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Your need for speed can be electric. Meet Ultraviolette Automotive. [Interview]

Why read this:

  • Learn about the emerging two-wheeler EV space in India.
  • Ultraviolette Automotive happens to be one of the most exciting amongst them, on the verge of launching the fastest 200-250cc equivalent electric bike in the country.
  • What does it take to build a high performance electric two-wheeler from scratch?
    Find out.

Ultraviolette Automotive is a three-year-old Bengaluru-based EV startup that is close to launching their first two-wheeler, the F77 – a premium electric bike, equivalent to a 200-250cc motorcycle, claimed to be the fastest in its category. Backed by TVS Motors, the startup aims to fill the gap of providing a high-tech power-packed and power-efficient alternative to ICE (internal combustion engine) two-wheelers in the premium category.

One of the interesting things about Ultraviolette Automotive is the fact that they seem to be working on a lot of components from the ground up, with 9 international patents for their battery technology alone. And apart from the standard ‘smart’ enabling bells and whistles that are seemingly accompanying every new two & four wheeler, the company seems to be expending a lot of smarts on engineering their bike. Which makes them truly worth watching out for.

We caught up with Narayan Subramaniam, CEO & co-founder of Ultraviolette Automotive, for a chat on the F77, the state of EV in India, and how he sees the government’s policies towards EV right now.

(L-R) Narayan Subramaniam, Chief Executive Officer along with Niraj Rajmohan, Chief Technology Officer of Ultraviolette Automotive.

For those who’re unaware, could you give us a short intro to Ultraviolette Automotive and its history?

Our goal at Ultraviolette Automotive is to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles – in India to begin with. This is the vision we started with, and it made sense to start with two wheelers because typically, for two-wheelers, the product development timelines are in the range of 2.5 – 3 years.

“One of the major concerns that we at Ultraviolette Automotive are addressing is the fact that the entire electric vehicle industry in India has always been associated with low performance and a zero desirability quotient. Today, we are living in times where all forms of vehicles come with a certain pride of ownership. Right from the first bicycle you want as a child, the motorcycle you want to ride in college, to the car you aspire to own later in life.”

At Ultraviolette Automotive, all our products and solutions are designed and developed with a single-minded focus towards delivering high levels of performance and unparalleled user experience across the usage and ownership experience cycles. In essence, a completely new identity for electric vehicles.

Now coming to the other side of the equation – energy. We realized very early on that a good product alone will not accelerate the transition towards electric mobility. There needs to be reliability and predictability built around the availability and usage of energy. We have spent considerable time and built a lot of IP around the development of batteries and various forms of charging technology that will soon become a crucial part of the electric ecosystem.

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Ultraviolette Automotive F77 Electric Bike.

Tell us a little about the F77 and its standout features.

India represents a very unique and interesting culture, when it comes to vehicles. Premium and performance oriented products are seeing a steady rise in demand. Today, we are far more connected and aware of the world than ever before, thanks to the insanely accelerated development in the electronics industry. So, why not the same when it comes to our vehicles.

“I believe that it is about time we create and offer world-class technology in the two-wheeler space as well. Any vehicle we own, is seen as an extension of our personality. And it is this unique culture that we are addressing with the F77.”

The F77 is a high-end technology oriented, high performance electric motorcycle. It has been developed ground up, with principles used in the aviation industry – right from the advanced engineering simulations, multi-level safety systems to the design identity of the motorcycle. It is an urban sports motorcycle with a battery range in 3 digit figures 0-100 kmph in sub 8 seconds and a power output to the tune of 25 KW.

The F77 is a smart and connected electric motorcycle that comes with remote diagnostics, over-the-air (OTA) upgrades, regenerative braking, multiple ride modes, bike tracking, ride diagnostics and a whole lot of other features.

Why has the power-packed + power-efficient combination been so hard to crack for the two-wheeler EV industry so far?

There are 2 parts to this answer:

Electric two-wheeler markets and their perception:

“There has been a lot of development in power-packed and efficient electric four wheeler technology in various parts of the globe. There is a lot to be learnt from how companies like Tesla have tackled various problems, right from technology, to the business side of things.”

However, when it comes two wheelers, there are a very few companies worldwide working on performance oriented motorcycles. This is largely due to two factors: 

  • In the western world, the two wheeler segment is predominantly a recreational and an enthusiast segment. These segments are not large enough for companies to achieve economies of scale.
  • In the east, electric scooters have become the lowest common denominator when it comes to commute. There are vehicles being operated under various kinds of business models, that are not necessarily ownership based. Hence, these scooters are devoid of any emotional attachment (pride of ownership).

India however, represents a very different market with a different mindset. Pride of ownership is an important factor, as are aspects like performance, technology and style, when it comes to purchasing vehicles.

Technology barriers that come with the development of high performance vehicle:

“Building a high performance motorcycle comes with no shortcuts, and neither are there enough benchmark vehicles to learn and improve upon. What we had to do was start the development of the motorcycle from ground up – right from the chassis and a new architecture for the motorcycle to the battery tech that can deliver the kind of energy required, keeping multiple complex safety constraints and harsh Indian conditions in mind.”

Having had to redefine the fundamentals, there were a lot more supporting components that had to be developed as they simply did not exist. For this, you need an accomplished R&D team, both on the mechanical and electronic systems front, without which building this sort of vehicle would not be possible.

I believe these are the major reasons as to why this segment has seen less action and most (not all) companies have tried avoiding this loop of R&D and have chosen to enter the market with lower powered electric vehicle kits.

Ultraviolette Automotive Battery Pack.

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You seem to have a full stack approach to building your EV ecosystem – extending to innovating on your batteries as well. Could you shed some light on this?

Using two wheeler battery packs imported from SE Asia comes with critical drawbacks as they are not built for aggressive Indian usage conditions. Most of these battery packs are not developed to operate at the kind of temperatures we see on a summer day (read 45 deg +) and neither are they designed to offer the durability and reliability to last the average ownership cycle of a two-wheeler in India.

Most importantly, safety is a critical aspect that is often not addressed, especially when it comes to Indian conditions. They do however, serve the purpose of low powered, low range applications. But this is far from what you require for a full blown, performance motorcycle.

There are a few companies across the world that make Li-ion cells. Engineering of the battery pack is the most crucial aspect when it comes to optimizing the energy available from these cells.

“Our crucial efforts in the R&D have been around thermal management, safety loops across mechanical, thermal, electrical and software systems and we have done several months of testing and iterative improvements to meet the aggressive requirements we started out with.”

For instance, today we are running our production ready 10th generation of the battery management system.

Where are you at currently when it comes manufacturing and launch?

Our production ready prototypes are now going through various forms of testing and we looking to launch our motorcycle towards the end of 2019. 

Your partnership with TVS Motors must provide you with access to some serious expertise in building two-wheelers. Tell us a little about it.

“We see long term synergy when it comes to our association with TVS Motors, considering the rich heritage and decades of industry experience that TVSM brings and the innovations in design, technology and business at Ultraviolette Automotive.”

Ultraviolette Automotive Charger.

What is your take on the current government policies towards EV?

It is commendable to see the government being pro-electric and addressing sustainability at a both at a central and state level. We think there has been significant development in laying the foundation for EVs and the eco-system. There are several factors that will contribute to the exponential growth of EVs across India.

Standards around charging infrastructure have been finalized this year and we should start seeing a push towards nationwide deployment of charging infrastructure. Apart from this, we have seen a clear indication of renewed subsidies through the FAME program.

“Overcoming range anxiety is the real issue here. At the outset there are two ways to deal with this problem. First, by providing a significant range – sufficient to cover the heaviest usage scenarios. Second, by building a network of energy stations that would provide access to energy on-the-go. We believe a combination of both of these approaches will support the growth of EVs.”

However, we are still at a nascent stage and with time and increased adoption, there will be well rounded-policies right from manufacturing support to customer incentives.

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A mock-up of the app accompanying the F77.

What’s next for Ultraviolette Automotive?

Our goal is to help influence our country and in due course of time, the world, to move towards a smarter and more energy efficient future and we will keep pushing boundaries on this front. The F77 is what we hope will create a new identity for EVs, dispel any myths associated with EVs and kick-start this revolution.

How do you see the two-wheeler EV segment playing out over the course of the next few years?

“Electricity as a form of energy in the transportation space, is here to stay. It is no more a question of ‘is it going to be electric’, it is more of ‘how soon’. The electricity grid is already in place across the planet and operates at a significantly higher efficiency than any other currently available form of energy distribution and storage.”

With regard to the transportation industry, I believe this will carve out multiple interesting use cases for vehicles and foster new business models as well.  Both consumer owned as well as shared mobility use cases will rise, and new segments could arise as well. 

Electric is inherently suited for both ‘stop and go’ traffic scenarios and for pushing the boundaries of ‘high performance’.