Shared and micro-mobility start-ups witnessed a rough period of dwindled demand in the past two years due to lock-down restrictions in several states during the first and second waves of covid-19. Bengaluru-based shared mobility start-up Yulu which offers electric scooters for daily commute virtually repurposed its vehicles from moving consumers to moving goods as a temporary pivot strategy during the lock-down. But with the economy moving into a recovery period, Yulu is back in full swing with plans to add at least 1 lakh scooters by the end of next year. Yulu’s co-founder RK Misra spoke to FE’s Salman SH on how the firm plans to achieve this feat. Excerpts:
When did you first see post- covid recovery in your mobility platform? Where do you stand in terms of ridership?
The entire mobility sector was in a shock last year with the flights, buses, and movement of vehicles being completely stopped. The level and ease of mobility in any country is important indicator of economic prosperity. Although consumer mobility was at a standstill last year, we very quickly realised that moving essential goods is a priority for our customers who stayed indoors. We tied up with hyperlocal delivery platforms to assist their riders to deliver food, grocery, and medicine during the initial lockdown period. But our core still remains as a platform dedicated to consumer use cases. Around 60% of our ridership currently is still coming from consumers, while the rest 40% come from riders in the gig economy workforce.
Currently, Yulu is still focused on short-range and last-mile use cases, do you plan to introduce faster scooters for long-range travel in the future?
Unfortunately, our country has not mass-produced the right amount of electric vehicles for shared mobility. But instead, we do have high-end smart EV scooters which cost up to `1-1.5 lakh. Our vehicles are currently maxed out at 25 km/h speed, and legally you don’t need a license to use these vehicles, and hence this is most suitable for both consumer and gig economy workers, as many of them don’t have driving licenses. But yes eventually, we want to expand into faster vehicle form factors, which will go up to 45 km/h which we consider as mid-speed vehicles. We expect to deploy this next year. But certainly, we are not interested in high-performance scooters at all.
Are shared mobility form factors going to be more important for EV penetration in the country when compared with high-performance electric scooters/bikes?
This is the point that most of our policymakers are missing. I was in discussions with NITI Ayog recently and I had raised the question of subsidies for EV which is currently offered only to high-end performance electric bikes and scooters. We are currently subsidizing electric vehicles (EVs) which are already expensive and can be afforded only by citizens who have a high amount of disposable income to throw away several lakhs to purchase these high-end scooters. Our policymakers seem to have ignored the class of citizens who can’t afford these high-cost/high-performance bikes, and that is why the off-take of EVs is very low. We are aiming to deploy at least 100,000 vehicles on the road in the next 1 year, and we have the capacity to do so. Existing high-end EV manufacturers would take a decade to meet this number. Once enough volume of EVs on the road through shared mobility, it would naturally lead to a demand spurt for charging infrastructure as well.
Yulu follows a model that requires users to pick and drop scooters within specific parking stations. How are you able to find parking infrastructure especially in crowded metros where parking space is scarce?
Yulu has formal agreements with every city’s municipal corporation we operate in. In Ban- galore, we have a permit from the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT) through which we are able to use public spaces for parking. But we have to follow certain guidelines including ensuring that we don’t encroach on footpaths and penalizing users who don’t park at Yulu Zones. We have around 2,000 such parking zones in Bengaluru alone. All of these zones are either allotted by the authorities or by office complexes, or through a tie-up with co-living/co-working spaces, hotels, and RWAs.
How are you dealing with the global shortage of silicon and lithium-ion which are the two most important raw materials for EV production?
Due to the battery material shortage, we have actually temporarily paused our expansion into new cities. From what we see, it takes up to 6 months for these raw materials to arrive once we place an order. But fortunately, we are the end owner of the product, we don’t spend capital on manufacturing our bikes. For that, we have a strategic tie-up with the country’s biggest auto manufacturer Bajaj. They already have the global supply chain set up to figure outsourcing and manufacturing. Our expertise is providing efficient shared mobility, and not manufacturing. Some of our competition does both, but manufacturing safe bikes takes decades of expertise, and you can just get into manufacturing without this expertise and team in place.
Do you plan to get into direct retailing of your scooters?
Right now our issue is that we can’t keep up with demand. There aren’t enough Yulu scooters on the road to service the growing demand. Currently, there are no near-term plans for Yulu to get into direct retailing of our scooters to customers, but we may have something in the longer- term which we will reveal later.
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