Trontek is one of India’s largest importers of Li-ion cells. To learn more about India’s EV battery sector and Trontek’s business outlook, we interact with Mr. Samrath Kochar, Founder and CEO of Trontek.
Electric vehicles are quickly becoming very popular in the Indian market. In fact, in 2021, the EV segment broke all previous records and saw phenomenal growth in the 2W, 3W, and 4W categories. Today, India is seeking to change its profile from a nation that consumes fossil fuels to one that uses renewable energy and green mobility. However, a major hurdle in this journey is that India does not have manufacturing capabilities and we have to depend on countries like China and Taiwan for lithium cells. Trontek is one of India’s largest importers of Li-ion cells. So, to learn more about India’s EV battery sector and Trontek’s business outlook, we interact with Mr. Samrath Kochar, Founder and CEO of Trontek.
An overview of the Li-ion battery industry in India and its evolution as several OEMs have announced ambitious plans and are betting big on electric vehicles for the future.
There is a rapid adoption of electric vehicles in India. The data shows that 2W EV sales increased 421% year-on-year to 1,18,000 units, while 4W EV sales in 2021 increased 171% to 9,840 units. Electric vehicles are growing exponentially in India, especially in the two-wheeler and three-wheeler segment. With many auto companies moving forward with their plans for electric vehicles, we will see the development of electric equipment infrastructure capabilities in the country very soon. Encouraged by this growth, many OEMs are also moving into the production of lithium-ion batteries. This is just the beginning of the era of electric vehicles in India.
What are the major technological advances and innovations in the battery segment?
Kochar says the battery space is constantly evolving. Currently, there is a lot of research going on to make Li-ion batteries more energy efficient. We have an R&D team that constantly conducts extensive research in this direction and on the latest requirements in this field, developing new solutions for the EV ecosystem.
What are the challenges of Li-ion battery manufacturing in India and the future of the electric vehicle ecosystem in the country?
According to Samrath, India’s EV space, although at a nascent stage, offers the largest untapped market in the world, especially in the 2W segment. 100% foreign direct investment is allowed in this sector under the automatic route. The government is also prioritizing the transition to clean mobility and multiple production-related incentives are encouraged for local manufacturing. The government even recently approved the “National Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) Battery Storage Scheme” with a financial outlay of Rs 18,100 crore to promote domestic cell production and reduce reliance on imports.
India has made a good start in the drive to adopt electric vehicles. The scope for development, however, hinges on the availability of capital for OEMs, battery manufacturers and charging, as well as improved infrastructure and consumer awareness. Currently, the biggest challenge is facing battery manufacturers, which are the most critical component of an EV. Looking at the EV plans of several automakers, the country needs a minimum of 10GWh of li-ion cells by 2022. Unfortunately, India has no manufacturing capabilities and just assembles cells at the lithium imported from China and Taiwan. India lacks a domestic source of lithium and cobalt, the key materials for lithium batteries.
Overall, all battery makers in India are facing a shortage of lithium-ion cells, with China unable to meet growing demand amid raw material shortages. Our concerns have increased further with the constant rise in the prices of raw materials such as lithium and cobalt. Additionally, there are challenges related to supply chain constraints and the availability of raw materials is skewed towards certain global markets. Unless these challenges are addressed, it will be difficult to reduce the import dependency of energy storage systems in India.
Since Trontek is an importer of Li-ion cells, what has been the impact of the shortage of cells from China?
Supply chain bottlenecks across the globe due to disruption in shipments and shortage of finished cell supply from China have impacted battery production in India. We buy finished cells from China, and China itself is facing a shortage of raw materials. Due to the shortage of cells, we have been forced to increase our prices and expect a further price increase in March 2022.
Which geographies and segments in India do you think will drive the electric vehicle revolution?
The recent government report gives a good indication of which markets are growing and taking part in the adoption of EVs widely in India, with Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka leading in terms of EV registration. There have been positive developments and business expansion in states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Telangana, to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in the country. Karnataka was the first state to introduce a comprehensive EV policy and has become a hotspot for EV companies in India. Tamil Nadu is also growing at a steady rate, due to its supply ecosystem advantages, larger land plot and proximity to ports.
Although the central and state governments are trying to boost the demand for electric vehicles in India, traction can only be seen in the 3W and 2W segments as they are known to be the most numerous and pollute the environment considerably . The 3W segment, especially electric rickshaws, is driving the high adoption rate of electric vehicles. The exclusion of 4W private vehicles from FAME-II, high cost, unavailability of adequate charging infrastructure, range anxiety, etc. cause the 4W segment to experience less traction. Electric vehicles in India will be a rural phenomenon with 3Ws leading the way, followed by 2Ws and more 4Ws.
Trontek’s strengths and weaknesses and the company’s growth path so far?
Mr. Kochar shares Trontek’s growth journey. He adds that, established in 2004, Trontek began as a small trading company of electronic components for television, radio and other electronic gadgets. In 2007, Trontek began offering lead-acid batteries for stationary energy storage. Over the next few years, the company expanded its portfolio to 2W mobility. It was in December 2014, when e-Rickshaws entered the Indian market, that Trontek recognized the untapped potential of electric vehicle batteries. The company was among the first to launch rickshaw batteries to meet emerging demand.
Additionally, Trontek introduced lithium-ion EV batteries in January 2017 to serve the e-bike, e-tricycle and e-car segments, as well as supply major OEMs in the Indian mobility segment. The company says it has the unique distinction of being the first Indian player to introduce batteries for electric vehicles in 2014, as well as being the first company to introduce Li-ion batteries in 2017. Today, Trontek claims to hold the ‘Numero Uno’ position in the Indian EV battery market. The first-mover advantage and technological innovations adopted in the battery management systems developed by the R&D team have helped Trontek establish a strong foothold in the fast-growing EV battery space, Mr. Kochar adds.
When can we expect Trontek to start manufacturing Li-ion cells locally in India?
The Indian government has unveiled an advanced chemical cell program to encourage domestic production of Li-ion cells in the country. The company did not reveal a specific timeline to start manufacturing Li-ion cells locally in India. Mr. Kochar says they are still studying the project and have not yet finalized the plans.
Benefits of being a Made-in-India manufacturer and of the Trontek product range in the country?
Mr Samrath says India has an inherent advantage when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. India is world class in Battery Management System (BMS) capabilities. The assembly cost is cheaper in India and the technology and software used in the BMS is the expertise of India. With best-in-class manufacturing capabilities and a technology-focused team, Trontek today offers a range of EV products including lithium-ion electric rickshaw batteries and e-bike batteries, lithium-ion solar street lights, lithium-ion batteries. phosphate storage batteries, lithium-ion batteries for electrical equipment handling (MHE), electric vehicle power equipment and electric vehicle chargers. We currently have a range of approximately 10 EV charging solutions catering to different classes of EVs. Our R&D team is also studying new solutions in this area.
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