Unfolding the future: Mahindra’s drive towards sustainability with EVs
India’s electric vehicles journey had an early start with the aptly named Bijlee, made by Mahindra & Mahindra way back in 1999. This first leap of faith didn’t take M&M too far on the EV journey. But it did set the course for M&M to emerge, two decades later, as a frontrunner in EVs.
M&M today leads India’s EV push with the goal of putting half a million electric vehicles on Indian roads by 2025. Around INR 1,700 crore has already been invested in the business in India, and another INR 500 crore has been set aside for a new research and development (R&D) centre. M&M is a founding member of Formula E, the international electric vehicles race car circuit and has also unveiled a super-premium luxury electric vehicle in Europe called the Battista.
Growth in the EV sector in India has been slow over the decades but it has picked up pace in the last couple of years. M&M sold 14,000+ EVs in the financial year 2019-20, a 40 per cent jump over 2018-19. According to Mahesh Babu, MD & CEO of Mahindra Electric, the first goal is to use EVs to cut the cost of local transport by 25 per cent. This would mainly be “connecting transport” like taxis and three-wheelers, the last-mile and first-mile connectivity to mass rapid transport systems. With the ease of driving offered by the new Mahindra Treo, M&M has supported a new customer base of women drivers across the country, enabling them to increase household incomes.
The first electric show
Bijlee was also a last-mile connectivity product. Arguably, it was India’s first commercial and roadworthy electric vehicle made at the M&M plant in Coimbatore. It was a nine-seater three-wheeler and was initially deployed at Delhi’s Connaught Place (Rajeev Chowk) as a park-and-ride service, so commuters could leave their personal vehicles at a public parking lot and take a ride on a Bijlee to their destinations in the nearby areas. Until recently, a few Bijlees operated at Vaishno Devi to ferry pilgrims. They have now been replaced by eSupros.
Bijlee was ahead of its time. However, Anand Mahindra, CEO of M&M at the time, was convinced that EVs were the future. The Bijlee project was delivered in a hurry. Led by SV Nagarkar, the team had taken exactly six months to produce the vehicle. There were key learnings that followed. The initial purchase cost had to make sense, as did the battery replacement cost. Also needed were better mileage per charge and a battery swap facility.
Reva makes its entry
There was a need for better technology and M&M started a search for it. Two men key to this story were together at a solar car race event way back in 1990, though they did not meet each other. A solar car made by a team from the University of Michigan called Sunrunner came first in a solar challenge organised by General Motors. In the University team was an Indian student, Chetan Maini. Pawan Goenka, currently the MD & CEO of M&M, was with General Motors then and was present at the race.
Goenka moved to M&M in 1993 and Maini had come back to India and started an electric vehicles business after finishing his studies. In 2001, Maini launched the Reva, a two-seater electric car for Indian roads. After a global search for EV technology, M&M acquired a 55 per cent stake in Reva Electric Vehicle Company in 2010. It had sold around 5,000 cars by then.
The first launch from the new company Mahindra Reva was the Mahindra e2o. The Indian market took a while to warm up to electric vehicles, revenues were slow to grow and it took a push from the Indian government to get it going. The scenario has changed in the last few years. Goenka says that a future that will have EVs as central to shared mobility in India is around the corner.
EVs become aspirational
The launch of the e2o was followed by the launch of the e-Verito, an electric sedan and a pick-up van eSupro. Today, there are over 32,000 Mahindra EVs on Indian roads that have covered over 230 million kilometres. The e2o has been launched in the UK too. M&M subsidiary Peugeot Motorcycles also makes an electric two-wheeler which was inducted in the French Presidential Fleet in 2019.
In 2015, M&M acquired the famous Italian automobiles designer and coach maker Pininfarina. In 2019, it unveiled a fully electric luxury supercar named Battista, priced at $2 million and a limited production of just 125. Battista allows M&M a foot in the top-end luxury segment in automobiles.
In 2014, M&M became part of Formula E, the electric race car circuit, as one of the ten founding teams. This investment underlined M&M’s ‘race to road’ strategy to be at the cutting edge of technology and applying the knowledge for mobility solutions across the board. Mahindra Racing was the 1st Formula E team and 2nd motorsport team globally to receive the highest level (3 Star) of sustainability accreditation. Goenka feels Formula E is the future of racing and says: “It has helped us tremendously in terms of brand recognition.”
Playing the ecosystem
Goenka adds that EVs can have an impact in two major ways, lowering pollution and cutting the oil import bill. M&M is focused on the entire electric ecosystem and is the biggest Indian investor in EVs. Mahindra Electric Mobility Ltd. is working on vehicles across the battery range between 48 volts and 650 volts. The MESMA 48 three-wheeler EV platform launched now can support a large range of vehicles across various segments.
The EV platform would be different from the current automotive platforms. Mahesh explains, “In the recent past, approximately 70 per cent of all innovations in vehicle development has been focussed on embedded systems and software development. Going forward, software and embedded systems would contribute to 32 per cent of the total cost of an EV as opposed to only 18 per cent in an internal combustion engine vehicle. This will help Mahindra Electric’s upcoming R&D Centre GEVtec (Global Electric Vehicle Technology Centre) in Bengaluru to become a global EV hub for the development and manufacturing of such critical EV components.”
Mahindra’s EV journey has always revolved around our customers and our aim is to electrify various segments that will popularise e-mobility at a larger scale. From being inducted in the French Presidential fleet with Peugeot electric two-wheelers to opening up a new customer base of women entrepreneurs with Mahindra Treo, from winning in Formula E races to providing EV components to global OEMs, Mahindra has offered a range of unique EV experiences to the world. With millions of kilometres in the electric shared mobility segment, Mahindra has understood the economics of EVs better which has resulted in our customers’ higher earnings.
M&M’s upcoming plant at Chakan for EVs will aim to supply components for global automakers and will produce a MESMA 350 powertrain with a range of 350+ kilometres for both Indian and global markets. The focus is now on creating clean and convenient connectivity solutions that supplement mass transport and meet the country’s need for multi-modal transportation, shared mobility, employee commute and personal mobility segment.
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