Electric vehicle manufacturer Gayam Motor Works allows e-vehicle owners to swap drained batteries with fully charged ones to eliminate charge-time waiting.
Autorickshaw driver Vijay Kumaram switched to an electric vehicle two years ago. Since then, business has improved as costs have fallen. Add to that the satisfaction of driving a vehicle that is not adding to the ever-increasing pollution on the streets.
Another benefit that Vijay has is that he doesn’t need to wait for hours charging his battery. He can simply swap his drained battery at a nearby charging hub.
Vijay is one of the many fleet drivers attached with various startups who are seeing the benefits of e-rickshaws and SmartAutos manufactured by Hyderabad-based Gayam Motor Works. The company manufactures electric vehicles and focuses on electric three-wheelers and electric bicycles.
However, running an electric vehicle in India comes with the challenge of battery charging stations. For an electric rickshaw, a single battery charge gives a running of 110-150 km, after which the driver has to wait three to four hours to allow the battery to charge.
“In India, introducing electric rickshaws is a real challenge because the drivers don’t even have a parking place for their vehicles, let alone for battery charging. The infrastructure for charging stations would cost massively to companies such as ours, so we decided to sell our vehicles to B2B (business to business) and B2G (business to government) segments. We created hubs at the premises of these clients for battery swapping service,” says Gayam Motor Works Co-founder Raja Gayam.
This model has two major aspects. First, the batteries are removable from the vehicles so they can be swapped and charged separately. Two, batteries are connected to cloud in real time. The drivers get a mobile application which is linked to the vehicle. It works like a dashboard, so when a battery begins to drain, he gets a notification along with the location for the nearest swapping station.
Today, the company’s clientele ranges from Uber in Singapore, Hong Kong, and the US, BigBasket, Ekart, and the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
While logistics companies deploy their vehicles for last-mile deliveries, government bodies are using them for municipal waste disposal applications and police patrolling. The battery exchange points are at the hubs of BigBasket, Ekart and government municipal offices.
How it began
For Gayam brothers – Raja and Rahul – vehicle manufacturing runs in their blood. Their father manufactured trucks and buses for the Government of Karnataka but shut down the business almost 10 years ago due to health reasons. Raja, after finishing his masters at the University College of London, restarted the business and converted it into a manufacturing unit for traditional autorickshaws. Gayam Motor Works started in 2010, and exported over 4000 petrol, CNG and diesel autorickshaws in the next three years.
Meanwhile, younger brother Rahul completed his Integrated Masters in Physics from the University of Hyderabad and worked in the US in the clean energy space with companies such as Sun Electronics and Smith Electric.
He developed commercial electric vehicles with industry-leading features such as integrated cooling system, Quadra-Drive system, smart battery monitoring system, which are essential for a future-proof design. Rahul is now working on developing ceramic super-capacitors that have the potential to replace batteries in electric vehicles, and have the added advantage of getting fully charged in a few minutes.
Rahul and Raja kept experimenting with manufacturing an electric vehicle while Raja ran the traditional business. The brothers were eventually joined by Harsha B as the chief operating officer. Harsha is an alumnus of IIIT-H and Stanford GSB.
“After years of R&D, we converted a Tata Nano into an electric vehicle, tested it and customised the performance and stability of the drivetrain for Indian roads. We later adopted it for our three-wheelers by making necessary modifications,” says Rahul.
“In 2014, we designed and developed electric three-wheelers for a Japanese firm. These vehicles were for the Asian Development Bank-funded “E-trike project” which aimed at replacing 1 lakh petrol-powered tricycle units with energy efficient electric vehicles in the Philippines. When we got to visit ADB’s headquarters in the Philippines, we realised that the key to electric vehicle adoption was to make charging as simple as going to a fuel station,” says Raja.
By 2015, GMW had started selling electric autorickshaw in the Indian market.
“More than 6lakhe-rickshaws with lead-acid battery technology are currently plying on Indian roads, most of them in NCR and West Bengal. Lead-acid vehicles take eight to nine hours to charge fully, and the batteries need to be replaced twice a year,” says Harsha.
The answer to this challenge was Lithium-ion batteries. These are smaller, lighter, more reliable, and durable, and improve the performance of a vehicle. While the company continued to manufacture electric rickshaws with lead batteries, the team introduced Lithium-ion batteries along with vehicles that can be charged using solar energy.
GMW’s range of vehicles
GMW has a range of vehicles to suit most requirements.
1. UrbanET – Passenger Smart Auto (Li-ion): An electric three-wheeler passenger autorickshaw powered by Li-Ion battery. It gives a mileage of more than 110km per full charge.
2. Taskman – Cargo SmartAuto (Li-Ion): An electric three-wheeled goods carrier.
3. eShaft – Passenger E-Rickshaw (Lead-acid): An electric three-wheeler passenger autorickshaw powered by a lead-acid battery. It has a mileage ranging between 60 and 90km per full charge.
4. eCargo – Pickup E-Rickshaw (Lead-acid): A variant of the three-wheeler passenger autorickshaw powered by lead-acid battery.
The electric bike
“In the process of giving pilots to several logistics companies and municipal corporations, we realised there is a need for an electric two-wheeler as well for last mile deliveries. So, we developed an electric two-wheeler – LIMITLESS Electric Bike. The running cost of our e-bike is 0.07 rupees per km and is the fastest means of transportation in traffic congested city environment,” adds Harsha.
These bikes have been bought by players such as Swiggy and UBEREats for food deliveries, BigBasket for grocery deliveries, and Microsoft India and ICRISAT campuses for internal employee commutes through e-bike sharing.
“We enable fleet tracking, battery health monitoring, geo-fencing, vehicle diagnostics and several other features to our B2B/B2G customers by connecting the fleet to mobile application and cloud through IoT. We are soon setting up solar powered battery swapping stations across different geographic regions in India.
The Indian government is currently drawing up the details of the plan to promote usage and convert most vehicles to electric by 2030. The Ministry of Power has already closed tenders to procure 10,000 high performance electric cars and is planning to invite bids for 50,000 electric three-wheelers by end of 2017 from OEMs,” says Harsha.
Competition and market
India is targeting to have six to seven million e-vehicles by 2020 under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme, an EninCon report said. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report said EVs are on track to accelerate to 54% of new car sales by 2040, while Allied Market Research Report said the global electric vehicle market was valued at $103.3 billion in 2016, and is projected to reach $350.9 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 19.8% from 2017 to 2023.
GMW faces competition from Kinetic and Terra Motors which manufacture lead-acid vehicles. “However, there’s no player yet in the market that’s focussing on Li-Ion three-wheelers on roads,” adds Rahul.
With more than 6,000 vehicles sold in more than 15countries, GMW may soon become a key player in delivering India’s vision for electrification of vehicles.