smart technology

With the launch of India’s first e-scooter, the electric vehicles market finally inches forward

On Tuesday, Ather Energy launched pre-orders for Ather 340 and Ather 450, the country’s first smart electric scooter.

Over five years after two Indian Institute of Technology, Madras graduates set up Ather Energy to build India’s first smart electric scooter, the Ather 340 is finally ready to hit the road.

On Tuesday, the company launched pre-orders for the Ather 340, and its more powerful variant, the Ather 450, for deliveries in August for Bengaluru only. The former is priced at a little over Rs 1 lakh ($1,490) while the Ather 450 will cost around Rs 1.25 lakh ($1,862.75).

The roll out of these scooters marks an important step forward for India’s electric vehicles industry, which has struggled with policy flip-flops and inadequate infrastructure for years, even as the Indian government has set an ambitious goal of making all new cars sold from 2030 electric.

Ather’s commercial launch in the world’s largest two-wheeler market comes more than two years after co-founder and CEO Tarun Mehta introduced the 340 at a tech conference in Bengaluru, promising availability by the end of 2016. Instead, what followed was months of setbacks as the company struggled to work with vendors in India’s automotive industry to mass-produce the electric scooter’s components that have been mostly designed from scratch.

Despite having raised over Rs 80 crore ($12 million) from investors such as Tiger Global and the founders of Flipkart, it was the Rs 205 crore ($30.5 million) investment from Hero MotorCorp, India’s largest two-wheeler manufacturer, in October 2016, that put Ather back on track by boosting its credibility with vendors.

“It is one thing for a financial investor to invest [in the company] and it’s one thing for the largest two-wheeler company in the world to invest,” Mehta told Quartz in an interview last month. The launch is “very significant” for India’s electric two-wheeler market, according to Deepesh Rathore, co-founder of Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors, a consultancy.

“I haven’t seen the product yet but it’s one of the first ground up (electric two-wheelers) in the Indian market. Everything before this was half baked, Chinese-supplied,” Rathore said. “I also reckon this is a test-bed for Hero to judge how receptive Indian youngsters are to [electric two-wheelers].”

Roadblocks remain

But India’s limited charging infrastructure is still standing in the way of the widespread adoption of EVs, while also restricting production. With only about 350 EV charging stations for half-a-million vehicles, the sector’s “chicken-and-egg problem” restricts the distance that can be travelled, stymieing growth.

Fortunately, in April, the government removed one road block, clarifying that companies could set up EV charging stations without requiring a licence to sell electricity, a rule that slowed the spread of charging points. Despite the delay in formulating a comprehensive EV policy, Mehta believes the Indian government is on the right track. “In bits and pieces the government has been moving completely in the right direction,” he said.

Late last month, his company announced that it would be building its own charging network, the AtherGrid, in Bengaluru, which will be free to use for all kinds of electric vehicles for the first six months. The company currently has 19 points located near cafes and shopping malls in key neighbourhoods such as Koramangala, Indiranagar, HSR Layout, and Whitefield. It expects to bring this up to 30 over the coming weeks, by which time around 90% of the city would be not more than 4km from a charging station, according to Mehta.

“An early innovator like Ather will have to set up some token charging stations to show that they are serious,” Rathore said. “Mind you, I use the work token – I cannot see them doing the same when they start selling a 1,000 units per month in a city.”

Ather’s plant in the Whitefield neighbourhood (of Bengaluru) can now produce 600 scooters a week, Mehta said. In its first year, Ather plans to produce a few thousand of them, before stepping up production in 2019. And by the end of this year, Ather will launch its pioneering electric scooters in Chennai, with Pune on the cards for 2019.

“Six-hundred per week is a test volume and seems to be the right number,” Rathore added. “I would be very worried if they can’t sell these 100% for 52 straight weeks. On the other hand, they should be ready to multiply capacity 10x-100x if the product takes off.”

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.