Suggestion for Ather – Part 2 – Edsel Effect

Bill Gates had said that the Tata Nano in its early version did not sell in large enough numbers due to the “Edsel effect”.

What is Edsel? Of all the car he created Edsel was Henry Ford’s favorite car… it was so good that he named in memory of his only son Edsel Ford….  who died at a relatively young age at 49, of stomach cancer. Edsel was supposed to have some truly awesome features and was to be like no other car before it. Edsel Car was long, wide, lavishly decorated with chrome, had a lot of gadgets and was equipped with engine which could really rustle up some serious power.

In fact, even before the Edsel car was launched there was a lot of hype around it. For months, Ford had been telling the industry press that it “knew” (through its market research) that there would be great demand for the vehicle. Ford also insisted that, in the Edsel, it had built exactly the “entirely new kind of car” that Ford had been leading the buying public to expect through its pre-introduction publicity campaign for the car. In reality, however, the Edsel shared its engineering and bodywork with other Ford models, and the similarities were apparent once the vehicle was viewed firsthand.

Two years, two months and fifteen days later, it had only sold 109,446 Edsels (this included cars bought by Ford executives, dealers, salesman, workers etc). The number amounted to less than 1% of the cars sold in America during that period. On November 19, 1959, Ford pulled the plug on the car. Estimates suggested that Ford lost around $350 million on the car.

So what went wrong? Lets find out…

Some of the feedback from trade publications about the car was negative. Over and above that, some of the cars that were sent out initially had minor problems. But the biggest problem could have been over expectation.

Bill Gates says “The safest way to tread the tightrope between overplaying and underplaying the Edsel would be to say nothing about the car as a whole but to reveal its individual charms a little at a time-a sort of automotive strip tease...

The Ford Company had built up an overwhelming head of public interest in the Edsel, causing its arrival to be anticipated and the car itself to be gawked at with more eagerness than had ever greeted any automobile before it.”

C Gayle Warnock, director of public relations of the Edsel division of Ford, shared an interesting example that in 1956, a senior official working on the Edsel launch (in fact it wasn’t called the Edsel then, it was just the E-Car) was aiming for some coverage regarding the event in the local press. But what he got was something he had not expected. The story got picked up by Wire Services and was splashed all across the country. “Clippings [of the media coverage] came in by truck load. Right then I realized the trouble we might be headed for. The public was getting to be hysterical to see our car, figuring it was going to be some kind of dream car-like nothing they’d ever seen. I said… “When they find out it’s got four wheels and one engine, just like the next car, they’re liable to be disappointed.

And this is precisely the reason why the Edsel flopped. The hype was so much that the public expected something that was totally out of the world. But what Ford was basically giving them in the rephrased words of Larry Doyle, the head of sales at the Edsel division, “exactly the car that they had been buying for several years.” As Doyle put it “We gave it to them and they couldn’t take it.”

The comments on Ather website and FB pages reminds us at PlugInCaroo of the comments that went out during the Edsel period. A lot of people are having great expectation. Its good to have great expectations but not over-expectation… which would lead to disappointments.

This is now complicated by the fact Ather is also not doing the “striptease” of revealing the bike’s individual features with pics a little at a time.

Some of the comments were based probably on mis-reporting, exaggerated reporting or some misunderstanding between the Ather founder’s comments and the newspaper columnist.

Myth 1: Ather Sports-Bike

One newspaper column mentions that Ather was building the first Indian “superbike” and building a Sports-bike… we all want Ather to build a sports motorcycle but right now that is not what it is making… at least by the image of the scooter on their website. What they seem to be building is an electric scooter with 3,000 watt motor mated to Li-Ion battery that can have amazing Torque right from the word go.

Myth 2: Made in India so battery will cost lesser than existing battery:

On the Ather website Tushar says: June 23, 2015 at 7:04 am

You are doing a nice work. I am already having a one electric bike but battery replacement cost is really higher almost costing 11 K & again I have to do replacement after every 1.5 years. That is the really bigger issue from economy point of you. What will be in case of yours battery replacement cost & time for replacement?

Ather ducks the bouncer (ball) and answers diplomatically that it will last 50,000 Km and will be economical. NOBODY involved using lithium-battery talks to you directly about the price of the battery as they are 100% sure it will knock you out flat. Mr Tushar the real price and longevity can be got by multiplying your figures with 4. Meaning the Ather battery will cost approximately around Rs 44,000 (Rs 11,000 x 4) almost half the price of the bike…and good enough for approximately 6 years (1.5 x 4). The price is almost the same over 6 years as he would use 4 batteries in 6 yrs. In effect its almost similar to the existing LA battery but there is one advantage and one disadvantage added. Advantage is increased speed & torque. Disadvantage is exposure to heat & cold (as a vehicle scooter will stay in the sun mostly) is a thing that lithium batteries do not like. You might have heard of explosion of mobiles and even the landing of entire fleet of Dreamliner aircrafts due to the overheating of lithium batteries. The other advantage of “light-in-weight” would be lost on a customer unless he would have to carry it up and down daily.

Myth 3: The range is furtherest the bike can go after “refueling”  as in petrol bikes.

Let me put it this way… if a bike has a range of 100kms… and people talk of range they think it like… ok we drive 100 kms then “refuel” then drive back. This does not happen in an electric vehicle as there are no charging stations after 100km drive. Also after a 100 km drive you are out of the city and probably in a village around you.

Range in an Electric vehicle is half the actual range of the vehicle after which you have to “return to base”. Thus if the range of the Ather Bike is 80kms the driving distance is only 40 after which you HAVE TO turn back. If Ather could infact solve this problem by placing charging points about 80kms away from each charging stations especially on the Highway just like petrol pumps/stations are. If Ather can do this it would in effect double the driving distance of the bike.

The ideal situation would see charging stations located about 80kms away from each other. This would have ensured that about 50 to 100 stations would completely cover the whole State like Maharashtra or Karnataka.

Establishing charging stations in Bangalore towards holiday hotspots and weekend getaway should not be ignored. Places like:

  • Bannerghatta National Park – 23 Kms
  • Big Banyan Tree – 25 Kms
  • Wonder La – 26 Kms
  • Nrityagram – 30Kms
  • Muthyala Maduvu – 43 Kms
  • Ranganatha Swamy Temple – Magadi – 44Kms
  • Kempegowda Fort – Magadi – 45 Kms
  • Folk Art Museum – 52 Kms
  • Kolar – 80 Kms
  • Chunchi Falls – 83 Kms
  • Kokkare Bellur Bird Sanctuary (Near Mysore)
  • Sangama & Mekedatu – 93 Kms
  • Avani – 98 Kms
  • Bheemeshwari – 100 Kms
  • Kotilingeshwara – 100 Kms
  • Bangalore To Mangalore – 350 Kms (16 Stations – 8 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • Bangalore To Mysore – 150 Kms (6 Stations – 3 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • Bangalore To Coorg – 250kms (12 Stations – 6 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • Bangalore To Wayanad – 300 Kms (14 Stations – 7 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • Bangalore To Ooty/Coonoor – 360 Kms (16 Stations – 8 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • Bangalore To Pondicherry – 315 Kms (16 Stations – 8 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)
  • The Most Ambitious And The Most Important…Bangalore To Goa – 700 Kms (30 Stations – 16 Stations Each On Either Side Of The Road)

Please note that the above charging stations have crossed into adjacent states too so for future expansion it would be more prudent for Ather to follow the Infrastructure Network rather than open randomly in historically vehicle-launch cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta.

Connecting to Tamilnadu & Kerala to the South and Goa & Mumbai to the north should be the next level. This is one thing that both Reva & Mahindra failed to do

By building these 135 charging stations around Bangalore (and keeping the charging rates at Rs 30 per hour of charge) Ather can ensure those who buy the bike will get a excellent value for their money as they can travel to exotic places. This is another thing where both Reva & Mahindra failed to deliver… its kind of turning your back on the customer who trusted you with his hard earned money… and telling him “you can use this vehicle only in a certain area of the city. By ignoring this both Reva and Mahindra failed to acknowledge the elephant in the room. All they had to do was ask people on the highway if they were willing to let the company put Solar Panels and a few batteries on their roof which the landowners would themselves maintain as they would get income from it. Mahindra/Ather could pay for the Panels, racks & installations and the battery could be paid for by the landowners. A Win-Win-Win situation this way all those (the company, bike owner & land owner) involved will gain from it.

If one combines the fact that this Ather bike can recharge in 1 hour (“faster than your phone“) the possibility as a tourist with this bike is endless… he could even travel cross country without a single drop of petrol.

To ensure that the charging stations are sustainable and profitable Ather could use Solar Panels on the roof and where windy even wind-trubines can be used. To make it profitable for the Hotel, Dhaba, House that runs the charging stations can levy a small fee for Rs 30 per hour (full charge) for each bike. Thus if 50 Ather bikes pass that way they would make a profit of Rs 1,500 per day just only by charging… if they can become more enterprising they could get other income by way of soft drinks, snacks, food, wifi, mobile refill packs etc. The solar panels on the roof of the house would also save their electricity bills thus getting a minimum benefit of Rs 1,500 x 4weekend days = Rs 6,000 + Rs 1,00 saved electricity bill = Rs 7,000 minimum profit. These charging stations should be made “open” so that any Reva or Tata EV can charge from it too. And you guys could also tie up with them so that Ather bikes can charge from Mahindra and Tata charging stations…

Myth 4: Lead Acid battery die in 6 months’ time.

This keep being put out by Ather guys. This is not true and in fact this statement could affect their credibility. It is true that quite a few… no…quite a lot of Chinese Bikes had inferior battery that died out in 6 month’s time. That’s because of poor Chinese production quality of the battery… and not because of any feature of Lead-Acid battery.

On an average lead acid batteries last around 18 months, Indian Lead Acid batteries come with warranty of around 24 months Chetan Maini has reported some lead acid batteries from Prestolite Tudor used to last 5 years in the original Reva!!! These batteries are currently out of production but even today Tudor gives a 24 month warranty for their battery. All of us use lead acid batteries in our petrol cars, Inverters & UPS and all of us know that they last more than one year minimum.

Thus Ather could do well to address these issues and could release pictures of parts of the bike. Release of a video of a run by at night time cannot be called a release as the bike was is not even visible. By the time the monsoon is over Ather would be testing its bike so videos and pics could be expected and a good time to put this information out.

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