India is about to launch an electric three-wheeler passenger car that can charge from 0 to 100% in 15 minutes. The new electric vehicle is a collaboration between carmaker Omega Seiki Mobility and battery technology startup Exponent Energy, as India aims to electrify 80% of its three-wheelers by 2030 to reduce emissions.

The new three-wheeler, called Stream City Qik, priced at $3,900 (INR 324,999), was launched on Friday and will be available in Delhi and Bengaluru from May 15. It is an improvement over the previous Omega Stream City, with a proprietary 8.8kWh battery pack that delivers over 86 miles (126 kilometers) of range. It comes with Exponent Energy’s charging technology, which the startup claims can top up the battery in 15 minutes when connected to the startup’s charging station, called an e^pump.

Currently, Exponent Energy has 60 charging stations in six cities: Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Hyderabad. The company said it plans to set up 100 charging stations in Delhi-NCR and Bengaluru by 2024, taking the total to 1,000 by 2025, all of which will be available to Stream City Qik drivers.

The partnership marks Exponent Energy’s expansion into new areas as the Bengaluru-based startup has previously only provided three-wheeler fast charging technology to freight and fleet operations. According to government data, the number of passenger three-wheelers in India is more than four times that of freight three-wheelers. The segment grew by over 43% with over 45,000 three-wheeler passenger vehicles sold in January alone.

Three-wheeled vehicles are popular among India’s gig workers, who use them to ferry ride-hailing passengers and deliver packages. The Indian government has been incentivizing companies to spur the manufacturing of electric three-wheelers and subsidizing their sales to attract customers.

The partnership between Exponent Energy and Omega Seiki builds on the former’s previous partnership. In 2022, Exponent has partnered with Reliance Industries-backed Altigreen and Montra Electric, a unit of Indian conglomerate Murugappa Group, to launch cargo three-wheelers equipped with its fast-charging technology. The startup has also partnered with Magenta Mobility and Fyn Mobility, which are funded by Morgan Stanley and BP Ventures, to provide fast charging services to its fleet. More than 1,000 vehicles are currently equipped with Exponent Energy’s technology and more than 100,000 charges have been completed, and the startup aims to increase this number to 25,000 vehicles by 2025.

“We started validating the technology with freight,” Arun Vinayak, co-founder and CEO of Exponent Energy, told TechCrunch. “As we scaled, we realized that individual drivers really like fast charging because these people can’t Charging the vehicle at home. They are more eager to go more kilometers… They need to keep running, keep going where the demand is, go where the passengers need to go.”

Exponent Energy and Omega Seiki Mobility have conducted intensive controller pilots over the past few months to test consumer behavior. They found that tricycles, which can carry up to three passengers, sometimes operate for up to 22 hours a day, with two drivers using them in turn to meet demand within the city. This makes fast charging crucial for passenger three-wheelers. Another alternative to fast charging in this case could be battery swapping, but that won’t work at scale, Vinayak said.

“Unless you charge the swap battery quickly, you’re going to run out of battery. And because these are replaceable batteries, the size of the battery is limited, and the range is pretty limited,” he said.

The technology behind tricycle upgrades

Exponent Energy’s battery technology involves lithium-ion batteries and their internal battery management system, which monitors each cell in real time as it charges. Additionally, the startup has its own charging stations, using an external thermal management system that delivers chilled water through the charging plugs. This helps maintain the temperature of each cell while charging, allowing for a 0-100% charge in 15 minutes and a 3,000-cycle lifespan warranty.

Vinayak told TechCrunch that Exponent Energy’s charging station can charge 20 to 30 vehicles per day, which is 10 times more efficient, while other EV charging stations can usually charge two vehicles. Similarly, setting up an Exponent charging station costs close to $6,000 (INR 500,000), while setting up a CNG station costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. This limits CNG supply to around 60 charging stations in Bengaluru, while Exponent Energy already has 40 charging stations in the city, the executive said.

Omega Creek City Chic

Image Source: Omega Precision Mobile

“If you give people the ability to refuel very quickly, charge very quickly, have a reliable and dense enough network, people will actually stop caring about range,” he said.

Stream City Qik will initially be launched in Delhi and Bengaluru, with plans to enter new cities later this year. Omega Seiki Mobility is also optimistic about taking its fast-charging three-wheeler to markets outside India once it gains enough traction.

“I can tap into the global market. We are testing in Southeast Asia, Bangladesh and all over Africa.” Uday Narang, founder and chairman of Omega Seiki Mobility, told TechCrunch.

New Delhi-based Omega Seiki Mobility has an annual production capacity of 20,000 vehicles and has three plants in northern India and one in the eastern state of Jharkhand. Exponent Energy, on the other hand, has a monthly capacity of 500 charging stations, which it plans to increase to 3,000 by July-August.

The Stream City Qik is priced at USD 3,900 (INR 324,999), which is very competitively priced compared to other electric and gas three-wheelers in the Indian market. Vinayak and Narang said they are not looking to beat competitors on pricing, but rather to help eliminate charging anxiety for tricycle drivers and boost their monthly income by up to 30%.

Exponent Energy was founded in 2020 with major investors including Eight Roads Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and TDK Ventures, and has raised $44.4 million to date. The startup has annual recurring revenue of $6 million in 2023 and aims to reach approximately $72 million by 2025. The company also plans to deploy its charging technology on electric buses in India later this year.

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