India’s roadmap to electric mobility

How we built a guided system of nudges towards a sustainable purchase strategy for Hero Electric

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India has a pollution problem that has been getting progressively worse over the past few years. India has 10 of the 14 most polluted cities in the world, with vehicular emissions contributing to 30–50% of the pollution. The central and State governments have tried to address this by initiating measures like controlling the number of vehicles on the road (odd-even) and promoting alternative fuel vehicles. Part of these measures is the The ​Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric and hybrid vehicles (FAME) initiative, that places electric vehicles (EV) in the spotlight, supported by subsidies, awareness campaigns, policies and incentivising research in Lithium Ion Technology.

Even with these efforts to push electric vehicles through direct incentives and mandates to mitigate the financial burden of switching to a new technology, adoption of EVs hasn’t been as expected.

Is the Indian market not ready for Electric Technology? Why are people not embracing Electric Vehicles (EVs) even with significant financial support? Our client, Hero Electric, came to us with these questions. Despite marking their presence in the EV business for 10 years and taking various initiatives, their sales have been sluggish. We set out to the understand the Electric mobility landscape in the country, to identify points of possible intervention.

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Who is the Indian E-bike user and what made him buy an E-bike?

Our exploratory research approach was immersive and extensive. We aimed to unravel layered relationships between a person, the electric vehicle and the people influencing its purchase and use. We understood not just the various consumer segments, dealer networks, internal sales and marketing stakeholders but also the role of mainstream media, journalists, policy makers and lobbyists who influence people’s mindset towards purchase.

The investigation led us to understand the role of EV in the family and/or business, beyond just utility. Visiting existing customers in their homes, engaging with them and their family members, and observing nuanced behaviors around the vehicle — parking, charging, cleaning routines among other details, became pertinent to the study. Our interviews with lobbyists, policy makers and journalists allowed us to understand the strategic push towards the move to electric mobility its effects on people’s purchases.

  • A combination of misinformation, misimpression and misplaced expectations plague the market, leaving major portions of prospective buyers as fence-sitters who would consider buying EVs but are not convinced about doing it yet.
  • Half-baked offerings from small/foreign companies that shut shop after bad business, have left people with faulty E-bikes and nobody to do repairs, and therefore negative impressions about electric technology itself. Although there is talk of Tesla and how the west is embracing electric technology, it is still perceived as futuristic in India and therefore not for practical use today.
  • Even users are skeptical about the capabilities of their bikes and seldom use the bike to its full capacity. A lack of information and education about electric technology has given rise to unlikely concerns about the bike and its usage. Even after being positioned as a low-cost family bike, it is being perceived and used like something too sophisticated.
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Most electric bike owners assign it a supplementary usage, alongside a fossil-fuel bike and/or a car.
  • Lack of public infrastructure, charging points and service mechanics unlinked to a corporate, are a deterrent to purchase. This places mistrust in the government schemes and policies, revealing the lack of clarity in the government’s agenda towards electric mobility.
  • Our interactions with fence-sitters and existing bike users brought out the apparent behavioral and mindset differences between them which led us to identify different personas and develop last-mile nudges that enable purchase.

We placed customer engagement at the centre of our strategy to ensure a steady growth in sales. Managing and co-building the customer’s expectations post purchase was as important as making a sale itself. So we proposed building frameworks towards customer centricity —hearing the customer’s voice and responding to it at structural and ops level, to ensure gratification. It was important to conceive a strategy that would work at a national level, addressing vast diversities.

Significant effort was made to create and enhance the vocabulary around electric technology. We also proposed a shift towards positive messaging, calling out the benefits of electric technology and its sustainability in the long run instead of dwelling purely on grim realities of fossil fuel pollution.

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A social media post showing a Hero Electric bike wading through flood waters. Such instances reinforce positive narratives around the functionality of E-bikes in the minds of fence-sitters

The fence sitters needed added assurance, beyond the attributes of the product. We coined the phrase, Meri Pehli Electric — a take on ‘my first car’(meri pehli gaari), a popular way of referring to the first car bought by middle-class Indians. It communicates a deep emotional value of having made a purchase that signifies a step-up the socio-economic ladder. Correlating the tagline with ‘Electric’, communicates that the relationship with electric vehicles has now begun and will only prosper with time. The tagline is now part of Hero Electric’s product line and extensively used in all dissemination efforts.

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Word-of mouth was found to be an important source of information for most fence-sitters. This reiterated the need for Hero Electric to sustain the trust and enthusiasm of early adopters who overcome social reservations to make a purchase and enable them to become patrons of the brand. We strategised and proposed campaigns like the ‘Green Helmet’ that tell stories of how patrons equipped with an electric bike are making change. This instilled a sense of pride, encouraging community efforts towards disseminating the advantages of electric technology.

With all of these efforts in place Hero Electric has successfully been increasing their sales by 10–15% month on month. This year they are planning to launch a plant in Bangalore to address this steady growth. Our intelligence from the field has helped one company find its way to navigate the electric mobility landscape. A small step in the direction towards a cleaner, greener India.

Project Team —

Shreya Toshniwal, Madhu Priyanka K— Research, Insights & Documentation

Shreya Garg, Ashis Panday — Design systems and deliveries

Nishita Gill — Marketing and Product Strategy

Treemouse is a design practice focussed around shaping innovative product and marketing strategies. For more of what we do and how we do it visit www.treemouse.com

Green Helmet and Meri Pehli Electric are registered trademarks of Hero Electric India Private Limited and Treemouse Research & Design Private Limited. Content and images are bound by copyright protection of Hero Electric India Private Limited and Treemouse Research & Design Private Limited.

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