Singapore-based Sooorya EV is working on an 8-seat electric vehicle targeted at the ride-share segment. The e-MPV is expected to cost less than $15,000, and will be sold in the ASEAN region, Indian sub-continent, Africa and South America. Sooorya EV is counting on a unique vehicle architecture and the entrepreneurial spirit in rural areas to gain traction in the ride-share market. Jedlik spoke to founder Christie Fernandez about the company’s plans. Excerpts from an interview:
What was the inspiration for this vehicle? Why the emphasis on rural communities and women?
Based on our market study, we found many women folk getting into the workforce due to rapid urbanisation of small towns and cities. But, there is a dearth of comfortable and affordable short distance transport. So, we focused on design/engineering/business model innovation to develop Sooorya e-MPV with the lowest cost per km/seat in its class, so as to deliver maximum value for all stakeholders. Our focus is to be profitable for all stakeholders in our ecosystem — driver/owner, ride-hailing/transport operators, battery recharging/swapping networks, dealers/contract manufacturers.
Unlike cities, rural areas have a lot of ups and downs, hilly terrain. Would Sooorya EV be able to match the performance of existing diesel MPVs, taxis and maxi cabs (6-12 passengers)?
A lot of effort has gone into the design and architecture of our vehicle so as to achieve the best Product/Market Fit (PMF) for Sooorya e-MPV. We are still in stealth mode, so unable to reveal the details of the vehicle architecture at this stage, but it is designed to operate in different terrains of the emerging markets, and be the most competitive vehicle in its class.
How do you explain your claim that Swappable Solar Recharged Batteries (SSRB) reduce the cost per kilometre per seat?
Sooorya EV has a unique vehicle architecture — fixed + swappable batteries. This translates to zero charging downtime and no range anxiety. Because of this, we are able to right-size and improve efficiency, so as to deliver the lowest cost per km/seat.
Why did you opt to licence the production to multiple entrepreneurs (via micro-factories) instead of mass production?
We found that large manufacturing plants are inefficient and not very eco-friendly. So, we designed our EV to be modular and easy to assemble in micro-factories. We plan to manufacture our vehicles in micro-factories, either owned by Sooorya EV or contract manufactured by our franchise network. Most of the components are sourced from global/local suppliers, including core components such as electric motors and batteries. We will be redefining automobile manufacturing and incorporating circular economy principles into our business.
What convinced you that you can find franchises who will have the expertise and confidence to assemble and also sell vehicles?
There is a precedence for contract manufacturing; franchise is quite similar. In India, Hindustan Motors used to contract manufacture Mitsubishi vehicles. Arrival, a UK based startup, has a similar business model of micro-factories either owned by the company or franchised. Faraday Future, an American EV startup, intends to get their vehicles contract manufactured by Magna and/or Foxconn (which is best known for mass-manufacturing iPhones and other products of Apple).
Training manpower for assembly of electric vehicles is relatively easy because of lesser number of parts and modular components. In terms of scale, micro-factories will be similar to large automobile workshops.
Can you explain the role of the farmer franchise ‘Solar Recharging Network’ and retail franchise ‘Battery Retail Network’?
Farmers will use solar power to recharge batteries. These batteries will be made available to Sooorya EV users through a Battery Retail Network. This can bring in some additional income to farmers and foster entrepreneurial ventures in rural areas. This way, manufacturing of e-MPV, resources and income are localised, and will boost the rural economy.
We have prepared an illustration and graphic to explain our battery swapping model.
We will be tying up with battery swapping companies wherever available, to make use of their network. We will deploy our network wherever there are no suppliers of batteries, especially in rural areas.
How can a driver who bought the e-MPV with 8 seats for ride share transport cargo during non-peak hours? Especially since you are also planning a solar roof.
Sooorya e-MPV can be used to transport goods (food/small parcels), services normally offered on the ride-hailing platform, subject to regulatory approvals. In our roadmap, we have plans for specialised vehicles on our platform, such as ambulances, refrigerated cargo, shop-on-wheels.
Customisation of each vehicle after delivery, as permitted by law, is optional, and will be made available. Customisation of each vehicle before sale, requires regulatory clearances, and it’s not in our initial plans.
We will start by launching just one model of our e-MPV, an 8-seater with flexible seating to accommodate wheelchair passengers, pets or luggage. This luggage space can also be used for food delivery or parcels, part of most ride-operators apps.
When will we see a prototype? When do you intend to launch the vehicle?
We are building our prototype for volume manufacturing. We are planning to have our prototype ready in 18 to 24 months, and launch 3 to 6 months after our prototype is ready.