Jeetender Sharma, MD & Founder, Okinawa Autotech, is at the forefront of mass penetration of two-wheeler EVs in India after his foray into the electric mobility space in 2015. Here, he recounts in his own words how a trip to Okinawa Islands in Japan inspired him to start Okinawa Autotech, the challenges he faced on the way and his plan to grow the brand on the back of innovations.
Jeetender Sharma spent two decades in the two-wheeler industry, working at LML Scooters and Honda before setting up electric mobility company Okinawa Autotech along with his wife, Rupali Sharma. As of March 2022, Okinawa sold 8,284 vehicles, to become the third largest EV two-wheeler company in India, and it expects to close FY21-22 with revenue to the tune of Rs 800 crore. Over to Jeetender Sharma.
AN IDEA FROM JAPAN
A trip to Okinawa Islands in Japan inspired me to look at manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs). The people of Okinawa are known to have the longest life-span in the world, thanks to near-zero pollution. When I started Okinawa Autotech in 2015 with my wife and co-founder Dr Rupali Sharma, I had a vision of creating a healthy environment that is free from pollution, a better place to live in for the future generations. I turned my dream into reality and Okinawa Autotech was born. Initially, we travelled across villages and lanes in Haryana to understand customers’ issues with EVs. “Cycle waala bhi mere se aagey nikal jaata hai (Even a cyclist overtakes me),” a teenager in Gurugram, Haryana, told us, when asked about his experience with an electric two-wheeler. Irrespective of the geography we visited, the feedback was depressing. At best, EVs were looked upon as a costly substitute for cycles. We then jotted down a list of issues plaguing EVs: range anxiety, low speed, poor mileage, zero infrastructure, lack of spare parts, unskilled mechanics, frequent breakdowns, poor quality, etc. Every aspect of EVs was sharply contrasted with petrol scooters. It was quite evident that consumers were in no mood to come out of the internal combustion engine (ICE) age. That’s when we took it upon ourselves to build something that changes the entire perception of electric two-wheelers. With these insights, we came out with our first high-speed electric two-wheeler. With the solemn vision of ‘Made in India, Made for India’, and a great deal of investments into R&D, we are one of the biggest players in the electric two-wheeler segment by volume today.
THE Okinawa RANGE
Okinawa has four e-scooters under the high-speed category, i.e., the just launched 16-inch wheel size OKHI-90, iPraise+, PraisePro and Ridge+. Under the low-speed category, Okinawa has Lite, R30 and Dual. It is a family brand and caters to the demand of every family member. Praise Pro, priced at Rs 79,845 (runs 90-100 km per charge), is the best-selling and most popular product as of now. However, we expect this to soon change with OKHI-90 emerging as the most popular choice, given its unique features. We are expecting to sell 50,000 units of the scooter model OKHI-90 by the next fiscal.
With a customer-centric approach, Okinawa focuses on providing a great customer experience, be it in terms of our extensive dealership network or providing roadside assistance, EMI options, app connectivity, and so on. We have proven our mettle by riding to the highest motorable road to Khardungla from Gurugram on an electric scooter - this is a testament to the high performance of our vehicles. Our QCD model helps us stay ahead of the curve. It has three key pillars, i.e., Quality of Vehicle, Cost Competence, and Delivery/after-sales experience. When it comes to quality, Okinawa’s two-wheelers are very much at par with internal combustion engines at the most competitive prices, paired with various retail finance options through partners. We make sure that customers always have easy access to maintenance and other after-sales services.
The safety aspect
We at Okinawa, take the safety of our people - both employees and customers - as our utmost priority. As a responsible organisation, we have designed appropriate strategies to keep our customers informed and raise awareness about taking proper care of the battery and the health of their vehicles. We as a company are with the customer right from the enquiry stage through our customer connect approach (call centre). Also, at the test ride and enquiry generation level at the dealership. Through customer rallies like ‘Mileage ka Maharaja’ and free check-up camps at the dealership, we educate our customers about the dos and don’ts for EVs and battery usage tips, even as we spread awareness about electric two-wheelers in general. As this technology is new to everyone, awareness is the key to customer guidance and satisfaction.
THE CHARGING FRONT
Charging infrastructure is no longer a pain point for owners of Okinawa EVs, as we provide the convenience of charging the lithium-ion batteries at home. Customers can fast-forward EV adoption by implementing this technology. Adoption of electric two-wheelers with detachable batteries ensures positive growth in EV markets. The Government is enabling a supportive ecosystem for potential EV buyers by promoting plug-in charging points. This will only ensure deeper penetration of EVs and, in turn, revolutionise electric mobility. As an OEM, Okinawa is geared up to meet the mushrooming demand with an extensive line-up of products backed by one of the widest distribution networks of more than 500 dealers across the country.
THE ROAD AHEAD…
For Okinawa, the major traction comes from Southern and Western India. The company is planning to expand its dealers’ network to 1,000 over the next three years. We have recently launched the specialist OKHI-90, priced at Rs 1,21,866 (runs 160 km per charge), in the EV scooter segment, and our high-speed motorcycle is in the pipeline for launch later this year. We have a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant located in Alwar, Rajasthan with an annual capacity of manufacturing 90,000 vehicles with the one-shift model, and we can double that with a two-shift model. With our new facility, we have a capacity of manufacturing 3,00,000 vehicles and as part of our expansion plan, we have invested Rs 200 crore to set up our third manufacturing plant in Rajasthan, with a capacity to manufacture up to 1 million units. We have clocked annual growth of Rs 155 crore in FY 2021 and aim to set a target of selling 50,000 units of the new model, or a fourth of its full-year target of two lakh units, in FY23. We hope to achieve this target with a strong innovation ecosystem, geographical expansion and raising awareness about opting for EVs in the country.
MY SUCCESS MANTRA
My success mantra has always been about being passionate, dedicated and speedy. I believe that every entrepreneur should be passionate to dedicatedly work towards a single-focus target. People believe what they see, I see what I believe in and make it happen.