Hema Annamalai is on the road to empowering people through her e-vehicles.
“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. “Our R&D team is geared to conceptualise any product requirement. That is our core strength. It’s 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. “That set me thinking, and here I am, making e-vehicles.”
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.” Hema’s 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. It’s 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. 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 to use the vehicle), bring dignity to the profession, and contributes to the environment. In Karnataka, we have a tie-up to supply 18 mobile marts, a dignified option for roadside vegetable vendors. One of the vendors asked us if he can make an omelette on the mobile mart. We are working on putting a gas burner on the vehicle. We listen to our customers and take their suggestions seriously. Our three-wheelers have made a big impact on the lives of people with special needs and people who run small businesses in Tier II and III cities,” explains Hema.
Another noteworthy innovation is the Ampere Trisul that offers low cost mobility 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 our vehicles to transport goods for their livelihood. The focus is functionality; 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 a speed of 25 to 30 km/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.”
To keep herself fit, Hema begins her day at 4.30 a.m. with a game of shuttle followed by yoga, and meditation. “You need to give that 20 minutes to your body to manage the 18 hours of your day. I also ensure that I give personal time to my 100 kids (my team),” she smiles.
Ampere will soon launch Ampere Asva in the high-speed category of 45 km/hour. “Currently, our focus is on Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We have a network of 80 dealers. We want to innovate and help the Government embrace E-vehicles in all streams. In 2015, China will move on to e-buses that can carry more than 50 people. That’s the kind of vision we need to have to save our environment.”
Some of the awards won by Ampere include
Best Product Design for disabled by the State Commission for Differently Abled in Tamil Nadu (2010), Best SME company awarded by Coimbatore Management Association (2011), Best Eco-Friendly company contributing to Environment by Lead India 2020 and the Best Entrepreneur - Sadhana Award (2012) by Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Coimbatore.
Ampere V60 - E-scooter with intelligent battery and Ampere Angle E-cycle
All batteries require eight hours of charging to run for 50 km.
For more details visit www.ampvl.com or call 096009 66575.