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10,000 Bikes On Roads By End Of Q3: Aditya Munjal

In an interview with Manali Jaggi, Munjal talks about the company’s consumer-driven strategy and its various new strategic initiatives that are aimed at developing a robust cycling infrastructure and providing economic mobility to a great number of Indians

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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Spearheading the next generation of Munjals of Hero Motors Company, Aditya Munjal, director of Hexi, a last-mile transportation startup, is upbeat about the bicycle market in India and forsees a great future. In an interview with Manali Jaggi, Munjal talks about the company’s consumer-driven strategy and its various new strategic initiatives that are aimed at developing a robust cycling infrastructure and providing economic mobility to  a great number of Indians.

Tell us about your public transportation programme; how do you intend to steer a social change and make cycling a lifestyle from being just a mode of transportation?
It was roughly 20 years ago when bicycle sharing started off in Europe. It started with a dock-based system;  bicycles used to be parked in heavy docks. Customers would find these docks, unlock the cycles, ride them and then park them in different docks. The constraint in the system was that these docks were expensive to put up and they were few in number; so for customers, it would take them effort to find a dock to park the cycle after their ride. Three years ago in China, they put locks on bicycles itself, and made them smart bicycles. Now it’s very convenient. You can park or leave your cycle anywhere, and find it on your phone. That is why for short distances, the bicycle sharing system is convenient for customers.

How do you plan to make e-mobility a mainstay in India in the absence of a robust charging infrastructure?
The proposition here is faster bicycles, lesser effort and a manner of commute where we mostly use this product. It is a very good proposition for the end customer. The only place where electric bikes and scooters have been successful is China. Reason being, it is greatly driven by policy. There are various aspects to the policy. Big metropolitan cities such as Shanghai are motor free. But electric bikes are more expensive than bicycles. For the end customer, this is a challenge. So, many times, to break this barrier, policies are driven. Subsidy on products is another way. Then cycling-friendly laws. For example in Europe, if a car driver hits a bike, even if it is the cyclist’s fault, it is the car driver according to law who is penalised. So for customers to enjoy this proposition, policy plays a very important role.

Your bike-sharing venture Hexi is already operational in Punjab University. When will it be launched in other cities?
The first phase of Hexi will be launched in Vishakhapatnam by the end of this quarter. Then there are three other universities out of which two are in Punjab, where we are going to have our systems running by the end of this quarter. We are also in talks with smart cities and others.

Are you engaging with authorities to educate and sensitise communities and people about responsible bike-sharing practices?
Yes, there are a couple of stakeholders we are in talks with. Whenever you get into a city, the first point of contact is the government. You have to get them on your side, then comes the local authorities, to ensure everyone in the system is clear, and it is up and running. Then there are local stakeholders in local colonies, be it the aggregators at different metro stations for auto-rickshaws. The challenge is to get these people connected to the system in some way, make them partner with us rather than seeing them as a competition. And, finally there is the end customer. People think that our country does not have a culture where people ride bicycles, but, on the contrary, our country has an inherent biking culture, people do cycle a lot.

We started off in our own small way in each place. For example, in universities, when we start, we do a lot of engagement with students, where we do different slow ride races. Every part of our brand Hexi is thought through, so that it is seen in a fun and aspirational way. The name Hexi means hero in a sexy way. The bikes are also designed by some of the best designers. The quality of our bikes is superior to bikes around the world because we want to give quality to our customers, so they aspire to ride them. Rather than seeing it as a milkman’s mode of transportation, it should be seen as a new fun and cool way to commute.

Given the condition of our roads, road safety is a big issue in India. Are you engaging with the government to intervene and ensure dedicated lanes for bicycle commuters?
It is a constant collaboration with each city we get into to get these basics moving. Basic cycling infrastructure such as a cycling lane is essential for this to be a success in the longer term. We need friendly policies for cyclists which include motor-free zones in key metropolitan cities. Countries such as Europe, China, England and America have taken drastic measures to set this in motion. So, yes, our effort is to get into new cities and help them set up enabling infrastructure.

How do you see the ride ahead? What kind of growth numbers are you looking to clock this year? What targets do you envision for the next five years?
It is too recent right now to talk about targets, as it is about correcting the system first and then expanding as and when we get the product and services right. A lot of cities are interested but in order to materialise, it is not in our hands entirely because we are acting in conjunction with government bodies. However, roughly speaking, we want to get 10,000 bikes out on roads by the end of the third quarter. We are going ahead with a mixed model of universities and cities. We are very clear that we will not take China or any other country’s model and replicate it in India, as it is a country with its own concerns. What we require in India is a multi-model, short distance or a last mile commute. For example, if 10 people come out of a metro station, two may want to get on a cycle, other four may want to find rickshaws and he rest may want to get on to buses or their scooters. So we have started giving them a multi-model solution. We are also actively looking at other modes of transport as well, rather than bike share, so we can offer the end customer a multi-model solution for his last-mile needs.

Any investment outlay for these 10k bikes?
The bikes are manufactured in our factories, and we put a lot of focus on cost and quality. There is a whole system of technology that goes behind it and there are intensive local operations as well. So, yes, it is a capital-intensive game.


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Magazine 9 June 2018 Aditya Munjal