From the highs of Kinetic Honda in the early 90s to its eventual fall; from trying out new joint ventures to launch scooters and motorcycles with Hyosung Motorcycles (South Korea), Italjet Moto (Italy) and Sanyang Motor (Taiwan) to exiting its business venture with the Mahindra Group – Sulajja Firodia Motwani has weathered many a storm in her professional career.
But she isn’t one to give up so easily. While still dabbling with the two-wheeler business, Motwani had sensed the future would be electric, and had gradually started building a plan to go electric.
Richly experienced in working with the INR 7,000 crore Kinetic Group, leading its two-wheeler business as Managing Director and Director of Kinetic Engineering, Sulajja Firodia Motwani started Kinetic Green Energy & Power Solutions, her new venture in the electric vehicle space, in 2015.
Speaking to Mobility Outlook’s “Women in Mobility” programme, Motwani revealed that starting Kinetic Green Energy was more of a business requirement, and not just the urge to do something new. The Indian vehicle market was dominated by ICE vehicles with over 99% share of the market. Getting into electric vehicles wasn’t short of risks. The new venture needed a fresh approach, lot of commitment and belief.
Motwani wanted to build something new that can be scaled and grown over the next 25 years. She believed in the potential of EVs. Tesla was getting popular in the West, and she knew the Indian market needed a different approach to electric vehicles.
The initial phase was very challenging, as there was no ecosystem of research & development, technology and talent. Awareness among the people was also very low for electric vehicles.
Motwani shared an interesting anecdote with us. In 2014-15, the Government of India had sought suggestions from the Society for Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) on the electric vehicle ecosystem. The delegation invited by SIAM had representatives from Indian and international four-wheeler makers, but had no representation from the two- and three-wheeler segments.
Motwani not just pointed out that 2Ws and 3Ws can be the first segments to lead the EV movement in the country, she actually took charge and invited other companies to join the forum.
Back in Pune, she banked on the diverse experiences she accumulated at the Kinetic Group, and was able to set up a team of committed employees, who believed in EV technology.
Kinetic Green Energy was thus built with perseverance and diligence, and sold its first few vehicles through government programmes working with different ministries. The awareness about EVs was so low that it was not easy to sell these vehicles, Sulajja said. The company partnered and participated in various government initiatives of social and welfare schemes, where it helped unemployed people and women entrepreneurs to put the first vehicles on the road.
Firm belief in collaboration
With a firm business idea, setting up the company was probably easier. Setting up a technology roadmap, however, was challenging. A firm believer in a collaborative and inclusive approach of building teams, Motwani worked with various organisations, and today – six years from when the company was launched – the company is sitting on revenues of INR 200 crore.
“It requires a lot of innovation, new ideas and approach to scale up a business in uncharted territory. For this, leaders need to be open-minded and able to listen to the team,” she said of her approach to leadership. Over the next decade, she envisages growing the company’s revenue size to over INR 10,000 crore.
Women will lead
The automotive industry has largely been driven by men because of the mechanical nature of certain tasks. However, with growing technology, electronics and software, more and more women are joining the industry. There is tremendous scope for women in the automotive space in the future, and like they lead in other sectors, women can certainly lead the mobility sector as well, she concluded.