India's aim of switching to green mobility is among the top in the world. Top lawmakers of the country, including Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, expect electric vehicles in the country to increase to three crore units over the next two years. Increasing petrol, diesel and CNG prices also seem to be complementing the government’s aim in this regard.
Then there are restrictions imposed by a directive of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that bars citizens from driving vehicles in Delhi that are older than 10 years (for petrol) and 15 years (for diesel).
Though the aim is for the greater good of nature, buying an electric vehicle, especially a car, remains a distant dream for many because of the high upfront cost. For instance, the electric version of Tata Nexon is priced approximately INR 500,000 more than its ICE variants.
Can retrofitting existing ICE cars with electric drivetrains be a solution? Jawaad Khan, Founder & Director, Tadpole Projects certainly believes so.
“While it depends on a lot of factors, converting an ICE car into an electric one generally costs between INR 350,000 to INR 500,000. It all depends on the kind of range one is looking at. The best part is that you get to drive the same car you have been driving without spending a bomb on buying a new EV,” Khan told Mobility Outlook.
One must also be mindful of the fact that scrapping old, unfit cars would make car owners lose the entire value of the car, but converting the same car into an EV would help them save a lot.
As far as retrofitment laws are concerned, the Government of India has approved retrofitment of electric drivetrains into ICE vehicles with just one condition – the electric kits being retrofitted into ICE vehicles need to be approved either by ARAI or ICAT. This simply means that the retrofitment company needs to get approval from either of these agencies to offer services in any state of India. Tadpole has ARAI certification for the work it does.
Khan’s first venture was converting a Maruti 800 into an electric car for his college project. He hails from a small village in Jammu & Kashmir, a village which is far away from modernisation. An IIT Delhi alumni saw Khan’s college project and offered him a job to convert a classic Volkswagen Beetle into an EV. Khan took the job, delivered the project, and has not looked back since.
“I took the first job to sustain my finances in Delhi. I had no idea or intention to build a start-up that would retrofit ICE vehicles with electric drivetrains. Today, we are not just working on retrofitting electric drivetrains but we are also providing consulting services to companies around EVs” shared Khan.
Khan’s start-up, Tadpole, named after a galaxy, counts ACE, Tenon Group, CERCA, CART and many others among its clients, and has so far converted Hyundai Santro, VW Beetle, Mercedes W203, and a Mercedes C Class into EVs.
Khan is of the view that both new EV models, and retrofitting of existing ICE vehicles would continue to coexist. The latter, he argued, would make a lot more sense to people who do not want to spend much on a new EV, and the ones who would like to continue owning their current ICE vehicles.
A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had recently pointed out that over 20 million vehicles will be outdated as these will meet the 15- and 10-year laws. Converting even one-fourth of these can help consumers keep their favourite cars on road.
Compared to investing in a new EV, converting an ICE to an EV is relatively cheaper, Khan said. “The challenge, however, is range anxiety. Deploying bigger batteries on existing ICE chassis remains a challenge. We can still equip ICE vehicles with batteries that can promise ranges between 100 and 275 km,” said Khan.
Construction equipment, especially the ones used in the mining sector, is a vertical where Khan sees a lot of growth happening in the EV retrofitting business. Mining vehicles operate on fixed routes and schedules, which as per Khan, is an advantage that can be used to take away the range anxiety issues. “Vehicles used in mining operations, or the ones used in warehouses like forklifts and other such mobility mediums are clients for us,” said Khan.
The start-up, meanwhile, is working on a software that will accept bookings of EV conversions through its website. Tadpole is also manufacturing its own battery packs, claimed Khan, and those are currently being tested at IIT Delhi's laboratory.
Focus On Electric Two-Wheelers
The founders of Tadpole Projects, apart from this start-up, are also working on establishing a two-wheeler EV brand. Christened ‘Trouve’, the brand will be showcasing its first electric two-wheeler two to three months from now, claimed Khan.
Though these two start-ups do not work under the same umbrella, nor do they share revenue, their founders are the same.
Moreover, Delhi-based Tadpole Projects is the knowledge and research partner of Bangalore-based Trouve, which simply means that Tadpole Projects is responsible for the engineering and technical domain at Trouve on a charged basis. Khan explained, “Trouve is a client of Tadpole Projects and neither of the two start-ups will be investing in each other in the future.”
“We are working on developing a hyper sports bike, a scooter and a commuter electric bike under the banner of Trouve. We will launch the prototype commuter bike by July this year and launch all these models commercially next year,” shared Khan.
Last fiscal, Tadpole Projects closed with revenues close to INR 70 lakh. The 10-member team is not a cash burning start-up so far, and Khan intends to keep it that way.