Hero MotoCorp, which announced a partnership with Taiwan-based battery swapping company Gogoro, said its new range of e-bikes with swapping technology will hit the Indian market next year, possibly as early as Jan-Mar.
Niranjan Gupta, Chief Financial Officer at the world’s largest two-wheeler maker, said the company is working on bringing out electric bikes that are based on its in-house fixed charging platform as well as Gigoro’s swapping solution.
“The timeline for both is next year,” Gupta told investors. He predicted that the year 2022 is “poised for a lot of action” in India’s electric two-wheeler maker as several brands come out with their products in this segment.
Gupta said Hero MotoCorp will “try to accelerate” the time-table for the launch as much as possible and is “targeting for the launch to be within FY22 itself.”
Despite being pressed, Gupta refused to reveal any details about the possible pricing or positioning, pointing out that it is competitively sensitive information. Hero MotoCorp has been working on developing a robust electric-bike technology at its in-house R&D units in Jaipur and Germany. However, the company last month announced a tie-up with Taiwan-based Gogoro.
Gupta said Gogoro, having started ten years ago, has valuable experience in the field of swappable battery technology that can help Hero MotoCorp come out with swapping-enabled bikes faster. Gogoro claims to have 3.75 lakh riders and 2,000 swapping stations in its home market.
“They know how it works, and a lot of learning has gone into it in Taiwan. That helps us get into it very very quickly,” the CFO said.
SWAPPING vs CHARGING
Swapping technology, such as the one used by Gigoro, involves the rider opening the seat cover, pulling out a battery that weighs around 9 kg, depositing it in a charging pod, taking out a charged one and inserting it into the bike.
The whole process takes only a couple of minutes, compared to anywhere from half an hour to 3-4 hours taken to recharge a completely exhausted bike battery in situ.
However, like most EV makers worldwide, Hero MotoCorp’s existing models support only in-place charging and do not have easily removable batteries for users to swap out.
However, the fixed charging model is considered more limiting as it restricts the range of the two-wheeler to anywhere from 40 km to 100 km, before the rider is forced to take a long break for charging.
For cars, the range is higher — in the range of 200-500 km, but the charging times are also higher and these batteries can take up to an hour even with fast-charging technology.
As a result, a person traveling the 1,300 km distance from Mumbai to Delhi in an electric car would need to take 3 to 5 charging stops, depending on the traffic conditions, AC-use and so on.
While companies like Tesla have come up with super fast charging technologies that can add 400 km by charging for 20 minutes, this still requires such expensive charging stations to be located at a lot of food courts and restaurants on India’s highways — something that will take 5-6 years at least.
Moreover, such technology is still very rare. In India, the Tata Motors’ Nexon EV can add a range of around 250 km by using a fast charger for 1 hour.
Still, it’s impossibly to manually swap out a electric car battery that weighs 350-500 kg like you can for a bike battery that weighs only 7 to 11 kg. Nevertheless, there are manufacturers who are exploring swapping technologies involving a completely mechanized process.
For now, Hero MotoCorp is hedging its bets on the choice of charging vs swapping.
“Our sense is that both will work in parallel to each other, given the entire appetite and the infrastructure that exists. In that sense, it is complementary that our investments allow us to play in both the spaces,” Gupta said.
He confirmed executives from Gogoro and Hero are busy working out the details of how to roll-out the battery swapping technology next year. It is yet to be decided as to who will own the charging pods and stations, and how the revenue will be shared.
“The business case, the investments and even the business model itself is being worked out. Once we do the business model, we can work out which way it will be done, whether it will be capital intensive, whether it will be franchised,” the CFO said.
Hero has been the most aggressive among mainstream two-wheeler makers in India to focus on the electric bike market, and has had e-bikes in the market for several years with its in-house, fixed charging technology.
However, said Gupta, even these models that are based on in-house technology will undergo an evolution that will see them get some kind of swapping support in the future.
“We will start with fixed charging, but gradually it will have a swapping option. Now we have the Gogoro, which is a ready swapping option, without waiting for a swap option to get developed on our own product,” he pointed out.
Gupta also indicated he is not losing sleep over the emergence of a large number of electric vehicle start-ups, such as Ultraviolette and Okinawa.
He pointed out that even Tesla founder Elon Musk had recently admitted that it’s far easier to create and demonstrate a prototype machine than to manufacture it at scale, market & sell it and offer after-sales support.
Indeed, many tech companies like Google and Apple who have been working on EV projects have been overtaken by traditional automakers like Ford and Volkswagen, proving that often scale and experience is more important than just technology.
This is even more so in case of swapping technology, which requires the bike maker to build or arrange for an entire network of swapping stations for the concept to work.
“Initially, there will be many new players that come [into the EV space]. That’s good for the category as well, because it allows the category to expand because everyone brings some capability or the other.
“But eventually, there will be consolidation, because this is not a play that is about aggregation, software or an app. It’s hard-core serving the customer on the vehicle, on service, operationally.. It’s not easy,” Gupta pointed out.