'We have taken huge strides towards New Gen Vehicles Based on Skateboard Architecture'

August 15, 2022
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One of the early adopters of EV in India, Tata Motors has studied the evolving market and is devising strategies to get hold of a big chunk. Anand Kulkarni, Product line Head – Passenger Electric Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors speaks to Aditi Kelkar from EV Story about the road ahead.

Can you give our readers an overview of the EV platform strategies devised by Tata Motors?

For the last 4 years, we’re on a mission to mainstream EV technology in India. This started off with the 2017 EESL contract for 10k vehicles. So, from a small beginning to taking on a completely new approach on building pure EVs like the recently showcased concept Avinya, we’ve come a long way. Not only are we the only ones to have such a big EV portfolio, but we also have rich data of how consumers in India tend to utilise electric vehicles and how they meet their use cases. That helps us to devise electric-specific strategies while evolving our platforms. As early adopters of EV in India we are working on multiple strategies, such as number of body styles and new technologies. We aim to launch 10 new EVs in the country by 2025.

Please elaborate on Tata Motors’ Gen1, Gen2 and Gen3 architectures.

Our electrification drive started with the Gen 1 cars, where we electrified some of our existing products and checked its suitability, adoption rates, customer requirements and effectiveness. We built on this feedback information and started evolving this architecture into Gen 2. We have also unveiled the Gen 3 architecture with Avinya.

These 3 EV architectures will help us drive in a range of EVs across various price points. The flexibility of the architecture allows for efficient scaling of the process. We have introduced products like the Nexon EV in January 2020, followed by the Tigor EV, Citron Platform and recently an enhanced variant of the Nexon EV with larger battery and newer technologies called Nexon EV Max. All these are based on Gen 1 architecture, derived essentially from their ICE equivalents. The current certified ranges vary from 250km to 430km+.

We showcased the concept curve in April 2022 which is based on the Gen 2 architecture. The Gen 2 approach aims to improve Gen 1 architectures while retaining the opportunity for the ICE vehicle developments as well. The design philosophy for Gen 2 is “Less is More”. Hence in this concept curve, modern SUV presents simplicity in its complexity. We have taken a large stride towards a new generation of vehicles based on “Skateboard Architecture”. This was exhibited in the latest unveil of Avinya which is a Gen 3 EV. Gen 3 has the ability to incorporate ADAS.

What have been the major consumer trends as captured by Tata Motors, in EV passenger vehicles?

Interesting question! EV sales growth is exceeding our expectations. We have sold over 31k EVs to date. Our quarterly sales surged with around 9280 cars sold in Q1. We also sold the highest ever monthly units, over 4k in July 2022. We have a large database of customer profiles, habits, usage methods etc. Most of our consumers are based in metros, in the age range of 35-40 years, with above average income. They typically have an EV as their second or third car and have a fixed commute within their city or at most 2 nearby cities. They are tech savvy and well-informed individuals with exposure to Indian and global trends. The customer cars have clocked approximately 320 million ‘Green’ km between them. We clock over 2 million km daily. This will have a significant impact on pollution, oil imports, fatigue-free easy drives.

Our readers will be excited to know about the research focus areas at Tata Motors, with respect to scalability.

We bring in proprietary technologies such as IVBACK: a brake blending energy recuperation device which allows for better energy recuperation for road-operation. Another area of research is thermal management strategies owing to the generally hot weather in India. We aim to make thermal management strategies energy efficient while ensuring safety.

What according to you are the possible hurdles for EV adoption in India? Is consumer awareness one of them?

From the consumer perspective, there are broadly two challenges:

a. The customer always feels “Yeh Dil Mange More”. They always want another 50 km in range.

b. Availability of charging infrastructure.

Nexon EV Max has 33% higher battery capacity and an ARAI-certified range of close to 435-440km. Tata Power provides EV charging solutions to Tata Motors. The entire ecosystem is called Tata “UniEVerse”. People would like accessible cars meeting safety requirements, both from battery safety and road safety perspective such as airbags, chassis systems, ABS, ESP etc. In a Roland Berger’s study 18 months back, the willingness of Indian consumer to consider an EV was 90% +. Not everyone will buy and might consider waiting but there will soon be a domino effect when the adoption will surge.

Will the legacy auto dealership model evolve or disappear with electric vehicles requiring less service and maintenance combined with a likely gradual move towards direct sales?

Quite a provocative question, Aditi! Well, EV is not a silver bullet, fit-it-and-forget-it solution. Traditional ICE vehicles needed frequent maintenance like oil change, filter change etc. But other parts like chassis, suspension, door mechanisms, locking, AC etc require similar level of support as that of ICE. More systems will become automated, go on diagnostics and will have to supported through tools. The level of intervention will be specialised. Diagnostics will guide servicemen towards the exact part needs repair and repair process. Vehicle downtime will be lesser. In the 2W and 3W market, people tend to give the vehicle to a local unauthorised garage vs OEM authorised service centre. This will be eliminated due to diagnostics thus becoming favourable for the dealerships.

With multiple studies evaluating the environmental impact of battery disposal, we would want to know your opinion on battery swapping.

Battery swapping doesn’t affect battery recycling. Battery swapping is done to achieve quick charging. This solution is applicable for 2W, 3W and maybe some smaller delivery vehicles. But cars with 400-450km range have a battery that can weigh 300-450kg. Swapping will require a precise, automated removal and refitment mechanism at the charging station. For battery swapping, there have to be universal interoperable standards. Standardisation conflicts with OEMs’ need to bring distinction and differentiation. Hence standardising swapping may be suitable only for a certain category but not for all EVs.

What according to you will be the major implications of EV adoption for multiple industries, countries, and society at large? How is Tata Motors planning this shift?

While it may require a higher upfront investment owing to more expensive components, depending upon the usage, people may receive payback on their investment anywhere from 2 years to as low as 1 year. This is an important reason why people may trade into an EV ecosystem from the current ICE. Traditional large Automotive suppliers are getting into designing and developing new components to tap into this value chain. We see our traditional ICE supplier partners showing interest in participating in the EV value chain. In order to avail the government subsidies, a certain level of the car (50%) has to be localised in India. If 50% of the car is not local, even at Tier III levels, one cannot get the subsidies. So, all our models currently are 50% local compliant. So, this governmental support will drive the volumes, accelerate the technology and help India become a dominant player in Automotive EV.

Is there an infrastructure to support electric vehicle recharging once it is adopted on a large scale?

We are selling about 4000 cars per month as of last month. These are amongst 275-280k total cars being sold in the Indian market. This amounts to 1.2-1.3% penetration. Typically, when penetration rates go beyond 5%, the trend catches up very fast. Penetration numbers would go up significantly over the next couple of years. All governments including the Indian Government are signatories to the COP and subsequently there are targets taken up for Net Zero. So, government policies are aligned towards supporting EVs which will act in favour of improved penetration. A relatively high double-digit penetration in the next 5-7 years shouldn’t be ruled out.

Our original approach to EV was slow and fast charging categories. So, in a society of say 100 people, if 4-5 cars started charging simultaneously, would it cause any trouble? The answer is no. People have been able to charge without significantly upgrading their electric infrastructure for home charging. Currently, there are at least 25 places on the Pune-Kolhapur route that are being used regularly, where you can get your vehicle charged. More stations will come up as penetration increases. Personally, I don’t see an issue in scaling the infrastructure like say a grid collapse due to overloading. There will obviously be constraints on number of cars that one station can simultaneously charge. Well defined standards will be developed for such and similar constraints. But this won’t be the bottleneck in the adoption of EV.

What would you want to leave the readers with on account of the 75th Independence Day and with India’s EV revolution?

The electric revolution is here to stay and transform the industry. As the leading electric car company in India, we are seeing the technology and our customers evolving. These customers were our early adopters, but now EVs are becoming more common and a viable given the multitude of options and growing infrastructure for charging. In India, Tata Motors is poised to lead this revolution of inducting EVs into mainstream mobility as our guiding aspiration. We are consolidating all our EV products under “Evolve to Electric”. To all your readers, I’d like to say: “Evolve to Electric” is the way to be.

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Aditi is an automotive enthusiast with a soft corner for the EV niche. She's a Computer Engineer who eventually found her literary artistic calling in an Imitiaz Ali-esque way. Her published book 'Moving Mumbai' is a collection of short stories and street photographs composed from the POV of a romantic new-girl-in-the-city. Aditi has written and sung 2 Hindi singles: 'Baarish' and 'Pao Kilo Adrak' which are available on popular music streaming apps. In her spare time, she consumes dog videos and scrumptious food that she cooks. She walks the fine line between insightful and incite-ful and is known to enjoy a good whiskey on a bad day. Ex-Mirchi, Ex-ad agencies (Mumbai circuit).

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