The Murugappa Group has re-entered the electric vehicle (EV) business. Fourteen years after the Chennai conglomerate first manufactured and sold electric scooters in 2008, its group company, The Tube Investments of India (TII) launched an electric 3-wheeler under an all-new brand, Montra Electric. TII's EV business will be overseen by its subsidiary, TI Clean Mobility (TICMPL).
The newly launched Montra Electric 3-wheeler, called Super Auto, comes in solid white and is priced starting at Rs 3.06 lakh after subsidies. It comes with two battery variants — 10 kWh and 7.66 kWh — with the higher variant having an ARAI-certified range of 197 kilometers, top speed of 55 km/hr and torque of 60 nm.
TII now says it intends to launch an electric tractor and an e-truck too. "When we first forayed into making e-scooters in 2008, we realised that we were a little too early for the market," said Arun Murugappan, executive chairman of TII, in a rare exclusive with CNBC-TV18. "We realise now that electric mobility is the way forward and want to reform TII's EV platform," he added, "We are not going to foray into electric 2-wheelers since the market is too crowded."
This first-mover advantage of staying away from the crowd and building commercial EV products in the 3-wheeler and tractor space could well be TII's big differentiator. However, the company believes there's more that it ought to do in order to hit the jackpot. "We need to be fast to adopt technology and provide customers with cost benefits through our products," said KK Paul, managing director at TICMPL.
To ensure that it hits the ground running, TII has invested Rs 200 crore in setting up an EV manufacturing unit at Ambattur, Chennai, that can churn out 75,000 units annually. Capacity expansion, the company said, will occur only when the time is ripe. "It won’t be difficult to expand since the Murugappa Group has strong back-end systems and investment avenues," Paul added.
Managing Lithium supplies is the key
Managing lithium supplies, however, will be a key part of TII’s EV growth strategy given the uncertainty over the global supply of the rare metal. Lithium is one of the key components in any EV battery, and its demand has skyrocketed in recent times.
China presently controls 75 percent of the world's Lithium supply, as it continues to wrest control over Lithium mines in South America and Lithium-processing industries through a series of strategic acquisitions. More recently, power-cut in the country's Sichuan province 20 percent of global lithium supplies face the heat, as prices rallied across key markets. TII, though, seems to believe there is a way around the crisis.
"Risk-mitigation surrounding semiconductors and lithium supplies are being drawn up," said Paul, "Battery chemistry today is also slowly evolving from rarer metals to those that are freely available — so new battery chemistry is designed to be less reliant on lithium, which in turn could make adoption easier."
The TI Clean Mobility boss also said semiconductor supplies had begun to ease out and believed that the company’s plans to foray into commercial EVs with cargo applications could give TII a pronounced first-mover advantage.