How a visit to China helped this entrepreneur shape his EV startup making LCV vehicles for last-mile logistics
If you visit Delhi, you will see electric autorickshaws plying the road. Today, there are close to a million electric vehicles (EVs) in the northern parts of India, with 6,50,000 autorickshaws having being sold in FY 2019 alone. However, these are autorickshaws that have little design elements to accommodate batteries aesthetically and their life cycle is not more than three years as their batteries are depleted due to continuous charging. Moreover, they are used only for passengers.
But Euler Motors has a solution. The startup, born in 2018 in New Delhi, is now building an EV autorickshaw to carry cargo. Founder Saurav Kumar explains that theirs is a load carrier in the light commercial vehicle (LCV) sub-600 kg load segment, fitted with a battery that can last for five years or more.
“This is possible by working on the right chemistry to increase battery life and to work on an architecture that can make batteries handle extreme temperatures,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur explains.
Euler Motors has raised $2 million from Blume Ventures and Emergent Ventures and will release its EVs by next year.
A true engineer
In 2004, Saurav was in the race to enter one of the top engineering colleges in the country. He was preparing for the moment from his middle school years, but, unfortunately, the teenager was left disappointed and frustrated when he did not crack the entrance exam.
But time is a great healer and a teacher. Saurav looks back on the 15 years that followed, when he did get an engineering degree, worked for the likes of Yahoo and Moat, and sold a startup to Paytm, and says, “It is funny to remember those early days where everything was to top an exam or a science fest. Any engineer must see the larger picture. There are bigger things to solve.”
Hence, Saurav became a true engineer and slowly chipped away at the larger picture over the past one and a half decades by immersing himself in learning and implementing deep technology. During his stint at Delhi Engineering College, he was also a summer intern at the Indian Institute of Science, where he studied the Mars Exploration Rover (MER)'s Stereo Vision approach to estimate disparity map and implemented the approach on a ground vehicle developed at the Artificial Intelligence & Computer Vision Lab at IISc, Bangalore.
After graduating from Delhi Engineering College, and later Cornell, in 2011, Saurav designed and implemented machine learning (ML) science modules and algorithms for optimising search results and ranking shortcuts at Yahoo. At Moat, he built, using ML again, computer vision to extract information on ad engagement and other data. This exposure to deep tech inspired Saurav, who was working in the Bay Area, to aspire to become an entrepreneur himself.
Saurav co-founded his first startup, Cube26, to build operating systems for Indian mobile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)like Karbon, Micromax, and Lava. The firm, which also sold smart bulbs, raised close to $6.7 million from Tiger Global.
Once Cube26 was sold to Paytm for an undisclosed amount in 2018, Saurav immediately set up Euler Motors. And the idea for this startup occurred to Saurav in far-flung China.
“In the previous startup, I had travelled to China and witnessed the country’s manufacturing prowess. I realised that I could solve a few things in India. One was the ecosystem of LCVs – by moving over to electric, we could bring the transport costs down. Second, with a combination of good automotive technology and thermal management we could make the industry move towards electric vehicles,” says Saurav.
The future of last-mile logistics
The startup, when it launches its vehicle, will compete with EVs in the load carrier space to be launched by M&M. When several startups—in their bid to commercialise more sustainable mobility solutions—are launching EV passenger vehicles, buses and two-wheelers, Euler Motors took a different route.
There are more than 10.5 million LCVs in India, but by taking the EV road, Saurav wants to solve for last-mile logistics sustainably. The startup is working with ecommerce businesses and third-party logistics companies, like Udaan, BigBasket, Blue Dart, Ecom Express, and wholesale and retail business transporting to the end consumer.
Today, the startup has built a functional prototype, using just Rs 1 crore. Working on lithium ion technology, Euler Motors is currently building partnerships with all fleet owners.
“We have an app that tracks all the performance of the EV, including range, temperature and location. The startup will also partner with companies setting up charging infrastructure. This makes our offering a ‘mobility-as-a-service’,” the founder adds.
At present, there are close to 100 charging stations in Delhi, which Euler could bank upon.
Saurav notes that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the vehicles will be brought down with Euler’s EV LCV, as the driver partners or owners need not spend the Rs 350 for 100 km on an average on fuel that they typically did every day.
An average EV of 3KW motor and a 5KwH battery has a TCO of only Rs 20 for 100km. The only question now is adoption from the industry and the pricing of the vehicle, which Saurav does not want to disclose at this point.
An average autorickshaw costs Rs 2 lakh when running on compressed natural gas (CNG). Mahindra has released a passenger autorickshaw for Rs 1.12 lakh too. The factory, which Euler Motors is readying, has a production capacity of 50 vehicles a month and currently boasts of a 1,000-vehicle order book.
Saurav’s Euler Motors promise to bring the TCO down is a great USP for the firm. Only time will tell if he got the math right and he is able to pay homage to the great mathematician his startup is named after.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)