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BW Businessworld

‘Delhi NCR Should Be Our Biggest Market Nationally’

Tarun Mehta, Co-founder and CEO of Ather Energy shares with Avishek Banerjee his plans to make Delhi NCR the company’s biggest market at the national level.

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A home-grown electric vehicle company founded in 2013, Ather Energy is not just rolling out electric two-wheelers but is also putting in place infrastructure for EV charging. Tarun Mehta, Co-founder and CEO of Ather Energy shares with Avishek Banerjee his plans to make Delhi NCR the company’s biggest market at the national level. Excerpts:

You are currently the fourth-largest player in the domestic electric two-wheeler market. What is your sales target for this FY and when do you intend to become the market leader?
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to share sales numbers. Obviously, we are way past that now and growing 20-25 per cent on a month-on-month basis. So, our annual growth will be much stronger than the last FY. I think we will the largest electric two-wheeler company from a revenue perspective. From volumes perspective, we will the market leader sometime this year.

You are one of the few players setting up the charging infrastructure with ‘Ather Grid’. Tell us about your expansion plans?
We have already set up multiple Ather Grids across the country. While Delhi has 10 charging points, Ahmedabad has 6 or 8 points. There are charging points in Nagpur, Calcutta, Pune, Kochi, Coimbatore, among others. So, we have expanded pretty quickly in the last few months. From 70-80 charging points in December 2020, we now have 130 charging points. So we are adding 30 fast chargers every month now. Going forward, you will see more charging points. While existing places like Bangalore already have 30-35 charging points, our first priority is to expand the grid to newer cities. As sales grow in existing cities, we will be ramping this number further up.

At the moment, you have just a couple of products viz. 450X and 450 Plus in your portfolio. When do you intend to expand the range and become a holistic EV player? 
I think we have a terrific product in the premium space right now and 450X is pretty sharply positioned as a sports offering. It is a market leader in its segment. Our 450 Plus is also a premium segment product but it’s a little bit simpler. Both have a common platform, which we are not looking at expanding further. We will be making products on the 450 platform for a while. You could expect a couple of new variants at different price points by next year. Our next product will be something that may be priced below the price of 450 Plus.

You have been quoted as saying that motorbikes account for a minuscule share of the total EV market. So will it be safe to assume that the company is not interested in that segment? 
I think it will be incorrect to presume that we will never launch a motorcycle (e-bike). But what I do not believe is that motorcycles will account for a majority of two-wheeler sales in the future once electric vehicles have taken over the market. If you look at the motorcycle market today, the vast majority sell in the entry-level segment where the primary criterion is price and mileage. In the long term even the commuter motorcycle market moved towards scooters because scooters are more convenient, have more storage space, and are family friendly. Motorcycles will become a smaller market in the premium segment, catering to those who are looking for long distance rides or some kind of performance expectations which motorcycles can deliver on. Motorcycles will probably account for 10-15 per cent of the two-wheeler market.

Tell us about your expansion in North India. What has been the response to your product lines so far?
We are just making our presence in Delhi now and there are more cities in the pipeline this year. I think it will be interesting how we crack North India because the customs and preferences are different here. Understanding and (then) tailoring our communication for this market will be a pretty interesting journey for us. Once it works, the Delhi NCR region in particular should probably be the largest market for us nationally.

You have set up your greenfield facility at Hosur. How much have you invested so far? And what is the existing and projected capacity?
We have already committed an investment of about Rs 130 crore for this facility. Over the course of next five years, we will be committing close to about Rs 630 crore, which includes Rs 130 crore I just mentioned. This gives us an installed capacity of about 110,000 units (per annum), which will grow to 4 lakh units (per annum) in the second phase.

Tell us about your export plans and the markets you have earmarked for shipping out your products.
I think India is a far bigger and more exciting as well as an important market for us. It would be interesting to export and we have looked at that (before Covid). But every time I have explored, I have realised that our bandwidth is limited and within that we have to put it all in growing the local market first. International expansion is not high up in our priority today and is not part of our immediate plans. Maybe a year or two down we will consider that.

What is your vision for Ather?
We believe the automobile industry needs to move towards electric. We will consider ourselves successful if we achieve that over the next five years, if we can drive electrification in the light electric vehicle market, which is two-wheelers particularly. So my five-year vision will be for Ather to become the leading EV manufacturer in the two-wheeler market in India.

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magazine 20 April 2021 electric vehicles