We sat down with Narayan Subramaniam, CEO and Co-founder of Ultraviolette to find out why it takes a village (and a million dollars) to build a high-performance motorcycle
Electric mobility, which started as a niche subset of India’s automotive market, has lately snowballed into an avalanche of products, ranging from all-electric SUVs and sedans to scooters. But looking closer, you’ll notice something amiss.
While there have been more than a dime-a-dozen e-scooters to choose from, the electric motorcycle segment remains highly underrepresented. Although new-age startups like Ultraviolette, Tork Motors, and Revolt have been trying to chip away into the world’s largest two-wheeler market, electric motorcycles still seem a few years away from becoming more mainstream. Why is that? What makes an electric motorcycle more complex to design than a run-of-the-mill electric moped that seems to be popping up every week or so?
When asked why manufacturers are hesitant about investing in electric motorcycles in the current market scenario, Narayan Subramaniam, CEO, and Co-founder of Ultraviolette, answered, “Developing technology for high-performance electric motorcycles is difficult. It requires a lot of innovation and R&D at the ground level. One possible way to put this across is that electric scooters currently play in the power band of 3 kW to 7 kW output, but what we are talking about in terms of the Ultraviolette powertrains is outputting 30 to 60 kW, which is nearly 10 times more than the scooter segment.”
And the performance figures do speak for themselves. The F77 Recon packs a large 29kWh electric motor which produces 95Nm of torque and a claimed top speed of 147kmph, with 0-60 kmph sprint coming up in 3 seconds. Compared that to the Tork Kratos and you’ll instantly notice the difference. The latter packs a 4kWh battery pack with a range of 180km (IDC) and a top speed of 105kmph, not too far off from the Ather 450X’s 90kmph but way off the Ola S1 Pro’s 116kmph. No surprises, the F77 is a thorough breed sporty motorcycle, at least on paper.
What about range anxiety?
But that’s performance, what about the heart of the matter, the battery and range? Can’t you just shove a larger battery in its already bulbous body? Well, no. “The heat and losses are a square factor of the current, so when your output goes up 8 to 10 times, the heat and other aspects go up 100 times. That said, what works as the cooling systems or the safety systems on lower-powered vehicles cannot scale directly for higher-powered vehicles,” says Subramaniam
His comments hold weight here considering the countless incidents of thermal runaway that caused many e-scooters to catch fire when put through extensive use. While companies like Ather were able to avoid this with clever engineering, the challenge becomes much bigger while working with a motorcycle skeleton. “This is where high amounts of R&D and innovation are required, and it also requires cross-functional innovation. You can’t think purely from one domain as you need electronics, mechanics, understanding of the basics of physics and chemistry that come together to solve these problems.” adds the CEO.
Solved they seem to have done. The F77 offers a range of 307km on a single charge, more than any other electric two-wheeler offering (Ola S1 Pro – 181km, Ather 450X – 146km). How did they do it? Subramaniam explains that there’s a separate team for battery innovation whose priority is to address “safety requirements, thermal management, and how all of this comes together in a volume that makes sense to fit in a motorcycle package.” All of this, of course, makes building an electric motorcycle a costly affair. Ultraviolette had to raise $55 million since its inception to develop the F77 platform, with funding from Europe’s EXOR Capital, US-based Qualcomm Ventures, TVS Motor, Zoho Corp, Gofrugal Technologies, Speciale Invest, and even celebrities like Dulquer Salmaan and Rannvijay Singh.
Why get into the electric motorcycle space at all?
Subramaniam adds, “When you look at the mass-market products, the technology has nearly become a commodity. There is not too much room for new innovation in terms of core battery or powertrain technology.”
But even with a million-dollar idea and an equally similar bank account (in this case $55 million), developing an electric motorcycle isn’t as simple as strapping two wheels to a battery. While Tork opted to take inspiration from Yamaha’s FZ platform, the F77 uses components from the KTM 390 Duke, which includes the WP suspension and the Bybre braking setup. However, this only solves a part of the problem. Apart from the underpinning, Ultraviolette, for the large part, had to develop the motorcycle from the ground up.
As Subramaniam states, “The approach of developing the F77 had to be ground up new. When you look at the architecture of a performance electric motorcycle, there are no benchmarks, and you have to create everything from scratch—from the layout, the dynamics, the handling, the whole package of the motorcycle, the weight distribution, the centre of gravity—all of these are parameters that are very important to a good handling and performance motorcycle, but the technology is very different, and we had to design the entire architecture from scratch to create the right benchmark in terms of all of the above parameters.”
The auto and the tech world have their own share of parallels, but perhaps nothing comes close as this one. It is no very dissimilar to how legacy bikemakers or even tech manufacturers have tackled their products in the past. You wouldn’t have an iPhone SE if you didn’t first build the iPhone X. Technology always trickles down in terms of cost. We just hope it does so at a similar pace that the F77 promises to accelerate at.
Image Credits – Ultraviolette
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