Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Electric cycles can become more powerful with mid-drive motors: Voltron CEO


Electric cycles that are also known as e-bikes have gained immense popularity around the world in the last few years. With so many players entering the segment, several new technologies are being invented that can make the electric cycles more efficient and powerful in the coming days.

The electric cycle market in India is growing at a fast pace and could play a key role in the overall growth of the electric two-wheelers in the coming days. Currently, more than 20 brands are selling their products in the Indian electric cycle market, which has gained a prominent footprint in the states such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. As the EV charging infrastructure and dedicated cycling lanes are expected to grow, the adoption of electric cycles is likely to increase in other parts of the country as well.

The electric cycles can be termed as the crossover between a bicycle and electric scooters. They minimise the physical strain of pedalling and increase the riding range. So far, in an era, when electric mobility is being pushed by various stakeholders and gaining slow but steady popularity, especially in the two-wheeler segment, the electric cycles can play a key role in expediting the growth story.

Delhi-based Voltron Motors Pvt. Ltd. has been making electric cycles with pillion seats, unlike the other players in the segment using the mid-drive motors, instead of widely used and popular BLDC hub motors. The company is also set to bring India’s first electric harvester soon. Autofintechs spoke to Prashanta Kumar, Founder and CEO of Voltron to learn about the technology and the industry.

Edited excerpts below.

Q. The price difference between e-cycles and conventional bicycles are substantially large. How do you see this impacting the e-cycle sales in India?

I would tend to agree with the fact that there has been a substantial difference between the price of e cycles (with respect to the features, offered by electric cycles in terms of a limited range of 25 to 35 km, their inability to climb flyovers and hills, no provision for pillion riding) and conventional cycles, which has been one of the major reason for the slow adoption of e cycles in India.

I would go further to say that such limited features and the range anxiety have not been able to make it a viable option for adoption in semi-urban and rural areas, and its acceptance even in urban areas has been very limited, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Hero Lectro the market leader could sell only about 7,000 electric cycles in the last financial year. Having surveyed and having unearthed the reason for the low adoption of electric cycles in India, Voltron Electric Cycle was developed to deliver 100 kilometres on a single charge, with a provision of pillion riding and ensuring that it climbs flyovers and hills purely on the throttle mode.

The idea was to create a crossover between a cycle and a scooty. It has been priced at Rs 35,000 so as to make it affordable for all sections of the population and I must mention to you hear that we feel delighted that the Voltron electric cycle has reached rural areas like Shergahti (in Gaya, Bihar) and the remote tribal area of  Bandikui (Rajasthan) to name a few and its acceptance by all sections of the population has been heartwarming.

Since with a load-carrying capacity of 140 Kg, it becomes of utility for mothers to drop and pick up their children from school, for home delivery of grocery and food items, for children to commute from home to school and back, for children to go for tuitions, for people to commute between home and office. Moreover, the fact that the Voltron Electric cycle is Unisex Cycle makes it convenient for girls and women to use which is yet another missing feature in current day electric cycles which have restricted its adoption by almost 50% of our population.

Q. India being largely on the importer side for lithium-ion batteries, the high pricing remains a hurdle ahead of EV growth. How do you see this challenging your business?

India has been and even today is on the import side of the lithium-ion battery technology, however, DRDO has developed the technology and has been transferring it to Indian companies to ensure manufacturing in India. I am optimistic and positive that a couple of years down their will be a drastic reduction in the price of batteries as we start localising production.

Sulphur and carbon are much more abundant and cheaper than Lithium.

Moreover, there is breakthrough work being done by Indian startups in battery technology using sulphur and carbon instead of Lithium. It needs to be noted that sulphur and carbon are much more abundant and cheaper than Lithium. These batteries being developed have higher power density and better life and unlike Lithium batteries are recyclable and are much cheaper, I personally see a very promising future for this verticle in India and feel that this will prove to be the cutting edge for the EV sector in India.

In the mid-drive motor technology, the motor is placed separately and is connected to the sprocket either on the crank or the sprocket in the rear wheel by means of a chain or a belt.

Q. If you can explain for our readers, how the mid-drive motors enabled e-cycles are different from the other e-cycles.

Most of the electric cycle (almost 99%) use hub motor technology. The hub motors are fitted at the centre of the wheel of the cycle and can be placed either on the rear wheel or the front wheel depending on the convenience of the manufacturer. The most common types of hub motors used in electric bicycles are brushed and brushless. They can be direct-drive and geared motor units/ BLDC hub motors are a common modern design.

The motor is built into the wheel hub itself, while the stator is fixed solidly to the axle, and the magnets are attached to and rotating with the wheel. The presence of the magnets causes resistance to the movement of the wheel which in turn lead to lower output power and in addition acts as a drag when the cycle is pedalled, which in turn implies more effort required while pedalling. As a result, electric cycles which use hub motors are unable to carry a load of over 85 kg and are unable to cross flyover or climb hills purely on the throttle mode.

Voltron Electric cycle is the first electric cycle in India that uses a mid-drive motor. In the mid-drive motor technology, the motor is placed separately and is connected to the sprocket either on the crank or the sprocket in the rear wheel by means of a chain or a belt. Such an arrangement enhances the output delivery of the motor substantially since it isolated the motor drive train from the pedal drive train and both become independent of each other and thus start complementing each other rather than inhibiting and restricting each other.

This is one of the main reasons for the Voltron Electric Cycle having a load-bearing capacity of 140 Kg and its ability to climb flyover and hills purely on the throttle mode.

The electric harvester will be a boon for the small and marginal farmers who constitute the largest segment in Indian agricultural landholding.

Q. You are working on an electric harvester, what would be its pricing and when it can be available in the market?

The work on the electric harvester has been completed and field trials have been done. It is the first electric harvester the world over and I have filed a patent for it which has been published on 09/03/2021 bearing application number 202111009927. The harvester will be a boon for the small and marginal farmers who constitute the largest segment in our agricultural landholding. It has the capability of harvesting one bigha, by one person in a time span of one and a half hour, of crops like wheat, paddy, jawar, barley, bajra, soybean, lemongrass and the likes.

This is in contrast to one bigha being harvested by at least 3 to 4 people and the time required is one whole day. Another high point to the harvester is that the cost of harvesting one bigha will work out to approximately Rs 0.50 (50 paise) compared to a cost of between Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500 being incurred by the farmers presently. Moreover, the technology is completely clean and green.

We expect to introduce it before the beginning of the next harvesting season which is by the beginning of September. The idea is to price is such that the cost to the farmer after subsidy should not be more than Rs 20,000, but the final price still has to be worked out.

There is expected to be shrinkage in demand since the purchasing power of the population, in general, has taken a beating.

Q. The pandemic has heavily impacted the manufacturing industry and businesses. How Voltron has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis?

The pandemic has certainly impacted the manufacturing industry and the impact on bootstrapped startups like ours have been nothing short of sounding the death knell. This has been on account of the fact that the trained manpower has returned to their villages and there is a massive uncertainty of their return, employing new people and training them requires time and additional investment and the production suffers.

The supply chain is rattled with almost everybody facing the same problem. There is expected to be shrinkage in demand since the purchasing power of the population, in general, has taken a beating. However destiny has its own ways of revealing itself, so the best thing to do for now is to wait and watch.

Voltron intends to come up with a cargo attachment with the electric cycle which would be able to carry up to 300 to 500 kg of load by the end of 2021.

Q. In terms of product and business expansion, what’s your future strategy?

We at Voltron have always been sensitive to the needs of our customers, we intend to come out with an electric tricycle by the end of 2021, since we have been receiving a lot of inquiry from people who are elderly or handicapped, for the same, we also intend to come up with a cargo attachment with the cycle which would be able to carry up to 300 to 500 kg of load by the end of 2021.

Q. If you can give the details of Voltron’s investors and future fundraising plans.

We are a bootstrapped company as of now, we are looking at funding from investors at this point since we are looking at introducing new products and scaling up the production of the Voltron Electric Cycle. The valuation of the Voltron Electric Cycle alone stands at about 64 Billion.

Also Read: Need for recycling of lithium-ion batteries in India

Shreyasi Dey
Shreyasi Dey
Having extensive experience in accounts and inventory management, Shreyasi Dey has been a passionate writer and a city journalist. Worked with The Times of India, Ei Samay, Discovery India, Dainik Sambad, Aajkaal.


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