Ather Energy channels its inner Tesla, banks on Impact report to strengthen portfolio and brand

Any established manufacturer stepping into the electric vehicle space would be elated to be mentioned in the same breath as Tesla – which has gained an impressively loyal following over the years – let alone a relatively young start-up. At this time, not many can earnestly draw parallels between themselves and Elon Musk’s firm, except for Ather Energy, which has become only the second vehicle manufacturer in the world after Tesla – and the first two-wheeler company in the world – to publish an ‘Impact Report’.

What are the highlights of this report?

The report – put together by Aspire Impact, an independent agency – highlights some key facts about Ather Energy; rounding up numbers that are worth a look. With data collected till March 2020, the report notes how the battery cells are the only component of Ather’s scooters to be imported into the country, with all of the scooter’s other 300+ components sourced locally. Basis the number of scooters sold till March last year, the report states Ather’s scooters managed to help save 7.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions and led to fuel savings of Rs 2 crore.

An important inclusion in the report is the mention of what Ather intends to do with batteries that will be discarded by those buying its scooters today in the time to come. Ather has said that once batteries eventually degrade to about 70 percent of their capacity, they will be taken in by the company and reused for a battery-based energy storage system (BESS), which would slowly help phase out diesel generators, further cutting down on emissions.

However, Ather Energy chief Tarun Mehta tells Tech2 that Ather doesn’t expect to receive batteries from those buying its scooters anytime in the foreseeable future.

Ather will give degraded batteries a second lease of life by reusing them in an energy storage system. Image: Ather Energy

Ather will give degraded batteries a second lease of life by reusing them in an energy storage system. Image: Ather Energy

“After three years of usage of the oldest scooters we’ve delivered, we’ve seen roughly about 10-12 percent degradation of the battery, with the scooter clocking 25-30,000 kilometres. There’s a long life left on those battery packs”, says Mehta, and customers will know discarding their batteries won’t harm the environment, but those will be given a second lease of life instead to further cut down on pollution.

Gender-specific insights

Among other interesting points mentioned in the report, the people aspect of it reveals the importance of factoring in the perception of different genders. Initially, Ather’s scooters didn’t find favour with women, and as company CFO Ravneet Phokela explained, that stemmed from several factors – one of them being the focus on the high-speed ability of the scooters, and another being the presence of advanced software, which some may not have immediately felt familiar with. Phokela spoke about how these insights facilitated by the report meant the company could repurpose how it promoted its products, and how it compels Ather to think differently when it comes to devising future products.

Women now account for 25 percent of all Ather Energy scooter buyers. Image: Ather Energy

Women now account for 25 percent of all Ather Energy scooter buyers – up from 12 percent in 2019. Image: Ather Energy

“The gender point is a super useful insight. Our products were not necessarily aimed at women initially. The perspective changes suddenly when you realise something like this impacts your overall impact score. So, we have to try selling in a more holistic sense than we do today. It becomes a talking point with the product team that there’s a need to think of a wider product portfolio than we have today”, says Mehta.

In 2019, women made up only 12 percent of Ather scooter buyers, but that number rose to 20 percent in 2020, and has further risen to 25 percent this year.

What is the point of an Impact report?

An Impact report takes a holistic view of a manufacturer’s business and activities, to hand out scores basis not just its products, but also factoring in the changes the company has been able to bring into effect with its operations. Ather Energy believes it is an instrumental development for strengthening its hold over a fast-developing electric two-wheeler market. In Mehta’s view, potential buyers knowing about what a company is doing to enhance its products, help save the environment and help develop its people will have a direct (and positive) impact on its growth, turning it from merely a vehicle manufacturer into a brand with loyalists – a lot like Tesla.

Customers seek a deeper connection with the brand these days, says Mehta. Image: Ather Energy

Customers seek a deeper connection with the brand these days, says Mehta. Image: Ather Energy

“I’m hoping that from a culture perspective, Ather is able to internalise these learnings and blend this into how we make a lot of our decisions. Unless you take these targets public, I don’t think you can make progress. From a business perspective, this creates that level of trust and aspiration that leads to a lot of followers who then trust you fully, and will support not just your product, but your mission”, he says.

Why increasing competition is a plus

It’s impossible for anyone to ignore the noise surrounding Ola Electric’s entry into the e-two-wheeler business. While some may see the prospect of Ola simply running away with a lion’s share of the market as a threat, Mehta tells Tech2 that competition picking up with Ola’s entry will make things easier for all players – in terms of changing perception, improving the supply chain and generating demand.

Ather Energy is already seeing a sharp rise in monthly sales and is targeting being present in 50 cities by the end of FY2022. Image: Ather Energy

Ather Energy is already seeing a sharp rise in monthly sales and is targeting being present in 50 cities by the end of FY2022. Image: Ather Energy

“This will help bring out the depth of EV demand in the market quite significantly, and that’s fantastic. A lot of these announcements have also helped educate more customers and make them aware that EVs are becoming real. A lot of deliveries to be made, but that’s okay. If this educates 10 million people that electric scooters are real; if it helps 10,000 complexes and RWAs realise they should figure out how to get charging points because there will be a flood of EV owners tomorrow; if it educates the supply chain that the EV transition is here and you better figure out how you will be supplying all the components for this new world, invest towards it right now… what’s to complain? It’s fantastic and helps everybody”, he says.

Mehta believes as much as half of India’s entire two-wheeler market could go electric in the next five years, potentially opening up volumes of up to ten million vehicles per annum for EV makers. While there certainly will be no dearth of competition by then, Ather Energy hopes its efforts – including the publishing of a meaningful Impact report – will help lay a foundation solid enough for it to capture a considerable chunk of the market in the coming years.