Will The Indian Innovation Gene Redefine Mobility?

Guest Commentary September 2018 Mahindra Electric
Will The Indian Innovation Gene Redefine Mobility?

MAHESH BABU is Chief Executive Officer at Mahindra Electric

India is a fascinating geography, and I say this in reference to not just the ethnicity and diversity of the country; but also in reference to the zeal that India has to grow, to do better, to innovate and to prosper! India is known as the country of innovation, and has given to the world the concept of zero, chess, Vedic mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, yoga and more. Innovation thrives in every nook & corner of our country, be it big or small.

I have always been amazed at the micro innovations that keep bubbling in all the small corners of our country and as an active follower of the automotive segment, the ones in the mobility space specially catch my eye. When the planned development for mobility inside cities moved towards building metros, I was astonished to see the quick identification of opportunity and requirement for last mile connectivity, which resulted into basic motor and battery combination vehicles cropping up on the roads. These locally made electric three-wheelers address requirements, which weren’t planned for earlier. Sure, these contraptions might break down frequently and have no standardisation from piece to piece, but they keep the economy of our cities moving. What’s worth appreciating is the innovation that went behind it – simple yet inexpensive. Such is the ingenuity of India.

Coming to the bigger picture, while the world is moving to shared mobility systems, it is interesting to know where India has reached, even after being one of the late adopters of modern shared mobility. Morgan Stanley predicts that by 2030, nearly 35 % of all miles travelled in India will be shared. This is just an example of the trend. With one of the largest population, fastest growing economies and approximate penetration of only 25 vehicles per 1,000 people in India, we still have one of lowest per capita emission count.

The Indian geography reimagined sharing, when no one else was even considering it. Who can forget Bollywood capturing rural India migrating to urban pastures sitting on top of a train? We have the likes of shared tempos, three-wheelers, tractors being extended as a mobility solution and basic electric two-wheelers being put together in rural workshops. While India races to the future with metro rail, advanced connectivity and vehicle sharing models; it is supported by micro innovations like the electric three-wheelers that I mentioned earlier. We have found ways to drive the economy in a manner that has made us what we are today. Such is the focus of community sharing event in intra city commute in India. Such is the ingenuity of India.


With this innovation gene in our DNA, we are now posed with a situation of rapid urbanisation. A quick glance at the World Bank projections highlight that between 2014 and 2050, close to 400 mn Indians will be urbanised. And as early as 2030, we will have at least seven mega cities with a population of 10 mn plus and almost 50 cities each with population over 1 mn. These concentrated masses of population need us to rethink mobility in a manner that addresses not just congestion but also pollution. While the most sustainable way to travel is to walk, massive distances sometimes make it unreasonable. The next best alternative hence, is to use shared electric mobility; reducing the carbon footprint for all passengers. The need for electric mass mobility and sustainable last mile connectivity stems from here.

Building on the locally developed electric rickshaws, which have cropped up in our cities, our next step has to be to develop sustainable yet reliable electric three- and four-wheelers for last mile connectivity. This segment has the potential to become more organised and definitely be more green and sustainable. Another interesting sustainable mobility application in the city is in the space of shared employee commute and fleet applications of EVs. In fact, owing to my association with Mahindra Electric, I have had the opportunity to study these segments and the adoption possibilities thereof, on a personal level.

Sustainable mobility in fleet applications not just encourages greener living, but also makes economic sense with rapidly increasing number of proven business cases. Working with these set-ups, we have had multiple business learnings, including – the fastest way to breakeven is by ensuring that EVs are always running, an efficient way to run the operations is by installing fast charging infrastructure at key locations, using software support systems to draw on the enhanced connectivity capabilities of EVs resulting into maximum value in terms of output from asset, and EV batteries can last almost up to 200,000 km for an individual vehicle without requiring major overhaul. These and many similar learnings have brought me to believe that the way for India to adopt sustainable mobility is through mass and shared applications of electric vehicles.


I believe that today, India is standing at a tipping point. We have a past, which boasts of the widest range of vehicles – two-wheelers, three-wheelers, cars, LCVs, HCVs, etc powering mobility for the economy. And now we are building a new future with a mobility ecosystem that is sustainable, green, connected, shared and yet serving the unique Indian requirements. As a nation, we are going to integrate everything and present one of the largest EV ecosystem models across economies. The world is looking up to us. And it is people like you and me who will create this future. My colleagues, my peers in the industry and the government, my friends and family who are a part of this ecosystem as consumers; it is us who will collectively make this happen. A greener future is in our hands!