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The Journey of Ola Electric: How a Start-up Became a Leader in India's Electric Revolution

By: Mayank Gupta

News18.com

Last Updated: August 15, 2022, 13:29 IST

New Delhi, India

Ola Future Factory. Image used for representation. (Image: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

Ola Future Factory. Image used for representation. (Image: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

Ola's journey in the EV space has all the elements, the formation of a strong base, a promising start, some hurdles, and an outlook that is nothing short of impressive

As India celebrates its 75th Independence Day, there’s a lot to cherish that has happened during this time. As for the automotive industry, it is going through its biggest shift in a push towards an electric future. A key player in this transformation has been Bhavish Aggarwal-led Ola Electric and on the 74th Independence Day of India, which is during the same time as now but last year, the company presented its first ever electric scooter to the world and it was nothing less than sensational.

– The Start of The Hype –

It all started unfolding on May 27 when Ola announced its decision to acquire Amsterdam-based Etergo BV which was a premium player in the electric two-wheeler market. Etergo BV already had its acumen proved in the EV space with the all-electric state-of-the-art AppScooter which had a range of 240 km on a single charge.

Once the acquisition was complete with paperwork amply taken care of, Ola Electric announced its plans of foraying into the EV segment not only just nationally but internationally. The company had a defined plan: leverage Etergo’s design and engineering capabilities to build its smart electric two-wheeler while using its in-house resources for sales and operations.

Meanwhile, in the next few months, Ola Electric made several key appointments in the building up for the launch of its first EV. Predominantly, the hiring of Julien Geffard, an auto industry veteran, who had worked previously with brands like Peugeot Motorcycles, Bentley, Alpine, and BMW. Julien was appointed as the Director of Go-To-Market Strategy for its electric business in Europe while based out of the company’s Amsterdam office. In another major hiring, the company roped in General Motor Veteran Jose Pinheiro to head its global manufacturing and operations.

The company also confirmed to retail the electric scooter in several global markets such as including Europe, Asia, Latin America, and more. Specifically, New Zealand and the Netherlands were two foreign countries where Ola began its sales and operations.

The next major announcement from Ola Electric which brought a disruption in the auto industry came in the form of the production facility based in Krishnagiri, on December 14, 2020. Ola Electric had taken everyone by surprise with its announcement to set up the world’s largest scooter manufacturing facility with an initial annual capacity of 2 million units. It signed an MoU with the Tamil Nadu government for an investment of Rs 2,400 crore in setting up its first factory in the state. Upon completion, the factory will see the creation of almost 10,000 jobs while also being an all-woman workspace.

Come 2021, on January 20, Ola tied up with Siemens to rapidly build its upcoming electric vehicle manufacturing facility. As per the partnership between the two firms, Ola will have access to Siemens’ integrated digital twin design and manufacturing solutions to digitize and validate product and production ahead of actual operations.

Exactly a month later, Ola Electric announced that it has chosen ABB as one of its key partners for robotics and automation solutions for its mega-factory. The brand utilised ABB’s automation solutions in its factory’s key manufacturing process lines, including its painting and welding lines, while the ABB robots will be deployed extensively for the battery and motor assembly lines.

As the work on the factory was going on, Ola Electric once again made significant hirings in the run-up to the launch of its first electric vehicle. Yongsung Kim, a 35-year auto veteran, came on board to head Global Sales & Distribution while Wayne Burgess took the reins as Head of Vehicle Design.

However, what kept the netizens in awe was Bhavish Aggarwal announcing on April 22, 2021, to establish Ola Hypercharger Network which was touted as the world’s largest electric two-wheeler charging network. The Ola head honcho claimed that it would be spread over 400 cities with more than 1 lakh charging points.

A special role was played by Ola Electric’s marketing team which started teasing the interested buyers each day with some new detail regarding its upcoming launch in India. The hype was real. Be it the charging time, be it the range or be it the colour options, it had successfully created interest around the new electric scooter coming from Ola.

-The Big Launch –

The unveil finally happened on July 2, 2021, when Bhavish Aggarwal took out the Ola scooter for a spin on the streets of Bengaluru and the whole world got to see the first glimpse of the upcoming scooter. The images of the scooter being ridden by Aggarwal went viral on social media and created a frenzy among auto aficionados.

Barely a fortnight later, Ola came up with the announcement that it has started the pre-bookings for the upcoming electric scooter at a token amount of Rs 499 through its mobile app. Orders were pouring in like bees in a beehive and within 24 hours, Ola received over 1 lakh bookings for the yet-to-be-launched electric scooter. The company’s cash registers were ringing and it was witnessing unprecedented interest. The last bit of detail about the scooter prior to its launch came on July 20 when Ola Electric revealed that the scooter will be offered in 10 colour options, which was the highest for any e-scooter in India.

Come August 15, 2021, Bhavish Aggarwal took the stage and unveiled the Ola S1 scooter at an introductory price of Rs 85,099 (ex-showroom). The date of sales commencement was kept as September 8, while first deliveries were promised from October onwards.

– A Rocky Start –

But as they say, successes bring a fair share of controversies with them. The same happened with Ola Electric in this case. Auto pundits casted apprehensions on the delivery schedule promised by Ola. In fact, the company had to backtrack twice on the scheduled date of deliveries due to production constraints and other logistical hurdles. It faced a lot of flak from the buyers who had booked the e-scooter months in advance and were desperately waiting to get their hands on it. It wasn’t until December 15, 2021, that the first deliveries started in Bangalore and Chennai.

While the customer delivery had just started picking up pace in the subsequent weeks, a major incident would once again call all eyes on the company but this time, it was not all good. On March 29, a couple of weeks after Ola had introduced a new Gerua color with the S1 to mark the Holi festival, a video of the Ola S1 Pro catching fire in Pune, Maharashtra went viral.

In an official statement, Ola said, “We are aware of an incident in Pune that happened with one of our scooters and are investigating to understand the root cause and will share more updates in the next few days. We’re in constant touch with the customer who is absolutely safe.”

Post this, as a pre-emptive measure, the company recalled 1,411 units of the e-scooter for a health check.

– Bouncing Back To Success –

In a matter of few weeks, the company announced a software update for the S1 Pro scooter and ensured its customers that no such fire incident will happen ever again. And true to their word, at the time of publishing, not a single incident of the scooter catching fire has taken place again. And being just a one-off incident, the trust in Ola Electric is building up strongly, once again.

The good times are back for Ola as Bhavish Aggarwal and team are all set to launch their second electric product in India. The brand’s marketing, exactly a year later, has once again played the teasing game on social media, building up all the hype leading to India’s 75th Independence Day.

In our exclusive, we revealed that the upcoming Ola electric car will have a driving range in excess of 500 km on a single charge. It is safe to say, that Ola Electric is uniquely placed to have another round of success in the four-wheeler segment, just as they have in the two-wheeler segment in India.

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first published:August 15, 2022, 13:29 IST
last updated:August 15, 2022, 13:29 IST