Our ambition is to make EVs more acceptable to customers – Vivek Srivatsa, Tata Motors

In a conversation with Vivek Srivatsa, Express Mobility learns more about Tata Motors' electric vehicle plans. Tata Motors is the only carmaker with two mass-selling EVs in India and had the following insights for us.

By:August 31, 2021 2:01 PM
vivek srivatsava

India is transitioning to electric vehicles, and Tata Motors has played an important role by making EVs affordable. Tata launched the Nexon EV a few years ago, making it the first affordable vehicle in this segment with a usable real-world range. Now, further expanding the range, Tata Motors has launched the Tigor EV. Speaking to Vivek Srivatsa, the Marketing Head for Tata Passenger Vehicles, Express Mobility learnt more about the company’s approach to EVs. 

EM: What kind of response are you seeing from potential buyers? Overall, what kind of traction are you seeing in the EV space?

Vivek – The Nexon EV, right from the launch, surprised us in terms of the customers it has been able to attract. The numbers are going up every month, and in fact, the current situation is that the demand is much ahead of what we can produce. We have similar expectations from the Tigor EV as well, considering that it will open a slightly different kind of driving experience as it’s more aligned to the city kind of use. We think it will expand the basket of EV prospects, and we are quite prepared to be surprised again.  

EM: As far as the Tigor EV is concerned, can you tell us any specific developments done by the Indian team here?

Vivek – The first thought we had in getting the Tigor was to mainstream the EV customers. The Nexon EV was made to satisfy the early adopters of EVs, and it was quite a well-rounded product. We thought about customers looking at buying ICE cars under Rs 15 lakh should start taking a look at an EV, that was the thought process behind developing the Tigor EV. 

Obviously, with the sedan body shape, it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of space and comfort for all the passengers and boot space as well. We have not shared the range yet, which will be shared at the time of launch, but we have an optimised powerpack that delivers a sedan-like performance. It will offer an optimal range considering the Tigor is lower in kerb weight than the Nexon, so it is going to be a balance between range and performance.

It will tick many different boxes compared to the Nexon EV and appeal to a slightly different set of customers. These are the kind of inputs that the development team had in mind, giving it unique character and attributes to the existing product to attract diverse customers.

EM: You have now entered the EV space with a sedan, and EVs nowadays are mostly SUVs. Do you see the body style as a challenge here?

Vivek – This thought definitely crossed our minds, but our primary objective was if it ticks boxes in terms of what the customer wants, and we believe it does that. We think that people will not buy the Tigor EV because it’s a sedan but because it’s an EV that meets their requirements. To arrive at a certain price point and deliver attributes, it sat very well in that spot. Yes, sedans are going down, though, it’s not like these are nonexistent. Sedans are still about 12% of the market which is a substantial number. 

The other point is that there’s not much competition. We are not going to position the Tigor EV as just a sedan. It is the price point that we are going to target, and at that price point, there are different kinds of body styles. So if any of those customers look at an accessible EV that is ideal for use in the city, we would like to attract those customers. To summarise, yes, it is a sedan, but it is not going to prevent us from targeting different kinds of customers. This is because EVs bring in more attributes to the table compared to IC engined cars.

EM: If you look at your rivals, many have entered the EV space top to down, meaning the premium segment models first and now making their way to the mass market. But you started with a mass-market model, so what are the plans with premium space for electric vehicles at Tata Motors?

Vivek – Our ambition is to convert most of the industry to electric and when I say industry, I mean most of the IC cars buyers to electric, and of course, we are focussed on mass volume areas and not at the slightly premium or niche kind of segments. One of the fastest-growing segments is compact SUVs, and we have a product there. With the Tigor EV, we will again be able to attract a strong price point where I estimate close to 45% of the industry sales will be around that price point. Our ambition is to make them more acceptable to the customers. 

EM: Can we also expect an electric hatchback from Tata Motors in the coming times?

Vivek – When we have gone into a plus one kind of a mode, we don’t just have one EV model to satisfy the EV customers or the early adapters. The intent is clear, we want to start widening the portfolio, so today, you hear about the Tigor. Gradually, as the interest among EVs grow, and a lot of myths are broken, the potential and the volume of EVs will go up. So it’s a little bit of chicken and egg story, the more models you give, the market goes up. So we have taken the first step with the Tigor, and then maybe we wait for the market to grow further and then depending on the pace of growth, we will introduce more models in the future. 

I think it’s already clear that we need multiple EV models in the future, but it’s not the right time for me to comment on what those models will be. We want more customers in the EV space and want to mainstream the electric car buyer, and I think we are continuing in the same direction.

EM: Considering that the Tigor is significantly lighter than the Nexon, it is expected to have a higher range? Beyond that weight loss, have you done anything else to increase the range, like changes in the battery pack or the chemistry or BMS?

Vivek – Chemistry is a confidential subject, but the Tigor comes with active regeneration and also, the way the suspension is tuned, the tyres are low resistance tyres so all this is focussed on smoother power delivery. The Tigor EV won’t have that outright power like the Nexon EV, which sometimes converts into a jerky ride. We have smoothened that out. So that in itself will help out in squeezing a little bit of more range. I can tell you that it will be a bit of a surprise when you see the range of this car.

EM: You mentioned that you will be looking at different models and body styles, so can you share a plan in terms of by what year, how many EVs are you looking at launching in India?

Vivek – I can’t tell you that. We are the only company with two mass-market EVs, and I think that is a strong intent shown by us, and we will have to extract the best possible volumes out of these two cars. 

EM: In terms of charging infrastructure, what is the status and the plans ahead as you increase penetration?

Vivek – As we speak, Tata Power has got over 600 fast chargers across the country. They are being implemented is in close consultation with Tata Motors as well. We are focussing on key density highway routes, so Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Jaipur or Delhi-Agra, Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore, Hyderabad-Vijaywada-Vizag etc, are the examples I can give you right now. Heading four-digits won’t be too far away if you ask. 

I would also like to mention that we have got over 6,500 Nexon EVs on the road over the last year and a half and our customers have driven more than 35 million kilometres. That said, we have a good understanding of the driving and charging habits, and I can share that more than 90% of the charging requirements are fulfilled by the home charging that we install with every EV that we sell. It’s only on the rare occasion of intercity travel that fast chargers are required.

Fast chargers are growing, but you and I know how often the customers take driving vacations or drive outside the city, probably once or twice a year. But on most other days, the charging that happens overnight at homes is more than sufficient to cover their daily use in the city or outskirts. Considering that the Nexon EV comfortably gives around 200 km range on a single full charge, charging infrastructure and range anxiety is in itself a bigger bubble than what it is. It’s a bigger worry than it should be. Customers have started realising this, and that is the reason why more customers are now gravitating towards EVs. 

EM: If you talk about the subsidies that are handed by the Government right now, what are your views on the Government’s support overall and also, the plan and strategies being implemented for EVs?

Vivek – I think both the state and the central Governments have been proactive. I see two ways — obviously, there is the monetary benefit that people buy it now, but the bigger benefit is if the Government keeps talking about EV adoption. That by itself creates confidence in customers’ minds going for EVs. 

Recently, we saw the Maharastra Government putting an EV charging-parking slot. So these kinds of things are going to accelerate the consideration of EVs. The mainstreaming of EVs is going to be substantially empowered by these kinds of actions by the Government.

EM: If you look at the way the market is growing, what is the one single bottleneck that you see in the growth of electric mobility in India? Also, what is the biggest area of opportunity for you?

Vivek – Right now, the bottleneck is how many we can produce. The second level is breaking the myths, people are reading about the range, and it is often seen as only the rich people can experiment on it. So that is one area that we have to break, but I think that will happen organically as we bring more cars on the roads. So these are the two key areas. 

The battery prices will come down, and the EVs will be more accessible. I am not calling that a challenge because a challenge is to overcome the mindset of the customer or the hurdle he or she sees in buying an EV. I have two Nexon EVs in my apartment, and their owners are completely satisfied with using them as their daily cars around Mumbai. So I think the charging infrastructure is more of an opportunity, rather than a challenge because if more customers see the fast chargers than petrol pumps, it is going to accelerate the adoption.

EM: Over the coming years, as the EV sales increase, what is the kind of penetration you are looking for in Tata Motors? What kind of percentage of total sales could be EVs by what year? If there is any specific figure you can share with us?

Vivek – The Nexon EV has taught us not to guess the market as its grown. What I can share are two extremes in terms of what many consultants and market observers predicted, it ranges between 10%market penetration of TIB by 2027, going up to above 30%, that’s what consultants say. So it should be somewhere in that range is what I can estimate.

EM: Sometime back there was an issue with the Nexon EV and the Delhi Government, the vehicle was removed from the list. Is there any progress been made in that area?

Vivek – The case is still being heard but as we speak, the 1,000 car limit has been passed in Delhi. So, it does not apply to others as well. Considering that we have sold a lot of Nexons in Delhi, I think it’s done the job, but realistically in the future, we need to be prepared. It has to make a standalone case to the customer, it just can’t depend on subsidies. So we have to be mentally aligned to that. 

EM: Overall from an industry perspective, when do you see electric mobility becoming an accessible area for the masses?

Vivek – We are already there, and it is something that we also shared in the presentation. Close to 30% of overall Nexon customers are interested in EVs already, so there is no mainstreaming required. We believe that the introduction of the Tigor EV will open another price point which is very attractive and it will keep growing.

EM: Tata Motors has had the experience of having two EVs that too, mass-market ones, is the Indian component industry geared up to match it?

Vivek – I don’t think that’s a problem. Currently, we have a semiconductor issue that is global and not specific to India. I don’t see a challenge at all in terms of Indian suppliers managing to scale up. We have never seen that happen in any of the products so far, not just in EVs, but other products as well. It should not be an issue.

EM: Can people expect any more EVs from Tata Motors this year? 

Vivek – I don’t think we are in a situation to launch new EVs every four to five months. So right now, it’s only the Tigor EV.

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