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MARCH 25, 2007
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Mobile Security
Today, it is all about information and how the right information is sent to the right people at the right time and right place. Uncertainty about how to secure mobile phones in the face of increasing threats is slowing individual adoption of mobile applications. There are many facets of mobile security, including network intrusion, mobile viruses, spam and mobile phishing. Analysts expect big telecom companies to develop security solutions on various security platforms.

Rough Ride
These are competitive times for the Indian aviation industry. As salaries zoom, players are scrambling to find profits. Even the state-owned Indian is now seeking young airhostesses to take on the competition. It is planning to introduce a voluntary retirement scheme for airhostesses above 40 years. On an average, they draw a salary of Rs 5 lakh a year. The salaries of pilots, too, are soaring. According to industry estimates, the country needs over 3,000 pilots over the next five years.
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Business Today,  March 11, 2007

Electric Dreams
Last year, of the 7 million two-wheelers sold in India, just 50,000 were electric. But with a handful of manufacturers revving up, the market is set to double this year.
Ultra Motor's Ghoshal (L) & Hero Exports' Munjal: A big player enters the EV market
Ever since he graduated from an engineering college way back in 1973, Anil Ananthakrishna has spent his life developing electric two-wheelers. His first, named Vidyut 24 (the former means electricity in Hindi and the latter indicates the vehicle's power in volts), was launched in 1983. It was a technical success, says Anil Ananthakrishna, but a commercial failure for a number of reasons. His company Eko Vehicles Pvt. Ltd did not have a proper distribution system, its manufacturing system was not perfected, and since the sales volumes were low, retail prices could not be brought down. "At first, a radical idea is ignored, then ridiculed and finally accepted. I think the time for acceptance has arrived," declares Eko's Chairman & CEO.

Eko's Anil Ananthakrishna: "At first, a radical idea is ignored, then ridiculed and finally accepted"
It's once again one man who is passionate about the electric vehicle (EV) technology betting his company on it. But this time around, there's a difference. Soon after Eko launched its new electric scooter Eko Cosmic I in January 2005, a small number of other players have entered the market as well. The UK-based Ultra Motors, which is an EV technology provider, has tied up with Hero Cycles to market a range of electric cycles and scooters in India. Another Ludhiana-based bicycle manufacturer, Avon Cycles, has also launched a 35-volt "E-bike" that can do 40 km on a single charge. Electrotherm India and Standard Batteries are two others that have forayed into electric two-wheelers (see Who's on the EV Bandwagon?). "There is a wide (market) gap between a bicycle and, say, a scooter or a motorbike. EVs will serve as great in-betweens," says Deba Ghoshal, Director (Marketing), Ultra Motor Company. Adds Onkar Singh Pahwa, MD, Avon Cycles: "China is witnessing a revolution of sorts. They sold 7.5 million E-bikes in 2004 and 10 million in 2005. So, we expect at least a market of 2 lakh vehicles in India this year."


An assortment of small and big companies.

Product/Price/Units Sold What's the Plan?

Electrotherm India
YOBykes/ Rs 16,000-36,000/ N.A.
Move up from low-power scooterettes to higher-power vehicles in the next few months, backed by 250 exclusive YoWorld and YoPoint retail outlets by the end of March 2007

Standard Combines
Standard/ Rs 27,000/ 1,400
This combine harvester manufacturer moved into cranes and then into two-wheeler EVs two years ago; plans to have 400 dealers nationwide for its EVs

Hero Cycles/ Ultra Motors
E-bikes & E-scooters/ Rs 15,000-28,000/ N.A.
Two-wheeler giant Hero Group moves into the market and ties up with a UK-based firm to try and translate the latter's success in the Indian market

Avon Cycles
Avon E-bike, Avon E-lite, Avon E-plus/ Rs 16,500/ 1,500
Punjab-based cycle manufacturer moving up the chain to tap the booming EV market and plans to target production at 10,000 units a month eventually

Eko Vehicles
Eko Cosmic/ Rs 25,000/ 2,500
Second attempt at two-wheeler EVs, this time backed by tax exemptions from state governments

Kaiser Auto Moto
Zuck E-bikes/ Rs 16,500-40,000/ N.A.*
After establishing a strong presence in the Chinese market, the company plans to do the same in India as well. The company wants to sell at least 1,000 bikes in the first year
N.A.: Not available *Kaiser plans to launch its vehicles in India in mid-April Source: Companies

Opportunities Galore, But...

Electrotherm's MD Mukesh Bhandari: 7.7 million EVs over the next decade, says the firm's research
There's no doubt that India is a two-wheeler nation. In 2005-06, more than 7 million two-wheelers were sold in the country. Of these, 5.81 million were motorcycles or step-throughs, 9.08 lakh were largely scooterettes and another 3.32 lakh were mopeds. A bare 50,000 were electric two-wheelers. By the end of this financial year in March, two-wheeler sales will surge past the 8-million mark, and ev sales should double to 1 lakh. One reason behind it is, of course, the rising affluence of India's middle-class consumers. Another is the soaring cost of fossil fuel (read: petrol), and yet another, the concern over global warming due to emissions. Last year, India imported oil worth Rs 1,97,600 crore, of which vehicles consumed 40 per cent. If that bill can be cut by even 1 per cent, that's Rs 7,900 crore in annual savings. "Market research undertaken by us indicates a potential demand for 7.7 million evs over the next decade," says Avinash Bhandari, Director (Operations), Electrotherm.

Standard Combines’ Choubey: “It was only last year that companies evinced great interest in this segment” Kaiser Auto Moto MD Wasi-Ur-Rahman: “India is the next big opportunity in this fast-growing market”
The concept of EVs is not new. A workable prototype was first produced in America as early as 1834, and till the late 1890s, EVs were considered to be the future. But then the internal combustion engine came along and quickly became the standard on most vehicles. EV-related work was put on the backburner by most vehicle manufacturers, and research limped along. As a result, EVs today have several handicaps. They cost, on an average, 50 per cent more than their IC-counterparts. Explains Ghoshal: "The motor, controller and batteries together constitute two-thirds of the vehicle cost," implying that there's little scope for reducing the vehicle price. Why do these components cost so much? Simply because there haven't been any technological breakthroughs in any of them, therefore, costs have remained static. In a price-sensitive market like India, higher cost of EVs has meant slower adoption. That apart, there are logistical issues. Conventional lead acid batteries offer limited range-for instance, most EVs today can at best do 80 km on a single, six-hour charge (see The EV Pros and Cons). To make matters worse, there are no public electric charge stations in the country.


Currently, disadvantages outweigh the benefits of electric two-wheelers.


Lower cost per kilometre (Rs 0.40/ km) vs petrol-driven vehicles (Rs 2/ km)
Lower cost of maintenance since there are fewer moving parts

Is environment-friendly since EVs have zero harmful emissions

Some bikes don't require a licence to operate and others are auto-geared

Lighter and more efficient Lithium Ion batteries are being developed

Growing acceptance as a second two-wheeler for short trips

Load carrying capacity is getting better with new models

Entry of players like Hero Group lends credibility to the sector


Mileage per charge is as little as 50-80 km and overnight recharge is mandatory

The electric motor and batteries need to go through costly overhauls regularly

Availability, since EV makers are unknown and retail spread limited

Limited speed and pick up; therefore, limited to personal commuting

No public charging points (paid or unpaid) in India for now

More expensive than equivalent petrol vehicles due to tax structure

Yet, current electric two-wheelers can carry only 100-120 kg of weight

Most players import Chinese CKDs and assemble. After sales service is poor

Avon Cycles' Onkar Singh Pahwa: "We expect at least a market of 2 lakh (electric) vehicles in India this year"
Recent improvements in battery technology and the steady rise in fuel prices have made EVs attractive. "It was only last year that companies evinced great interest in this segment," says V.K. Choubey, Deputy Director of Standard Combines. Ananthakrishna's firm has sold 2,500 Eko Cosmics since its launch in January 2005, and Standard has done about 1,400. But for EVs to become affordable, the government needs to chip in too. In particular, the manufacturers want excise and sales tax benefits, besides changes in the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI's) guidelines. "Currently, any electric motor above 250 Watts cannot get ARAI clearance. There's no explanation offered," says Ghoshal. "Throughout the world, motors are getting more and more powerful from a performance and safety perspective," he adds. Ananthakrishna agrees, stating that arai's guidelines for EVs are archaic. He says the regional transport authorities (RTOs) need to be educated about EVs, since sometimes they either refuse to register such vehicles or unnecessarily harass the owners. "EVs will remain (a niche segment) for the next two years and in the third year we will see it gain critical mass and become mainstream," says Naveen Munjal, Chief Executive of Hero Exports.


Can biofuels upset the EV calculations?

While EVS have caught the attention and imagination of a large section of the alternate fuel market, there are quite a few other options. These include ethanol, bio-diesel, natural gas, propane and hydrogen. Ethanol in India is derived from molasses, a by-product of sugar manufacturing. India is the second-largest producer of sugarcane (at 280 million tonnes per annum, next only to Brazil) and is already experimenting with ethanol-blended petrol. There are nine states where petrol is being blended (5 per cent) with ethanol, and the Union petroleum ministry is looking at enhancing the blend ratio to 10 per cent and making it a standard across the country.

Bio-diesel is derived from vegetable oils and animal fats. In India, though, bio-diesel is derived mainly from the seeds of Jatropha plant and that of Indian beech tree. Since Jatropha can be grown on wastelands and yields more than four times as much fuel per acre as soyabean and nearly 10 times that of corn, the Indian government has encouraged cultivation of this shrub-like plant. Even private sector players such as Reliance Petroleum have been attracted to the potential of this shrub.

Compressed Natural Gas or (CNG) is a widely used alternate fuel in India. The country is believed to have more gas than petroleum reserves. Propane or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is another widely used alternate fuel. Even mainstream car manufacturers such as Maruti Udyog today offer an LPG alternative in some of their vehicles. Hydrogen fuel vehicles are considered the Holy Grail, as hydrogen is abundant in nature. However, the technology is yet to be perfected.

For entrepreneurs such as Ananthakrishna, who've spent decades pursuing their electric dreams, two years should pass in a blink.

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