How are you managing this tough period?
We were on quite a high and were doing great before all this began. On a run-rate basis, we had reached the level of 100,000 units a year, and we closed last year at 50,000 units. But now all our offices and 600 dealerships are closed. In the short run, we are in touch with everyone to make sure that our ground staff and dealers are pepped up and focusing on the positive as much as possible. We believe we will come soaring back once normalcy returns.
Do you see an interest in the electric vehicle segment becoming big enough to create a surge in demand?
Of course, the entire EV market, including commercial vehicles, is just 156,000 units. So, that number is nothing compared to the millions of other automobiles sold. The numbers are not there, of course, but electric two-wheelers are doing well and getting better. Out of the 156,000 EVs sold, 150,000 are two-wheelers. And if things were not disturbed by the pandemic, we would have expected the number to double by next year.
Do you think business practices will change after the lockdown?
A few things will happen, for sure. I think the customer mindset will change. Business will not be as usual! We can see that pollution levels are much less now. And I’m sure that people will consider this while thinking about electric vehicles. Public transport will be a problem because of social distancing, which means that people will move to private transport. And the first thing that comes to mind when we think of private transport is a motorcycle or a scooter. And it’s possible that customers will now want electric two-wheelers. So, it’s really simple – if the consumer mindset changes, the business practices will also change. We will have to now talk about the environment and social distancing when pushing our products.
So, do you think this will actually create a bigger demand for electric vehicles, and do you think electric vehicles really can help reduce pollution?
In cities, which are the most polluted, there are hardly any factories! And during the lockdown, we have already seen a huge change, a positive change in the air quality. It’s definitely true that transport contributes a lot to the pollution in our cities. People are already talking about the absence of automobiles and its effect on the environment, and its registering in people’s minds. We are the culprits responsible for pollution. The problem here, though, is that electric cars are very costly, which makes it very difficult for people to switch to them. However, you must have noticed that, at Hero Electric, we offer much more affordable and practical solutions.
We saw an electric motorbike at your stall at the Auto Expo this year. Can you tell us a bit about your future products?
Well, the bike was a concept. It is not a part of our strategy. We just did it for fun and to see the response it generated. Right now, our focus is on the belly of the market, and we plan to launch two new products that offer great value for money – both of which will be launched this year itself.
What about the rural parts of the country? Is demand for electric scooters increasing in those areas as well?
We have definitely seen a shift in demand. Big cities are no longer where we see growth. Our products do very well in places where public transport is not that good, and where the average commute distance is not very high, plus speeds are not so important and maintenance facilities and petrol pumps are not densely located. So, it’s a classic situation where an electric vehicle fits well, especially for families. In fact, our bikes don’t require regular service and maintenance, and we offer a 3-year warranty period. Our products have almost zero after-sales cost. And we also have a product for everyone. We also conduct B2B transactions and supply to companies like Amazon, who want hassle-free scooters that are also environmentally friendly.
What would you say to someone who is sceptical about electric vehicles?
Well, you must experience it. Our major objective in our dealerships is to get someone to sit on the scooter and ride it. After riding it, most people appreciate it immediately – not to mention the fact that you save so much money. You obviously can’t compare an EV to a regular vehicle. You have to have an attitude towards the environment and towards saving money, and only then will you see its true value.