TheNFAPost Podcast

Bengaluru-headquartered SemaConnect Inc, a pioneer in transportation electrification, is all set to enter Indian market at a time when the country is witnessing a boom in purchasing Electric Vehicles. In an interaction with NFAPost’s N V Vijayakumar, SemaConnect Charging Infra Pvt Ltd Vice President and Head of Sales & Marketing (India) Prashant Radhakrishnan explains the company’s grand strategy to enter the market with its more than a decade of experience in North America.

SemaConnect started its journey in the EV charging infrastructure market at a time when there was no international protocol or other standards. Can you share the journey so far?

SemaConnect’s core sales and marketing operations are currently centered in the North American market with a prominent majority in the United States followed by Canada. And we have been present in India since 2009-10, right from the very inception of our R&D, design and manufacturing. It’s been a long journey for about 10-11 years now. SemaConnect started its journey from scratch from India and used the US market essentially as a sales market. As you know, even in those days the United States was a very nascent market. During the initial days, there were no protocols and no standards so each company would do whatever they wanted. So there was no standardisation, something which is important in all industries. But over the years all got streamlined and then, of course, there was a market leader which was formed, who shaped the industry (Tesla), in terms of technology and everything else. And this led to a lot of growth in the overall industry and changed even the mindset of old established automobile manufacturers into the future, that the future is essentially EV and not ICE anymore, right. So, this has been the journey for the company.

Since India is going through a transformation phase in EV sector, how you are panning out your India entry?

Now, in 2020 we raised a new round of funding from some big firms in the US and decided to expand our presence in terms of geographic presence. SemaConnect is already present in India and the country is witnessing a boom in purchasing of EV’s. So it is the right time to make an entry into the market and launch our products.

SemaConnect has some custom products in the US which are manufactured in India. For example, our mainline product in the US is Series 6 and Series 7 which is the dual-port charger station. We are also launching a new product Series 4 in the US as well as in India. This product is designed keeping in mind Indian standards, for example, the charger that is used in India is different from the charger that is used in the US. SemaConnect is launching the series 4 now in the month of July. Also, we are designing a new product which is specifically for the Indian market which is called the Series 3 and it will essentially be for 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers.

Which are the segments in EV space you want to focus on in India.

SemaConnect is present in charging solutions for 2 wheelers, 3 wheelers and 4 wheelers. Now, 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers categories do not exist in the US but in India, this will be a very big driver of demand. India is witnessing a lot of launches 2 wheeler and of 3 wheelers launches. The three-wheelers on the passenger as well on the cargo side will move towards electric vehicles in the future. So, in the last quarter of this year, the company will be launching a brand new India-only product which is for 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers.

How many products have you launched in the US till now? Both in the category of pedestal & wall mount?

You know, the charging infrastructure has got multiple components and functions to it. SemaConnect looks at it from our experience gained with wide network established in the American market. There is hardware component called charger which is the core unit. Behind it, there is multiple layers of application layers, which control the power supply and manage other process. So, pretty much all of our products can be deployed in the pedestal as well as in wall mount. So, right now in the US, SemaConnect has Series 5, Series 6, and Series 7. There is a new product called the Series 7 Plus which will be launched shortly. We have Series 4 that will be launched in the US and India as well. We will be launching our own DC chargers probably next year in US and in India.

In India, state and central govt are coming up with a lot of incentives for EV’s. So as a company how are you looking at this from the Central & the State level? How will it give you an opportunity to level the playing field in India?

Now, I know that the government (Central as well as the State Govt) is incentivising EV vehicle manufacturing and its infrastructure development. Obviously, SemaConnect wants to make use of it in terms of opportunities. For e.g., the reduction in GST is a big boost in EV space. The wavier of road tax in various states can further boost to shift to EVs. But then, the government should give a level playing field in terms of the investments required in electric vehicles. It is a fact that battery costs in India is still very high. Right now, it is 160-170$ per KW an hour.

It is very important that the government does its best in terms of incentivising electric vehicles as well as the infrastructure. Having said that I think depending too much on the government is also a problem. At the end of the day, we need to have private entrepreneurs and companies investing in building those infrastructures across the country. Because the government alone cannot do it and depend on the government for everything as we have seen in the past is not the right solution. We must understand about this industry is that we need to change our thinking about how electric vehicle charging infrastructure needs to be set up as compared to petrol and diesel fuel.

How these private and public charging facilities will evolve over a period of time?

In our current understanding of how fueling is done for our vehicles, we have the 65-70 thousand petrol bunks which are set up by the Oil PSU’s across the country. If you own a vehicle and want to fill up fuel, you drive to this petrol bunk and then you move from there. But, in electric vehicle charging is happening altogether different way. It is actually very similar to mobile charging. So, when you buy a mobile you get a charger. But, since you use mobile extensively you will have a charger at home, you will also have another charger in your car and another one at your office. This is exactly the kind of environment that is going to happen with electric vehicles irrespective of whether it’s a 2, 3 or 4-wheeler.

If you own an electric vehicle its fueling will actually happen when you park your vehicle. You don’t have to go to a fueling station to do that, and that would be the change in the mindset. You will park in your house then you will need a charger, in your office, you will require a separate charger, when you are on the road or when you go for a movie or to the mall you will have your car there and you will need a charger. Where you park is where your fuel station is. The realization is that for every vehicle on the road, you require multiple chargers, Right? Actually, what happens is just like in mobiles, when you buy a mobile, you do get a charge that along with it.

Similarly, when you buy an electric vehicle, whether you buy an Ather scooter or a Tata Nexon EV, you will get a charger along with your vehicle, because that is part of standard equipment. That is the kind of charger you will use in your house. When you buy a mobile you will get a charger which you will keep in your house. When you require for your office you will buy a new charger, which you will use there. Something similar is what is going to happen in the electric vehicle fueling or electrification charging infrastructure. So, those are the kind of multiples you are looking at. They say by 2030 there are 20 million 2 wheelers which are being sold in India which about 50% will be electric. So, you are talking about 10 million Electric Scooters and about 5 million cars, 30 % will be electric. So, you are talking about 1.8, 2 million cars, which are electric. And then you have three-wheelers, which let us say is another 8 million and majority of them will be electric. So you’re looking at 20 odd million electric vehicles will be sold in the country. So, how many chargers do you need? The home chargers will have a lower capacity and the public chargers will obviously be higher. So, all such factors will come into play.

How you are selling your solutions to B2B abd B2C clients?

Our charging solutions has hardware and a software application layer. So, when you buy our charger you will get the application along with it. Now, in the application, there are two possibilities. If you are the owner of a mall and you want to buy 10 chargers which you will install in your mall which is for customers who will come and charge their cars there. Now in that case, they can use the application and our app etc. to charge their vehicle by plugging it in & they have to activate it and stuff like that. But you, as the owner, you know, the energy is being supplied via you. So you are using this energy, correct. So, we have our payment gateway for that application in which we charge in such a way that the customer will say I want to charge for Rs 300 rupees and as the owner you can define what the rate is. Okay. I will charge Rs 50 for 1 hour. So, if he is paying Rs 300I will give him 20 KW charge. Or, you can also define by saying per 1 hour I will charge Rs 50 an hour. So, the customer gets charged for the transaction. All of that will be integrated in our platform & we will charge a very small transaction fee for that.

For the home user, there is no payment. You are using the energy which you will get anyway from your utility provider. You will still have an app that will allow you to start and stop charging. Plus, it will allow you to define the time for charging. You can also see how much electricity has been supplied to the car. There is no charge for that because you are already paying your electricity bill. We have developed separate app for enterprises and for consumers. At the backend, we can configure it depending upon what kind of user you are. The charger remains the same for both.

You are heading the marketing and it is the main pillar of any business activity. We all know there are some existing players in the market. So I wanted to know how you are planning to compete with the existing players and expand your market reach?

So, as you know this is our first year and we want to develop the market. We want to first position our products and hopefully pick-up sales. From the marketing perspective, we already built a very small team and want to explore the whole market at this stage. We are going to tap 4 segments from our own standpoint. So, one of them is the residential as well as the commercial. So, for e.g. like you mentioned we have all these tech parks and smart cities. So, this segment on the commercial side we can focus on.

For residential our big focus will be on multi-level apartments and everything like that. So, that is one core thing, in commercial as well as residential. In this segment will be large corporations. For e.g. Dell, Google or Microsoft, Infosys and all of these kinds of things, who again have tens of thousands of employees. That will be another core segment for us. Then we have other industries like hospitality, malls and everything else. There are a couple of big segments which I have not mentioned. So, one, of course, is government, metros, airports, Oil PSU’s and railways among others. So, these are all very big markets. But, then in this year, our approach will be done via some apartments, so we have a few partners. A lot of people in this space are consultants who work on greenfield projects. So, there are people who work in solar who will help in setting up the entire electrical equipment and everything else for us. We have other partners for e.g. there is this multi-national company called TR who help with PSU’s. So that’s the kind of approach working with each other as partners as well as a direct selling hub. That is how we are looking at the BTB part of this.

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