December 29, 2016
Bengaluru: “Tomorrow’s transportation, today” sounds like an audacious claim coming from any cab company in India, let alone a start-up.
But here’s why Lithium Urban Technologies could be excused for using that as its tagline: India got its first electric vehicle in 2001, and 14 years later, Lithium gave the country its first electric cab service.
“I don’t think it was confidence. It was just gumption,” said Lithium Urban Technologies (P) Ltd co-founder Sanjay Krishnan, when asked what motivated him to start the service at a time when India lacked the infrastructure for it.
The odds were stacked against the company, named after lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that power everything from cell phones to electric cars.
For starters, there was a general lack of awareness about electric cars in India, which is home to four of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.
More importantly, electric cars need charging stations with uninterrupted power—a tough ask in Asia’s No. 3 economy, known for power shortages.
“When we started, there was none of that,” said the former operations chief of Comfort India, who started Lithium along with urban development expert and Nasa scientist Ashwin Mahesh.
The lack of enough charging stations and the impracticality of starting out with a large electric car fleet made them focus on catering to corporate clients rather than becoming the next Uber or Ola.
“Access and availability are key for B2C (business-to-consumer), which without a fairly large fleet size, you can’t provide. Then, you have got to put this infrastructure all across the city, right? So, who’s going to pay for it? How are you going to provision power for it? It’s like solving the world hunger problem,” Krishnan said.
Catering to corporate customers would solve many hurdles at once.
The lack of enough charging stations and the impracticality of starting out with a large electric car fleet made them focus on catering to corporate clients rather than becoming the next Uber or Ola
For starters, Lithium could count on them to set up charging stations on their campuses rather than doing that itself.
“Who has power, where is world-class infrastructure already there, where are schedules made in advance? If all of these three things have to be met, then it’s corporate employee transport,” he said in an interview at Lithium’s Bengaluru office, where colourful, chequered mattresses double as bench cushions.
LEAP OF FAITH
The plan worked, and soon it signed up British retailer Tesco Plc’s Bengaluru arm as its first customer.
Others such as Unisys Corp., Accenture Plc, Adobe Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. soon followed suit.
“We saw the partnership with Lithium as another way to reduce our carbon footprint while transporting our employees,” said a spokesman for VMware, Lithium’s biggest customer.
But Lithium’s appeal goes beyond being an environment-friendly business.
“We didn’t want people to buy it because it was green, because that means the audience would always be limited,” Krishnan said.
The offices of Lithium Urban Technology.
From training its drivers in defensive driving to equipping its cars with GPS that drivers cannot meddle with, from offering unlimited mileage to relying on smart technology to manage its fleet, Lithium added a whole bunch of features to boost its appeal.
“The overall experience has been positive from our colleagues and moreover, features like Lithium’s ‘Assurance Stack’ that ensures safety of our colleagues, transparency of operations and productivity of the fleet, vehicle tracking 24×7 both at Tesco’s transport operations centre and at Lithium’s 24×7 Network Operating Centre (NOC) really adds to the overall experience,” said Glen Attewell, chief executive of Tesco Bengaluru, which uses 33 Lithium cabs.
Lithium’s electric cars also have lower running costs versus its traditional counterparts, Attewell pointed out.
But is that enough for an electric cab service to succeed in India?
The answer is not black and white.
INDIA AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES
“Currently, there are a lot of perception issues in Indian customer minds towards electrical vehicles, especially cost and safety,” said Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader at PwC in India.
While the concept makes complete sense in many Indian cities struggling to deal with motor vehicle emissions, it is yet to take off in a big way in cities outside Bengaluru, which is “India’s Silicon Valley”, Majeed pointed out.
Alternative fuel vehicle (including electrical vehicle) sales volume globally is just 3% and is expected to go up to 12% by 2021, according to PwC.
While the EV concept makes complete sense in many Indian cities struggling to deal with motor vehicle emissions, it is yet to take off in a big way in cities outside Bengaluru
“Lithium’s journey so far has not taken off in a big way because of many challenges such as cost, battery life, safety (possibility of battery explosions), infrastructure for battery charging and public perception,” Majeed said, underlining the need for better backing from the government too. “If these issues are addressed holistically, one could expect growth in future.”
While the Indian government wants to have 6 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads by 2020 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, electric vehicles have not had many takers in the country.
An Accenture research report released in December pegged China and the US as the best countries for the electric vehicle sector. It termed Brazil, India and Russia as “hesitators” due to the small market size and an expected low growth rate.
“Lithium’s journey so far has not taken off in a big way because of many challenges such as cost, battery life, safety, infra for battery charging and public perception”- Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader at PwC
“These markets are characterized by a lack of public charging infrastructure and low fuel prices, which have been constantly low in the respective markets, independent of current low oil prices. This combination makes EVs economically unattractive,” Accenture said, urging original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to not yet make significant investments, but to regularly re-evaluate the opportunities here.
ANGELS TO THE RESCUE
But Lithium’s backers, including its angel investors such as Robin Chase and Narayan Ramachandran, are far more optimistic.
What Ramachandran, chairman of InKlude Labs, really likes about Lithium are the people involved, the brand concept and the very attractive business scope that it represents.
“I think the envelope gets pushed by firms that innovate (with) new business concepts and Lithium is one such firm,” said Ramachandran, who was the former country head of Morgan Stanley India.
While electric vehicle transportation is in its early stages across the globe, for the first time, battery prices have been dropping (about a 60% drop in the past five years) and the rapid decline is likely to continue, he said.
Lithium Urban Technologies, which has raised $1.3 million of equity and $1.3 million of debt, is looking to raise $6-7 million to fuel its expansion plans.
With over 200 Mahindra e2o cars on the road now and several hundred in the pipeline, Lithium is already the single largest buyer of electric vehicles in India.
Ramachandran expects Lithium to do bigger things in the future.
“Lithium will pilot important business use case adjacencies in electric freight, two-wheeler and buses and possibly even using hybrid vehicles,” he said.
“I think the envelope gets pushed by firms that innovate (with) new business concepts and Lithium is one such firm”- Narayan Ramachandran, chairman of investor Inkude Labs
Contrary to initial expectations, the difficulty has been more with financing structures that make business sense versus operations, he said, adding that “it would be great to see more manufacturers and financiers in the EV segment”.
It looks like SoftBank Group chairman Masayoshi Son read Ramachandran’s mind. Earlier this month, he said that Ola, in which SoftBank is an investor, may introduce a fleet of one million electric cars—a move that could end up being a shot in the arm for the country’s electric mobility sector. He is optimistic about the sector’s prospects and plans to look at investment opportunities in it.
Chase, who is the co-founder of the US-based car-sharing business Zipcar, is also happy with her investment in Lithium. She measures the start-up’s progress by the number of people it has transported and the number of vehicles it can economically support with those trips.
“They have had rapid growth since they were founded—growth that is due to satisfaction of those who are paying for the service. I look forward to their continued expansion,” Chase said. “The future for cities will be shared electric mobility.”
The decision to be part of Lithium was far simpler for others such as Babu Reddy, 39, who started as a driver at Lithium in June 2015 and is now a supervisor.
“This is different actually. Nobody gives their drivers training and coaching classes (like how Lithium does before assigning them to various clients)”- Babu Reddy, driver with Lithium Urban Tech
Reddy has high praise for his employer and recommends Lithium to any driver looking for a new job, highlighting a better quality of life versus his peers at Ola or Uber due to shorter work shifts and weekly off.
The general ease in driving electric cars and the monthly incentives are other pluses, he said, adding that it is also a great starting place for drivers. “This is different actually. Nobody gives their drivers training and coaching classes (like how Lithium does before assigning them to various clients),” Reddy said. “It will be very nice.”
Lithium also supports higher education of some of their drivers’ children who score well in Class X, Krishnan said.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
The future of urban public transportation will be driven by four key tenets: clean, distributed, shared and connected, according to Krishnan.
Keeping that in mind, he wants Lithium to eventually engage across the electric mobility value chain.
In the near term, he wants Lithium, which currently has 255 electric vehicles under contract, to expand to more cities beyond Bengaluru and New Delhi.
He plans to collaborate with more OEMs to introduce different new form factors (vehicles) for freight, mass transit and consumer transport by April 2017, and wants the company to expand its fleet to 6,000 vehicles in four years.
To do all that and more, the company, which has raised $1.3 million of equity and $1.3 million of debt, is looking to raise $6-7 million.
In addition to Ramachandran and Chase, Lithium counts KPIT promoters’ group, Kewal Nohria, Cognizant’s Lakshmi Narayanan, H.V. (Prasad) Subramaniam and Subrata Ghosh as its angel investors.
Krishnan wants the Lithium Urban Tech to expand its fleet to 6,000 vehicles in four years
Krishnan said the company, which has managed to break even already, has annual revenue run rate of $4 million. He expects a revenue run-rate of $6.5 million by March 2017 and revenue of $100 million in four years.
NEXT BIG WAVE
Even Chetan Maini, the founder of Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicle Co. Ltd and the man who gave India its first electric car 15 years back, has high hopes for Lithium.
“When I started Reva, it was way ahead of its time. What is happening today is a host of factors coming together” such as better technology, awareness of electric cars and a more favourable policy stance from global lawmakers, he said.
“What is happening today is a host of factors coming together… The long-term vision is to move into several different product platforms. This is going to be the next big wave”- Chetan Maini, founder of Mahindra Reva EV, on urban public transportation powered by electric cars
“The long-term vision is to move into several different product platforms,” said Maini, who is a co-promoter, board member and investor of Lithium.
While Lithium is currently focused on corporate transport in India, Maini expects a future where it could dabble in other mobility areas such as goods transport and “first-mile/last-mile” delivery, and think beyond India.
“This is going to be the next big wave,” Maini said, referring to urban public transportation powered by EVs
Great Customer Offer – The Economic Times
Big Data Analytics -Taking a Deeper Dive, Financial Express
“Is internal comms about to get interesting?”, PR Moments
Training Gen-Y employees to be leaders by Nick Williams, Human Capital
Madhu Menon – CFO, Tesco HSC Participates In Bloomberg India CFO Summit 2014
We are investing more in tech as digital property is the way forward: Tesco CIO, the Economic Times
Company Encourages Employees to Go Green, The New Indian Express
Business Women Get More Opportunity, DNA
In Pursuit Of Happiness_The Hindu Business Line
The Future of Big Data in Retail, Images Retail
Garden away those corporate woes – Bangalore Mirror
Hackathons Morph Into Recruiting Vehicle, The Hindu
Tesco HSC Steps to Clean Karunashraya Lake, Bangalore | CSR Vision
Is Diversity Your Company’s Most Resounding Mantra? by Anju Sethi, Head, Learning and Development, Tesco HSC | CXOtoday.com
Oh Baby! Why women can’t break the IT ceiling | Bangalore Mirror
Decade-old Tesco captive still strong, Business Standard
Glen Attewell Interviewed On NASSCOM Website’s Face 2 Face Column
IndiaCSR: Tesco HSC Launches Sustainability Initiatives For Greener Future
OUR AIM TO PLANT TREES
Plan to protect dwindling wetlands of Bengaluru
NEW LIFE TO PLANTS IN PARK: Eenadu
In Retail, Domain-specific Skills Must For Effective Customer Servicing – TimesJobs.Com
Cos Now Hire Storytellers to Mentor Staff – The Economic Times
Training The Managers, The Tesco Way – HR Katha
Every Bit Counts – Human Capital
Lay The Foundation of IT With Agile Technology – CIO Review
For Children Of Migrant Worker – Bangalore Mirror
When change is the only constant – Times Ascent
Staying power of the new workplace
From Nottingham To Whitefield, Metro Life – Deccan Herald, October 5, 2015
Tesco HSC Announces Corporate Name Change to Tesco Bengaluru
From Seeing The Dawn Of Windows To Being The Director Of Technology For Tesco, Bengaluru, Vidya Laxman’s Journey – YourStory.com
Expat’s Diary: For Tesco Bengaluru’s HR-Head, ‘Passion’ And ‘Relationship’ Hold The Key To Indian Work Culture: HR Katha
Boss’s Day: Be a leader, not a ‘boss’ – Timesjobs.com
Gender Diversity’s Good, But Where Is It? – CXO Today
5 Ways To Appreciate An Employee – The Economic Times
Technology Consulting – What Does the Future Hold? – Consultants Review
Tesco Bengaluru Partners With Lithium Urban Technologies to offer a pioneering and emission-free transportation experience for its employees
Tesco Bengaluru Partners with Lithium Urban Technologies to offer emission-free transportation employees: India CSR
Eco-friendly Cars: Samyuktha Karnataka
Emission-free Transportation : Eenadu
Tesco, Lithium Urban Joins Hands: Deccan Herald
Tesco Bengaluru opts for green transportation with Lithium: The Times of India
Need to Reassess Traditional Approaches: People Matters
Marathon Mania: The Economic Times
Women techies log on to trendy, soft wear – Bangalore Mirror
How Retail Giant Tesco Handled The e-comm Onslaught – The Hindu BusinessLine
Investment In People Makes Good Sense: CXOToday
Deck the halls – Deccan Herald
Seminar on M-commerce Held – The New Indian Express
Looking inside contemporary application architecture – Silicon India
Employee Volunteering is a key element in Tesco’s CSR efforts
Press Release: Tesco Bengaluru Wins Best Practice in Data Analysis Strategy Award
Tesco keen to work with Indian start-up ecosystem – Business Standard
TechGig: Women Achievers: It is important for women in technology to be seen, heard and leave an impact, says Tesco Bengaluru tech director Vidya Laxman
New Indian Express: Women Had a Blast
Bangalore Mirror: City Team Feeding UK’s Hungry
Economic Times: Whitefield Builds a Kingdom of Its Own
Hindustan Times: Want the job? Here’s why you should ditch the professionally-written CV
IndiaCSR: Tesco Bengaluru celebrates World Environment Day
Silicon India: Making Your Organization the Best Workplace
Company CSR: Tesco Bengaluru Supports Sankara Eye Hospital To Enable 430 Free Eye Surgeries
CSR India: Tesco Bengaluru supports Sankara Eye Hospital to enable 430 free eye surgeries
Tesco Bengaluru Plants 6500 Saplings Together with Local Communities to Increase City’s Green Cover
Prajavani: Tesco’s Tree Plantation Drive
TimesJobs.com: A Fresher’s Guide to The Technology Industry
Press Release: Tesco Bengaluru hosts Technology Day – Ignite 2016
Tesco Bengaluru bets on agile market push
Tesco Bengaluru installs e-toilets in Whitefield
Tesco Bengaluru Extends Maternity Leave to 22 Weeks
Forbes: Big Data At Tesco: Real Time Analytics At The UK Grocery Retail Giant
Human Capital: Technology At The Very Helm!
CSR Mart: Eco-friendly Transportation for Colleagues
Mint: Lithium Urban Tech paves the way for EV revolution in India’s cab market
ETRetail: Dev-ops adoption in retail in India
Human Capital: Creation of Measurable Goals
Press Release: Tesco Bengaluru renews its commitment to serving Tesco shoppers and colleagues at dedicated shared service centre
Outlook Business: Ride to rejuvenate
Be Grateful, Positive And Strong Urges Deepa Malik at 2017 IWD Event
ET CIO: Tesco Labs has up to 50 projects on the go at any one time: Tesco Bengaluru’s Priyadarsanie Ramasubramanian
Deccan Herald: Keeping a close watch
Deccan Chronicle: Corporate sector leads way in implementing new maternity bill
The Statesman: Path of progress
YourStory: Tesco’s Glen Attewell: ‘My father was a weaver, mother worked in textiles, they pushed me to succeed’
Press Release: Tesco Bengaluru appoints Sumit Mitra as CEO
ET Retail: Retail supply chain planning and optimization
Financial Express: Maternity Benefit Bill, 2016: From Anand Mahindra to TeamLease and Paypal: Will this hurt employment of more women? Here’s what they said!
World HR Dairy: Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 increases paid Maternity Leave to 26 weeks in India | Major Highlights and Industry Reaction
TheDrum: Apple, Google, Lego, Tesco and BMW top UK’s most loved brands on social media
Economic Times: Bye-bye corner office: It’s one team, one space
Press Release: Tesco Bengaluru reinforces commitment to sustainable practices through World Environment Day activities
Business World: We Go Beyond The Mandated 2% For CSR: Aniisu Verghese, Tesco
Economic Times: Here is how companies are learning from millennials’ mistakes
Deccan Herald: Rise of AI redefining retail
Financial Express: Tesco Bengaluru CEO Sumit Mitra: We believe in driving a culture of innovation
Economic Times: 5 ways to delegate decision making
The Economic Times: To bridge gender gap, companies going big on innovation
Dr. Sumit Mitra wins ‘CEO of the Year’ at the Future Leaders Summit and Award 2018
Tesco in Bengaluru collaborates with Indian Institute of Science for a technology fellowship programme
Tesco Leaders at NASSCOM Product Conclave 2018
Securing mobile apps – Preventing MiM attack
Bengaluru goes from technology capital to talent hub as e-tailers hunt for IT skills
Tesco establishes a Business Services Centre in Budapest to serve its Central European operations
How to make an organisation an awesome place to work
We are a Great Place To Work® certified organisation.
Applied data scientists – A natural evolution for software engineers?
Tesco Business Services – UK Receives Process Improvement Award at the Engage 19
Tesco collaborates with NASSCOM Foundation to set up its first Nook in Bengaluru
Tesco, Nasscom to improve employability
My First Job: Sumit Mitra,CEO, Tesco Global Business Services
Read interview of Sumit Mitra; he is CEO of TESCO Global Business Services
Shiva Chinnasamy of Tesco on the evolving role of a technology leader
Top 5 Key Skills A Good Data Scientist Should Have
Bengaluru is central to how we run Tesco, says CEO Dave Lewis
Dr. Sumit Mitra – CEO, Tesco Business Services & Tesco Bengaluru is now on Confederation of British Industry (CBI) advisory board for India
NASSCOM Leader Talk: Interview with Dr. Sumit Mitra, CEO – Tesco Business Services & Tesco Bengaluru
Business Today: Tesco Bengaluru Helps Over 320 Underprivileged Youth Stand Tall Through Life Skills and Vocational Training and Job Placements.
TimesJobs.com: Leader’s talk: Sumit Mitra, CEO, Tesco Business Services
Economic Times: Develop The Habit of Collaboration
Entrepreneur India: Make Your Employees Feel Like the Founder
Tesco announces launch of community-based clean water programme in rural Bengaluru
Entrepreneur.com: Why Innovation in Hiring Has Become the Need of the Hour
Tesco Bengaluru appoints Sumit Mitra as CEO
Tesco Bengaluru reinforces commitment to sustainable practices through World Environment Day activities
Tesco Bengaluru renews its commitment to serving Tesco shoppers and colleagues at dedicated shared service centre
Tesco Bengaluru hosts Technology Day – Ignite 2016
Tesco Bengaluru Wins Best Practice in Data Analysis Strategy Award
Economic Times: Companies go liberal in giving time off to new dads
Analytics India: How Tesco Bengaluru Is Working On Using AI, VR And 3D Modelling In Retail Industry
Tesco Bengaluru Participates in Women – Only Hackathon
Tesco Bengaluru inaugurates first community career development Centre in partnerhsip with NASSCOM Foundation
Delivering The Most Compelling Offer For Customers
Tesco Business Services is recognised as one of the top 20 Most Admired Shared Services Organisations in the World by SSON
Waste food to Plant Wealth: Tesco helps farmers with compost
Sustainability Practices at Tesco
Business services of the future: More digital, more intelligent
How Bengaluru kept UK’s Tesco retail ops going during Covid-19
Vidya Laxman, Director, Tesco Technology: A bag full of opportunities will soon overflow with AI
Refuelling India’s Tech Economy
Top skills companies will look for in the post COVID era
How Analytics Is Shaping The Retail Industry In India
BCP PlayBook: Tesco put people at the heart of its COVID-19 resilience plan
Tesco Business Services receives four awards at the ‘Impact Annual Awards Asia 2020’ organized by Shared Services & Outsourcing Network (SSON)
Tesco Bengaluru appoints Ramamoorthy Rajagopal as Finance Director
Tesco Bengaluru Appoints Nimmi Sebastian as Head of Communication & CSR