From a peak 12,000 happy customers in 2016 to dropping to nothing, and then coming back is something Dhivik Ashok knows all about. Here’s why he is focussing on electric vehicles for the long run.Vishal Krishna
It was back in 2009, Dhivik Ashok, the then 25-year-old entrepreneur, and his father Ashok sat in their living room to discuss the future of mobility in India. From there, together, they went on to form the electric scooter company GoGreenBOV. By 2015, the father-son duo had a million dollars in revenue, and were poised to grow bigger.
But, in 2016, the two realised their bikes were dying early because of lead acid batteries. And so, the team went deep into R&D from the profits they had made. Soon, the market wrote them off.
Today, Dhivik is a 35-year-old man, wiser beyond his years. He knows the electric vehicle industry inside out. After spending three years in the jungle, the GGBOV team is back with a bang. And unknown to many, the company is piloting its bikes with a major ride-hailing company.
It also has a bunch of delivery and ecommerce companies talking to it to acquire its solution. And the company also has a blueprint for a B2C business for 2020. Their investment of Rs 6 crore seems to have paid off, or has it? The new bike shown in the picture below shows Dhivik testing the bike by himself in Bengaluru. Dhivik says he has tested this bike over more than 100,000 km.
GGBOV had a very unassuming beginning. Up until 2009, the father-son duo had been retro-fitting gas kits to cars for almost a decade, and realised the bet on electric vehicles because the total cost of ownership was cheaper than petrol-run two-wheelers.
Early vehicles could go up to 80 km for just eight rupees. They invested Rs 24 lakh and began sourcing electric vehicle components from China, assembled them in Bengaluru, and sold them to over 50 customers. The first batch was an absolute hit in terms of sales. But there were several unhappy customers too. The bikes had motor issues, refused to start sometimes, and would stall. That’s when the company began to take control of components like battery and motor that they should order and perfected the assembly.
And so, GGBOV became an R&D company.
Around the same time, in 2010, Chetan Maini’s electric car company Reva was acquired by Mahindra & Mahindra and GGBOV realised that interest in electric vehicles was picking up in India. The government continued to provide a subsidy to electric bikes up to Rs 20,000.
The fascination for low-cost bikes continued with a few customers in India and GGBOV sold around 2,500 vehicles. In 2014 and 2015, the interest levels peaked as the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan proposed subsidies drove more individuals to buy electric bikes. GGBOV sold around 10,000 pieces by 2015, and a large ecommerce company decided to work with them as well.
At the time, the company had 86 employees and were looking at big deals. Like a majority of electric bike companies, GGBOV were also operating in the lead acid category as lithium battery/cells cost was prohibitive. While the former was at $190 per kwh, the latter cost around 700$ per kwh. Says Dhivik,
“Today, as the costs are coming down, the attention has moved to lithium batteries globally.”
Soon, the company realised they had put their trust in a battery technology that would not help them scale. The vehicles’ performance was falling within eight months when used in gruelling conditions. Continuous usage would discharge the batteries faster and efficiency was fast degrading.
Dhivik had a difficult decision to make - he had an order of 600 vehicles from one of the largest ecommerce companies, ready to sign the contract. But, the entrepreneur pulled the plug because he knew that he could deliver a better product. He says,
“I did not go ahead with it because I realised that the era of lead acid batteries was up. I knew I had to redesign the whole vehicle for lithium ion batteries, which were far more efficient and long lasting for the delivery business. So, I went back to the drawing board.”
As a result, the team dropped from 86 to 16, and revenue became nil. All their 96 dealers did not like the R&D move and closed their doors to GoGreenBOV.
Between 2016 and 2019, the company filed close to 16 patents in EV technology with the most prominent one being in a software that manages drive patterns of a customer to give peak power. “Our focus in R&D has been on improving the life and operation of a battery pack. With that as a singular focus, we are proud to have patents in various stages of approvals in the battery space alone. Because of the advancements that we have made, we also showcased our innovations at the CES ‘2019,” says Dhivik. In fact, GoGreenBOV was the only Indian EV Company to showcase at CES, and was highly appreciated.
Its current focus is only on B2B and the vehicles are not made for speed, but for carrying capacity and torque. The company plans to put out 10,000 vehicles by the end of next year and to scale up to 40,000 by FY21.
Dhivik says, “I believe that we will be setting up fixed charging infrastructure at offices and later at homes. It is far more efficient than setting up swapping batteries because of the cost benefits.” The company also has a manufacturing plant in Kolar and can make 10,000 vehicles a year and increase this capacity as per growth in FY 2020.
At present, the co-founder is raising money to expand B2B operations. He does not want to reveal the pilots that he has signed up. GoGreenBOV is looking at vehicle as a service, a sort of lease model that includes accident insurance, and at several new possibilities to work with customers to usher in electric mobility.
According to SIAM, the current market size of EVs in India is not more than 100,000 vehicles. Niti Aayog wants it to be 30 percent of the country’s mobility solution by 2030. Companies like Strom, Tork, Orxa, Ultraviolette, Emflux and others, ably supported by EV charging companies like Magenta and Sun Mobility, are already ushering in the new era.
Did you know that an electric vehicle makes no noise as it whizzes past you. Is it the end of a century of automobile-based noise pollution?