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Ather Energy - Electric Scooters that compete with Aprilias and Vespas

Ather Energy, a Bengaluru based start up created by former IITians finally unveiled their electric scooters - Ather 340 and the Ather 450. Priced slightly on the higher side at INR 1.09 L and 1.24L (on road - Bengaluru) including the FAME subsidy and all taxes, the scooters are exciting and a must try for scooter buyers who do not mind shelling out a little more money than a mid-range scooter would cost and do not mind using it primarily for short distance commutes.
Ather 450
Their showroom is located on 100ft Road in Indiranagar. You can visit them at any time and their staff is extremely accomadating and will help you with any queries that you may have. If there is not too much of a crowd, they will allow you to take a test ride too.

Ather opened their showroom today (8th, June, 2018). I visited them and was mighty pleased with what they were doing.
In an interesting conversation with Mr. Swapnil Jain, the humble and down to earth Co-Founder and CTO, I learnt a lot about the company and the scooter.

Performance:
Ather envisions disrupting the scooter indsustry by being one of the first companies who manage to sell good quality electric scooters. Unlike the entry level Hero Electric scooter that manages a top speed of just 25kmph, Ather claims that their scooters can touch a mighty impressive speed of 80 kmph-90kmph. 
While the 340 costs 1.09 L and has a mileage of just 60 km, it makes sense to pay a little extra to buy the 450 as it costs INR 15K more, but comes included with the home charging kit that would otherwise cost INR 9K. It essentially works out to be INR 6K more*. The 450 also comes with a top mileage of 75km in the eco mode due to higher performance 2.4kWh lithium ion battery as opposed to a 1.92kWh battery {1}.
The 450 accelerates from 0-40kmph in 3.9 seconds which is pretty impressive for a scooter, let alone an electric one.

Manufacturing and Battery Life: 
Ather scooters are manufactured in Whitefield, Bengaluru. The battery cells are imported from Korea. With respect to the battery, Mr. Swapnil assures us that the performance should not be affected much even after 3-5 years. He said that we might see a 10% reduction in performance. It must be noted that the fuel efficiency in cars reduces drastically more than 10% after 3-5 years. With respect to replacing the batteries, although it will not be necessary, the cost will be minimal due to the reducing prices of lithium ion batteries due to increased mass production and wider adoption. In today's world, the battery costs about $ 180 per kWh.

Specs:

While I will not discuss a lot about the specs as you can check it out either on their website or in person, I must dwell on a few features that are not particularly mentioned in detail on their wesbite, along with my observations. There is no speedo meter and the touchscreen dashboard serves multiple purposes such as displaying the speed, mileage left and for navigation (using Google Maps). It has an integrated 3G sim card and can communicate with your mobile app directly.
Ather Chargers
What is interesting is that you can create multiple rider profiles and change the pofile based on who is riding. By machine learning, based on each rider's habits, it will better predict the mileage to a greater degree of accuracy over time. This is extremely impressive in an EV that costs just a little over 1L. This is a feature that isn’t available right now and will be rolled out in the coming months, when they have scooters on the road and have enough data to learn and apply it
The screen is connected to the Internet using a GSM service (3G). The first year is free. After that, each month will cost INR 700. Although it is a bit pricey, the INR 700 per month is not unprecedented. Tesla also claims that they will charge their customers soon. The tarrif includes the carrier costs, door-step maintanence as well as unlimited access to any of their chargers located conveniently all over Bengaluru that charges your scooter very quickly (1km/ minute). Their chargers are already functional all around the city.
My experience with the on-screen dash was not great. On two separate occassions, the screen froze. It was also sluggish throughout. A separate staffer to whom I had asked about the RAM and processor details was unaware of the specifics.
What I was most impressed about the dashboard was that the touch was disabled when the scooter was moving - making the rider concentrate completely on the road and not distracted by the gadget. 
Charging the scooter at home will take about 4.5 hours and consume 3 units of electricity which translates to around INR 15 per charge.

Answers to F.A.Qs:
  • The scooters need to be registered with new green registration plates. A valid 2-wheeler DL is also required.
  • Running costs are about 5X lesser as compared to a Honda Activa for example. At INR 80/l of petrol and an efficiency of 55 kmpl, 1 km will cost around INR 1.4 as opposed to an SR 450 in which it will cost around INR 0.3. 
  • Delivery will take about 3 months if booked today.
  • The Government FAME subsidy as well as other registration charges are included in the price. INR 1.09 l and 1.24 l is the final price paid after subsidy.
 Pros:

  • Great ride, power and speed.
  • Chargers are located in such a way that one is not more than 4 km away from your location. 4 km is a lot. But, the very fact that they are even creating such infrastructure shows that they mean business and provide after care for their customers.
  • Electric vehicles are emission free and environmentally more friendly.
  • Possible benefits in the near future in public places such as premium parking in malls and parking spaces, fee waivers for many services etc in view with the Government's all electric nation dream.
  • Interactive display with navigation.
  • Tracking of scooter through mobile app.
  • State of the art - modern machine learning technology for better user experience.

    Cons:
  • Pricey as compared to a similar 125cc petrol powered scooter. A Vespa costs INR 78,000 + taxes. A Honda Activa costs around INR 52,000 + taxes. Over here, it must be noted that a Vespa is a slightly premium brand, whereas a Honda Activa is an entry level.
  • Sluggish interactive display.
  • Mileage is the best in class so far, but still low for various people like salesman who travel on field visits daily.
Future plans:

Ather plans to expand to 30 cities. As and when more orders roll in, Mr. Swapnil said that manufacturing will also increase. For now, they are focussing on getting pre-orders, fulfilling their orders and expanding services in Bengaluru. This is the right way forward - focus on the market in which you are yet to prove yourselves prior to expanding to other such markets. Brilliant way to build credibilty.

Final Verdict:

If you are willing to spend a little more upfront to enjoy the  future, this scooter is for you. You might not be able to go too far, especially if you are not going to park at a Charger, but the mileage is still pretty good for short commutes. The scooter may not be ideal for those who want to use it as their primary vehicle if they make occasional journeys to places more than 25 km away. I would probably buy it, if I needed to make small travels. While mileage and recharging is still a bit of an issue, if people buy the scooter and Ather manages to scale, they have the potential  to pull a Tesla and make their Chargers ubiquitous.

I'd buy the scooter if not for two issues -
1. My commute daily is soon going to be 25 km one way with no charger available nearby.
2. Obviously - I do not have a license.

Price and chargers aside, I do not see any reason not to buy it. Yes, the price is slightly on the higher side but you have the advantages of lowered running costs as well as enjoying a premium, good looking, well equipped non-polluting scooter perfect for those rides to the gym, the supermarket, to the restaurant in the CBD where parking is restricted or to even pick your kid up from school. It is also perfect for those who wish to commute to work within a 20km range. Fitted with modern technology and (oops I forgot to mention) regenerative braking, I can see the these scooters being very popular among the feature crazy as well as the environmentally conscious youth as well as older people. Ride sharing start ups like MetroBikes should also consider renting these scooters out and maintaning a charging facility at their offices at various metro stations.

The final question is this - Will you buy one today or wait until they are ubiquitous and the 'norm'? 
Leave a comment below.




*Their wesbite says that both scooters come with free home chargers. A staff member at Ather said otherwise.


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