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 Climate Change

Mobility
Published on: June 7, 2020, 12:07 p.m.
Pixy Electric is growing in its chosen niches
  • A refit Pixy electric vehicle running offroad in the forests

By Business India Editorial

Rajeev Ranadive has spent his entire professional career learning what customers want in a vehicle, and more importantly, what customers will pay for in a vehicle. He could be considered a technologist. Or an automotive expert. But prefers to be known as a businessman.

By extension, his startup, Pixy Electric Cars is an automotive technology company, with an emphasis on business. Ranadive and his small team of technical experts and engineers work in the emerging space of vehicle conversion - converting vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric vehicles, through the retrofitting of a proprietary powertrain technology.

Ranadive began his career at Greaves Cotton, where his job was integrating an engine into everything from a two-wheeler to a battle tank. While his time as an engineer gave him a good sense of the nuts and bolts of the technology, it was the many years after that as Head of After Sales (first at Mahindra and Mahindra, and then at General Motors) that gave him the real insights on what drives customer adoption. “You only really get to know the customer in after-sales service.”

It was these learnings that guided Ranadive many years later when he began to explore the electric vehicle market. Initially, Ranadive saw an opportunity to significantly reduce air pollutants and started with the intent to build his own electric vehicles, however, the higher cost of electric vehicles seemed a barrier to adoption.

Pixy Electric quickly identified a larger, and more impactful opportunity – retrofitting existing specialty vehicles with a fully-ported powertrain to easily and reliably convert them into electric vehicles. Ranadive noted, “We identified applications where the unique performance characteristics of an 'electric powertrain' can make a difference to the customer.”

Developing a specialty and high-performance electric conversion kit was an opportunity to enable a customer-behavior switch, extend the life of existing vehicles, and do it at a price point compelling to customer adoption.

The first market identified was the Wildlife Sanctuary, where there is a strong need for noiseless, non-polluting vehicle capable of climbing steep gradients and operating under the forest’s rough terrain. In addition to protecting the forest and enabling tourists to benefit from increased animal sightings, the elimination of fuel costs has doubled the income of tour operators (often locals and tribals), which is why the company was selected for a "Social Innovation Award" by Pune International Center and JSW-TOI-KPMG Earth Care Award.

Given the design and capabilities of their forest vehicle, an equally compelling opportunity has been secured in the defence vehicle space. The converted vehicles are soundless and also relatively undetectable (the absence of a heat signature makes them difficult to capture through infrared cameras), perform well in difficult terrains, and unlike fuel vehicles, do not lose power at high altitude. The electronics also support autonomous remote operation of the vehicles, making them ideal for a number of defence operations.

Pixy also plans to address the growing opportunity in the luxury car market, often diesel vehicles, which are required to be phased out after 10 years of use. Pixy’s powertrain technology will enable conversion of these cars at a fraction of the price of a new luxury vehicle, thereby extending the life of the vehicles while reducing automotive waste and pollutants.

Unlike other conversion kits in the market, which are largely a combination of loose parts that require training for assembly and installation, Pixy’s powertrain is a plug-and-play solution that enables conversion in automotive environments with regular tools and repair staff. Pixy works through dealers and distributors for vehicle conversion, and has already seen large in-bound interest for partnership.

From a funding perspective, Pixy has largely been bootstrapped. The company, working out of an auto cluster in Pune, was selected in 2016 to be part of the incubator at Science and Technology Park, Pune. Through its participation in the incubator, Pixy has received extensive mentoring and seed funding from the Department of Science and Technology NIDHI PRAYAS program. Pixy was also recently selected as part of Niti Aayog’s Atal New India Innovation Challenge.

The company plans to raise funding to support its manufacturing scale and growth plans, continuing to work in the wildlife, defence and luxury car conversion markets. Ranadive’s ultimate vision is to also manufacture specialty niche electric vehicles, customised for and serving the Indian market.


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