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Mumbai: India's only electric car maker, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, has entered into a non-exclusive partnership with cab aggregator Uber Technologies Inc. to deploy its electric sedan eVerito and electric hatchback e2o Plus on the Uber platform in New Delhi and Hyderabad, to begin with.

“As pioneers of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country, we would like to be at the forefront, leading this charge towards smart and sustainable mobility," said Pawan Goenka, managing director at Mahindra, at a press conference on Friday to announce the collaboration.

The partnership will include sale of Mahindra electric cars at competitive prices, attractive financing and insurance premiums and maintenance packages, the company said in a statement.

Mahindra and Uber will also work with public and private entities to set up a common-use charging stations across several cities in India. “We are also looking to understand Uber’s traffic and mobility data for the next two months to determine the locations to set up charging infrastructure," said Goenka.

The first vehicles will ply on the roads of New Delhi and Hyderabad at the end of February 2018, according to Madhu Kannan, chief business officer, Uber India.

The dearth of charging infrastructure is causing the delay, he added.

Goenka conceded that “the charging infrastructure is the main missing piece in terms of EVs taking off and is coming up but very slowly". New Delhi and Hyderabad were chosen to run the pilot because “they seem to be the most proactive in establishing charging infrastructure", Goenka said. No other details were shared about the expansion of the pilot to other cities.

The Mumbai-based company will withdraw from setting up charging infrastructure as more charging suppliers emerge, which Goenka believes will be accelerated by the tender for 4,000 charging stations in New Delhi and the NCR floated by state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL).

As of now, there is no fixed number of cars the two companies have agreed on and will study driver demand to determine the ramp-up of capacity. Mahindra can assemble 500 electric cars per month at the moment and is hopeful of raising capacity 10-fold over the next two years.

Mahindra’s electric cars have a range of 110km and 140km, according to Goenka. He conceded that Uber is looking for vehicle with a range of 200km and the company is looking to increase the range while managing costs, the most influential deterrent for electric vehicles at the moment. “Our EV breaks even today if it is run for 200km. We will attempt to increase the range for Uber," Goenka said.

The range of an electric vehicle is the distance it can run on a single charge.

On the question of input costs for EVs, Goenka emphasized that they must be reduced in order to drive mass acceptability because “government subsidies cannot be expected to continue indefinitely". Larger volume will lead to cost reductions, he added.

In the public transit sphere, Mahindra has already partnered with cab aggregator Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd) in Nagpur on a multi-modal project. The company sells the electric autorickshaw e-Alfa Mini and is developing electric buses as well.

 Analysts say the Mahindra-Uber partnership for electric cabs will help curb environmental woes in New Delhi and is paving the way for an eventual all-EV future. The partnership will also help address customers perceptions regarding electric vehicles and will drive personal purchases, according to Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader at PwC.

 At the conference, Goenka mentioned that Mahindra match the lowest bid for the second phase for the EESL tender to acquire 10,000 EVs for the central government and its agencies. Goenka did not specify the number of vehicles the company will bid for.

Mahindra sold over 600 EVs in the first seven months of FY18, a number not much higher than its FY17 EV sales.

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