphasis on ease of doing business?

Taxation is a genuine concern for us. Various components of e-bikes attract different GST rates, ranging from 28 per cent to 12 per cent. Despite this variation, we charge customers a flat 5 per cent GST when selling fully assembled vehicles. To ensure fairness and simplicity, it's crucial for components like motors, batteries, tires, lights, and others to have consistent GST rates. While offering a 5 per cent GST rate to customers may seem appealing, it masks the fact that we've already incurred higher taxes on individual parts. In the end, these costs trickle down, impacting the affordability of our vehicles.

There are electric two-wheelers in the Rs 30,000-40,000 price range. How do they compare?

The Rs 30,000-40,000 price range options may seem tempting, but it's essential to understand the context. In China, you can find similar models for as low as 5,000-10,000 bucks. These are typically lower-grade vehicles that are not used there and get exported to India. The quality of the vehicle depends on the motor, the controller, and the battery installed, all of which influence the pricing. We prioritize quality by using only the highest-grade components. Our motors and controllers are made in India. We manufacture our batteries in Delhi. While our upfront cost may be around Rs 1,50,000 rupees, you have to consider that we're providing you with five years' worth of fuel with the product.

Can the middle class afford your e-bike?

Certainly. Consider this: if someone spends roughly 100 rupees on petrol daily, it adds up quickly, making petrol options costlier. In contrast, you can fully charge our e-bikes for just about 10 rupees on average, and travel up to 150 km.

So, is cost-saving the primary selling point?

Yes, although there's still limited awareness about this aspect of savings.

What about college students? Will they consider buying a bike costing over 1 lakh rupees?

Yes, they will, or rather, their parents will. It's more cost-effective when you consider the savings on petrol.

How did the pandemic affect your operations?

We were going to launch an electric car and had a joint venture with Japan, but that project had to be postponed.

Do Indian electric vehicles meet international standards?

Yes, Indian electric vehicles not only surpass the quality of their Chinese counterparts but also remain competitive with vehicles from European countries, where prices tend to be higher. The crucial factor is battery cost, which directly impacts affordability.

Can India build more affordable electric vehicles?

Absolutely! Currently, the United States, China, and Australia, with their lithium reserves, can offer cheaper EVs. However, India is actively exploring potential lithium sources near Jammu and Kashmir. If these sources yield high-quality lithium, our current battery costs, which stand at 60,000 rupees, could tentatively drop to 15,000 rupees, making affordable EVs a reality.

Can we completely eliminate the carbon footprint of the EV industry linked to production and transportation?

While manufacturing an EV's battery and charging an EV do consume energy, still the overall carbon pollution from an EV throughout its lifetime is lower than that of a petrol-powered vehicle. Regarding transportation, emissions are inevitable unless the entire fleet switches to electric.

How do you compete with established EV giants like Ola Electric?

We're expanding with 270 dealers in the next six months, potentially selling 32,400 vehicles annually. Ola Electric primarily offers scooters at the moment, but rural India, where the majority resides, demands motorcycles. Our strategy is to enter these regions through dealers and agents, targeting economically well-off Indian farmers. In every village, you'll find young men with motorcycles. More than a product, it's an emotion and a status symbol. Our electric motorcycles are designed with this in mind. We aim to tap into the sentiment where electric bikes mean 'Relecto' or 'Desh ki Sawari'.

Heena Kohli
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