Faridabad-based Omega Seiki is building solutions aimed at addressing the growing demand in the e-commerce segment for cost-optimised deliveries
Electric vehicles (EVs) are probably the biggest technological disruption that the automotive industry has been witnessing today. Over the last few years, segments such as e-rickshaws that cater to passengers’ last mile connectivity needs as well as e-commerce companies have been the drivers of EV sales in the country.
Rising pollution levels in the last few years led to a strong government push for cleaner mobility, essentially EVs. Among other vehicle segments, the cheap and low quality e-rickshaws from China also created a place of its own in the last mile connectivity segment, and has subsequently had a spill-over effect into cargo transportation.
The Anglian Omega Group, which has been in the auto components business since 1971, joined hands with ADM technologies to form Omega Seiki in 2018 to develop cargo vehicles for the electric three-wheeler segment. The company conducted a market research on EVs that helped them identify ‘reliability’ and ‘cost’ of the vehicle as the two most critical factors for EV adoption. Accordingly, the company has designed, developed and manufactured its entire vehicle portfolio in-house, qualifying for subsidies under the FAME II scheme, explained Dr Deb Mukherji, Managing Director, Omega Seiki.
The Anglian Omega Group operates three manufacturing facilities at Faridabad, Pune and Chennai, as this enables it to stay in close proximity to the country’s auto hubs. It is the Faridabad centre that houses an R&D as well as the manufacturing site for Omega Seiki’s EVs, since the region has high demand for the e-commerce segment. This plant has an installed capacity of 1,000 units every month. The intent is to develop the Faridabad plant as the mother centre and develop satellite plants across the country, wherein completely knocked down (CKD) kits could be assembled for an optimised cost structure.
Every driver operates the vehicle in a different way, and rough handling or overloading of an EV may lead to different types of problems in its electrical system, including short circuit, battery fire or faster battery drainage. Thus, the vehicle has been designed for a 750 kg payload, but has been tested up to one tonne payload to avoid unnecessary pressure on the components. The major issue was that e-commerce companies ship a plethora of products that often see different packaging sizes. The focus was hence on handling volumetric space rather than weight, explained Dr Mukherji, primary reason why the company developed two variants of its vehicle for now – Singha and Singha Max, both of which are certified by ICAT under L5 category.
Designed with a kerb weight of 450 kg and 500 kg respectively, Singha and Singha Max are deployed with 7.6 kW and 10.5 kW lithium-ion batteries that can be fully recharged in three hours for a 100 km drive range. Considered the heart of the EV, the powertrain consisting of battery, motors, electronics & controllers, and driveshafts have to withstand a lot of vehicle abuse, especially in the Indian market.
The company benchmarked products from a few bigger, established names such as Bajaj Auto and Mahindra and Mahindra to develop a quality product portfolio. It worked closely with its supplier partners to co-design and develop the entire vehicle architecture in-house with its own chassis, suspension, body as well as the drivetrain, noted Dr Mukherji. For the vehicle battery, Omega Seiki has been closely working with Exicom Power as well as US-based Innolia Energy, which has a set-up in Hyderabad, whereas for the drivetrain components such as motor and controllers, Omega Seiki has tied up with Virya Mobility, a Sun Mobility Group company.
Banking on ADM Technologies’ experience, Omega Seiki has kept options open for developing the cargo body type, and claims to be working closely with customers to develop the vehicle as per their requirements. Over the years, the company has spent considerable time understanding the customer requirements and at times, Dr Mukherji himself drove the vehicles for e-commerce delivers to understand the pain points a vehicle undergoes during operations and captures requisite data for building a robust vehicle.
Omega Seiki has also improvised on its product offerings based on the feedback received during their product showcase at the 2020 Delhi Auto Expo. The cargo box, for example, has been built using aluminium instead of steel, thus reducing weight by 50 %. It has also developed an insulated cargo box for perishable items. Dr Mukherji and his team is also working on deploying an additional power unit to develop a temperature controlled cargo box for fast perishable dairy products such as milk and ice cream. Based on the feedback from Tier II & III customers, the company has also reduced the width of the vehicle’s front fascia to below one metre for better manoeuvrability across narrow roads and also introduced new suspension for agility, said Dr Mukherji. Omega Seiki is also working on its third three-wheeler model, in addition to a two-wheeler and a four-wheeler (in one-tonne category) for cargo operations in the electric mobility segment.
One of the most critical projects in the development of an EV is the battery system, including cells, lithium metal, binders, separators, electrolytes, anodes and cathodes. The chemical factory needs to be managed well during the entire lifecycle, which many in India do not understand, observed Dr Mukherji. The battery performance also changes drastically after the specified numbers of charging cycles. Looking at the Indian market and the maturity of technologies, lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry is preferred by EV manufacturers because of its charging density as well as nickel magnesium cobalt (NMC). There is extensive research being done on this, and Dr Mukherji believes that the 1,000 km/charge threshold will be cracked very soon.
There is also a lot of debate on the battery system deployed in an EV, and Dr Mukherji believes there is merit in both fixed battery as well as swappable battery systems in the Indian market. Charging infrastructure is still a major issue and the swappable battery system has its own set of challenges such as battery standardisation protocols along with connectors that allow the user to quickly disconnect and replace the discharged battery with a charged one. The system can be a viable option for the cargo segment once the technology matures as it will take care of the range anxiety and downtime due to battery discharge, Dr Mukherji pointed out.
SERVICE & SUPPORT
Omega Seiki has structured a central maintenance and servicing team based in Delhi NCR along with an on-field troubleshooting team. The team monitors the vehicle health through its telematics solutions and can predict the vehicle performance and avoid any possible product failure that may arise. The telematics solutions offered by Omega Seiki is designed to capture over 100 data points including route optimisation and bundling deliveries, among others, as the vehicle’s turnaround time needs to be maximised. Since an EV is a sensitive system playing with a high voltage system, the company is training its customers to reduce their own stress for rectification of minor problems without anything related to battery. As an option, customers can also opt for telematics solution that enables them to closely monitor the vehicle performance, including battery management systems, battery discharge levels as well as cell level behaviours.
Incentives not only push up sales as cost of the vehicle comes down, but also boost confidence among manufacturers, who have been investing heavily. There is lot of seriousness on the part of the government, if incentives are also extended to the battery manufacturing side as there will be reduced dependence on cell imports from international markets, stated Dr Mukherji. However, he insists that subsidies are not a long-term solution and should be removed once volumes pick up momentum.
Omega Seiki has already supported a Gurugram-based company with a pilot of 50 vehicles, and claims to receive a lot of queries from e-commerce companies for last mile delivery. The company is also engaged in advanced discussions with a partner to export across ASEAN countries such as Thailand and Vietnam as well as leverage Anglian Omega Group’s network to expand its horizons in Latin America, Europe and Dubai.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja