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Sales of all electric vehicles, including the Porsche Taycan, which had high demand in the US overtaking the company’s expectations, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic slowdown.  (Photo: Getty Images)
Sales of all electric vehicles, including the Porsche Taycan, which had high demand in the US overtaking the company’s expectations, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic slowdown. (Photo: Getty Images)

Power surge for electric vehicle ecosystem

  • Numocity’s software platform links EV owners with vendors, suppliers to make battery charging as easy as pumping fuel
  • Scheduling and metering battery charging on the cloud can not only ease operations for fleet owners but also reduce costs

Avisible effect of the lockdowns was clean air in cities as vehicles went off roads. The Himalayan range became visible from Punjab for the first time in 30 years. Satellite images showed the steep drop in nitrogen oxides from vehicular emissions in Delhi and Mumbai. As lockdowns ease and roads fill up again, we’ll see pollution return. But the experience of breathing fresh air reinforces the case for switching to electric vehicles.

The Centre has an ongoing FAME II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles) scheme of subsidies and incentives, although stronger measures may be needed to meet the goal of electric vehicles comprising 30% of auto sales by 2030. The coronavirus crisis has hit the auto industry, and it’s a wait to see when electric vehicles regain momentum.

Government announcements over the past three years did kindle ]interest of multiple players required for an EV ecosystem to emerge in India. One of these is Bengaluru-based Numocity whose software platform connects electric vehicle owners, auto companies, battery makers and charging infrastructure.

Smart fleets

Take the case of a food delivery person with an electric two-wheeler. An app will authorize him, handle payment and set the amount of charge needed to complete his delivery round as the battery’s telemetry can be tracked on cloud.

Scheduling and metering charges over the cloud eases operations for fleet owners. But individual vehicle owners can get value-added services, such as optimizing battery use with recommendations on speed and route.

“The vehicle becomes smarter," says Numocity co-founder Siddharth Sreenivasan. That’s a differentiator for manufacturers. “Just as in smartphones, when one company launches a new phone, the competition tries to match or outdo its features, electric vehicle makers will look forward to offering extra services to customers."

While some EV makers build their own software to enable such services, a distributed model plugging into a platform like Numocity creates more possibilities.

Take battery swapping. It’s a model suited to a market like India where electric vehicles are mostly two-wheelers and auto rickshaws, whose batteries are easier to handle than those of larger vehicles. This enables manual swapping of batteries, which is more convenient than finding a charging point and then waiting for the vehicle to get charged.

It creates a pay-per-use model. EV owners need not own the batteries; they just pay for the energy used. Energy operators, auto companies or battery makers can offer the service. Operators will own the batteries, charge and lease them out to vehicle owners, exchanging depleted batteries for charged ones. An added advantage is this reduces the upfront cost of an electric vehicle. The battery accounts for 30-40% of an EV’s cost.

Battery swapping needs a software platform because it involves multiple entities. For example, an ecommerce company with an electric vehicle fleet could use a bulk charger for batteries. The charger would be from a power utility while the batteries are from another vendor. Or a battery maker could set up the service for vehicle owners, providing its own batteries and sourcing the charger from an electric company. An auto company can offer battery swapping to customers, even if batteries and chargers are from different vendors.

“We come in as a swap platform which integrates any bulk charger, any battery with telemetry, and any vehicle because we connect with the IoT components in all three," says Ravikiran Annaswamy, co- founder, Numocity. “For the EV fleet operator, it becomes easy, because they can take chargers and batteries from multiple partners based on price and negotiation, and vehicles from different manufacturers."

The biggest challenge in the swap model with multiple vendors is lack of standardization. At a nascent stage of the EV ecosystem, each network is trying to standardize messaging and workflows across a range of equipment in its own way. But Numocity is making a virtue out of this pain.

No standardization

It has done multi-vendor integrations and tried to standardize the way to do it. “Now a lot of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are asking us if they could format the flows in the same way because we have on-ground experience," says Annaswamy. “So this could be a strategic advantage for us if it scales in India."

It’s an evolving space and Numocity has to deal with issues as a platform player. For example, small chargers for two-wheeler batteries come from China. “They don’t last long because of quality issues. So we’re trying to work with known vendors in the charging space to improve the quality and software-enable the chargers," he says.

From a sales point of view, the startup’s challenge is educating multiple players in the market how they benefit from a systems approach instead of just making individual components in the ecosystem.

Numocity raised funding from Ideaspring Capital, Rebright Partners and ABB Technology Ventures in January before covid-19 became a global pandemic. It has runway to build its platform till the next round of funding when EV sales pick up again and it’s time to scale up.

“That they were working on a software platform bringing various entities together was very attractive to us," says Naganand Doraswamy, founder and managing partner of Ideaspring Capital. “They earlier worked in telecom. So they’re bringing concepts and protocols from networking in that domain to the EV ecosystem."

An EV player could go the Apple way, controlling the system end-to-end. Or different vendors could come together to provide a solution, which is the Android way. The distributed model is where Numocity will be able to play a role.

The backing from Japan’s Rebright Partners opens a way to deploy the model in Southeast Asia after it is validated in India. Numocity’s selection in the ABB Synerleap accelerator programme also enhances its understanding of the charging infrastructure where the Swiss-Swedish giant is a major player.

From ABB’s point of view, Numocity puts it at the centre of what’s happening in the Indian EV ecosystem.“The insight Numocity is giving us into the Indian EV market is that it’s going to be different from Europe and US," says Arvind Vasu, senior VP, ABB. “We are interested to learn about the battery swapping model. Why not treat the battery as equivalent to a fuel like petrol or diesel, where you pay as you go and reduce the cost of the vehicle? The consumer mindset in rural areas, for example, is to buy even food in small sachets. Similarly, battery as a service is a thing you will see in the two- and three-wheeler segment."

As with many other domains, EV is also fostering an Asian way.

Sumit Chakraberty is a consulting editor with Mint. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com.

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