As per the India's Society of Manufacturers of Electrical Vehicles, at present electrical vehicles (EVs) account for less than one per cent of the total vehicle sales in India. This number is expected to grow over five per cent in the next few years, with the government’s push towards EVs. Riding on this wave of electromobility is Goldstone Infratech Ltd, the leading Indian manufacturer of composite insulators for power transmission and distribution networks, with its electric buses.
The company’s e-bus, Goldstone eBuzz K7, recently started plying on the Kullu-Manali-Rohtang Pass route. Goldstone has tied up with BYD, the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of pure electric buses, for technical support and know-how.
Anand Swaroop, Group Chief Operating Officer, Goldstone Infratech Ltd, believes that electric bus will revolutionise the public transportation segment in India, with electric buses expected to account for 20 per cent of the market share in overall bus category. Swaroop spoke exclusively to APF to elaborate more on the company’s plans for e-vehicle business and the potential of electromobility in the country.
What prompted Goldstone Group to foray into electric vehicles business?
We are a technology company, which brings the latest know-how in the country. We are India’s leading manufacturer of silicone rubber/composite insulators for power transmission and distribution (T&D) networks and supply to large T&D companies and railways in India and overseas. We have around 50 per cent of market share in this industry.
For the past two years, we were looking at new technology initiatives and one of the options discussed was the electric vehicles business. We observed that there is a global trend in favour of electromobility. We did a study that there was grid-imbalance due to increase in contribution of solar power.
There were three major factors that led us to venture into electric vehicle business. One was grid imbalance and second was need to cut fossil fuel consumption, on which India spends huge amount of money for importing. Third, regulatory changes taking place in the auto industry, with the government insisting on reducing pollution and adopting new emission norms (from BS IV to BS VI), which leads to OEMs investing in latest technology to meet the new standards to reduce emission. Thus, non-polluting environment is the need of the hour.
We had lot of deliberations on the new business venture, before we zeroed in on EV. We were into insulator business (electric equipment) and EV was a logical extension. We were the first to get into electromobility for commercial vehicles.
People used to laugh at us when we began work on the electric vehicle business two years ago. But today, everybody is talking about EV and chalking out plans to be part of this revolution.
We started with the first commercial EV trial in 2016. At the same time, Government of India announced Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) scheme with the objective to support hybrid/electric vehicles market development and manufacturing eco-system. All these developments helped us in developing our EV business.
Recently, Goldstone Infratech's electric bus joined the fleet of Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation (HPTC). What is the significance of this event to Goldstone Group?
The moment you talk about electric vehicle, people talk about mileage – that is average distance covered by the EV on one full charge. Another question that props up is: Is EV capable of climbing a gradient?
When HPTC floated the tenders, we participated and won the contract against tough competition from some of the leading OEMs. Our E-bus was able to seamlessly travel from Kullu to Manali and Manali to Rohtang (ie 13,000 ft above sea level), roads having steep gradients, still having some charge left in the vehicle. We won the contract to supply 25 e-buses under the brand, Goldstone eBuzz K7.
These electric buses serve the passengers between Kullu-Manali-Rohtang pass at a very high altitude, which will become a benchmark for every state transport undertaking. This will surely augment faster adoption of much needed electric public transport system in the country and further support the cause of environment protection.
What are the unique features of Goldstone's e-Buses?
These buses are Made in India by Goldstone Infratech Ltd. We have a tie-up with BYD Auto Industry Co Ltd – the world’s largest electric vehicle company – to manufacture these electric buses in India. These buses use lithium-iron-phosphate battery which ensures longer lifetime, better power density and is safe due to chemical and thermal stability.
Today, no company manufactures lithium iron batteries in India. Globally, only two companies make lithium iron batteries – Panasonic (which manufactures in association with Tesla) and BYD.
Safety is a primary concern for customer of any vehicle. Our bus has been certified by Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), after extensive testing at part level and vehicle level at various testing facilities. Goldstone’s electric buses with front- and rear air suspension offer comfortable rides to the commuters.
Each bus eBuzz K7 can run over 200 km in a single charge and can be recharged in less than four hours due to its fast charging technology. It offers ease of operation – no noise, no pollution.
Kindly share with us details about your e-vehicles business?
We have orders for 35 buses, with more than 12 buses already on the road. We have our manufacturing facilities in Bangalore (Karnataka) and Hyderabad (Telangana) – two states which have announced their electric vehicle policies. At present, we have a capacity to produce 400-500 bus annually. We will look at consolidating our manufacturing operations at Telangana over a period of time.
Besides HPTC, are you supplying e-buses to any other state transport corporations? If yes, please elaborate.
We are holding talks with number of state transport corporations across the country. The company has already received order of six electric buses from Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST). Earlier in August 2017, the company successfully completed the trials for the 12-meter low floor AC electric bus with Chandigarh Transport Undertaking. We also aim to target private bus transporters who are looking at non-polluting, high-quality vehicles. We expect by 2020, 20 per cent of buses plying on India roads would be electric – with 50 per cent of urban buses being electric.
In addition to e-buses, are you planning to foray into other
We have a long-term vision for EV business. We would be venturing into other e-vehicles segments over a period of time. At present, BYD is supplying chassis and battery for our e-buses. We will plan to start manufacturing chassis in India, in collaboration with BYD, by next year.
Government intends to make India a 100-percent electric vehicle nation by 2030. What is your opinion on this? What are the key challenges in achieving this goal?
One is the mindset, as people only look at the cost and not at the long-term benefits of electric vehicles. With the amount of subsidiary given by the government, the cost of the electric bus can be recovered within five to seven years. Hence, electric buses are highly profitable as they have very low maintenance cost compared to internal combustion engine (ICE). The government should ensure availability of study power and charging infrastructure for countrywide roll-out of electric vehicles. With wider acceptance of EV, cost of important components will come down making EV production more cost-effective and ushering in green mobility in the country.
Finally, what are your growth plans (short, medium and long term) for e-vehicles business?
Over a period of three years, we will be investing about Rs 500-750 crores. We plan to sell units in three-digit numbers per annum in the short term and hit four-digit numbers in the long run.
With wider acceptance of EV, cost of important components will come down making EV production more cost-effective and ushering in green mobility in the country.