High-speed electric scooter and bike maker Okinawa expects 2019 to be one of the most disruptive years for India’s automobile industry. The company founded by Jeetender Sharma is aiming to be a top manufacturer of electric two-wheelers in the country by battling bigger players like Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric, and Ampere vehicles.
In an interview with Fortune India, Okinawa managing director Sharma talks about his expansion plans and how the company is trying to make a difference in the electric vehicle (EV) space.
How do you see the year panning out for the company and the EV industry in general?
The two-wheeler market is a big segment in the automobile industry. This is still the starting phase for electrification. It’s only going to go up from here. This year is going to be for electric. For us, we are coming with a new model where you can connect your scooter with an app which will monitor your geo-fencing, safety, e-mobilising, GPS, driver score, etc. We already have 80% localisation in India. By the next financial year, we should be out with an electric motorcycle as well and we plan to start exporting soon too.
In the absence of a clear policy framework, what do newer players expect?
First of all, charging infrastructure is not a bottleneck for two-wheelers. You can charge it in a 5-ampere plug like you charge your mobile phone. So our customers don’t have to worry about that. And in terms of policy, the most important thing is awareness. They can support the industry in taxation so that the final product is cheaper for the consumer. At the end of the day, the most important thing for the consumer is the cost of the vehicle. If the government is going to reduce the import cost of the battery, localise manufacturing in India, it’ll be good for the industry.
EV adoption requires a behavioral change. How do you breach that for the Indian consumer?
The most important thing is awareness. We are running awareness campaigns pan-India. We want to break the myth that e-vehicles can’t compete with petrol and diesel two-wheelers in terms of performance, speed, and reliability. We have to break that first. They need to understand that the most important thing is that the running cost is very low. People think that an electric vehicle doesn’t have the power or performance. But now technology is changing.
Your competition is some of the bigger players like Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric, and Ampere. How do you deal with that?
It’s not the question of cutting the clutter for us. The market is very huge for all electric scooters. We have to understand what best we can deliver to our consumers. And people are accepting our product and technology. We’re delivering new products every six months. It’s important for people to see the technology that we’re working with and touch and feel our product.
What are some of the battery technologies that you are currently exploiting
Right now, we’re working with a detachable lithium-ion battery and we’re constantly trying to reduce the charging time. People don’t have the time for charging the vehicles. Right now we have brought it down to 45 minutes. We are working towards improving the capacity of the lithium-ion battery. For example, this battery cannot work in more than 60 degrees temperature. We want to devise a mechanism to use it in a more efficient way and to improve the overall performance of the vehicle. We have reached 90% efficiency level. But we’re still trying to make it better.