How Sahara Evols is pursuing an ‘ecosystem approach’ to enable the transition to electric vehicles

As evident to anyone following the evolution of electric mobility in India, the phenomenon has inspired unmatched interest and enthusiasm among start-ups and entrepreneurs. While the market for electric 2Ws and 3Ws is being primarily led by e-mobility start-ups e.g. Okinawa, Ampere, PURE EV, GMW; legacy players have registered participation either by spinning off new EV companies like Hero Electric or Kinetic Green or through investments into promising EV ventures like TVS investment in Ultraviolette or Hero MotoCorp’s stake in Ather Energy.

Sahara Evols is the e-mobility initiative of Sahara India Pariwar. The group is looking to leverage its vast network and scale to bring different stakeholders together and build a supportive ecosystem for electric vehicles across the country. 

Talking about the ‘ecosystem approach’, Dr Aditya Banerjee – CEO, Sahara Evols says, “Our strength lies in our network and brand that we are leveraging to accelerate India’s transition to e-mobility. We took a strategic call to focus on our core competency and not to enter into manufacturing as of now. Instead, we are tying up with established brands for exclusive products.”

Current Scale

Sahara Evols has a presence in 22 states and 150 cities across India, where electric vehicles co-branded with partner OEMs are sold through 200 dealerships. The company currently has tie-ups with more than 35 EV OEMs. Sahara Evols has also established a country-wide network of more than 350 electric vehicle service centres. The Lucknow headquartered company initially started with a focus on electric 2Ws and has expanded to include electric 3Ws (both passenger and cargo) to its offerings. The company was selling around 2,000 vehicles per month before the lockdown, and the numbers have started to pick up again.

OEMs, EV buyers and After Sales – Joining the dots

Sahara Evols provides an established sales channel to the OEMs through its network of dealerships that sell EVs from multiple manufacturers under one roof. 

“The OEMs, especially new players have their core competencies on the engineering front. However, developing their own sales and service channels is another arduous business activity that mandates a different talent pool and set of processes. We provide a ready dealership network to our partner OEMs to help them reach potential customers not just in metros, but also in tier 2 and tier 3 cities”, says Aditya.

At the same time, buyers may find it difficult to put trust in new EV technology being heralded by unfamiliar market players. Co-branding with Sahara’s name helps evoke familiarity and confidence required for a purchase decision.

“Our partnership with multiple OEMs provides easy access to a wide range of vehicles for the buyers. We are also further expanding our 350+ strong EV service network to provide after-sales services for vehicles of different OEMs.” informs Aditya. 

Compared to the ICE vehicles, the service network for EVs is non-existent at the moment. Lack of accessible service options can demotivate users from choosing an electric vehicle. However, current low EV penetration is a big deterrent for entrepreneurs who wish to enter the EV service business. Consolidation at the supply side is required to solve this chicken and egg problem and achieve the necessary scale and economy of operations for service centre owners.

Evolving Business models

A MoRTH notification in August 2020 allowed the sale and registration of electric 2Ws and 3Ws without battery packs, opening up the space for new business models to evolve. De-linking the battery from the vehicles is expected to boost the business models of battery renting and swapping that increase the affordability of electric vehicles for the end customer by cutting the vehicle acquisition cost by 30-40%. 

For a delivery boy making hyperlocal deliveries on his petrol bike or a 3W driver, this could be just the boost they need to switch to electric and supplement their income through fuel cost savings. Sahara Evols is readying for a pilot of battery swapping system in its home town Lucknow and plans to expand the same to the rest of the country by partnering with battery players. 

However, to work out battery renting and swapping models on a large scale, challenges with battery pack standardization across different providers need to be addressed.

Aditya feels that through tie-ups with multiple OEMs, Sahara Evols can provide a common platform for facilitating standardisation and testing of batteries by different vendors and different vehicles. A similar project towards battery swapping system standardisation is underway in Japan (‘e-Yan Osaka’ trial) where the 4 e-motorcycles manufacturers are teaming up to develop a shared swappable battery platform.

Concluding thoughts

The business approach of Sahara Evols is centred around the identification of gaps in the current EV ecosystem and providing wholesome solutions that make the transition to e-mobility smooth for different stakeholders. 

The company aspires to create new entrepreneurship opportunities through its dealership and service network, and self-employment through its efforts in EV training for drivers and service mechanics. “Through ecosystem building, we strive to bring a real change to the lives of basic income groups and this will be real testimony to the success of our work”, concludes Aditya.

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