Raft Motors is a new entrant in the Electric Vehicle segment, however, with ever-increasing dealership nodes in major towns, it is fast emerging as one of the industry leaders with innovative products and advanced engineering skills. The promoters claim their electric scooters have been designed to address various problems in the EV two-wheeler segment such as slow charging, low powered motors as well as shorter battery life with a target range of 300 km (plus another 180 km with portable battery) to address the range anxiety issues often related to EVs in the country. With the recent unveiling of its various models, Raft Motors has demonstrated a strong commitment to meet the EV aspirations of Indian consumers by providing the best quality products. It also has more products in its stable, besides EVs.
Presented here is a tete-a-tete with two young, dynamic, visionary, and enthusiastic entrepreneurs – Mr. Parivesh Shukla and Mr. Rakesh Salve, the brains behind Raft Motors. They speak about their range of products, future plans, the intricacies involved in tackling demands from the users as well as other challenges facing the industry.
“We aim to speed up our production to 50,000 scooters per month by March 2022”
Let us know the journey so far as it was an entirely new segment in the auto sector?
In fact, Electric vehicle is not something new to the users. It has been present in the Indian market since 2006 but it was not widely accepted due to various flaws. Those versions were using an outdated concept of Lead Acid Technology which had hardly a life span of 6 months. That means the user had to change it every 6 months. As a result, the companies producing these vehicles could not survive.
We entered this market in 2017 with huge experience both in terms of its manufacturing faults as well as the marketing part. Prior to this we had taken the dealership of an EV company and ran the show for a year. We took a lot of effort to take the concept to people and promoted it in and around Mumbai. But when things were looking up good they terminated our dealership as they got some big party agreeing to invest more. So who could better understand the technicalities associated with EVs?
However, those days taught us a lot of lessons. There was no dealer support, no trained mechanics to solve even a minor problem. What we did, we noted all those issues, searched for solutions, and decided to have our own product. Already we had a brand – Raft Motors – it was our agency name. We applied for licenses, did the required paperwork, and thus Raft Motors was re-born as a company. We used our own resources to set up the plant.
To start with, we got rid of the major problem – in our vehicles, we started using Lithium Ferrophosphate Batteries, considered to be the best. It has roughly 3000 life cycles, which in a layman’s language means 3000 times it could be charged from zero to 100. That’s a big leap. This battery gives the vehicle life of approximately 8 to 10 years. Considering the life span of the battery we’ve confidently fixed a one lakh kilometers warranty on our vehicles. It has given users a lot of hope and faith in electric vehicles. They thought that if they could use these vehicles for one lakh kilometers then they get their money’s worth.
According to our observation and varied interactions with the end-users we feel there are four major concerns – it should be comfortable and stylish, energy-efficient, after-sale services, and affordable rates. And we’ve incorporated it all in our vehicles.
How is the production going? Are you utilizing the full capacity?
Our manufacturing base is built with state-of-the-art facilities equipped with best-in-class tools and facilities which results in the production of the best quality and environmentally friendly Electric vehicles. It is managed by a dedicated team of highly skilled professionals. We have an efficient team of R&D working relentlessly towards innovation, product development, precision assembly, with a keen eye to maintain stringent quality control. Our facility is also designed with the unique ability to provide the perfect solution for technically challenging projects and requirements.
What are the plans you are working on?
We feel due to high transportation costs and other issues beyond our control, it is not possible to cater to all our dealers from one single point. So we have a plan to establish mini-units across the country and to have one dealership in every Tehsil. One mini-unit will cater to only 6 districts. Recently we have set up one in Punjab and in October another 10 mini-units will start functioning. By March 22 we plan to have 100 mini-units across the country. These units will solve most of the issues dealers were facing. It will enable us to fulfill our mission of next-day delivery and immediate service. Each unit will store 300 vehicles and will employ around 50 people whereas each dealership will at least employ 5 people.
That means you are all set to create at least 5000 jobs?
Hopefully, yes. But apart from the direct employment at mini units and agencies, we have also initiated another venture that will create a big number of indirect employment opportunities. Unlike petrol vehicles which use engines that can be serviced as trained mechanics are available everywhere, EV’s battery can’t be rectified at all the places. You don’t find trained mechanics or service centers that need a setup. To solve this issue we’ve developed a Training Module open to all. Simply by paying Rupees 99 one can get 5-day on-job training. This training makes him suitable for a job at dealer’s showroom as well as EV manufacturing units. And if he has some business acumen he can open his own service center. If one has no money to invest in a service center he can still make a comfortable amount of money by giving door-to-door service. All he needs to have some spares not costing rupees 15000-20000. This is good for rural areas. This venture was started to solve the after-sale service issue.
How beneficial has been government’s push towards eco-friendly technology and E-vehicle especially?
I find the government is only confusing people with its various recurring announcements. There is only one benefit the industry has got – awareness regarding EVs. Now people know they have a choice to buy a scooter that doesn’t need petrol and is easy to maintain with not much further expenses. So the awareness part can be credited to the government. Secondly, I find even those entrusted to execute the policies are clueless about them. We’ve gone to government offices pleading with officers to give us the benefits the ministers have announced. All we got was an answer ‘there is nothing in writing with us.’ What amuses me is the moment the EV market picks up government comes out with some announcements that derail the momentum as end-users get confused, not knowing well that really getting a government subsidy is not everyone’s cup of tea. My advice is that before announcing anything it should educate its officers with a clear black-white instruction sheet. I also feel there shouldn’t be any subsidy and let each company stand on its own because subsidy benefits the few.
Please tell us about other products the company is offering?
Laced with the experience we knew from an early stage that a dealer cannot maintain satisfactorily a showroom with escalating costs only by selling scooters. To optimize the best use of capital and manpower employed he has to keep some other consumer products also. So we manufacture and offer our dealers a bunch of 15 products. These are sold only by our channel partners. So we have Smart Television in three sizes, Sound System, Batteries, Chargers and a host of accessories. What makes our Television unique is that it comes with 10 years warranty, which no company in the world gives. We soon will provide a battery in our TVs so if suddenly there is no power supply one can still watch his favorite program uninterrupted for 5 hours. So far there is no company that offers a TV that also runs on battery.
Did you receive any interest on the export front?
We are getting inquiries but the process is long and tedious. We have a plan to enter a few countries, figuring out the markets and the result will be out within 3-4 months. We are in the process of zeroing on a country that suits geographically to cater a maximum number of countries. We are sure Raft Motors will have its presence in the whole world barring few countries like Afghanistan sooner than later.
Any other initiative that you are working on?
We are working on charging stations, which is the biggest hurdle right now before EVs. There are not many charging stations and we are certain that there wouldn’t be many because it is not sustainable financially. It takes an investment of rupees 2.5 lakh and hardly any assurance of some revenue.
We’ve designed a Charging Station Kit which will be sold to end-users in just a paltry sum of Rupees 5000. Any Kirana Store, Medical Store, or General store owner can install it at his shop and create an additional source of income. It doesn’t take space as it is hanged on a wall. Fitted with a scanner, for 25 rupees the power will be on for an hour, enough to charge a vehicle. It uses one unit of electricity for an hour and even at a commercial rate the owner gets 15 rupees. If we succeed, as planned, and you find a unit in every corner of your neighborhood, the sale of EVs will skyrocket.
You have opened doors to ex-Ford Motors employees. What has been the response?
We have invited workers who may lose their jobs in Ford Motors’ restructuring plans. We’ve received many resumes and soon interviews will be done. We are hopeful of getting experienced technical hands. It would be very beneficial to us because by 2023 we plan to be in 4 wheeler segment. Models are getting readied and the documentation process is going on. Earlier we planned the project for 2025 but our team has almost completed most of the related works. In 4 wheeler segment, every day new launches are happening, but ours will be different. We are entirely looking at the user’s point of view. To give you a peek, our vehicle will run 1600 kilometers per recharge against 400 km right now in the market.
What about the new model of scooter you are launching next month?
We are launching a scooter that will run for 480 kilometers in one single charge. Nowhere in the world, there is such a vehicle. Users are in dilemma before buying an EV that in case the battery needs to be recharged on the way what will happen? To clear this dilemma we are providing dual battery – one fixed for 300 kilometers and another portable with 180 kilometers. So the rider is assured he has a backup and can plan to go on a long trip. Also, you get a vehicle that can easily run for 15 years, and to top it all the battery is reusable as UPS.
Are you certain to become number one in the EV segment by 2025 as declared earlier and what all are the plans to achieve that huge target?
We have created numerous path-breaking advances in EV Technologies and as a result, the E-vehicles that we manufacture adhere to international quality and safety standards. We have just a single mission – by using eco-friendly technology to be the number one in the electric vehicle segment by delivering economic, smart, innovative, stylish, comfortable, and energy-efficient electric vehicles. Our endeavor is to provide Value, Quality, and Unparalleled Services to users and our channel partners. We have a set target to be the leader in the vast EV Segment by 2025 with our presence all over India and abroad with a consistent focus on quality and skilled services to our clients and create employment through our Electric Vehicle Training Modules. Our team is very enthusiastic, working hard, completing tasks before the scheduled time and I’m certain soon Raft Motors will have its presence around the world.
What has been the impact of Covid?
Covid has largely been helpful to the industry. People had difficulty getting public transport and depended on their own conveyance. Petrol rates again are an issue. At present business is good. In the last 8 months demand has increased manifold. So right now all EV manufacturing companies are running to their full capacity. That is one reason why our priority has shifted to next day delivery and after-sale service. We aim to speed up our production to 50,000 scooters per month by March 2022.