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Sohinder Gill

CEO – Global Business, Hero Electric &

Director General, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV)

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ELECTRIC VEHICLES There is still a lot to be done to make India a truly EV-friendly country

Dec 21, 2020

…mentions Sohinder Gill, CEO – Global Business, Hero Electric & Director General, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), in his interview with Anvita Pillai. A brand with a vision of providing mobility solutions to millions in India, today, Hero Electric is a pioneer and market leader in the Indian two-wheeler segment offering ecological solutions to customers and helping make the country greener. In this interview, Gill elaborates on the effect of the pandemic on sales, how to counter the range anxiety in consumers, measures to increase adoption of EV and more. Excerpts…

Hero Electric had launched three new EV models and two more launches were in pipeline at the Auto Expo 2020. How do you think the pandemic has affected the sales cycle of these new launches? As a domino effect of the pandemic, do you think there would be a further deceleration or acceleration in the adoption of EV two/four wheelers?

The pandemic has certainly had an impact on the buying habits and trends of the consumers, as a result of which the product line-up set for sales in 20-21 has also been affected but marginally. There has been no significant change as far as the buying trends or purchase decisions are concerned; however, the only impact on sales has been a delay in the said purchases. The pandemic, especially during the big lockdown, was an uncertain time for the industry without any foreseeable sureties; however, coming out of it, the market started to normalise and sales have picked up. For us, the lockdown was a rather unusual time since our sales never stopped, rather it picked up as soon as consumers realised the impact removing polluting petrol vehicles can have on the environment. The lockdown has taught us that there would only be an increase in the EV sales trends, especially E2Ws, as they are more within the financial reach of the majority of Indians. As mentioned earlier, the pandemic and lockdown highlighted why the country needs to shift to clean mobility more than ever. The fastest way to achieve this is through electric two-wheelers, which in turn will also have the biggest impact.

Indians have an underlying anxiety when it comes to EV adoption and it still prevails despite the measures taken by various governments and EV companies. Why do you think Indian consumers haven’t been able to instil their faith in EVs compared to consumers in other countries? What can the government and EV companies do in a joint venture to overcome these hurdles?

Government efforts or brand campaigns aside, any new technology has a stall period during which the adoption rate is incredibly slow. EV technology is no different. Apart from initial apprehension towards the new technology, the major problem is awareness. Most people are unaware of the EV technology even existing. Amongst those who are aware of it, there are two types of consumers – the early adopters and the fence-sitters and with the latter, there is a rather chicken and egg situation where the consumer says he needs to see a robust infrastructure which supports EVs before he switches while the government bodies and authorities say there need to be more vehicles (sales) to make a large and robust infrastructure which is financially feasible. The companies and government authorities are already doing all they can to make EV adoption more lucrative for consumers, but there is still a lot to be done, such as tax rebates, pan India road tax exemption, subsidising components (for manufacturers), fleet purchase by government sectors, mandating EVs for commercial use, subsidising low-speed E2Ws and more.

COVID-19 has proven to be a rather difficult time for the automotive sector. How has the company been working towards uplifting/keeping all its fragments (dealers, suppliers, customers, etc) engaged throughout the period?

Our dealers and customers are what make Hero Electric what it is. It has always been our priority to ensure their well-being, satisfaction and happiness. During the lockdown, we held many online sessions for our dealers as well as our customers on various topics, from maintaining composure and business operations during times such as the pandemic to upskilling, training and informative sessions, to get our dealers and customers better acquainted with the brand behind the bike.

For our customers, we have been in constant touch with them via emails, phone calls and messages, ensuring their well-being. We have also held COVID-proof home services for their e-bikes to keep their vehicles in top order in a time where vehicles were unused for a long time. We also introduced many schemes and offers throughout the lockdown period to make sure that owning an e-bike was easier & cheaper while extending and/or foregoing old dues by our dealer network to reduce financial and operation strains.

Hero Electric has come out with a ‘No License No Registration required’ strategy. Can you elaborate more on this and how it helps in boosting EV two-wheeler adoption?

The category ‘No Licence No Registration’ emerged from e-bikes which have a top speed of 25 kmph. Under the Motor Authorities’ rule in India, vehicles which do not exceed a top speed of 25 kmph do not need to be registered with the RTO or require a DL to drive. This segment has been India’s favourite segment so far, as it makes ownership extremely easy since it can be ridden by anyone in the family, who either does not have or doesn’t wish to possess/renew a DL, such as homemakers, senior citizens, college students aged 15-17, etc. It fulfils their need for personal mobility without the extra hassle of owning a full-powered vehicle, which in turn also ensures their safety. It is this ease of ownership that has made the ‘No Licence, No Registration’ segment most popular amongst consumers and has boosted EV sales in the past. However, going forward, we must come to an understanding that the point of an EV is for each EV to replace its ICE/petrol vehicle counterpart as it’s that which will help reduce air pollution levels in the country – and that segment lies in the city speed segment which does require a DL to ride and needs to be registered.

Besides the measures already implemented, what sort of norms are you expecting the government to bring in to ensure growth in EV adoption?

As mentioned earlier, there is still a lot to be done to make India a truly EV-friendly country. There are expectations from the customers as well as manufacturers to drive EV penetration in the country across all sectors, such as E2Ws, E3Ws, e-cycles, E4Ws, e-buses, battery manufacturing, etc. Steps such as offering tax rebates or higher income tax returns for being an EV owner, removal of road tax & parking charges, free charging infra (in the initial stages), dedicated EV spaces (parking lots, road lanes, etc), standardisation of batteries and chargers across brands (as with mobile phones) are a few things to start with to push the adoption of EVs within consumers.

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  • Sohinder Gill, an alumnus of Delhi College of Engineering with a Mechanical Engineering degree and a Business Management qualification, started his career with Larsen & Toubro in the aerospace division and was part of the team developing the Satellite Launching Vehicle for Indian Space Research Organisation. As a strategic thinker with a keen interest in business process re-engineering & new product development, he has an overall professional experience of 35 years out of which more than 25 years have been in the automotive industry.

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