Electric bikes are definitely the next big thing. From being environment friendly to being the ‘super cool’ stud bike, these vehicles will certainly change the Indian mindset. In an exclusive interview with Reema Sharma and Diwash Gahatraj of Zeebiz.com, Sohinder Gill, Chief Executive Officer of Hero Eco talked about the prospects of electric vehicles in India, new range of products, company’s expansion plans and opportunities. Excerpts…
Q: How do you find this year’s auto expo?
A : The event is more grounded this year. Less of flaunting and more of grounding. People have realised that they have to be realistic about their launches, especially the new models. People who have come here are genuinely talking about their products and launches. No hot air this time (smiles).
Q: What are the prospects for non-petrol bikes in India?
A: We have been in the business for the last 4 years. The point of inflection has started happening. The point of inflection is the point at which we are on the trajectory of growth, to the point where we would be or where electric vehicles, especially the two-wheelers would be. In another four to five months you will see the difference.
Q: Isn’t this 4 to 5 months period a little too less?
A: I know this is not magic but these are the first signs, like an index. The positive sign that one can see, does show that the growth is likely in the industry. The demand for non petrol bikes will grow in our country and there are other factors too that are triggering the motion. Firstly, the increasing price of petrol and the subsidy for electric bike manufacturers. More so the manufacturers are also becoming wiser over the years, learning how to take care of their products.
Q: With electric bikes how do you cater to the Indian youth who are so obsessed with stunts?
A: Right now my bikes are not for college students. They don’t even touch it thinking it to be not cool. But theoretically and otherwise around the world, electric bikes can perform much bigger stunts and can have much higher pick-up and speed than normal bikes. It’s a proven fact. Like an electric train can run faster than normal diesel or other trains, so inherently you can do anything with electric bikes. But the question is, is the Indian customer ready for an electric bike? For example, we have a sports model of 4000 watts which can race with any normal motorcycle of India at double the pick-up. But people will not accept this bike as it costs Rs 1.25 lakh. Indian customers go for value for money. Even after spending Rs 1.25 lakhs also he will compare it with other bikes such as Karizma or Passion. It’s also the mindset.
Q: Are our Indian youth, who relate biking to speed, ready for eco friendly bikes?
A: Contrary to the belief, there are people who like to do things differently and stand out in the crowd. There are people with the mindset of doing something different and not following the treaded path. We have customers who are using our bikes and still find themselves in the so called “super cool” group.
Q: Electric bikes are for kids and elderly... is this notion correct?
A: Well, it’s an artificial truth. In India electric bikes are sold on cost. But elsewhere in the world it is not sold on cost. It’s a lifestyle product in the rest of the world. People are really aware about their environment and hence love to use electric bikes. The positioning is very different in India. Here, utility is also an important factor.
Q: Who are your competitors?
A: Right now we are the market leaders. There are many national and regional players like Yo bikes, BSA, Lohias, Ampere to name a few, but they are distant second and third. But four months from now you will see many more players jumping into electric bike segment, soon after the Prime Minister announces the national EV policy.
Q: What is your future strategy?
A: We have become global. There is a lot of synergy between what is happening outside and what is happening at the home front. It’s a two-way process in marketing strategy, distribution channels and how to expand the product range both ways. We will offer the entire basket of products to our customers within two years.
Q: Do you want to penetrate into tier three cities?
A: Electric bikes are basically meant for tier two cities. We will penetrate into three tier cities in another two to three years. Tier three cities will look for utility. There are remote places where petrol pumps are five kilometre away. It would be both a challenge and an opportunity for which a lot of effort has to be put in and good infrastructure has to be built.
Q: How different are your bikes from other companies?
A: We have gone through a long learning process. Earlier, our parts were imported. I think a lot depends upon what the Indian customers want; the condition of Indian roads and the Indian climate. We have redesigned the bikes based on our learning process. Features in the bikes have to be different here in India. For example, Indian flyovers are steeper, so we have to make our bikes according to the Indian roads. It’s important to learn from experiences and incorporate them to make your products better.