Electric 3-Wheelers Will Be A Game-Changer In India Over Next Two-Three Years

Electric 3-Wheelers Will Be A Game-Changer In India Over Next Two-Three Years

Interview May 2020 Piaggio Vehicles Electric Three-Wheelers Game-Changer India Next Two-Three Years

Auto Tech Review speaks with Diego Graffi, CEO and Managing Director, Piaggio Vehicles Pvt Ltd on the company’s EV plans, as well as about its multiple brands

Pune-based Piaggio Vehicles Private Limited (PVPL) has hopped onto the electric vehicle (EV) bandwagon with Ape E-City. Auto Tech Review caught up with Diego Graffi, CEO & Managing Director, Piaggio Vehicles Pvt Ltd, to understand how the company intends to take forward its EV plans in the country as well as its much-talked-about Aprilia SXR 160 scooter, among others.

Diego Graffi has been serving as CEO & Managing Director at Piaggio Vehicles Private Limited since June 2017. He was closely following the company’s developments in India before he took charge of the company’s operations in India. In his current role, he is largely responsible for carrying out overall business development of Piaggio’s light commercial vehicles as well as its Aprilia range of scooters in the domestic as well as its export markets. Graffi has had a lengthy work stint of over 13 years at Piaggio Group, having joined the company in Italy in 2006 as Head of Vehicle Purchasing. Prior to working for the Piaggio Group, he had worked for Moto Guzzi and Fiat. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Graffi is currently devising plans to make Piaggio India’s electrification journey in India a success story.

ATR _ Piaggio India (PVPL) has marked its arrival in the electric vehicle (EV) space in India with the roll-out of Ape E-City. What does this product promise to the Indian market?

Diego Graffi _ Our Ape brand over the years has gone from strength to strength and has emerged as the most trusted three-wheeler brand in India. The Ape E-City (electric auto) is the first among many products we desire to launch under the Ape Electrik brand going forward. We at PVPL are leveraging the rich electric technological expertise of our parent company – Piaggio Group – in creating class-leading products such as Ape E-City and remain confident that this vehicle will lead the electric revolution in India.

The platform of Ape E-City is similar to the one used for Ape diesel, LPG and CNG variants and comes with a fully digital instrument cluster that is not available in the conventional Ape City. The Ape E-City that will cater to passenger as well as the goods segment is powered by a 4.7 kWh lithium-ion battery and comes with a water-proof motor and offers a range of around 70-80 km on a full charge. We have tried to ensure substantial peace of mind for our customers by offering a warranty of 36 month or 100,000 km (whichever is earlier), along with three-year free scheduled maintenance. Not just that, we are also offering an optional three-year AMC package at a nominal cost of ` 3,000.

PVPL is keen to be an active participant of the Indian EV ecosystem as we feel that developing an ecosystem is all about putting in place the desired infrastructure and inculcating customer habits towards an EV product. We understand that driving an electric auto will be different from driving a diesel, LPG or a CNG auto and are realistic about how the EV movement will proceed in India. We know for sure that electric three-wheelers will be a game-changer in India over the next two-three years, in terms of being a significant contributor to our top-line. We have set ourselves for the long haul and will continue to focus on investing in the Ape brand as well as on our network, and we remain optimistic that Ape E-City will be able to replicate the commercial success of our Ape diesel, LPG and CNG variants in the coming years.

Ape E-City offers battery swapping as well as a fixed battery option

An interesting feature of Ape E-City is the battery swapping option for customers. Can you elaborate?

Ape E-City is the first electric three-wheeler in India to offer a battery swapping option as well as a fixed battery option. Battery swapping solution can work well for the Indian market, but such a swapping concept is not new outside India. Vehicle manufacturers in Asia are fast embracing battery swapping as it holds immense potential. We have teamed up with Sun Mobility, wherein the latter will facilitate a network of 50 quick interchange stations across 10 cities in India by the first half of 2020, before it gets expanded to rest of the country.

Our partnership with Sun Mobility will ensure customers can seamlessly swap batteries at these quick interchange stations. Further, customers can also experience an app-enabled ecosystem to check battery charge, recharge, locate swap stations, etc. The Ape E-City is designed for urban deployment and given the average driving range of such vehicles, we think one or two swaps in a day is more than adequate for meeting the daily customer needs.

There is always a lot of talk about the affordability of EVs across segments in the Indian context. How do you think Piaggio Ape E-City will be able to pull in customers?

I don’t deny the fact that the technology for electric application is costly if you compare a full EV, including battery cost to a conventional ICE vehicle. This is primarily the reason why we took a call to come up with a battery swapping solution, which effectively means that customers will not be compelled to buy a vehicle with a fixed battery. So, the price gap minus the battery would not be much more than an ICE vehicle. Further, there are various government incentives such as no road tax, among others that will ensure the final cost of operating a vehicle like Ape E-City will be more or less same to that of a conventional ICE vehicle.

What’s your take on the FAME II scheme that has been designed to propel adoption of EVs across the country?

Unfortunately, Piaggio India has not been able to avail the FAME II scheme benefits. We have written to the concerned authorities as to why the Ape E-City model was not considered for FAME II subsidy. We are given to understand that our battery swapping solution does not qualify under the scheme, but we are still awaiting clarification from the government authorities.

As far as seeing positive impact of the FAME II scheme is concerned, to be honest we haven’t witnessed massive customer response, especially for two-wheelers and three-wheelers. However, I appreciate the involvement at the government level to promote electric mobility – something not seen outside India. Piaggio is committed to invest in the EV technology and will continue to do so, as we see progressively more EVs plying on the Indian roads. Our growth plans are quite independent of the incentive schemes as our priority is to meet our customer expectations by being as much competitive as possible price-wise with the rest of the players in the market.

Lithium-ion batteries hold prominence among EVs, but there is considerable work going on for developing alternative battery technologies as well. Your thoughts?

Lithium-ion batteries bring a rich variety to the table. They have so many different chemistries at play that offer the most advanced technologies. Lithium-ion is quite an established technology although its cost is high, which we expect to come down over the next two-three years. Such batteries offer high energy density as well as ensure more than 2,500 charging cycles. Of course, we don’t know what will come after lithium-ion batteries as various other battery technologies such as zinc-air, aluminium-air, sodium-ion, solid state batteries are still in development phase and are yet to come anywhere close to being commercial or production-ready.

Vespa Elettrica will be Piaggio India’s second electric vehicle product – its first electric scooter

Moving on to your scooter portfolio, there was a lot of buzz generated over the showcase of the Vespa Elettrica at the 2020 Auto Expo. Can you enlighten us about this product?

Vespa Elettrica will be Piaggio India’s second electric vehicle product in the country – our first electric scooter product. Vespa Elettrica was launched by the Piaggio Group in Europe sometime in late 2018 and has achieved good commercial success. Vespa Elettrica has a top speed of 45 km/h, offers a range of more than 65 km on a single charge in Europe and a range of 100 km with a range extender. We are still in the process of evaluating as to when we will roll out this product in the Indian market.

Piaggio India also unveiled the Aprilia SXR 160 at the 2020 Auto Expo. Can you throw some light on this product?

Aprilia SXR 160 is fully designed and developed in Italy, keeping the Indian customers’ aspirations in mind. This scooter is based on the Aprilia SR 160 engine and has been readied based on two years of extensive research. We believe Aprilia SXR 160 will be ideal not just for intra-city commuting, but also for long rides – it packs in a lot on comfort and performance fronts. We have plans to roll out SXR 160 later this year.

Piaggio India has also been keen to foray into the motorcycle segment, and had unveiled two products – Aprilia RS 150 and Aprilia Tuono 150 – at the 2018 Auto Expo. Why have your motorcycle launches not happened until now?

Our showcase of Aprilia RS 150 and Aprilia Tuono 150 motorcycles at the 2018 Auto Expo was clearly in line with our plans to get into the motorcycle segment as we thought that 150 cc motorcycles will gain volumes. But over time we realised that there is more traction in the market for 300-350 cc motorcycles. We are still evaluating our options before we decide to enter the motorcycle segment.

Can you give us a brief overview of your sales performance last year?

2019 was a decent year for us notwithstanding the sustained sales slowdown in the Indian market. Our light commercial vehicles (LCVs) clocked sales of 1.9 lakh units last year (domestic and exports combined), while we sold around 80,000 Aprilia scooters.

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted the global automotive industry and India is no exception. How does Piaggio India assess the current market environment?

This is an exceedingly challenging period for the entire automotive fraternity and not just us. More than two months of zero production and zero revenue is a big setback for us. We anticipate some kind of recovery over the next six months or so, but it may take even longer than that. Of course, it could take in excess of 12 months before we witness normal demand return to the market.

TEXT: Suhrid Barua

PHOTO: Piaggio India