Krishnagiri: In a country where ease of doing business and the speed of executing projects, even by the private sector, are spoken of in terms of hurdles, challenges and years and decades, a 500-acre “future factory” around three hours from the hustle, bustle and traffic nightmare of Bengaluru gives a sneak peek into what the future of Indian manufacturing can be if it all falls into place.
This is the Ola FutureFactory in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, just across the border from Bengaluru district in neighbouring Karnataka where technology companies have for decades now helped global giants march into the future.
The Ola FutureFactory manufactures e-scooters or electric scooters, a mobility solution of the future that is fast becoming our present. In that sense, it isn’t exactly a pioneer, as other Indian companies hopped on to ride this wave a little earlier.
But what makes the Ola project unique is its size, scale, ambition, demand — and the fact that it is almost entirely staffed by women workers. At full capacity, this facility aims to manufacture one e-scooter every two seconds.
It all started only in January this year when the Ola Group, more famous for its ridesharing services across Indian cities, bought the land from the Tamil Nadu government. Last week, just 11 months down the line, the company rolled out the first 100 Ola S1 e-scooters.
To call it a race against time for Ola’s Group CEO and Chairman Bhavish Aggarwal and his team would be a gross understatement.
‘Over a million bookings’
Such is the response for Ola’s e-scooters that despite existing options in the market, Ola’s S1 and S1 Pro already have over a million reservations, according to Aggarwal. The option to reserve an Ola e-scooter is still open on its app and website.
The response, as Aggarwal described, was overwhelming for India’s own homegrown mobility giant. Now, the challenge before the company is to fulfil orders in line with delivery schedules.
“Unlike Tesla for four-wheelers, we don’t have any vision for two-wheelers anywhere. We intend to change that,” Bhavish Aggarwal told ThePrint, showing off a freshly manufactured S1 scooter.
In 11 months, Ola has managed to lay the foundation of a fully-functional manufacturing unit, tie up with robotics and automation firms, hire young women graduates from nearby institutions, train staff, integrate artificial intelligence into production, and roll out ‘new-age’ e-scooters that they claim are 30 per cent more powerful than their closest competition.
‘First-generation career women’
Whether the paint shop, sub-assembly line, welding sections, battery facility or treatment facilities — women dominate the factory.
“We approached nearby colleges, diploma institutions and encouraged women graduates to work at FutureFactory. Many of our women staff are first-generation career women,” Varun Dubey, Ola’s Chief Marketing Officer, told ThePrint.
The largely-women workforce is full of graduates in maths and science, as well as those with diplomas in electrical and electronic engineering.
Most of the women at the FutureFactory hail from small towns like Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Hosur. As shift managers, test riders, assemblers and trainers at the Ola FutureFactory, it is the first job for the majority of the young women.
‘Foundation for the future’
“[It is] Because we are laying the foundation for the future here,” said Bhavish Aggarwal to his team, while zeroing in on the name for the manufacturing facility — Ola FutureFactory.
In September this year, Aggarwal announced that Ola FutureFactory will be the world’s largest, most sustainable and most advanced two-wheeler factory.
With a 100-acre forest cover around the factory and two acres in the middle of the mega-block — the factory has made ‘going green’ quite literal.
And, high on automation and robotics, the factory is looking to draw 20 per cent of its electricity needs from rooftop solar panels.
At full capacity, the Ola FutureFactory intends to employ 10,000 women with an annual production of 10 million e-scooters. The numbers may seem huge, but Aggarwal’s team is confident of achieving it by 2023.
Currently at one-third its intended size and capacity, Ola FutureFactory is rapidly expanding to set up additional manufacturing lines, supplier parks, and battery facility.
The staff works in three shifts every day to meet delivery schedules of e-scooters. According to the company, e-scooters worth Rs 1,100 crore sold during a two-day purchase window in September this year.
A walk in the mega block is a quick educational tour on electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. “We hope to introduce study tours once the factory is expanded to its full capacity,” Aggarwal told ThePrint.
Overhead platforms are being designed for these proposed study tours.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is already an attraction at the FutureFactory. From motion-sensor robots deployed to transport ‘scooter kits’ to automated welding giants, the staff and machines work in perfect harmony.
In February this year, Ola announced a partnership with ABB robotics and automation solutions at its factory. Bhavish Aggarwal’s team hopes to integrate motion sensors for their scooters in the future too.
Demand and supply
From 16 January 2021, when Ola bought the land, till 15 August, when they produced their first e-scooter, to 15 December, when they began deliveries of their first 100 vehicles — it has been a long journey.
“We have reservations of over 1 million,” Aggarwal told The Print.
‘Reservation’, however, is only an intent of interest shown by potential buyers.
The actual sales during the two-day purchase window in September, as mentioned above, was worth about Rs 1,100 crore. In estimated numbers, Ola currently has orders for about 90,000 scooters, which the company hopes to deliver over the next two months.
“Our is a direct-to-customer model of service and hence there are no dealerships. Even if the vehicle needs a service, all that the customer needs to do is book a slot on the app and we will provide door-step service,” Varun Dubey said.
The reservation option, purchase window, payment window etc are Ola’s methods to streamline demand and estimate manufacturing and delivery schedules. The reservation option, Ola says, provides a priority cue for those purchasing the scooter during the purchase window. The next purchase window is scheduled to open in February.
Push for electric vehicles
Bhavish Aggawal has been pushing for the phasing out of petrol-fueled two-wheelers by 2025.
While the government’s lower tax rates and subsidies on electric vehicles are encouraging more people to look at EVs, the question of readiness still looms large.
In his written reply to a question in Parliament this month, Union Minister for Road and Highways Nitin Gadkari said India had a total of 8.7 lakh registered EVs, of which 44 per cent were in Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi.
In large cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, said Aggarwal, the demand for e-scooters is high, but Ola does not have a city-wise breakup of data on demand.
“People who use electric vehicles charge them at homes and use them within the city. This means the charge lasts well within the range of the EV and the need for charging points at public places is less. But, for emergencies, we are looking at setting up charging points at public parking spots, government offices etc,” Gaurav Gupta, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner, told ThePrint.
He added that in many cases, EV manufacturers, too, correspond with private businesses like petrol bunks and tech companies to set up charging points.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)