Read Rahul Gonsalves' (Co-Founder, DARWYN) views on EV industry, their products and battery assembly
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
DARWYN Ventures recently released its electric motorcycle prototype called 'Theta' which is targeted towards hyperlocal delivery. They are also working on a plan to launch a battery assembly facility with a capability to produce batteries within a wide specification range.
In our next installment of the Thought Leadership series, we had an opportunity to talk to Rahul Gonsalves, Co-founder & CEO, DARWYN and discuss his views on their product, plans for battery assembly facility and the electric vehicle industry in India.
Aurora Ventures: Tell us more about DARWYN. How did the founding team come together and what was the idea behind launching the company?
Rahul: DARWYN came to fruition after the team previously worked on high priced premium vehicles for clients as projects. We wanted to develop an accessible product to the masses, but a high quality vehicle that has high utilization. We focus on ‘high utilization’ as the truth is for half of the life of the vehicle, it is standing and this leads to waste of utilizable resources. Thus our first product has to have a minimum utilization rate of 80% with regard to time. We spoke to a number of Businesses in product distribution, food delivery, E commerce delivery, flower delivery, On demand services, bike taxi companies and a number of small business who use 2 wheelers within their business model. The experiences we recorded and data we collected helped us to design and develop the Theta.
Aurora: The adoption rate for electric vehicles in India has not been very rapid. Which segments of transportation you believe will be electrified first in India?
Rahul: Most users today know that an electric vehicle is way cheaper to run as the electricity is cheaper on a per km basis to fossil fuels, the trade off to be made is the high upfront cost of the vehicle. As the number of EVs increase and the production of batteries and mining of key elements increase by a factor of 2, we will see the electric vehicles match the current prices of fossil fuel vehicles, that is when buying an EV will be a no brainer. Till then, we believe there are few segments that would see high EV uptake, these would pave way and pay for the charging infrastructure and service networks across brands. The vehicles with utilization above 80% by time or premium vehicles be it cars or bikes make sense today. I specifically see a lot of demand from companies working on the first and last mile of logistics and delivery along with mobility solutions in crowded cities.
Aurora: Currently the battery pack supply chain is in a state of flux. Importing a pack is difficult and although there are many startups assembling the packs in India, none of them have come up as a major player yet. How do you think the segment will mature?
Rahul: Assembling battery packs is a whole new ball game, it is a new line of business, traditionally we have lacked the technical knowhow or will to invest in the research needed to develop the battery packs. The battery pack problem is a two part problem.
The first part is the manufacturing of the cells, a task broken up into three major components, the Knowhow, the raw materials and the manufacturing scale. Patents and knowhow to manufacture lead acid cells, since open sourced are wide spread in india, the raw materials are easily available and there is a growing recycling industry as well, however when it comes to lithium Ion batteries, the patents have been made water tight by the larger conglomerates, Panasonic, Samsung, LG, BYD and Tesla this stifles innovation and makes it difficult for smaller companies working on new anode and cathode chemistries as some must haves have to be licensed from these giants of industry!
The second part is the assembly of these cells into battery packs. This is the space that most Indian startups are entering, the reason I haven’t seen anyone really hit scale is majorly because of the level of maturity in the market. Most companies are successfully making, testing and launching prototypes but scale adoption on roads have not been seen yet. We are going after this problem by setting up a 1GWh lithium ion assembly plant, this should be able to suffice demand for 30% of the projected electric two wheeler sales till 2030.
Aurora: So, what are the advantages of assembling the packs domestically? Do you think local assembly would have a price advantage over imported alternatives, considering that India doesn’t manufacture any lithium cells?
Rahul: The two methods to manufacture the lithium ion packs include importing the cells and making the packs domestically or importing the packs. The advantages of assembling the packs locally are manifold, starting from tighter quality control, faster turn around time and vertical integration in supply allowing for faster manufacturing cycles.
If we try to compare the cost of manufacturing the packs in India vs Importing them there are a number of factors that would positively or negatively affect the cost, if an entrepreneur is looking for tighter vertical integration, Battery management system design and IP held in house and a battery casing that is a structural or cosmetic part of the vehicle, would get a 20% cheaper cost if done in India, not factoring in any make in India subsidies. 30-35% reduction in cost over china could be achieved if these are factored in. If an entrepreneur is looking to assembly quickly the BMS, cells and casing and focuses on getting to market first, albeit an inferior product, china would obviously be the bang for the buck.
Aurora: India’s policy making for the industry has been not very stable. There have been shifts in the vision and delays in implementation. Do you think the government needs to do more to support the industry?
Rahul: I am a firm believer in a capitalist society and strongly believe that uptake of electric vehicles or any new technology has to be and will always be driven by business innovation. The best example being BSNL and its attempt to get telecommunication to the masses vs jio, the actual innovation that helped the next billion Indian users get online. Industries like solar, banking and insurance have seen government policies and initiatives work in their favor too, so its a mixed bag there.
Any help from the government, in a frictionless non intrusive way is welcome, but I am wary of dependence on the government to prop up the industry, I have told people in the past, “waiting for government is like waiting for the ship at the harbor, not knowing it has already sunk”
We would like to thank Rahul for sharing his views with us.
Aurora Ventures offers supply chain support and consulting from China for Electric Vehicle companies. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.