Jan 05, 2016 03:55 PM IST | Source: SME Mentor

The Maker of India's first electric car

Chetan Maini, who built India‘s first electric car talks about the tough decisions & sweet success that‘s part of his entrepreneurial journey

Chetan Maini, Founder & CEO Mahindra Reva. EV enthusiast, biker and adventure seeker

As a boy, Chetan Maini would make and fix toy cars. It also helped that his father ran an electronics company and both his parents encouraged him. Soon his hobby turned into a full-time passion. After studying mechanical engineering in the US, Chetan was part of solar car races that ran across America and Australia. Soon the Reva project began as a joint venture between The Maini Group and Amerigon Electric Vehicles in 1994. And the Reva, India’s first electric car rolled out in 2001. Today, Chetan Maini is the Founder-CEO of Mahindra Reva.

Early challenges

Reva has been a huge emotional and financial commitment for the Maini family. When Chetan shifted base back to India from the US in 1999, the project was clouded by uncertainty. However, with family support, Reva began taking shape. He also took on an entrepreneurial role and had to source funding.

The aim was to build a cost-effective, efficient electric car and there were challenges on several fronts from design to investments, needing a lot of flexibility. Instead of the standard fixed assembly line, a “rolling chassis” was adopted. The chassis rolled on wheels from one assembly point to the next. An electric car built from scratch, unlike other adapted hybrids in the market, Reva needed constant research and innovation. Maini’s team has over 10 patents in battery and energy management systems. The current Mahindra e20 (previously Reva NXR) runs on next-generation lithium-ion batteries.

Making a splash

In 2004, the Reva went on sale in Britain, branded as the G-Wiz. It became quite popular with over a thousand cars on the roads in London.  At The Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, two new models were launched - the four-seater car, Reva NXR, and a two-seater sports car, Reva NXG. The response from the media and customers was more than encouraging.

Rising with Mahindra

In May 2010, Mahindra & Mahindra acquired a major stake in Reva Electric Car Company Ltd and it became Mahindra Reva. The merger enabled Maini to bring in his electric vehicle knowledge and the Reva brand to help Mahindra electrify their own platforms while leveraging Mahindra’s expertise, supply chain and wide distribution network.

Revving up for the future

Chetan Maini says electric vehicles will play a very important role in the face of climate change and the environmental concerns with fossil-fuel. Morever, cars like the e20 are very suited to Indian conditions with congested roads, low vehicle speeds and ever-rising fuel costs. An electric car uses 50 percent less energy and causes zero pollution.

Though sales of the e20 have been below expectations, Maini believes it is largely due to the auto industry slump. Also, a government subsidy for electric cars has not come through. He wants to push it more in the media now as consumers who test drove the car loved it. With favourable government policy and an improved infrastructure and product line, his target is to sell 7000 to 10,000 units annually in a couple of years.

Chetan Maini is a man who believed in his dream in the face of challenges and scepticism. “When you have an idea that you absolutely believe in, it is critical that you surround yourself with people who share that dream,” says Maini. His passion and determination have won him much recognition. The Economist conferred on Chetan Maini the 2011 Energy and Environment Innovation Award, for his work in affordable electric vehicles. He was also named by Business Week in India’s 50 Most Powerful People in 2009.

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