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MAGAZINE | APR 17, 2010

GM-REVA

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Karl Slym now has access to electric technologies for Chevy cars with near-zero capital cost. Chetan Maini will have more Reva-powered cars on Indian roads than ever before.
KUNAL N TALGERI

F

or over a hundred years, Cubbon Park has been the lung space of changing Bangalore. Rich in flora spanning 250

acres, it is home to a museum, art gallery, aquarium and more—each part connected by two-lane roads, which form a neat set of arcs across the greenscape. The park, named after Sir Mark Cubbon, a Briton and the longest-serving commissioner of Mysore city in 19th century Karnataka, was a fitting stage for another Englishman in March 2009 to test an electric prototype of the Chevrolet Spark. Karl Slym, Managing Director of General Motors (GM) India, put on his seat belt in the small car. It was to be an exhausting year. In the backdrop of his parent company’s bankruptcy-related woes in North America, the Derby City native would take over a 100 flights across Indian cities and towns where the multinational has its dealerships

. The summer afternoon at Cubbon Park was a tranquil prelude, quite literally. “I turned the key on and waited for the noise, but there isn’t any, of course,” he smiles, referring to the alter ego of the petrol-fuelled Spark. The motor in an electric car hardly makes a sound. “That was my first time in any pure electric vehicle. So, it was confusing when you were sitting there, ready to go,” says Slym.
Seated beside him was Chetan Maini, Deputy Chairman of Bangalore-headquartered Reva Electric Car Co, which is the world’s first pure electric-vehicle carmaker. His team had replaced the internal-combustion engine (ICE) of the Chevy Spark with a battery EV powertrain. For any vehicle’s architecture, this is akin to a heart transplant.

 
Maini’s team replaced the internal-combustion engine of the Chevy Spark with a battery EV powertrain. For any vehicle’s architecture, this is

 

http://business.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?264968

5/6/2012

Maharashtra. the Chevy Spark will now contain five key components: an electric motor. GM India and Reva formally announced an alliance to produce 5. a battery pack. Second.000 units of the electric Spark (or e-Spark). it was a little unnerving. it has devoted 2 acres of land near its Talegaon facility for jatropha cultivation. the e-Spark can become to the emerging world. When seen in the light of its sustainability plank. The e-Spark will be the first vehicle of its kind in India. This source of energy. The cars are expected to be commercially unveiled after this Diwali. alternative fuel-propulsion strategy in 2007. it released an LPG variant of the Spark in June 2009. Dr Arun Jaura VP-Technology.com | Plugged-In Page 2 of 7 With the EV powertrain. the eSpark can become to the emerging world.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . a battery management system and a cooling system akin to a heart transplant. freeing GM-Reva to deal with a more formidable problem: the cost of the lithium-ion battery. This is not a balance-sheet altering development.     What the Chevrolet Volt electric car will be to North America and Australia. “When you live around electric cars. and invested in developing a bio-fuel version of the same car. everything is second nature to you. Eaton Technologies http://business. But the car drove like a normal car. GM has marked itself out in a cluttered domestic market with relatively larger volumes of unconventional cars than anybody else. but also the 15 years of time that Maini’s team has taken to develop EV technologies.   . This has a wealth of significance for three broad reasons. The swap from ICE to electric powertrain was done in four-weeks flat. And while General Motors has combined investments of $700 million-$1 billion to produce the Volt in the US. For this purpose. which is another alliance of sorts for GM. GM India has begun its electric-vehicle (EV) tryst at no dedicated capital cost. When that happens.” Six months later. and was a good representation of what could be done. the e-Spark will be the flagship product of both partners’ expansion plans in the area of sustainability. the e-Spark volumes won’t account for even 1% of the passenger car market in India. And. “For Karl. While this culture is ingrained in Reva’s DNA. Even its production will be at an existing facility in Talegaon.outlookindia. These cost savings will temper the price of the e-Spark. The Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute has been entrusted with development in this area. and I saw a big smile on Karl’s face. installed in an e-Spark. the cost of developing the e-Spark is next to zero.” Maini says. converters. it is a perception-changing move.       What the Chevrolet Volt electric car will be to North America and Australia. alluding to the smooth drive.com/printarticle. Rather. GM has only built its greener. We did a couple of rounds in the park. it had all started with a brief meeting between Slym and Maini in Mumbai in December 2008. in line with GM’s market positioning globally to become a clean-fuel vehicle manufacturer. GM-Reva also marks the first collaboration between a conventional carmaker and an electric-car manufacturer. First. GM has thus saved itself not just the money. The novelty of this alliance lies therein.outlookindia.business. can cost Rs 2. Therein lies the novelty of the GM-Reva alliance.5 lakh-Rs 3 lakh. In India. Neither does it have to invest in developing electric technologies or facilities for India—because Reva has.

it moves to the engineering and technical centre. the scope of the GM electrification programme: if GM India can produce a successful electric car for short-distances (40 km). “The position is a high point in our organisation. For this. Potentially. apart from its commercial success as a car model. he had missed the Reva story. It has 5. “We decided I’d give Chetan a Spark—and he’d put the electrics in it. And the Reva Deputy Chairman found an open mind in Slym—without knowing of the SBD inputs within GM India. Production of these EV kits will be scalable to 30. For Reva. Poland. by sheer chance. but it is not a tenure that is more than 18 months.” recalls Maini. I said. When Slym came to India as Managing Director of the GM subsidiary in 2008.com/printarticle. In effect. we will go into areas for other product lines. Much of that will begin or end with how the e-Spark performs on Indian roads. only Delhi and Bangalore have the infrastructure (like battery-charging points) to support electric cars. Reva was making a transition from its role as a carmaker to providing EV mobility solutions. it has a second facility coming up in Bangalore. giving it economies of scale.” The business case in GM emanates from two global developments in its own company. The targeted volumes for the Reva cars are 15. We put someone in there who can benefit from that opportunity because he or she reports to me. The big question is: How does GM-Reva help customers migrate from petrol cars to electric and alternate-fuel cars? The answers lie in what made Slym fall in love with the e-Spark prototype.000 e-Sparks manufactured by GM in Talegaon. ‘That will be interesting. The third benefit of the alliance is synergy on the retail and after-sales fronts. Lastly. assembled and distributed globally in the past decade. In late 2008.” Once the idea is sanctioned by Slym and SBD. when Maini was busy selling the first generation of electric micro-cars from the Reva stable. Half of the kits produced here will be for its two new cars (Reva NXR and NXG). Karl mentioned that GM India was thinking of electric vehicles.business. this means the wherewithal to display its NXR and NXG models in over 200 GM outlets.com | Plugged-In Page 3 of 7 Hybridisation will come in first in different forms and scale. even as its electric cars made silent inroads into his homeland. it is at about 750 units a year. The Briton was by then impressed by Reva’s on-road experience. and how Reva scales up its EV technologies to other GM models.” Maini asserts. but also potential buyers.000 units under the current agreement. Canada—and India.000 cars it has individually developed.” Maini says. and potential business opportunities. “It was a short meeting. the Chevrolet Spark has sold 3 million units in several countries.outlookindia. it will have the capacity to make technology kits for at least one more Chevrolet model (depending on how well the e-Spark performs in India). Now. There was interest from OEMs in India who were exploring the possibility of sourcing technologies from Reva for their electric variants. Reva focuses not just on making electric cars—it will also sell EV technology kits to other automakers and thus power their vehicles. Karl Slym was doing a GM-sponsored Sloan Fellowship at Stanford. it will have a local pure-electric product. Slym and Maini were in Mumbai at the same time. the figure has crossed 90 million kilometres. the electric segment will grow at a slower clip. This is critical. “We met over lunch in Mumbai. “He is the entrepreneur. This is more than the 3. this beckoned a young business leader who would report directly to Slym. Secondly. this is without a rupee spent on such a vast retail network.) Towards this end. UK. Its small frame and features make it ideal for electrification.outlookindia.000 units. But in the course of his industry experience. We have done that in 24 countries. and trained people globally. which will be ready for export by then. the United Kingdom. There is a conscious global strategy: to move away from being http://business. Titled the Strategic Business Development (SBD) division. and Slym prodded the SBD to highlight its business potential. It had 70 million kilometres of electric-vehicle experience in 24 countries at the time.” says Slym. where GM does not have any issues. Today. And parallel to this. On the global front. Reva is expected to supply technologies for a small bus and three-wheeler for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi later this year. Around the same time. That will somewhat complement what GM is doing with the Volt in the US.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . We still had no agreements. As of now. In the first phase. Genesis Of The e-Spark Around 2002. there is also the possibility of retail synergies in South East Asia and Europe. The Reva idea was the most exciting in a list of about 10 ideas. The person was entrusted with ideas to optimise operations and make a business case for new ideas that would make GM grow. both companies must constantly change not just themselves. after which he joined GM in roles that took him to Germany. “With other automakers. Reva now has access to all GM showrooms in India. through the course of the project. Alongside. Reva will be instrumental in training showroom dealers on handling electric-cars and after-sales functions. (Currently. “Nobody has real experience in setting up servicing and training.000 units by 2012. Firstly. His induction into the auto industry had been with Toyota Motor. its technologies will power the 5. it will be visible in up to 25 showrooms in major Indian cities.’” Slym did better. he saw the Reva Electric alliance come up as an idea from a one-man department he created.

which is believed to give almost 65 km in a single battery charge.000 vehicles per year in India. But the taste of the pudding is in the eating. This is why the Cubbon Park drive a year ago proved vital to cement the alliance. Meanwhile. In the following year. Slym has had no qualms in applying a hard-nosed customer’s perspective to the e-Spark. Currently. Pune and Hyderabad.000 units. Its work in this area will be supported by a global R&D think-tank to mould the EV development in India. according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In North America. Scaling Up The E-Spark apart. the spotlight has been on the Volt. Don’t forget.business. GM makes and sells about 70. this means there can be more iterations and inputs from project experts of the GM family: that is eight design centres and 11 engineering centres worldwide. top speeds here are lower because of the limited standards of road infrastructure. It expects to fi nish 2010-11 at 100. Its electricvehicle kit volumes will be closer to 30. the percentage of people travelling less than 40 kilometres would be higher.com | Plugged-In Page 4 of 7 ‘Your Dad’s GM’ to becoming ‘Tomorrow’s GM’. For Reva-GM.000-20. a range-extending gas generator keeps the Volt running as the battery gets recharged. The e-Spark can be a perception-changing car too—in emerging countries. http://business.000-unit mark. especially in small towns and cities like Bangalore. GM India sees an opportunity to tap into the in-city commute requirement using the electric car. it will introduce GM-badge commercial vehicles in India that will see its overall production close in on the 200.000 e-Sparks. more than 75% of commuters there travel less than 65 kilometres a day. In one year. apart from the 5. Commercial production is to begin this November.outlookindia. where long drives are a way of life. with clientele in smallbus and other car makers. In India.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . In all. GM and Reva are on a scalability path.com/printarticle.000 units. the Volt claims to run about 160 kilometres—which is apt in the US. there have already been over 20 engineers from such technical centres whose electrification inputs have gone into developing the e-Spark. When the battery charge is low. However. Reva targets production of 15.000 NXRs and NXGs.outlookindia.

so you know when you are regenerating power.” Terms Of Endearment Reva found the Spark platform to be just right in terms of size and features to test its EV powertrain. a responsibility matrix defines which partner is the ‘lead.business. All this will be an SMS away. It also helped that the GM localengineering centre is in Bangalore. most alternative-propulsion cars look like alternative-propulsion cars.” Instead. for instance. We will support them in that activity. This delegation has been extended to the supply chain. For this.” says Maini. Reva can remotely connect with each car at an optimised cost. In the e-Spark.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . roles had to be formalised. This would be important to assure the customer that the change was internal—without any compromises on the exteriors. The next thing Slym liked was the use of telematics. Then. Reva has managed to apply telematics in more basic ways.outlookindia. “We are trying to understand costs from both sides. This one has got a different possibility.” says Maini. http://business.” he says. as well. This refers to the car’s ability to generate data about itself. “But we realised how much it can give to the consumer. Everybody else sees the quirky ones when you speak electric.” Maini explains. GM provides support in that area. We may incorporate these features in the Spark. This was crucial because GM-Reva is as much of a technology-collaboration as it is a business venture. GM can because Reva can. there are joint responsibilities. This was a real car. “There are the green and red lights. “The Chevrolet Spark happened to be a car platform that needed lower changes. “With the e-Spark.com/printarticle. both partners look at the business plan collectively. wireless broadband apart from crash-and-recovery notifications from the car. “You see it at any motor show. with Reva as the lead in developing the motor. The electric cars look unusual and quirky.’ and who will be the ‘support’ on a certain system. there is a monthly steering-committee meeting attended by Slym and him. “GM will be responsible for making sure that integration of the line happens. For example.” says Maini. It’s been doing this for years. Accountability is imperative. it served us as feedback from the car. as well. “Initially.” This is how individual responsibilities have been defined.” he adds. control the car temperature via SMS. That is the kind of real-time experience in EV support GM’s competitors lack in India today. “The e-Spark has still got four doors.outlookindia. In India. he wanted to see an electric car that looks like a conventional car. “You start to quickly become a very intelligent electric-vehicle driver as well. “This made things easier because decision-making could happen here.” he explains. Now. Telematics will prove critical for commuters to know. It looks like a car that a customer can be familiar and comfortable with. Towards this end. So. and what we can do jointly to achieve our targets. how much battery charge is available.” Slym is focusing on user friendliness too. as well as enable features to control temperatures inside the car. In developed countries. telematics has evolved into luxury features like streaming videos. This is held to monitor technical progress. which could be used.com | Plugged-In Page 5 of 7 “First of all. people care about fuel efficiency. and is enabled by combining wireless technologies and computers. He can check his battery range on SMS. this data is in your face all the time to help you with the battery technology as well.” says Slym. Reva will be responsible for delivering the entire kit to the Talegaon plant.

says Maini. which gave it a different identity from the Big Three then: Ford. and upward. and came to the US in 1997. Vice President-Technology of Eaton Technologies India. the retail-network visibility to the NXR and NXG is a wonderful hedge. First. Although it is a premium sedan. before the march of electric cars. a hatchback. This. It will produce the first generation of electric Indica Vista towards November 2010. In other words. More tax breaks for electric-car buyers. So. Through such phased launches.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . the alliance has made considerable progress already.” believes R Chandramouli. “If Reva’s micro-electric cars brought in the early adopters and innovator-customers. Both OEMs are hungry for a breakthrough in India.” says Maini. And parallel to this. With the Spark LPG launched in June 2009. it has four doors and looks like a conventional car. It has an electric Nano in development too.” he says.” From a GM standpoint. I think. which a GM brand can give it today. say. Auto manufacturers like Tata Motors will unveil their electric variants in Europe first. one thing won’t change: Toyota had carved out a niche for itself as early as 1997. Instead of bleeding in this segment. This can take between three and five years. the past two Chevrolet launches over the last nine months have been crucial—the Spark LPG and the automatic Cruze (a sedan). The Spark has been the propeller of this growth. Reva may be called upon to introduce its technologies again. In associations like Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. the market will see the e-Spark as a first mover. hybridisation will come in first in different forms and scale. it clocked 24% growth in the passenger-car market amid the troubles it had globally. and a tried-and-tested car. what is driving the e-Spark? Its position in the domestic market. ‘It is OK’. “The Prius Hybrid was introduced in Japan 15 years ago.” In this context. President-Sales & Marketing of Reva Electric Car Co. GM India has identified the customer-facing aspects that will be conducive to better sales of e-Sparks. Indian automakers will try and open the Indian customer’s mind to sustainable car technologies. Sowing The Seeds In many ways. Mahindra will also release a hybrid variant of its best-selling SUV. If you look at the OEM across the globe. Budget Boost The recent union budget neutralised customs duty on parts used in electric cars. If the Reva wanted the same faith. Meanwhile. respectively. Arun Jaura. What if. But there is a mutual respect that overpowers the need to define the minutiae of this alliance. there will be a time gap before we can work with someone else.outlookindia. the response to a gearless car in India will be useful. “If you look at all OEMs. the more they will say. it may have taken us five more years. “There are more OEMs talking to government on policy. “The early majority wants the comforts and assurance.” says Jaura. GM and Chrysler. pushing for its need. When that happens. But there is still a significant difference: electric vehicles run on automatic transmission. So.business. there will be hybrid vehicles and LPG variants that will pick up.” recalls Jaura. Reva is neck-deep in development. “That was the first-generation Prius. Toyota Motor adopted a similar strategy in 1995. “Whatever we do is going to be in such a way that it doesn’t impact this relationship in any way.outlookindia. Scorpio. an MNC auto supplier. UK and some Scandinavian countries. GM is localising its environment-sustainability position in India. where you will see hybrid buses. and it has had upgraded versions since then. “The Indian car buyer is given to a herd mentality: if people see enough of a certain car on the road. With a shift in legislations and regulations in coming years. In the US.” http://business. In the nine months ending December 2009. for its small-car Figo and promises higher volumes? Maini is clear about such an eventuality: “For cars of a similar size. GM India’s sales in fiscal year 2010 have been better than ever before. you can see a larger role for electric cars. thinks it will be phased. perhaps in a Beat. Sure. could bring in more buyers. as is the case in the US. “What will change now is the paradigm. they are already looking at CNG and LPGdriven cars in the domestic market. There is a larger group urging for a direction for electric vehicles.” he notes. in the mass segment. Customers will see the progress. both partners are comfortable in the knowledge that EV technologies can be scaled up for varying Chevrolet models. and the response will be useful to GM. domestic sales of Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor are 15 times and 5 times that of GM India. none is close to launching an electric variant in India anytime soon. Ford India shows interest in Reva. The market must get familiar with these features.com | Plugged-In Page 6 of 7 The grey areas will emerge after the e-Spark is unveiled. the e-Spark will bring in the early majority who will buy it. If the e-Spark clicks.com/printarticle. everyone is trying to work on hybridised versions now. benefits and trade-offs of a non-petrol option. there are no gears. There is also the automatic-transmission variant of the Chevrolet Cruze. launched in early February.” he explains. Currently. A green-GM is carving out a similar identity today. Japan. before releasing them in India. GM has brought in a new set of non-petrol users. That helps. shortly. is fair. who spent many years with Ford Motors in the US. While Indian OEMs are developing clean technologies. Slym is the first to acknowledge that an electric-vehicle in India cannot sell in isolation. Yet. The Commonwealth Games will be one platform. the electric segment will grow at a slower clip. this could give it the much-needed edge. in a crowded Indian market. Even after making allowances for Prius’ recall problems in recent months.

and drove it out into the streets of Delhi. depending on the kind of hybridisation or electrification as the case may be. Reva.com/printarticle. “High-voltage battery cost for a passenger vehicle will range anywhere between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 5 lakh.outlookindia. if state governments in India are just as proactive. has battery leasing as a fundamental pillar of its business model. And she surprised the heck out of me. in fact. This collaboration might just get the unexpected thrust it seeks.com | Plugged-In Page 7 of 7 The biggest challenge for GM-Reva will be the cost of batteries.” he laughs. “I drove the car to Sheila Dixit’s residence from Auto Expo 2010.” Maini says. For driving delight.business. GM-Reva already has a couple of high-profile instances.aspx?264968 5/6/2012 . GM and Reva are working on leasing models to support buyers. Slym talks of the e-Spark drive to the Delhi Chief Minister’s residence.outlookindia. She was only supposed to go around her garden up to the gates. Click here to see the article in its standard web format http://business.

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