Electric vehicles are currently the hottest-selling segment in the automobile industry, and the trend will only continue in the years and possibly decades to come.
But long before the electric vehicle trend, another electric vehicle had silently revolutionized urban public transport in India.
Vijay Kapoor, The Father of E-Rickshaw
E-rickshaws or battery rickshaws have been playing on Indian roads for over a decade now and have helped many who were previously rickshaw pullers make a better living.
The pioneer of electric auto rickshaw or e-rickshaw in India is Mr. Vijay Kapoor, an IIT-Kanpur graduate and the founder of Seara Electric Auto Limited.
Mr. Vijay Kapoor, an entrepreneur with a decade-long experience in the automobile industry, said the inspiration behind battery rickshaws came after witnessing the day-to-day hardships of paddle rickshaws drivers.
According to Mr. Vijay Kapoor, in 2010, he witnessed the intense efforts put in by the rickshaw pullers to navigate through the crowded lanes of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk amidst extreme weather conditions. He started thinking about a solution that required almost zero human effort, was eco-friendly, and had low running costs.
How the first e-rickshaw was designed
He improved on the design created by Dr. Anil Kumar Rajvanshi of the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute in 2020, and in 2011, Mayuri e-rickshaw made its road debut.
According to Mr. Nitin Kapoor, who is the Managing Director of Saera Electric Auto, his father did extensive research. He adapted the motor used in loaders in China to fit the Indian conditions.
He also went into minute details like designing the front glass as per the requirement of the drivers to make the height of the passengers before finalizing the end product.
Challenges in Making E-Rickshaw a Reality
Even after this, there were multiple challenges that they had to overcome.
Initially, the major challenge for MR. Vijay Kapoor faced the lack of adequate infrastructure to make or operate an electric auto rickshaw. For instance, no local manufacturers were making the tires of the battery rickshaw, and they had to make them themselves.
It took eight months for the first sale
Even after overcoming all the design and manufacturing challenges, when their e-rickshaw was first launched in Delhi NCR, it failed to attract buyers.
It took them around eight months to sell the first electric rickshaw. It was challenging to convince the customers since just before the launch of their battery rickshaw, and another big company launched their first electric two-wheeler vehicle, which wasn’t a big success- primarily because of the lack of servicing facilities. To make the electric auto rickshaw reliable, we ensured easy access to servicing by keeping a trained mechanic and ensuring there was no shortage of spare parts.
What makes an electric rickshaw attractive
Their target customers were the rickshaw pullers who were putting in intense physical labor, and thus, the company had to ensure that beyond the ease of use, they also had to appeal to them financially.
Since the passenger autos run on batteries, the manual labor invested in them is much less than the regular auto rickshaws; in an electric auto rickshaw, the wear and tear are significantly less, and the maintenance cost is minimal. The overall operational cost of the battery rickshaws is much less than the autos, which are usually ICE-powered.
Electric Rickshaw From Former Harley Davidson Plant
Saera started with a small business in Gurugram with a production capacity of 20 vehicles per day. It currently has two state-of-the-art facilities in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan, which has a production capacity of 24,000 units, and in Bawal, Haryana, with a total of 2,00,000 units of electric two-wheeler vehicles and 36,000 units of three wheelers within a year.
Their electric rickshaw manufacturing plant in Bawal was earlier Harley Davidson’s maiden manufacturing unit in India and is spread over five acres of land.
How safety concerns were addressed
While passenger autos have become a regular sight in cities across India, in the initial days, they had to go through several regulatory hurdles as there was no framework in place for the new vehicles.
Their safety and stability had come under intense scrutiny, and in 2014, the Delhi High Court banned the plying of unregulated passenger autos in the national capital.
However, over the years, they made significant improvements to meet the safety regulations.
They ensure to comply with safety regulations issued by the regulatory bodies. They have a primary focus on providing the utmost safety features to their passenger auto. While designing electric vehicles, the engineering part plays a major role in their vehicles; for instance, they carefully calculate the height, width, length ratio, and weight to ensure that there is minimal chance of toppling.
Recycling and repurposing electric rickshaw batteries
There has also been criticism that the battery rickshaws are only going to add to the pollution problem and not solve it, as their batteries are not being recycled, where Mr. Vijay Kapoor disagrees.
Mostly, the passenger auto batteries are four rechargeable lead acid batteries containing 20 Kg lead and 10 Kg sulphuric acid. The batteries have an average life cycle of six to eight months and are then recycled in the factories. Information can be recycled indefinitely without any degradation in the quality. Hence, if the batteries are regularly recycled, they should not be a significant contributor to pollution.
As electric vehicles become more prevalent, recycling and repurposing batteries becomes crucial for reducing waste and environmental impact. Second-life batteries offer the potential for home energy storage and can provide significant energy even after being no longer suitable for vehicle use. Innovations in electric vehicle batteries are driving the industry’s growth, with more advancement expected in the coming years.