Though Indians are concerned with rising petrol prices, we as customers haven’t actually moved away from petrol. The launch of Nano was probably an example of how Indians will buy a cheap petrol car but not a same price electric car.
However, the market is slowly changing with the introduction of CNC in auto-rickshaws and a few cars too. Reva (started as a college project by Chetan Maini which was later built under a company) is possibly the only innovative automobile we have seen in India so far. Post acquisition, Reva is now with Mahindra which has just launched its new electric car.
The journey so far
Rising petrol prices and its implications on the environment is a serious concern facing major automobile giants globally. Nikhil Khurana’s Folks Motor Corporation is trying to implement hybrid technologies in automobiles, something which these giants have been trying for the past few years.
Nikhil had started this project as part of his research work in December 2010 during his first semester. As a curious kid, he would read and explore all the material that was available on the web related to hybrid vehicle technologies and related patents. Before getting into college, he had some basic information of all the conventional and advanced technologies of automobiles. While in college, he had set his goals clear to build the next era of automobiles. After six months, he had the concept ready and approached Indian automobile giants to form a collaboration to develop the technology. He signed NDAs with them to protect his intellectual property as he didn’t have any filed patents back then.
Despite his pursuit to make automobile giants believe in this idea, he realised that none of them were willing to invest in the concept he was working on. Later, his two friends joined him in this journey and they officially founded the company, Folks Motor. He did try convincing investors to believe in the concept and invest but did not find much success in this path too.
Meanwhile, he was still in college where he was struggling to cope with academics and at the same time was confused about his future. But his father helped the team with the filling of patents, which proved to be a great help.
Today, they have secured a manufacturing partner who helps them in the manufacturing process. His relentless efforts to strive hard to make hybrid work are slowly bearing fruits, but he still has a long way to go.
Folk Motors helps customers transform their present car into a Hybrid Vehicle (Parallel-Hybrid Configuration) using their Published Patent Technology and Hybrid Transmission System Platform, with close to 40% increase in fuel efficiency. Their current service ranges close to Rs. 1 lakh but they are planning to reduce this cost considerably.
“We are targeting a dynamic urban car user who uses his car for daily commuting and some frequent trips for holiday with an average run >1000 kms per month,” says Nikhil.
Challenges before the team
Narrating his challenges, Nikhil says, “After approaching many companies to form a collaboration to develop my technology, I realised that no company was willing to invest in my concept project. So I started my company looking for investors (I didn’t get any). Later, I started filling my patent applications with my father’s help (it took me six months to convince him).”
The fact that they were looking for investors in the automotive/auto ancillary sector, is itself a challenge because investors usually warm up to sectors like internet, healthcare and other service providing businesses.
Their plan to manufacture new age Hybrid Vehicles in India and compete in a dominant heavy industry sector was another tough challenge.
Being a student and working on a hardware product is another great challenge in itself. Building hardware products involves huge capital investments coupled with lots of wastage generated while developing/fabricating.
“The hardware community in India is in a very nascent stage. Firstly, I don’t think there is any shift towards going to a hardware startup and it doesn’t interest investors as well,” adds Nikhil.
He believes that there is too much buzz around internet-based startups and not enough attention is given to the hardware startups. He adds that even young college students with a keen interest to innovate are not able to follow their dreams. He believes building a hardware community by fellow entrepreneurs and investors along with a few incubators and accelerators will help boost the hardware revolution in India.
Future of auto Industry in India
Nikhil has put great efforts convincing investors and automobile giants in believing in his concept, and has been able to gauge the
response to this technology. So instead of kickstarting and building a new urban hybrid SUV, he believes that the way to implement his technology would be to concentrate on the Hybrid Car Conversion Space. He wants to build his own hybrid vehicle one day.
According to the definition of a hybrid vehicle, it is a vehicle which runs on petrol/diesel and electric power which regenerates electricity with regenerative breaking. Folks Motor’s published patent, Hybrid Transmission/Gear Box for Regeneration of power for Automobiles, is a process by which a consumer’s car will regenerate electrical power when the driver slows the vehicle when brakes are applied, and whenever the driver changes gears or applies the clutch which happens very frequently in urban driving conditions, charging the battery. The battery then releases the energy to the electric motor, helping propel the vehicle when the driver accelerates on electric power. Distribution and marketing is the challenge all hardware startups face in the beginning and most adopt the B2B channel. He has been considerably lucky enough till date to find customers who are willing to convert their current vehicles into hybrid ones.
At present, his company is based in Delhi NCR region, and wants to target the educated working class in the neighbouring areas of South Extension, Noida, and Gurgaon etc. He has plans to grow in other metros and Tier-I towns too.
The Indian auto industry is a conservative heavy commercial sector which depends on foreign technology solutions, and cars run on conventional petrol/diesel fuels.
Right now, the Indian customer doesn’t know much about this technology and products. The next phase of the auto industry is definitely Hybrid and Electric Vehicles coupled with the ‘connected car concept’.
Such young companies like Folk Motors are surely showing the way forward to other fellow hardware startups in India.