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NEW DELHI : Entrepreneurs seeking to enter the electric vehicle space should focus on commercial vehicles as the current conditions don’t give newcomers the time it takes to build robust electric two-wheelers, said Tarun Mehta, co-founder and chief executive of Ather Energy.

“If you’re starting a company in India today, there is an opportunity to go after fundamental value creation. And maybe don’t start in scooters now. I think this is a different space now, and you will have to approach it very differently. You can’t start by saying I want to build platforms now. It’s a little too late. So maybe start in commercial vehicles," Mehta said at the Mint Mobility Conclave 2022.

Bengaluru-based Ather Energy, backed by Hero MotoCorp and quasi-sovereign wealth fund National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, was one of India’s earliest electric two-wheeler makers to design and develop battery packs and vehicles for the local market.

However, despite having the early-mover advantage, it ceded space to rivals who entered the market later with imported batteries and vehicle designs. According to Mehta, the decision to expand slowly has been part of Ather’s plan and helped the company avoid some of the setbacks faced by the new entrants, including the spate of fire incidents involving their scooters.

The fire incidents, including one in which a father and daughter died, have triggered safety concerns, and led to a government probe and the formulation of a new set of battery-safety guidelines that are likely to be announced soon.

According to the government’s Vahan dashboard, over 38,000 Ather scooters have been registered till now.

“We’ve invested 70% of the capital we raised till now in product development. Even today, 45% of the company is still into research and development, at a scale of almost 1,700 people. So we continue to run the largest engineering research and development operations in the country as far as electric two-wheelers go. So it will be a mistake to think that this is just a fluke (that Ather scooters aren’t involved in any fire incidents). It’s billions of engineering hours that are making this possible. Also, I think we are lucky that we started this journey many years back. So we got a fairly free run of almost 3-4 years when the market was not ready. But we had started building the platform, so we could keep honing it. We could keep perfecting it. We had bad quality earlier, but we could get out of it without it becoming a public relations disaster, and we could invest more and more time on fixing it," Mehta said.

“So when we started to scale, quality was already on a good path. I don’t think the market has that buffer today. If you were to start an electric vehicle company today, you can’t say I’ll spend the next three years building a platform and two years building a product... the opportunity may well be over by then," he added.

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