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India electric vehicle market supply-constrained: tech startup Matter

Prasanth Aby Thomas, DIGITIMES, Bangalore 0

Mohal Rajiv Lalbhai, Founder and CEO, Matter

The Indian electric vehicle market is growing steadily but there aren't enough products that can meet the demand, according to Matter, a technology startup focusing on electric vehicles and the energy sector. With rising concerns about climate change and cost-efficiency, more and more people in India are interested in purchasing EVs.

Speaking to Digitimes Asia recently, Mohal Rajiv Lalbhai, founder and CEO of Matter, pointed out that the demand is so high that with the right products and a decent understanding of consumer requirements, you wouldn't even have to do much marketing.

"The opportunity is tremendous, we are seeing massive demand for electric vehicles particularly two-wheelers in India at the moment," Lalbhai explained. "After the second COVID-19 wave, which ended by around May 2021, we have actually seen a major upswing growth in the EV space. But we feel right now it's a supply-constrained market.

"The demand is there and it's only about pushing out the right products into the market with a fair understanding of what is it that's adding value to the customer. By doing that I don't think we would have to do major marketing because the products are going to sell themselves."

What does the Indian electric vehicle consumer want?

The demand is obvious. The cost of traditional fuel continues to skyrocket along with the global rates. Although the central and state governments have tried to reduce the strain on people through tax reductions, they are not a long-term solution.

But at the same time is important for OEMs and vendors to understand what adds value to the customer. For foreign companies, this is even more crucial as the needs of the Indian consumer are quite different from others.

"From an EV perspective, people want to do a one-to-one comparison to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle," Lalbhai points out. "People don't like re-education. They want to be as comfortable (or even more comfortable) with the new vehicle as they were with whatever they were using before."

But the natural differences between the EV powertrain and the ICE engines cannot be ignored, whether it's about the torque available, range, reliability, or any other factor. For instance, depending on the strength of the maker, some EVs may provide an inconsistent range, especially in different temperature conditions.

"So, people expect the core fundamental engineering to be top-notch," Lalbhai continued.

"I would go on a limb and say that for Matter, the biggest USP is that we are a company which is working on all factors that the customer wants. We are not sourcing our drive train battery pack from anywhere. We are not integrators or assemblers. We build the entire platform to cater to a single product. It is a purpose-built system. This helps us extract that last pound of flesh when it comes to the driving experience. At the end of the day, how comfortable can you make the experience for the customer will decide the adoption in India."

What the India EV ecosystem needs

The company focuses on five areas from a technology and research side. The first four among these are designing its own motors, drive trains, electronics, and the battery systems to the software. The fifth area of focus is about a continuous process of generating a deep understanding of the experience and its delivery to the customer.

"The idea is that when we are switching from ICE to EVs, these are the five top critical things that you need to look at and integrate to kind of bring out the best in terms of safety, security, and reliability," Lalbhai said. "For the rest, there is already a very well-established ecosystem in India. Regardless of whether we talk about brake systems, suspensions, wheels, or any other component, these five areas are where a gap exists. And this is what Matter is internally addressing to deliver the best products to the market."

Recently the company entered an MoU with the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) with an aim to collaborate in the areas of functional safety, electronics reliability, and cyber security for next-generation mobility solutions.

Supply chain and the recent challenges

Members of the global EV supply chain are keen to know about the technology and market development in India. Lalbhai explains that they import lithium-ion cells at this stage because India does not manufacture them yet.

"Magnets is another place where we see these challenges coming up," Lalbhai continued. And the last part is semiconductors. These are the only three things that we import. Everything else is from places like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, and Delhi."

The recent semiconductor chip shortage has hurt most EV companies in India and Matter was no exception. The company is working with overseas partners to ease the constraints and ensure that supply does not become a concern in the longer term.

"Semiconductor supply is a big concern," Lalbhai said. "There are major supply chain constraints right now, but we are closely working with the chip manufacturers, the Japanese, American, or Taiwanese partners to figure out how we can solve it. I am sure we will be able to resolve this since have we are into long-term understandings with these partners where we are also working on future technologies with them.

"For us, most of the conversation with these chip manufacturers and partners in the semiconductor space is always on what next? What's the next fab? Or what's the next technology they are investing in and how can we leverage that?"

Growth and expansion plans

The company considers Southeast Asia as a potential region to expand to in the future, mainly because the overall demographics, geography, and the use of electric two-wheelers are similar to India. Besides this, Matter may also look at South America, Southern Europe, and Africa for opportunities.

India needs more companies like Matter to invest in the EV energy space to realize the government's vision of massive EV adoption in a decade. Knowing what the consumer requires and prioritizing experience would go a long way in achieving this.

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