The face of new and emerging India

Anjan Roy

The sheer audacity of Piyush Gupta’s ambition is astonishing. He is aspiring to create an eco-system which will transform the entire transport system of India by making EVs (electric vehicles) ubiquitous. That, he believes, should cut down India’s oil import bill by no less than $100 billion — his avowed target. Pray, how?
Gupta is looking forward to a future in which transport equipment will all become electric vehicles from the humble auto-rickshaws to the monster trucks. Gupta is working towards removing the biggest bottleneck in this transformation, making available electric power for the vehicles as easily as petroleum is available in the filling stations today.
His big idea is battery swapping. Gupta will offer you battery swapping facility so that you do not have to stand in line or wait for five hours to get your EV battery charged. Your charged battery will be there just to pick up.
You might even do not have to own the battery, which will be offered by Gupta on lease so that outlay on purchase of a EV will be so much lower. For funding these lease operations, the company is talking to some venture capital funds.
When Gupta is successful, eventually you will be able to pick up a fully-charged power packed battery from the nearest pan shop or some other retail outlet. That will cut out the long waiting period of recharging your electric vehicle battery after running it for a distance.
If you are thinking Gupta is kidding you, then take note. He has already set up a company —Lithion Power Private Limited—which is meeting the battery recharging needs of e-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and e-bikes. He has more business on hand than really can handle.
He has set up his own battery charging stations where the smaller batteries for these vehicles are being charged to be supplied to their drivers. The initial response is encouraging. He is expanding operations feverishly. His target is to set up 200 swapping stations in the near term by first quarter of 2019.
Piyush thinks he is into something which is technology applied to real-time, real-life problems. He is working out solutions to storage of power, making it like a tangible commodity and carrying it around to where it is needed for now. Something like converting electricity into a cigarette stick, isn’t it? He agrees? I am reminded of “Alice in Wonderland” where you do not know what is what, when.
A graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Gupta is the typical face of 21st century India. Piyush is not alone. There is a circuit of IIT alumni who are silently and profitably introducing such massive transformation in silence.
After his engineering degree Gupta went to INSEAD in Paris for a degree in business management, drifted in to the private equity industry in the Netherlands, took over as regional CEO of a leading electronics components manufacturing industry before leaving all the glamour and comforts of an established global circuit to launch his own enterprise back home. Why?
Because India is big. “I am fortunate to have been born in this country which has scale. I am not a bit player. I am ambitious; I am aiming big”. India’s big size allows products to be fashioned in the image of the country — you can specifically design for India, he believes. That for you is Piyush Gupta who otherwise would appear to be the lad next door.
Thermal management and shock management of the batteries are crucial for their performance. After all, in this country the batteries must be able to function at 50 degrees Celsius which is not exactly the specification at which batteries are manufactured globally. The company has already applied for patents for some 8 innovations in its field.
“As you speed up, you will draw more power from your battery and it will be damaged and life span will go down. The user will have to be billed accordingly. Even when driving, the driver would be asked to slow down”. The system in its overall impact would help create a more comfortable driving environment.
EVs as a matter of fact would be great disruptors. The entire automobile industry will be changed when EVs take hold. Excepting the tyre makers, the entire supply chain will be recast because you will not need the heavy engineering work of the internal combustion engine. It will be replaced with a small compact electric machine to provide traction.
And you do not always have to be a Tesla to produce an EV either. Tesla created a huge big battery to power its car, which Gupta feels is superfluous. If you have a string of recharging stations or better swapping stations you can make do with smaller batteries. That will contribute towards making the EVs more compact and less costly. It should render yards of bonnet-space in the front unnecessary.
If such a vehicle is combined with self-driving technology, consider the changed product. It will be like a small drawing room with seats facing each other where people would discuss other issues than driving or petrol costs. All in the future when deadly sulphur laden air of our cities will have been long forgotten.
That is the dream-come-reality Piyush is looking forward to and, by the way, he will have then logged a big business on that model. But for now, he is setting up five battery swapping stations on the Dehli-Chandigarh highway, apart from those already operating in the capital and yet to come in the city.
Piyush Gupta is a smart man. But smart not in a pejorative sense, rather a kind of person with disarming simplicity. Here is a young man who has faith in his own country, which is somewhat contagious, though all around one sees collapsing values. But then, these are the harbingers of change and progress. It’s good to have a sprinkle of them, isn’t it? (IPA)

Sunday, 9 December, 2018