When Ratan Tata said YES

Hemalatha Annamalai, founder and CEO of Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd., at her factory in Sulur near Coimbatore on Photo: S. Siva Saravanan   | Photo Credit: S_SIVA SARAVANAN

“In 2000, China sold 40,000 electric vehicles. In 2015, they are selling 32 million vehicles. Why not India?” Hemalatha Annamalai asked Ratan Tata in an e-mail. Hemalatha is the founder and CEO of Ampere that designs and manufactures Electric Vehicles (EV) including E-scooters, E-cycles, E-trolleys, and special purpose vehicles for the differently-abled.

Not only did Ratan Tata respond to her mail, but also spent 10 minutes with her when he visited Coimbatore. And, he has made an undisclosed personal investment in the Coimbatore-based electric bike company. Ampere Vehicles factory at Sulur near Coimbatore is a flurry of activity. “We want to use the investment to scale up our operations and take our company to the next level. We want to strengthen our products and focus on large-scale production and make it faster, better and cheaper. In the electric vehicles industry, executions are challenging. We want to make a difference to it. We have started our talent hunt for sales, marketing, and R&D.”

Hemalatha says it was her precise, to-the-point mail that got Tata’s attention. “He receives over 10,000 mails and yours has to stand out. I wrote to him about the need for the auto industry to be democratised. It should be technology intensive and capital light. Most commercial players focus 80 per cent on building brand value and just 20 per cent on technology. I also emphasised on having manufacturing units in villages.”

The seven-year-old company is now gearing up to become a world-class manufacturing facility. “You have to think-out-of-the-box and dare to do new things,” says Hemalatha.

The Ampere Mitra series, the three-wheeler load carrier, is totally indigenous. “It carries loads up to one tonne and the battery requires about 6-8 hours of charging. Our customers, especially from villages, are happy. The four primary components of the vehicle are the battery, motor, controller and charger. Sixty per cent of our components are indigenous and we are working towards making it 100 per cent.” It is not about the size any more, says Hemalatha. “What is important is your contribution to society. In 2010-11, we sold 1000 electric scooters.”

Ampere V60 Retro is an E-scooter with an intelligent battery designed for the differently-abled. Ampere Trisul offers low-cost mobility for textile mill workers. Textile workers use it to cover a distance of 12-13 km every day within the factory with ease. Ampere WMS (Waste Management Solutions) vehicle comes with adjustable partitions for carrying wet and dry wastes. Ampere supplied 30 WMS to the Kurudampalayam Panchayat. “We trained 300 women on how to operate it and a team led by Shanthamani are doing an excellent job. Of the eight tonnes waste that is generated there, four tonnes are collected using electric vehicles. It has empowered many families.”

Hemalatha hopes the Tamil Nadu Government will support women entrepreneurs. “The industry has to be democratised. Finances should be rapidly available for companies. The Government should work closely with industries to create awareness. It should support manufacturing units who want to become fully automated. The market is bullish now. Many players have shown confidence. Empowerment must happen at all levels.”

Favourable government policies, and import-export tax structure, tax subsidies will go a long way, she adds. “Relaxation in VAT and Central Sales Tax (CST) will be encouraging. In China, there is zero VAT for electric vehicles. The Tamil Nadu Government should enforce tax-friendly measures. Exemption in any form will be great boost to the industry.”

Her vision is to become a Rs. 100-crore company in the next three to four years. “We want to hire engineers, especially from middle-class families, who can contribute to R&D. Currently, 25 per cent of my workforce is women. I want to create more women managers,” she says.

Hemalatha’s day starts with yoga and meditation. She says it gives her the strength to face challenges. “My mentors have encouraged me and given me time selflessly. I want to prove them right. Ratan Tata liked our company’s goal. Any manufacturing facility creates instant jobs. We want to empower homes in tier II and III cities in a systematic way. Once there is job creation, everything falls in place. When you employ an individual, the entire family is empowered. The whole ecosystem flourishes.”

A meeting to remember

Meeting Tata was inspiring, says Hemalatha. “His beautiful choice of words, the length and breadth of the meeting….it was phenomenal. He gave me 10 minutes, but we spoke for 45 minutes at the first meeting in December in Coimbatore. He kept repeating, ‘very interesting’ about our product line. He understood my concept. He saw my cycles, scooters, e-trolley and load carriers. He was happy to see a lady entrepreneur. He also spoke about how he wanted to make the Nano a car with dignity.”

Hemalatha met Tata again in Mumbai. “He asked me about the financial model of the company. He said, ‘I am here to give you a little push and support from my side’.”

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 3:10:13 AM |

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