Indian engineering excellence - new Reva electric car coming to UK

The dream is that the e20 could become the first electric automobile to make a profit

Share
Related Topics

On my first visit to India in 1982, an engineering enthusiast and perfectionist called Sudarshan Maini held up a small precision-tuned automotive component. “This is what we can produce in India,” he proudly told me. It had been made by Maini Precision Products, a company he had set up nine years earlier in Bangalore to prove he could turn out international quality engineering components to tiny tolerances and attract export customers with levels of precision that were all but unknown in the country. By 1982, customers included Bosch and General Motors.

That enthusiasm and drive for engineering perfection led yesterday to the launch at Delhi's India Gate of the latest model of the Reva plastic-bodied electric city car, which Sudarshan’s youngest son, Chetan, has spent 15 years pioneering. The good-looking e20 four-seater is now produced by the Mahindra autos-based group. It replaces a more basic Reva and breaks new ground with all-electric power and zero emissions and solar power battery-charging ports. New technologies give drivers access to their car from a smart phone app to control air conditioning and locking controls, and to trigger a remote emergency battery charge system.

This is a story of frugal engineering innovation, in which the Mainis specialise, coupled with the commercial and design capabilities of Mahindra. Chetan Maini’s interest in electric cars began with model vehicles when he was a child. While studying at the University of Michigan in the US, he worked in 1990 on the General Motors’ award winning Sunracer solar powered racing car.

In 1994, he co-founded the Reva Electric Car Company in Bangalore, to produce what became India’s first electric car. Initially developed by Chetan in America, some components were sent out by his family from India to cut costs. Assembly started in 2001, with five people producing the first seven vehicles. To avoid having to build an assembly track for the small quantities, the car body’s tubular metal frame was put on wheels and pushed down the production line.

Eventually, the Reva (named after Chetan’s mother) needed more funds than the family were prepared to risk, and in 2010 the Mahindra group bought a 56% stake in a new company, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles, putting in a total investment of Rs100 crore ($18m). The Maini family holds a 24.6% stake.

The e20 is being produced at a new factory in Bangalore that is 35% powered by solar energy and can produce 30,000 cars a year – small by auto industry standards but substantial for electric vehicles. The immediate sales target is 400-500 vehicles a month, 150 to 200 of them in Delhi which Mahindra expects to be the biggest market. The batteries have a 100km driving range and take five hours to re-charge from any 15A power socket.

The dream is that the e20 could become the first electric car in the world to make a profit. Priced at Rs.5.96 lakhs (about $11,000) after environment-friendly subsidies available in Delhi, it is not cheap. The figure would be lower if the central government introduced national subsidies that were expected but failed to appear in last month’s Budget. Exports to Europe are planned in six to nine months (some original Revas can be seen on the streets of London), and Mahindra is also planning battery-power two-wheelers.

It seems sad for the Maini family, which had put so much effort and money into the project for 15 years, to have to lose control. “We had mixed emotions about letting go,” says Sandeep Maini, Chetan’s elder brother and now chairman of the Maini group, whose diversifications include higher levels of precision engineering for defence and aviation companies like BAE and Boeing.

“We didn’t have deep pockets – we were technical creators and we also needed competence to develop markets and car manufacturing processes,” he adds.

Mahindra met those requirements. Anand Mahindra, chairman of the family-controlled group, is committed to using frugal engineering to drive innovation. Having talked to various other companies, the Mainis felt that he had the most commitment to electric vehicles and appreciation of what Chetan, who is still involved as Mahindra Reva’s chief of technology and strategy, had been trying to achieve. “This is not just about selling a car, it is about telling people to change their lifestyle,” Mahindra said yesterday “We are working at creating an ecosystem that includes mobility solutions along with other environment-friendly innovations”.

The story shows what India can do. Three government ministers inevitably flocked around the launch at India Gate, seeking instant photo-opportunities and publicity, but they are not relevant to what has been achieved here with the original Reva, and the e20, by one young engineer, his supportive family, and now a bigger innovation-oriented family group.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate