Bhavish Aggarwal, the much-celebrated cofounder and CEO of ride-hailing platform Ola Cabs, sparked a Twitter storm with his posts about Ola Electric’s upcoming launch of an electric scooter. On July 2, he wrote, “Took this beauty for a spin! Goes 0-60 faster than you can read this tweet! Ready or not, a revolution is coming! #JoinTheRevolution.”
A fortnight later, he sparked a buying frenzy when he tweeted: “India’s EV revolution begins today! Bookings now open for the Ola Scooter! India has the potential to become the world leader in EVs and we’re proud to lead this charge!” The response was nothing short of electric, prompting Aggarwal to tweet an apology a few hours later that the company hadn’t anticipated the “crazy demand” and “didn’t plan enough scalability of the website. All fixed now!”
Ola Electric opened bookings for its e-scooter at 499 rupees ($6.70) and within 24 hours the company said it had clocked nearly 100,000 bookings. This despite the fact that Ola had offered no details about the actual price, the range it could cover, information about the battery, charging points and expected delivery timelines. Yet, such is Ola’s—and Aggarwal’s—brand pull, that customers were more than willing to pay the nominal booking amount. In subsequent tweets, Aggarwal discussed potential colors even asking his followers about the range they expected the scooter to run on a single charge-the majority consensus was more than 150 km.
Among the eager beavers were surprisingly some of the great and the good—and even the very wealthy. Billionaire Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of digital payments giant Paytm, which is gearing up for a $2.2 billion IPO, confirmed his e-scooter booking on Twitter with “Done.”
Rajan Anandan, managing director of private equity firm Sequoia Capital and the former head of Microsoft and Google in India tweeted “Done. Ordered. #JoinedTheRevolution.”
Avnish Bajaj, founder and managing partner of venture capital firm Matrix Partners India, tweeted no less gushingly: “I have booked an early ticket to this revolution by @bhash (Bhavish Aggarwal) and @OlaElectric–when will you book yours? Truly game changing product on its way to transform Indian mobility.”
It was Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, who put Ola Electric’s move in perspective. He tweeted: “No matter how this scooter ultimately fares, it is exciting to see courage and risk-taking being rewarded. The more entrepreneurs that follow the lead of @bhash and show no fear of failure, the more robust Indian innovation will become.”
Aggarwal and cofounder Ankit Bhati, who took on ride-hailing giant Uber through Ola Cabs, which they started in 2010, launched Ola Electric in 2017. Ola Cabs became a unicorn–a private company valued at $1 billion or more–in 2015, while Ola Electric achieved the same feat in 2019. Both Ola Cabs and Ola Electric have raised several rounds of funding from wealthy individuals, global and domestic venture capital and PE firms, and auto manufacturers, such as Hyundai and Kia.
Ola Electric has invested 24 billion rupees ($322 million) in a factory at Hosur in Tamil Nadu, about 150km from its headquarters in Bangalore. Spread over 500 acres, the factory will have the capacity to produce over 10 million scooters a year by deploying more than 3,000 robots over ten production lines. Ola Electric plans to export electric scooters to Europe, Latin America and Asia. Last year, the company acquired Etergo, an e-scooter startup in the Netherlands.
Ola Electric is one among a slew of companies, both established players and startups, that are betting in a big way that India’s e-vehicles market is ready for takeoff. The spiraling prices of petrol and diesel—up almost 22% in Delhi this year—and a raft of government subsidies make e-vehicles a more affordable option.
Ather Energy, an EV startup backed by two-wheeler manufacturer Hero MotoCorp, controlled by billionaire Pawan Munjal, has already begun selling its electric scooters and has installed charging points across 10 cities.
Recently, TVS Motor, a two-wheeler manufacturer based in South India, which already produces the iCube Electric scooter, said it would invest up to 10 billion rupees to expand capacity. With other big players such as Bajaj Auto and Hero Electric entering the fray, competition is set to intensify. (Hero Electric is owned by a smaller faction of the Munjal clan, which is at loggerheads with the Pawan Munjal family over the latter’s plan to go electric, citing that it has sole rights as per a decades-old family agreement.)
Electric cars from companies such as Hyundai Motor India and Tata Motors are already plying on Indian roads. For sales to really take off, prices have to come down and the charging infrastructure expanded across the country. Tata Power, an integrated electric utility company from the Tata group, has said it will set up charging points at petrol stations operated by the state-owned Hindustan Petroleum Corporation.
Tesla, meanwhile, is lobbying India’s government to lower import duties on its vehicles as it makes plans to enter the country. Tesla’s billionaire founder Elon Musk said on Twitter that “import duties are the highest in the world by far of any large country!” He also pointed out that EVs are “treated the same as diesel and petrol, which does not seem entirely consistent with the climate goals of India.” The Palo-Alto, California-based company has already set up an office in Bengaluru and is said to be scouting for land for a factory.