Lovely Professional University, Phagwara, Punjab, India had organised the Electric Bike Racing Challenge and is now organizing the Indo Asian Solar (car) Challenge (IASC) 2016 both great platform for the students of the University to exhibit their skill and knowledge. This is also a great platform to get experience in wining potential investors or Venture Capitalist. The university has also made good effort in publicity and providing a good prize money (Rs 100,000 to 500,000) as an incentive for the winners. The latest challenge is the Indo Asian Solar Challenge 2016.
Today we at PlugInCaroo ask some soul searching questions both from the students and the faculty. With all respect please note that we are not complaining about LPU nor about the students but just asking if we could all together improve the already set standards… not to follow how the solar races happen elsewhere in the world… but to set our own standards which other International Colleges would want to meet?
There have been such projects and vehicles built by a number of students across the country but they never pursue it further to get it converted into production vehicles. These project files gets filed in some corner of the University to be supersede next year by more of similar projects. Are you one of those who will be competing or have you competed in such an Electric Vehicle challenge? We would love to hear your thoughts. We at PlugInCaroo have some questions which we put to you.
- GOALS: Why do Student get into building such projects? What are goals of the Students behind building such projects?
- QUALITY: Most of the vehicles built in the challenge are very crude. Crude is a very polite word. Put a Chinese made e-rickshaw next to these vehicles and immediately you will realize the e-rickshaw looks much superior… almost like a Mercedes Benz. Most of the students vehicle look like the wheels might come off any moment and they have not bothered with the look and finish of the vehicle. These vehicles are made just to qualify for the event. The cost limit of the LPU in IASC is set at Rs 120,000, weight of 300kgs and seat for 2 but the Chinese e-rickshaw costs well below Rs 80,000 and seats up to 6. Thus we feel that the cost should have been kept below Rs 50,000. In one youtube video we saw a student had created a Car for Rs 700,000 and then there was another video of a group of students who made a bike for Rs 200,000. In each video they go on to say the technology they are using are “out of this world’ or something to that effect. But the question we would like to ask is “Of what use are they creating vehicles of 2 Lakh & 7 Lakh”. 10 Years ago it was ok but today!? Are they able to use the vehicle in everyday life? When there are lakhs of much cheaper production electrical vehicles selling around in the Country???.
What problems are they solving? What are our universities teaching these students to solve?? Or are the students just going through the paces!!?? Or are we just creating students that will work in “Automobile Factories”… albeit in better or probably managerial positions? Would our engineers ever create something of their own? Or even how will the vehicles perform in a crash?
MARKETING ability: Marketing is that ability to push/showcase/project your product. Even though you have ability and idea it still requires that extra marketing ability to showcase the product. The best example being the Coolest Cooler which got kickstarted. Videos and Pics are great to tools to publicize your products/works especially in the socialmedia-infested world, this would have been 10,000 times hard say 10 yrs ago.
Professional Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJAZVxhJ7qA see the difference Unlike the LPU’s video the University of Michigan video stands apart… we are talking about just the video we will not get into the vehicle thing…
Both the Students and the University sould have their own youtube channel where the students can upload their everyday adventure of building their vehicle. Next year’s students could learn from this and even better the quality. Else everybody would keep making the same mistakes. This will teach them how to market/promote/advertise their vehicle. These videos will also act as advertisement for the University if they are well made. So instead of the University taking effort to create server space and upload videos the students can themselves take the advantage of sites like YouTube to upload their own videos and promote it and people can be encouraged to vote and on the final day the most “liked” video could also be given a prize.
- BELIEF: Do the Indian Engineering students believe in their vehicle at all?… or do the students just build the vehicle for the sake of competition? Do they think that they or other people will be able to use this vehicle every day? If not why not? So why can they not build something that people can use … one that will be safe and within the motor laws of the country? Something they will be able to sell in the market. Now building such a vehicle is called INNOVATION… not building some crude vehicle to win some challenge? Why would any Venture Capitalist fund any vehicle that looks worse, cost more and carry lesser people than the Chinese E-Rickshaws? The Students should be learning to build vehicles that will sell rather than just building a random vehicle to win the competition but which will be of no use outside the arena.
- Lack of data, images & videos. The University or the student doesn’t preserve online any data of their vehicle other than the spec. There is no data available for the outsider on how each vehicle performed eg top speed or range etc that they have achieved. They have many other handling tests which we believe are rather secondary. The main goal of Electric Vehicle is always Speed and Range, next is their USE-ABILITY IN REAL WORLD and the rest everything is secondary. Another thing I found very sad is that the students have about 5 or 6 pics about the vehicle they build and probably no video. It is obvious they are not consumed or moved or interested by the project they are building. Perhaps they are too busy with the task at hand. But for heavens sake this might be the only vehicle they might build in their entire lifetime… get the data on record and at least 100 pics and 10 in-depth videos of the goddamn thing before it gets dismantled!
A good example of describing the vehicle is shown here by the students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_Ruz0gA_3Y
Another good example is here:
- Lack of Self Belief. Chetan Maini is the only person in India who went on to create and sell electric cars… not only in India but also the world when electric cars were not cool. He did it because he believed that it is possible. 1 person in 1 billion!
Ather Energy is another group that were successful in getting Venture Funding. But what if they had not got funding? Most of the Incubation period is 2 years but what if no funding came their way? With the kind of vehicles most students build they wouldn’t get any funding in the first place. But what about their belief in their ability to build and sell a vehicle or at least to use it in real life?
Naveen Rabelli with his solar tuk tuk and Solar Ahmed with his Solar Electric car are the only two guys who use their electric vehicle daily. Only when such vehicles are used daily new problems are encountered and solved.
There are major problems in using such a vehicle in every day life. What are those problems? Are these problems identified? Can these problems be overcome? Are these problems being addressed? Apple began selling its first computers even before they got funding. Did the lack of funding stop Apple? The University has done a great job thus far and it would be great if they could also include the finished-look and marketing aspect so that these students could probably get pre-sales or order from potential customers or should that part be ignored? This is exactly what the Tata Pixel was all about… they were judging the people’s interest before building the vehicle. Not a single Pixel was built but so much publicity was done through social media that people thought the car was coming within the year.
Crowdfunding also works the same way… get as many publicity as possible over social media probably free and if if you have the budge paid. Once the responses start coming in you can place request for orders/free test-rides. Ather Energy has done this part very well. Ather has been excellent in pushing their boundaries not only in getting VCs but also contacting as many people and car&bike websites as possible and creating a dialogue between them.
One student asked me “Is there any future for such vehicles?” Doesn’t the student know? If he didn’t believe then why did he waste his time in building it. In the presentation he must have said that this vehicle and fuel is the future of automobiles. No?
6. Crash Testing: How would the vehicle perform during a virtual or real crash test with a SUV or a Sedan car? Are the students getting experience building electric vehicles that can survive crashes? This is one important aspect to study if the vehicle is to be tested on the road. We can always study to improve safety and even to set our standards to be higher than existing international standards. This is very important due to the advent of Globalization.
7. The NEXT STEP
The student should be encouraged to take the next step forward of that step of building a product that is of sell-able. The future has only 2 ways either bootstrap or go find a Venture Capitalist.
Bootstrap or Venture Cap? If you have an idea the best way to give it away is to find a Venture capitalist. Bootstrapping means using your shoestring budget to developed and sell your product. This could take a long time in the initial years… maybe during the development the entire product could undergo metamorphosis and turn into something different.
Bootstraping a Car manufacturing would seem like a daunting task and expensive. But ways should be found to keep the cost low. Thus Building a 50K vehicle limit would be much better than a 100k vehicle. Crowd funding could be experimented within the college premises itself. Its 1,000 easy to market anything today with social media. The students have a much higher advantage over many established companies in such aspect.
VCs are people who usually invest to make profit on their investment.The best thing about VCs are they are willing to give you the money. The worst thing with VC is they want their money back. This could put immense pressure especially if the product is not selling. If they see that their investment is under threat they could remove you from the company. With VC you take money from him promising him a profit after a certain stage and once the stage is passed you are in for a lot of pressure and trouble. With a VC you might even be arm twisted into making decisions you wouldn’t have taken otherwise. Most of the time you and your co-founder would have the same vision and understanding of the market but the Venture Capitalist would not be tuned into your frequency and since most business in its infancy deals with intuition it would be very difficult to convince a Venture Capitalist about your view. This is especially true in Electric Vehicles where a petrol car can go up to 1,000 kms on a full tank while an electric car can only reach 120 kms at full charge. Its very difficult to convince him EVs can be better than Petrol car. The VCs might think development of a Car is more the demand than development of a bike, or they might think the development of a faster car (80 to 100kmph) would be the need of the hour than development of a slower car (25 to 30kmph). Did we say a 30kmph CAR?… some VC just took out a gun to shoot us…as did some readers. But you could drive a 30kmph car on the road without requiring registration or licence (DRIVING LICENSE would be a great help though) just like a bullock-cart doesn’t. But if you develop a faster vehicle you can just keep it in your garage without being able to take it out on the road. Selling Pepsi is not the same as selling Apple Computers as John Sculley realized and with Electric vehicles are exactly like that… its not the same as selling Petrol Cars, the principles that work there doesn’t work here.
But the advantage of VC are that you get good visibility and publicity. The big investment ensure you have enough money for advertising and hiring the best in the business. But still with this publicity & Advertisement you are unable to reach targeted sales figures within the 1st year then the going might enter turbulent waters.
So if you are one such Engineering student who will be competing in Electric Vehicle completion or if you an Engineering faculty who will be inspecting or judging such a completion keep in mind that YOU ARE ONE OF THE KEY on how “Make In India” unfolds. The Govt might or might not give 101 incentives but if you cannot USE/SELL what you Make… whether In India or anywhere in the world… then you have to revise and upgrade your standards. So let it be written… so let it be done…