Remanufacturing pre-owned commercial vehicles – a pioneering approach to electrify fleets

The Indian e-mobility revolution is being propelled by start-ups building different parts of the ecosystem – battery technology, vehicles and charging infrastructure. The role of new entrants in developing the electric 2W and 3W vehicles has been way more pronounced in comparison to legacy automakers.  

We have also observed that although there are a lot of companies working in the space of Light Electric Vehicles, little progress has been made in the development of high voltage, high power EV solutions for commercial applications.

Bengaluru based e-mobility start-up Cell Propulsion is one of the very few players in the country working on electrifying commercial vehicles (CVs). They are developing integrated electric powertrains for commercial vehicles ranging from LCVs (light commercial vehicles) to HCVs (heavy commercial vehicles) like eBuses and eTrucks. These electric powertrains are deployed with fleet operators, logistics companies, and shippers to transition their fleets to electric.

Cell Propulsion Leadership Team

The case for CV electrification

Commercial Vehicle fleets present an attractive case for transition to EVs, given high asset utilisation, controlled environment in terms of fixed routes and ease of commissioning captive charging infrastructure.

Nakul Kukkar, CEO of Cell Propulsion adds, “Economics for eHCVs, especially the inter-city buses and long-haul trucking, is more lucrative compared to any other vehicle segment. Since the buses and trucks used for inter-city travel cover more distance in a day than any other vehicle on a daily basis (>300km), the savings in operating costs are tremendously high upon switching to electric.”

According to comparison done by the start-up, an eLCV and an electric city bus will provide annual fuel savings of more than INR 3,75,000 and INR 27,54,000 respectively over their ICE counterparts.

How do the upfront costs compare?

A re-manufactured eLCV from Cell Propulsion will cost between INR 5.5 to 7 lacs depending on the specifications of range (100 km / 150 km) and payload capacity (700 kg to 1000 kg). The most popular LCV in the Indian market is TATA ACE that has sold more than 22 lakh vehicles till date and holds a 66% share in the mini-truck segment.

TATA ACE Gold Diesel with BS-VI technology and 750 kg payload capacity comes at a price tag upwards of INR 4.4 lacs. The running expense cut by an eLCV will pay for the difference in under a year.

A similar comparison for electric buses reveals that a new electric bus costs 2 to 2.5 times its diesel counterpart. After the FAME 2 subsidy, the e-bus will still cost anywhere between 1.2 to 1.3 times the diesel bus. A re-manufactured bus does not qualify for government incentives at the moment – and it will cost around 1.3 to 1.5 times the diesel bus. 

Heavy Commercial Vehicle Electric Powertrain | Source: Cell Propulsion

The Cell Propulsion e-bus (length – 12 m, range – 250 km) is expected to be priced around INR 61 lacs. The bus is currently under trial.

But, why have we been slow on eHCVs?

With added technical complexity, eHCVs present a different set of problems on the engineering front, mandating higher risk capital and specialised talent pool. There are a host of other challenges in driving large scale adoption of eHCVs like charging infra, vehicle finance, after-sale service, etc.

Nakul says, “The key technology challenge for electrification of HCVs is handling high voltage equipment and making it safe for automotive applications while also handling very high power ratings and associated thermal challenges. HCVs also have lot more auxiliary systems that need to be modified for operation in conjunction with electric powertrains”. 

Cell propulsion is working to resolve both, the technical problems and the ecosystem challenges. The start-up aspires to be a ‘Fleet Electrification Company’ that provides an end-to-end solution for accelerating large scale electrification of commercial vehicle fleets. 

Remanufacturing Approach

Cell Propulsion takes the ‘Remanufacturing’ approach to e-mobility. What does it entail?

The start-up sources pre-owned vehicles and converts them to electric using its integrated powertrains. Along with the powertrain, they also refurbish rest of the parts and components of the vehicle to make them as good as new. This electric vehicle with a brand new powertrain and refurbished body is referred to as a ‘Remanufactured’ vehicle. 

Remanufactured vehicles are at par with a new vehicle in all aspects. In this approach, we offer warranty and after-sale support for the complete vehicle and not just the powertrain“, adds Nakul. 

LCVs are mostly sourced through marketplaces dealing in pre-owned vehicles, and body for e-buses is procured from coachbuilders. An ideal LCV for remanufacturing is a vehicle that has been used for 4-5 years and completed 1.5-2 lacs km, when the useful life of the diesel engine is over.

Looking Ahead

Talking about what’s keeping the team most occupied these days, Nakul informs, “We are currently working on launching our remanufactured eLCV (Lynx Electric) and subsequently remanufactured eBus (Beluga Electric). We are executing demos and pilots with an initial set of key customers and setting up production to meet their demand for eCVs. We have 2 demo eLCVs and one eBus under road testing currently.”

The eLCV has been designed to work with modular, battery packs with sufficient capacity to be used for an entire workday. The battery packs have built-in thermal management to support fast charging on 3-phase electric supply.

All these vehicles come with 4G/LTE connectivity that helps Cell Propulsion acquire on-road driving data to measure vehicle performance and monitor vehicle health. “This driving data also provides us with all the feedback necessary to upgrade the performance of our product via over-the-air (OTA) updates during its operational life”, signs off Nakul.

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