Tushar BurmanJan 31, 2020 15:10:55 IST
There’s a delicious democracy to electric two-wheelers. They’re available at a myriad price points, from manufacturers you’ve likely never heard of. There’s an e-bike seller across the street from our office in a dilapidated building, next to a used paper mart. Part of this is down to the sheer simplicity of an EV, which makes barriers to entry quite low. There’s the battery, battery management system, motor and motor control unit. Plug those into a rolling chassis and there’s your electric two-wheeler. That’s not what Ather set out to do.
The Bangalore-based electric scooter maker has only been selling their debut product — the 450 — since late 2018, but are already making significant strides with the new 450x. They’re dubbing it a “super scooter”, and they’re not far off the mark. The story here is not about the enhanced performance, range or added features, but rather about the entire approach to owning an EV. Consider your phone. You buy the latest, greatest Android flagship today, and enjoy it for a previous few months. You get a couple of OS updates, giving you enhanced features and use it for a couple of years. By then, the battery has lost its mojo, things are getting sluggish and the maker has no incentive to upgrade the software anymore. Essentially, your perfectly functional hardware is now close to useless due to a bad batter and disinterest.
With the 450x, Ather is moving to a purchase plus subscription model for their scooter. You pay Rs 99,000 for the scooter and can choose between two subscription plans that decide what “variant” you’re riding — Plus or Pro. I put those quotes there for a reason: no matter what variant you choose, it’s the same scooter. You subscription plan decides whether you get 75 or 85 km of range. For your added monthly payment, you also get continued over-the-air updates and enhancements as they become available, as well as effectively unlimited warranty coverage for your battery. It’s a bit of a leap, but I think it might be worth it.
The Plus and Pro plans cost Rs 1699 and Rs 1999 respectively, and this could understandably be prickly for some potential buyers. For them, there’s a full upfront option of Rs 1.49 lac for the Plus variant, or Rs 1.59 lac for the Pro variant, ex-showroom. However, with a full payment, you only get three years of battery warranty, and you still have to pay a fee for the connected features and over-the-air updates.
It’s no surprise that so many new cars and bikes have a connected component. They’re a strong value add to the smartphone audience and there’s so much potential for data mining. Ather also uses this riding data from across their customers to inform their decisions about future updates. For instance, the new “Warp” mode in the 450x was made possible by all the learnings they’ve gathered over 6,000,000 km of logged distance.
The 450 already had a huge 7” touch screen dashboard. With the 450x, it adds Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, as well as a 4G e-sim to ensure it’s connected at all times. They’ve also switched to an Android-based OS for the dash, which means you get Google Maps, Spotify music and you can even store digital copies of your vehicle papers in it. It also performs better than the previous iteration, even in pre-production guise.
The battery pack has also been upgraded — it uses the new 21700-type cells that are also used by Tesla. This gives the scooter more battery density and efficiency, while also dropping overall weight by 10 kg to 108 kg, which is substantial for an already-light scooter. For the Pro variant, the battery also charges 50 percent quicker on a fast charger.
The “super scooter” hype is down to the new “Warp” mode in addition to the old scooter’s Sport mode. The 450x can now generate up to 26Nm of torque. Think about that for a minute. That’s as much torque as a 250cc motorcycle from a scooter that’s benchmarked against 110cc peers. Twist the throttle and you’re propelled from 0-60 in a scant 6.5 seconds.
Try buying a petrol scooter that does that! You won’t get the full 85 km of range doing that, however. That’s reserved for the Eco mode. It’s worth noting here that Ather quotes their own numbers, which are realistically calculated for a 175 kg payload. That’s a rider, pillion and gas cylinder, they say. Full power to them!
The 450x is also a surprisingly good handler. Part of this is down to the low centre of gravity (the battery is below your feet), reduced weight and solid engineering. It feels taut, agile but not fidgety. It’s entirely natural moving from a motorcycle to the 450x, engaging warp mode and just going for it. The pre-production model we rode had some issues with rebound damping, but it should be fixed on the production models. The throttle is definitely a star here. It’s so sensitive, yet easy to modulate, that it’s entirely possible to do figure-8s at crawling speeds, one-handed. And the best part is that this is modifiable using software updates. For instance, the 450x has regenerative braking, but it’s not quite there yet. But it’ll get there, and it’ll just happen to your Ather scooter without you knowing it.
Ather has decided against the removable battery route for their scooter. You get a 2.9kW battery that slow-charges from 0-80 percent in 3.25 hours, or fast-charges on a public charger in an hour for the same level. Ather’s data suggests most people will charge at home, while small, short top-ups at public chargers should cover any eventualities. A ten-minute connection to a fast charger will give you about 15 km of range (Pro version), which should make this a feasible commuter in the city.
There’s also the option of a portable charging brick that you can cart around in the generous under-seat storage, to be plugged into any 5-amp socket.
Ather intends the 450x to be a no-compromise scooter, and I think they’ve succeeded. It has a reasonable range, excellent performance and bonus features you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. And all this at a pretty decent price. The 450x will be available in 10 cities through 2020, with fast charging networks wherever they’re sold. There are a couple of caveats to price, however, that make things a bit more complex. So much so that even Ather themselves couldn’t decide exactly how to price the scooter till launch.
By the time you read this, you’ll need a flowchart to figure out how to buy your Ather. But it’s not for want of choice. You can have it on a subscription plan, upfront, with or without connectivity, financed, on lease or in cash. But clearly, the ‘right’ way to get it is the subscription plan. It’s intended to compete with the buying and running cost of a typical BS6 scooter, if you ride your scooter 900 km every month. The math is a bit of a stretch.
The subscription plan will quickly add up. For the Pro variant, we’re talking about Rs 24,000 per year in subscription fees. Whether the extra performance and peace of mind is worth an extra Rs 1 lac — or the upfront price of the scooter — every four years remains to be seen. But you will get the fastest, most upgradable scooter in the country today.
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