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OLA Electric and the lessons in EV ownership

The transition from internal combustion to EVs comes with a steep learning curve

April 28, 2022 / 10:51 PM IST
Ola S1 Pro Scooter caught fire in Pune. (PC-Twitter videos)

Ola S1 Pro Scooter caught fire in Pune. (PC-Twitter videos)

The Privacy Notice on Tesla’s official website is a succinct brief on just what the brand intends to do with the data it collects from its cars. The notice makes it very clear that vehicle data collected is not tied to your identity or account and that no one would have any knowledge about your location or the history of where you’ve been. This is specified within the first two paragraphs of the page.

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The Privacy Notice by Ola Electric is the opposite. It’s drowning in legalese, poorly formatted and designed to obfuscate. It also makes none of the claims that Tesla does. According to the web page, Ola Electric does receive real time information about your whereabouts to provide navigation-based services (This is conditional upon customer consent). Ola does specify the several instances where the company collects private data, but unlike Tesla, it makes no promise of dissociating the data from your identity or account.

Also Read: Ola Electric customer alleges accident caused due to scooter fault, company disputes it

The general public has now seen a glimpse of how brazenly Ola Electric chooses to use private customer data. Recently, when a distraught father of an Ola Customer, Balwant Singh attributed his son’s scooter accident to the malfunctioning of Ola’s regenerative brakes, the brand was quick to publish telemetry data proving otherwise. A press release shared on Ola’s Twitter page highlighted the exact throttle and braking inputs made by the rider in the 15 minutes before the accident occurred.

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Now, no two-wheeler manufacturer can immunise riders from accidents. Any that claims to do so, should be taken to task. Despite certain discrepancies in the telemetry graph itself (online experts pointed to certain spatial inconsistencies in relation to the time when the data was collected) and the laundry-list of technical issues facing Ola Electric, in my own experience of riding the scooter, the power does cut off the second you tap the brake, so a sudden surge of torque released upon hard braking would require a fundamental engineering flaw. Even more severe than the type which activates its reverse feature instead of moving forward. However, at this point it’s Ola’s word against the customer, and thus far, the public is siding with the customer.

Also Read | Moneycontrol Masterclass: Five most important questions on EV fires answered

The switch from conventional ICE scooters or cars to EVs isn’t a simple one. For starters there is the manner in which electric vehicles react and feel. They might look similar on the surface, but the physics is very different. Electric vehicles tend to be much heavier and that requires a thorough recalibration of braking inputs. EV braking tends to be more effective due to the presence of regenerative braking, but you’re still advised to brake earlier than you would with a conventional ICE vehicle because you’re carrying considerably greater weight. The Nexon’s petrol variant weighs around 1252 kg while the EV version maxes-out at almost 1400kg. The MG Astor’s wet weight is around 1355kg, but its EV counterpart, the ZS weighs 1610 kg. While the bottom heavy nature of these EVs makes them much more reliable around the bends, as they corner more flatly, EVs do provide a flat torque curve and can seem eager to get moving from a standstill. While stuck in traffic, take your foot off the brake and you’ll need to apply greater force on the brake to kill the gathering momentum.

In the electric two-wheeler space, especially the premium end of it, which has used the promise of speed to market its products, like Ola, a rider crashing the scooter isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. The severity of the crash does bring the spotlight on just how much speed and performance is needed in the e2W market. Ola’s infamous social media campaign prior to the launch of the scooter showcased several high speed stunts being performed on the machine on a closed circuit. And yet it took the brand no time to disclose private data in an attempt to absolve itself of any responsibility for the accident.

How a brand reacts to an accusation however, tells a lot about how it treats its customers. The learning curve for navigating the choppy seas of EV acquired data, is much steeper. Ola Electric was quick to publish telematics data, which despite its jargon-heavy confidentiality agreement, clearly requires the customer’s consent before being published in the public domain. Said customer has taken cognizance of this and threatened legal action, but the matter has laid bare the patchwork nature of privacy laws governing the EV space in India.

Despite Balwant Singh’s exhortations, the legality of whether sharing private customer data in a press release is up for debate. Once again, because of the absence of a strong privacy law framework. Soon after the incident Ola recalled 1441 of its e-scooters in connection to the single battery fire incident, restoring public faith to a marginal extent. However, customers need to be extra vigilant of just what kind of information, particularly in real time, is being signed away by them. These are uncharted waters.

The only glimmer of hope comes in the form of new legislation that’s set to replace the archaic data privacy laws in the country. At present India awaits a new Personal Data Protection Bill (renamed Data Protection Bill)  that’s been in the works since 2018. Given how rapidly the tech and startup space is advancing, the scope of the draft bill has broadened and intends to include non-personal data, managing social media, and coverage of hardware devices. It’s even more ambitious in scope than the EU General Data Protection Regulation. Yet, it needs to be mindful of not impeding the growth of India’s startup ecosystem. And given the level of compliance it requires from companies, that seems to be an uphill task. Its implementation is long overdue, particularly in the context of EVs, which continue to nibble away at the market share with increasing rapidity.



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Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.
first published: Apr 28, 2022 02:01 pm
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