Indians Now Want To Travel Better: Devendra Chawla, Greencell Mobility

Indians Now Want To Travel Better: Devendra Chawla, Greencell Mobility

The MD and CEO of the electric mobility company which launched inter-city bus services under brand NueGo over a year ago contends that there is a huge need gap to be addressed.

Gokul KrishnamoorthyUpdated: Tuesday, February 13, 2024, 10:20 AM IST
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Over 30 pc of guests on GreenCell Mobility’s inter-city buses, which ply under the brand NueGo, are women. This number is up from 20 pc about a year ago. The company, which ran intra-city buses until 12 to 15 months prior, ventured into green-tech consumer business with NueGo. Driving the company as MD and CEO since then is FMCG and retail veteran, Devndra Chawla. He tells us how GreenCell is driving India into the future of mass mobility, one bus at a time.

“Safety, and particularly the safety of women passengers, has been a key priority for us. It is also the key priority for women travellers. The objective is to ensure a safe, comfortable ride, which is always on time, with the use of technology,” says Chawla, in conversation with BrandSutra.

From alerts 10 minutes prior to the arrival of the bus, to reassuring messages/calls for women passengers, the technology goes beyond the electric vehicles that ensure a noiseless and smooth ride enabling better sleep and work. The company that carries 1.5 lakh passengers a day today (inter-city and intra-city buses combined), claims a 95 to 96 pc on-time departure record for its inter-city operation NueGo – which the honcho credits to investments in technology, systems, and people. Being an electric fleet, the bus network necessitates building an ecosystem of charging and maintenance infrastructure in addition to the tech stack.

What’s aligned with the futuristic bent of the brand is the induction of women coach captains and cabin hosts. In a first, a ride from Delhi to Agra featured an all-women crew and passengers plying between Delhi and Agra. It did not just earn the brand a place in record books, it cemented the brand’s safety credentials.

The Long Road Ahead

Of about 8 lakh buses running in India, Chawla estimates about 75 pc of them are private buses. The total addressable market of bus travellers is about 50 to 60 Bn US dollars, he underlines – driven by a nation that travels more by buses for its inter-city travel needs, than even its famed train network. But there is a lack of reliable operators, driven by customer experience, known for their on-time performance and safety, that guests in India have come to expect from the bus industry, he reasons. That is what NueGo is seeking to change in the inter-city segment and GreenCell in the buses plying within cities.

“In terms of reliability, comfort, and safety, we feel there is a need gap that exists. That’s what we are trying to fill,” he says.

Filling that gap means working to create infrastructure with its own depots across India. It also involves working with partners like restaurants enroute inter-city destinations to create charging points and upgrading their amenities to ensure a seamless and hygienic travel experience for guests. NueGo is partnering various first-mile and last-mile operators to enable end-to-end connectivity.

“There is an important role for technology. We have deployed AI-driven facial recognition technology to even detect a yawn from the driver to flag off fatigue and any other kind of distraction. They are alerted to take a short break and freshen up before resuming the journey. In terms of partners, there are basics like clean rest rooms at the stop points that we are working on. The experience has to be end-to-end because it is clear that Indians now want to travel better. With much better roads, we have the foundation in place, to create that better travel experience,” explains Chawla.

The cabin hosts on the lines of air hostesses on flights certainly represent an upgrade for road travel on buses.

“We’re proud to be among the top operators when it comes to the number of women we have in our workforce – whether in vehicle technology or coach captains that drive our bus. These are roles that are traditionally male-dominated, and we want to encourage more women to join us in such positions. It’s a conscious effort and an ongoing effort to increase that number. It makes a big difference to our workforce and to guests, especially the women guests traveling with us. It, in one sense, underscores our promise of safety,” he adds.

Younger Consumers

Around 80 pc of NueGo consumers are under the age of 32 years, reveals the MD and CEO, explaining that it is not just in line with faster adoption of technology but signals their preference to vote for green travel on electric vehicles.

He notes, “It does connect with the younger segment a lot more. They are more aware of the benefits of electric mobility like no exhaust emissions. We are seeing a healthier adoption among younger travellers, and I feel it is natural.”

NueGo currently services over 80 cities, and its most popular routes include Indore-Bhopal, Delhi-Dehradun, Chennai-Bengaluru, and Hyderabad-Vijayawada, among others. The sectors are continuously growing as the brand expands its presence. Simultaneously, it is also expanding its presence in the intra-city market via GreenCell Mobility’s partnerships with state transport departments.

Says Chawla, “Ramping up the network is a priority, but it will not be at the cost of safety or performance. The technology too must keep pace with consumer experience, and it has to help deliver a seamless experience. These are things that guests, across segments, have come to expect of travel because it’s what they experience in everyday life. Technology must enable a better travel experience and that’s our objective.”

The Challenge is the Reward

“Building the ecosystem is the biggest challenge,” says Chawla, when asked about the bumps on the road to establishing the brand. But he is quick to add that creating it from scratch is also the reward.

Investment in infrastructure and developing a new system of road transport comes with new challenges every day, he observes.

“That’s the beauty of it. There is no consumer brand, at this scale, in the EV space when it comes to mass mobility inter-city travel options. Creating it is the reward in itself. It is both a challenge and a joy,” he notes.

As a company, GreenCell Mobility has cumulatively driven 100 mn kilometers. But it is far from its destination because India’s electric mobility journey has barely begun.

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Indians Now Want To Travel Better: Devendra Chawla, Greencell Mobility

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