Forget Musk's Tesla, a homegrown startup is already powering India's e-car dream
Name of the Company: Gayam Motor Works (GMW)
Name of Founder(s):
Raja Gayam, Rahul Gayam, Sri Harsha Bavirisetty
Smart Mobility, Sustainable Transport, Electric Vehicles, Environment, Renewable Energy
Elon Musk may still be contemplating about entering the Indian market and car makers like Maruti Suzuki, Honda, Ford, and others talk about having their first electric car in India by around 2020, but a Hyderabad-based startup has raced ahead.
Gayam Motor Works (GMW) is not making a sedan, SUV or a sports car, but what it has been able to achieve in a short span of time with limited resources is nothing short of being remarkable. GMW is the first company in the world to develop an electric three-wheeler with Li-Ion battery, with a battery swapping system. Everything in the last sentence puts Gayam in a very unique position. Why?
“Transportation comprises 51% of pollution in India, and 75-80% in urban areas according to Petroleum Conservation Research. About 22 of 50 urban areas with the worst air pollution are in India, with New Delhi is the most polluted city on earth. More than 10 lakh deaths in India are caused due to air pollution annually,” says Sri Harsha Bavirisetty, the COO of GMW.
He adds that the need for automobiles is growing rapidly and the country is expected to reach 400 million vehicles by 2030 from 140 million vehicles in 2011. “Electric vehicles produce zero direct emissions, which specifically helps improve air quality in urban areas,” says Bavirisetty.
India is the biggest producer and exporter of auto-rickshaws across the globe with as many as 45 million rides are being taken daily by commuters in India on these three-wheelers. “While large automobile companies are focusing on electric cars and scooters, we saw a huge opportunity in the electric three-wheeler space,” says Bavirisetty.
According to Asian Development Bank, over 600,000 electric rickshaws using lead-acid batteries are plying Indian roads today. It takes 8-9 hours for each vehicle to get fully charged, and the batteries must be replaced twice a year. ADB, in the same report says lithium-ion batteries are the answer to power electric vehicles since they are smaller and lighter as well as more durable and reliable.
However, the key to every EV manufacturers dream and ambition is the battery. For an EV manufacturer to be successful and taken seriously, it is very important to have a proprietary battery technology and Gayam has done just that. After years of working on it, Gayam has worked out the chemistry behind the battery to ensure it has the range, power and speed.
What makes Gayam unique is the fact it has mastered battery swapping technology, a process where you swap a drained battery with a fully charged one. It may sound simple, but it is a complex process, something that even Tesla has only tested and not made commercially available. When you swap batteries you have to ensure that everything electronic that is powered by the battery does not reset. Secondly, unlike a conventional car where the battery powers only the auxiliary systems, in an electric vehicle, everything, including the drive-train is powered by the battery.
This means more wires, connectors etc. that need to be connected precisely each time a battery is swapped. What helps Gayam is the fact that the battery powering the SmartAuto is relatively small and two individuals can carry out the process.
The battery swapping technology reduces the vehicle refueling time from hours (of charging time) to less than a minute. “Years of R&D went into developing GMW’s proprietary battery technology and management system, to make it suitable for Indian road and weather conditions” says Bavirisetty.
GMW SmartAuto is almost as powerful as a diesel auto- rickshaw. Its high power motor can go up to a maximum speed of 55kmph and can take a load of 500kg. The vehicle’s running cost is as low as Rs 0.50/km and offers a range of up to 110kms per charge.
Beginning of Imagination
While working on the auto, GMW has also gone ahead and developed a smart and electric bicycle called LIMITLESS E-Bike. “The LIMITLESS E-Bike is a fast means of transport in traffic congested urban environment. The e-bike has been designed for easy and effortless riding with a unique combination of smart pedal assist system, high-performance battery and a throttle. It offers the convenience of a bicycle and comfort of a scooter. The e-bike can be fully charged within two hours, gives a range of 65kms/charge and goes from 0-25kmph in 5 seconds,” says Bavirisetty.
GMW’s vehicles are also connected to mobile and cloud through IoT technology. “We enable internal battery health monitoring, vehicle diagnostics and several other features through this integration,” says Bavirisetty.
LIMITLESS Electric Bikes are already a big hit and are being used by UBEREats in Singapore, Hong Kong, and San Francisco for food deliveries.
“Government of AP has deployed 100 of our e-bikes for GVMC municipal officials do their daily inspections. Our e-bikes are also being used by the Central American police for daily patrols and being piloted by food and grocery delivery companies such as Swiggy and Dominoes, and public and private e-bike sharing programs within India,” says Bavirisetty.
GMW was founded in 2010 by Gayam brothers – the 32-year old Raja and 29-year old Rahul. Raja set up GMW in Hyderabad after converting his father’s bus body building unit into a traditional auto-rickshaw manufacturing unit.
Meanwhile, Rahul pursued his research in materials for super capacitors and batteries for EVs, worked in the US in the clean energy space, with a desire to tap into the growing EV market. Raja’s automobile manufacturing background and Rahul’s technical background in the area of electric vehicles was a perfect combination. Rahul came back and joined his elder brother Raja to accelerate world’s transition towards smart and sustainable mobility. Raja soon roped in Bavirisetty whom he had known since their IIIT-Hyderabad days as the COO and the team was complete.
The drive, however, has not been easy. India lacks charging infrastructure required for penetration of electric vehicles in the retail market, which means Gayam is currently selling the SmartAutos to B2B and B2G markets. “While logistics companies such as BigBasket and Ekart are using our vehicles for last mile deliveries, the Government of AP and Telangana are using them for waste pickup and disposal applications. We have set up the battery charging/swapping infrastructure at their hubs. We have been identified by the Asian Development Bank as a partner to introduce electric three-wheelers for public transportation in Afghanistan and Nepal,” says Bavirisetty.
Gayam has sold more than 5000 vehicles till date to more than 15 countries, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines.
Gayam now plans to sell 5,000 SmartAutos and 15,000 LIMITLESS E-Bikes by the end of next fiscal and has opened its Series A round by looking to raise a $ 15 million in this round. “We will soon enter into the retail market as well, by setting up the required charging/swapping infrastructure,” says Bavirisetty.