Take a look at the vehicle your next e-commerce delivery comes in, there is a high chance that it will be an electric vehicle. Smaller packages might be carried on a two-wheeler, but slightly larger packages come in electric three-wheelers. If you live in the Delhi-NCR, you will notice that there are just three brands of such cargo-carrying electric three-wheelers. Of course, you have Mahindra and Piaggio, but then there is the third, ‘OSM’ which stands for Omega Seiki Mobility. This small Delhi-based company is making a big play for the EV future, particularly in cargo carriers, in India and beyond.
Unless you live under a rock, you have heard of Bhavish Aggarwal, the founder of Ola, a one-time cab-aggregator and now an electric scooter company as well. If you track electric vehicles and the start-up ecosystem, you have possibly also heard of Tarun Mehta, the founder of Ather Energy, an electric scooter manufacturer. But it is unlikely that you have heard of Uday Narang, the chairman of Anglian Omega Group and OSM. That is possibly because the one-time student from St. Columba’s, New Delhi is 53 years old.
Not quite the age to be a start-up entrepreneur with dreams of changing the world.
But make no mistake, Narang is not some seth ji sitting in an air-conditioned office, and unlike far too many other ‘start-ups’ in the electric mobility space, he is not bringing in container loads from China and assembling them in India to take advantage of subsidies and pocketing them. A one-time investment banker on Wall Street, Narang came back to run his family’s medium-sized steel business but realised that there was an opportunity to do something in the electric mobility space here. Of course, the money was attractive, he admits, “but I wanted to build capacity in India, and manufacture products here.”
Narang has been conscious of avoiding the China trap. “We already have a massive trade deficit with China thanks to massive imports of electronics, we cannot allow our mobility industry to also be beholden to China,” he told me in his office in Delhi’s Jasola business district. He has tied up with Korean EV manufacturer Jae Sung Tech. He also established manufacturing facilities in Thailand, where he has been quietly developing his products to take on the Indian and global markets.
While the company has sold some 5,000 vehicles so far, mainly three-wheelers, Narang is betting heavily on one-tonne and three-tonne electric four-wheelers.
“With intense air pollution in cities like Delhi, we will have to move to zero-emission vehicles if we are to leave our children a breathable city. And commercial vehicles will lead the charge, and you are seeing that with last-mile delivery and taxis already. But we are tying up with delivery services firm Porter to buy thousands of our three and four-wheelers,” he said. His big bet is a three-tonne capacity medium-commercial vehicle called the ‘M1KA’ (his son’s name is Mika). There will also be a one-tonne capacity variant of this truck.
“Look at e-commerce companies serving Delhi-NCR, their main warehouses are located in places like Manesar and Sonipat, these electric trucks can bring goods from the main hubs to distribution points in places like Okhla, from where the electric three-wheelers can travel the last mile,” he said.
That vehicle is being indigenised for India, and he is already exporting them from his Korean and Thai facilities to other nations.
“We are the first EV manufacturer of commercial trucks that was been certified in the UAE. Eventually, we want to ‘Make in India’ for other countries, such as in Africa,” Narang says. OSM recently launched an electric passenger three-wheeler that he believes can easily be sent to African nations, where incidentally the Bajaj auto rickshaw dominates as well as operates in upcountry Indian towns. “This is not like the electric three-wheelers that you see on the streets, these are not dinky toys,” he states emphatically.
Entering the league of EV big boys
Can Narang succeed? Unlike many of his peers, Narang, despite having a product, has not raised money — something that he is very proud of.
“I want to have my products and services in place before I raise money unlike some others,” he says, but over here, he is running the gauntlet. Until now, many of the larger established companies in the automotive space have really not gotten their act together in the electronic vehicle space. While Mahindra and Piaggio are making both cargo and passenger electric three-wheelers, Bajaj has not started.
Similarly, Tata Motors, which dominates electric passenger vehicles in India, has been slow off the block when it comes to electric commercial vehicles, albeit both Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland find themselves preoccupied with electric buses currently. An industry veteran, who did not wish to be named, said that while Narang’s intentions are good, he will need to raise money to compete with the big boys.
“Look at what is going to happen in electric two-wheelers when Bajaj and Hero unleash their money and reach on the market. Ninety per cent of the electric two-wheeler companies you hear of today won’t survive.”
Narang believes that he will. While he agrees that he might need to raise money sooner or later, he has been investing in other start-ups in the electric space. For instance, companies like Log9 Materials, a Bengaluru-based nanotechnology startup that is developing systems that enable rapid charging for batteries. “Investing in such technologies will help OSM in the long run because I don’t want to become some also-ran.”
Narang has the hustle of men and women 20 years younger, always on the move and always trying to close a deal. Whether he will succeed in his mission to build an Indian champion manufacturer remains to be seen. But it will not be for the lack of effort.
@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.