Startup Saturday: Retro-fitting a forward-looking e-reality
Pixy Cars has a niche in an emerging sector, retro-fitting petrol/diesel EVs to make them electric.Updated: Sep 29, 2018 15:31 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
Rajeev Randive’s act is no less a daredevil’s. Post-retirement from his professional career in auto industry, when people settle into the sunset of their lives aiming to simply stay afloat, this 67-year-old decided to set up his own company, Pixy Cars. He put his life’s savings into it and single handedly drove the R&D and innovation. What resulted was a retrofitted electric system for petrol and diesel cars.
“I have worked my entire life in the auto sector and have a lot of knowledge about cars. When the government announced sops for electric vehicles, I thought this was a good time for me to get into business,”says Randive. This was in 2016. He felt that building an electric car from scratch would be a huge task, “since we are a small entity”, so he settled for the next best – retrofitting petrol/diesel cars to convert them into electric.
He took up an abandoned poultry shed in Talegaon to set up his business.“Since my knowledge is extensive in the auto industry, I did a lot of research on how petrol cars could be retrofitted. The cost of retrofitting is almost half the cost of buying a new petrol vehicle car,” he says.
After retrofitting with Pixy’s engine, your car will become an electric vehicle. Not a hybrid.
“That’s because the government doesn’t support a hybrid version. Moreover,such a car would not be as effective as it is not easy to support the weight of two engines.” Randive explains.
Even the hybrid versions of Maruti and Toyota, according to Randive, “manage to save fuel upto 5 - 15% ”.
Understanding that he would focus on retrofitting existing cars, Randive had a lot of technical and manpower challenges. “Retrofitting a car meant you had to use available space for your engine. That itself posed a big challenge. Besides this, we could not buy motors from the market. Retrofitting means making one yourself,” Randive says.
He needed some people to help him. “How do you get trained people for a job that has never been done before? No engineer would have learnt anything on retrofitting of cars. I decided the next best thing was to hire freshers straight out of engineering colleges. People without experience are easier to train,” he says.
Randive was working on this idea three years before he set up Pixy. Over time he spent ~4 crore of his personal money. He did get ~10 lakh from Venture Centre and ~50 lakh from the Department of Science and Technology, which he used for doing some experiments.
His business needed more. “Even with the Prime Minister’s Mudra Fund I drew a blank. No one is willing to support something like this. Even VCs tend to focus on IT sector which gives them quick returns. Manufacturing industry is a slow moving one and money is impatient, I guess. Anyway, even at that time, everyone thought I was crazy. I was very sure. I knew that the sector I was working on was the most challenging,” says Randive.
Wildlife sanctuaries according to Randive are most prone to pollution. “You have very harsh terrain and cars are pushed very hard over hills, rocks and so on. Not only will petrol cars cause air pollution, but also huge amounts of land pollution. Such cars spew sulphur, carbon that will stay in the ground forever. If I could get my vehicle to be successful in such terrain, driving them on urban roads would be a breeze.”
A year after he worked in his R&D shed Randive developed a technical demonstrator prototype that could be tested. And in another year he developed the production intent prototype. “In the technical prototype you can use materials that may not be economical to use during large scale production,” he says.
Intellectual Property conundrum
While most startups rush to get their intellectual property registered, Randive has a very different perspective on the issue. “I feel that getting your technology registered can cause it to get out of your hands. When you file a patent you are making the information public. Mine is a trade secret, keep it secret rather than file a patent. Even Tesla filed patents and lost its IP initially. Tesla decided thereon not to file patents, but keep it a trade secret,” he explains. How will your IP be protected? “Because nobody will know of it so no one can steal it.” Risky? “No, not really. I am quite sure that it is safe in my hands.” How about his staff getting their hands on his intellectual property? “Even my staff does not know how and why it works. They know the parts that go into it but don’t know how it works.”
His staff does not sign an NDA. “What will you do if someone uses your IP? Randive explains: “Am I here to file legal cases? Can I file and wait 40 years for it? It’s pretty pointless.” Which is why Rajeev will not share how his engine works better than traditional petrol/diesel engines. “But, let me tell you that it has shown conclusively that it gives a far better advantage than traditional cars,” he claims.
Getting to market
Randive built a few prototypes and approached the wildlife sanctuary in Ranthambore, Rajasthan.
“It is a tiger reserve and is known for the most difficult terrain. It has very steep climbs and is very rocky. Driving a vehicle there is a big challenge, which is why we selected Ranthambore. This vehicle has already run there for about six months. Summer and rain, it has been very successful. Even in 48 degrees temperature it has been successful,” says Randive.
Randive went about selling his product by giving demonstrations. “I actually gave demonstrations to wildlife sanctuaries, car dealers and petrol pump owners..”
As a result some dealers and pump owners have approached him for dealerships. “My technology will work in the second-hand car business. The way it works is that one has a second hand car. For e.g. in Delhi diesel cars over 10 years are banned. Now those people can’t abandon their cars can they?”
First Published: Sep 29, 2018 15:30 IST