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E the change (Oct)

The Hindu, Coimbatore, 31st October, 2013
 
My vehicles don't drink, don't smoke, and don't shout, says Hema Annamalai. She is the founder and CEO of Ampere Vehicles that designs and manufactures Electric Vehicles (EV) including e-scooters, e-cycles, e-trolleys for carrying load, and special-purpose vehicles for the differently abled.
 
Dressed in a light blue shirt and dark blue pants, like the rest of her co-workers, Hema takes us around the manufacturing and assembly line facility at Sulur near Coimbatore. Ampere, which had a small beginning in 2007, today has a strong R&D team in the south in E-vehicles. âœOur R&D team is geared to conceptualise any product requirement. 
 
That is our core strength. Its been a great learning process through trial and error,” says Hema looking back at the journey. While attending a conference in Japan, the CTO of a company made a statement that the era of internal combustion engines would soon end. âœThat set me thinking, and here I am, making e-vehicles.
 
Surging ahead
 
People initially were not impressed with the idea of e-vehicles. But she persevered and built a team that believed in her. “We wanted to groom people who understood our ideas and communicated our goals to the grassroots. We wanted to revolutionise rural markets with our low-cost mobility solutions, the way mobile phones and computing have.Hemas husband, P. Bala, chief technology officer of Ampere, calls e-vehicles a ‘disruptive innovation’ that is waiting to sweep the market.
 
In 2009, Ampere supplied battery-operated three-wheelers to the Tamil Nadu Government. In Karnataka, the Red Cross bought three-wheelers for its use in South Mandya. The Kerala market has also opened up for the e-cycles. Indigenising key components such as the motor, controller and charger is a key area. “Along with the battery, these products cover 70 per cent of the bike cost. Once you charge batteries, like you would mobile phones, there is no stopping you. Our Research team has come up with an ‘intelligent battery’ that retains more power during long drives. We want to cut down on imports. Conceiving a product is similar to having a baby. You have to see it through till adulthood. What we need is a talent pool of engineers with passion. One of our engineers has conceptualised an indigenous switch reluctance motor’ and we are patenting it,” she says. That will add to their existing list of 18 patents that are pending.
 
We conceptualised Ampere Boho, a three-wheeler for the disabled. It comes with reverse option, horn, crutch stand, hand brake and parking brake. We have designed vehicles for people without legs too. Its been a constant struggle to create a product, come up with an innovation that serves a purpose. But once you make a start, everything falls in place,” she says.
 
There are three-wheelers that will soon be used for garbage collection at Karudapalayam Panchayat near Madukkarai in Coimbatore. They come with a red and a green compartment to segregate waste into non-degradable and bio-degradable. “Such projects create job opportunities (500 villagers are trained on using the vehicle), bring dignity to the profession, and contribute to the environment. In Karnataka, we have a tie-up to supply 18 mobile marts for roadside vegetable vendors. One of the vendors asked us if he could make an omelette on the mobile mart. We are working on putting a gas burner on the vehicle,” explains Hema.
 
Getting innovative
 
Another noteworthy innovation is Ampere Trisul (motorised roller coasters) that offers a low-cost mobility solution for textile mill workers. “Textile workers cover a distance of 12 to 13 km every day within the factory with ease now. In the Sundarbans, people use Ampere Jugard to transport goods for their livelihood. The focus is functionality and not aesthetics,” she stresses.
 
Favourable government policies, tax structure benefits, better import-export schemes, and a buzzing talent pool will work wonders for the electric vehicle segment, says Hema.  Low speed e-vehicles run at 25 km an hour. Anyone can ride it as you don't require a driving licence. We are not looking at converting petrol customers. Our focus is on first-time users, working mothers, school children, and senior citizens. Poor awareness, perception, and lack of easy finance options are the deterrents.