Do electric scooters in India need a rebrand?, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity
Until about two years ago, electric vehicles (EVs) were all the rage among well-heeled jet-setters. Electric vehicles had also caught the eye of the common man – they promised a cost-effective and environmentally friendly option for everyday mobility. And all was well until prominent EV makers began to come under fire, literally, as their vehicles began to burst into flames.
In recent months, at least five different electric vehicle manufacturers have seen their e-scooters catch fire and had to recall faulty batches under mounting government pressure.
Pure EV, which has seen at least four fires in the recent past, recalled around 2,000 scooters in April. Similarly, Okinawa Autotech recalled 3,215 units of its Praise Pro electric scooter “to address any battery-related issues.” And with Ola Electric, Boom Motors and Jitendra EV also issuing recalls, the fledgling industry is already facing hurdles.
Samit Sinha, founder of Alchemist Brand Consulting, does not believe the incidents are a major hurdle for the industry, but adds that they are “not the best advertisement for the category which is not yet widely accepted”.
‘Shaken not moved’
So, does the entire segment need a rebrand as a firefighting measure, or is it just start-up issues?
“Customer confidence in E2Ws can be summed up in the words of James Bond – ‘shaken, not shaken,'” says Anshul Gupta, director of Okaya Electric Vehicles. “The rapidly gaining popularity far outweighs the number of tragic accidents, and the fires were more related to OEM negligence than flaws or limitations of electric vehicles as a technology/industry.”
If vehicle and battery manufacturers paid full attention to safety, Gupta says, the situation would normalize.
Rush to the market
Preliminary findings from the government-appointed EV Fire Inquiry Committee have identified battery cell or design issues in nearly all of the incidents. Could the harsh Indian summer be the cause of all this?
“Although the real reason remains to be determined, the main reason batteries catch fire is quality and not the harshness of summer,” says Ravneet S Phokela, Commercial Director of Ather Energy. “High ambient temperature does not cause a battery fire. They may be due to poor design, suboptimal cells, inadequate testing and validation, or inadequate quality testing standards.
“I think in the rush to meet market demand, some OEMs may have compromised a bit during testing,” says Kaushik Madhavan, vice president – mobility at growth consultancy Frost & Sullivan. On the other hand, he cites the example of Ather Energy, which spent considerable time in testing before going to market. The Ather Energy battery undergoes approximately 120 different tests before going into production.
“Post news about e-scooters from several brands catching fire, we get emails and/or calls asking about the safety of our vehicles and batteries. We shed light on the history of Okaya batteries and [give] scientific proof of why consumers can rely on us for optimal safety,” says Gupta.
On social networks, brand communication has shifted from the vehicle advantages of an e-bike to the safety advantages of Okaya batteries.
Okinawa Autotech says they haven’t changed their communication but have started to emphasize the importance of regular maintenance. “Customers should understand that they share responsibility for maintaining their electric vehicles,” according to a company statement.
Rebuild customer trust
Electric vehicle makers are confident that these incidents, while unfortunate, have not disrupted bookings or derailed the momentum the industry has built over the past 12 months. “Consumers today are aware of the benefits associated with electric vehicles and understand that there are brands in the market that offer well-designed, high-quality products,” says Phokela.
But it will take time for these incidents to fade from public memory, Madhavan says, and OEMs should use that time to “recall vehicles, do rigorous testing and let people know about those tests so that when they reintroduce those products on the market, customers are not so suspicious. OEMs will need to spend at least six to 12 months just focusing on testing and building consumer confidence, he says.
“I’m not sure the rebranding will do much to erase perceptions unless the products themselves are designed to appear different from the images that are etched in people’s minds,” Sinha says. “What might be more helpful is to focus on the positives of electric vehicles with happy, reassuring images and maybe even celebrity testimonials and endorsements.”
Another factor that could help is uniform regulations for the fledgling industry. “It is imperative that standard operating procedures for education and awareness of existing and potential buyers become the norm,” said Naveen Munjal, MD, Hero Electric. “There needs to be a constant commitment from OEMs, such as periodic battery checks, do’s and don’ts, etc., to mitigate any negative customer sentiment after the fires.”
Will instituting quality-focused guidelines help build customer confidence? “Yes, I think regulatory mechanisms, like imposing a voluntary recall or penalties in the event of an accident, will certainly help. But the flip side is that there could be a bit of pushback from OEMs themselves because 100% of the supply chain is not localized,” says Madhavan.
Phokela, however, thinks the responsibility should lie with the manufacturers rather than the government. “Most of today’s vehicles meet government mandated safety standards, but OEMs must take ownership of the investment in solid design and extensive real-world testing to ensure safety and reliability. some products.”