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Female Entrepreneur Builds Low-Cost Electric Vehicles For Rural India

Originally published on Gas2.

The number of vehicles in the world is expected to double in the next 20 years or so. A lot of that growth will come in countries with huge populations where access to private automobile ownership is a relatively new phenomenon — places like India, China, and others that are struggling to catch up economically with the developed nations. Like China, India’s populous cities are experiencing severe air pollution problems. In Delhi, the city government is considering an odd-even plan that would keep half its cars off the road on alternate days.

AmpereIn the city of Coimbatore in southern India, Hemalatha Annamalai and her husband Bala Pachyappa are building inexpensive, low tech electric vehicles to serve the transportation needs of rural drivers. Her target customers are farmers, shopkeepers and rural traders, according to Forbes. Her company, Ampere Vehicles Private Ltd, specializes in electric cycles, scooters and load carriers. Recently the local government of Coimbatore has begun using 200 Ampere electric garbage vehicles to transport waste. The company has trained 500 workers to use their products.

“Wealth accumulation is not my aim,” says Hemalatha. “ I want to create a whole new manufacturing sector. I want a lot of women to come into this sector.” Today, one quarter of her workforce of 80 employees are women. Her company has built more than 30,000 electric vehicles since she and her husband gave up high paying jobs in Singapore to pursue their dream.

Ampere makes three types of vehicles — Ampere V 60 scooters; Angel electric motorcycles and Mitra load carriers. It also makes special purpose vehicles for the disabled. The battery powered vehicles have a top speed of 16 miles per hour. The batteries need to be charged for eight hours and the vehicles can run for 25 miles on a full battery. They cost from $380 for an electric scooter to $2,270 for a load carrier.

Another company that is specializing in electric vehicles for commercial and industrial users is BYD, which builds electric buses, construction vehicles and specialized commercial equipment for airport and seaport operations, as well as automobiles.

The business has begun to attract investors. Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan and others made a $2,000,000 investment in December. “He believes that this sector will grow rapidly in the coming years with the government’s focus on the manufacturing sector,” says Hemalatha, who still owns a significant stake in the company.

Earlier, Hemalatha convinced Ratan Tata, head of Tata Motors to invest an undisclosed amount in her company by using this sales pitch: “In 2000, China sold 40,000 electric vehicles. In 2015, they are selling 32 million vehicles. Why not India?”

Elon Musk couldn’t have said it any better.

Reprinted with permission.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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