Many e-2w manufacturers are importing battery packs that are often not designed for the Indian environment, Mehta said
NEW DELHI :
Electric two-wheeler maker Ather Energy is confident that its scooters and battery packs, designed and tested for hot Indian conditions, are unlikely to encounter safety issues, co-founder and chief executive Tarun Mehta said.
Ather has developed and extensively tested its battery packs to withstand local conditions to become a reliable brand, Mehta said, adding that the efforts have given the company the confidence that its scooters are unlikely to face fire safety issues plaguing some of its rivals.
The recent fire incidents, as many as four in less than a month, have cast a shadow on India’s nascent but booming electric two-wheeler market. Two-wheeler makers racing to sell more scooters have faced a spate of battery-related fires as the summer season sets in, leading to the government opening a probe into the incidents and risking a recall of the scooters to fix problems if any.
Experts said hastily developed products and batteries that are not tested to withstand the heat of the Indian continent may be behind the fire incidents. However, the government probe will look into whether the fires were caused by substandard parts or faulty charging by the users.
“The e-2W fires need a multi-pronged focus, including using fire retardant coating on electrodes and suitable additives in electrolytes as well as the use of separators that control the thermal runaway. The BMS (battery management system) should be able to assess and..warn in case of a failure," said Ashim Sharma, partner and group head for business performance improvement consulting in auto , engineering and logistics at Nomura Research Institute.
Battery chemistries can also be changed to safer options such as LTO (Lithium Titanate Oxide), Sharma said, adding that a battery-swap option may allow batteries to cool off while facilitating “fast-charging in temperature-controlled environments".
Bengaluru-based Ather Energy, which has sold over 30,000 e-scooters since 2018, said battery packs not specifically designed for Indian conditions are at the core of the problem.
“A well-designed battery pack should be shutting down rather than catching fire in the situation of excess external heat. If it is catching fire, it is likely that the pack’s quality is not up to the mark or because enough testing has not been done to account for all on-road scenarios. There are many reasons why an assembly or manufacturing can fail, and you can’t figure all of it out at the design stage. So, there are hundreds of tests that you have to do. If an OEM hasn’t gone through this cycle, it could lead to design, testing or manufacturing quality issues," Mehta said.
Many manufacturers are importing battery packs that are often not designed for the Indian environment, he said.
“Put in large volume on Indian roads with a lot of abuse across the country, and we’re seeing failures pop up. You can put this down to not enough testing, poor manufacturing quality and packs not built for India," Mehta said.
Customer trust is critical to obtain to build an enduring automotive brand, which needs rigorous design and engineering effort, Mehta said.
“We are playing the long game. From the start, we were pretty clear that if you’re building a pan-India brand in the vehicle space, you want customers to trust you without worrying about anything ever. We could have rushed our product in 2017 and started pan-India sales in 2019. We waited; we ran multiple tests and ran them several times. Every six months or so, we’ve had a new iteration. We are on to the fourth or fifth generation of our battery pack design now," he added.
Mehta said the company did not rush because it wanted to be sure its scooters underwent sufficient on-road testing.
“We are willing to invest a lot of time and resources in getting the product quality right before selling it. Though we had a product ready in 2018, we only took it pan-India in 2021 because we wanted to give it a few years of constant on-road testing; we wanted to ensure we kept our volumes contained and constantly gathered feedback. Ather does close to 120 tests at the battery pack level alone and more than 800 tests at a vehicle level. I don’t think there’s any OEM in the country today that’s putting the same amount of rigour to its EV 2-wheeler programme," Mehta said.
Mehta said there is no shortcut to building trust with customers, and the market will self-correct in the long run.
“In the EV market, too many players are trying to quickly show revenue and volumes without putting in substantial effort in engineering. If this continues, the market will self-correct and give OEMs feedback," he said.