Don't let the sight of that funky biker gliding past you without moving a muscle take you by surprise. You are getting your first glimpse of an electronically-powered two wheeler. Nearly half a million are expected to hit the Indian roads soon.
Welcome to the world of e-bikes. They can be bicycles which surge ahead without the rider having to use his lower limbs at all. Or they can be scooters - noiseless, zero emission vehicles. Both are driven by DC motors operating on rechargeable batteries.
The basic models work on a motor output below 250 watts and can reach a maximum speed of 25 km per hour. Since the scooters do not use fuel, they are outside the purview of the Motor Vehicles Act - they have neither to be registered, nor does one need a licence to use them. So bikers now have the option to plug it, charge it and forget it.
The past few months have seen nearly eight players including Ultra Motor, Electrotherm, Avon Cycles, KEV India, Kaiser Auto Moto, Standard Group, take the plunge into manufacturing this environmental friendly vehicle category.
In October last, the United Kingdom-based Ultra Motor tied up with Hero Cycles as technology provider for the roll out of their e-bike in January 2007. The basic e-bike model is priced between Rs 10,000 to Rs 16,000. A basic e-scooter would be in the range of Rs 26,000-Rs 27,000.
The e-bicycle is indeed costlier than the conventional one. But the e-scooter is hardly two thirds the price of petrol driven scooter. And there are more advantages. The running costs of the e-scooter are barely 10 per cent of the conventional variety. The maintenance cost works out to be one-third of the conventional two wheeler.
Depending on what version of the electric two-wheeler is used, a single charge can last for between 35 kms and 80 kms. "The price of running an electric bike works out to an unbelievable 10 paise per km, which is the cost of charging the battery. Add another 10 paisa per km as the replacement cost for the battery every two years and it still works out to be the most fuel efficient option on offer," says Deba Ghoshal, Director Marketing for Ultra Motors.
Hero Cycles plans to have 75 dealers across 16 towns in the next 12 months. And it these 16 towns in which 50 per cent of all two wheelers are sold and 60 per cent of all bicycles.
"We have already sold 21,000 vehicles this year and plan to take this up to 50,000 by March 2007. We will be tripling our manufacturing capacity to 2.88 lakh in 2007 from the existing 96,000 units," says Avinash Bhandari, Director Operations for Electrotherm that manufactures e-bikes too.
"The market size is considerable, but success will depend upon the quality of the batteries. Let's not forget that the concept of electric cars fell on its face in India because the battery life was limited. The price differential between a conventional bicycle at Rs 1500-Rs 1700 and the basic model of the e-bike is huge. And there is always a problem of power," says Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) Director General Dilip Chenoy.