Jan 17, 2023

Planning to set up your own EV startup? Here’s the collaboration you may need

India is witnessing a surge in EV adoption could be considered an understatement considering that 2022 the country sold almost sold 1 million EVs in 2022 (9,99,949 units) as per Vahan data. This was also 209.7 percent more than in 2021 which saw a surge of 165.4 percent alone. However, while the buyers are getting well sensitised to the growing need for cleaner mobility, manufacturers still seem to be torn between the EV vs Hybrids debate. While Maruti Suzuki and Toyota firmly believe in Hybrids as the perfect solution for countries such as India, Japan and Sri Lanka. Homegrown automakers such as Tata Motors and Mahindra have stepped on the EV wave and are betting on it for the future.

The majority of EVs being sold in the country right now are .. The majority of EVs being sold in the country right now are electric 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers and the segment is seeing an influx of many new startups, both Indian and international. However, with the rise in EVs, 2022 was also a testament to the unsolved problems and risks that the new powertrains pose. Specifically, thermal management, which when not done right results in fires and explosions. OEMs big and small alike, need engineers that are specialising in EV technology to identify and solve several problems related to EVs and that is where academic institutions such as BITS Pilani WILP can come in handy for manufacturers of all scales.

The university is also putting efforts into developing engineers that specialise in EV technology. In an exclusive interaction with TOI Auto, PB Venkataraman, Professor of Engineering, Associate Dean, Digital Learning, Bits Pilani WILP stated that majority of EV owners actually charge their vehicles overnight at home. This shows that infrastructure is not going to be the main roadblock for EV adoption in India. "So we have developed programs at BITL Pilani WILP to model engineers for the EV technology." he added.

However, the argument that is generally made against EVs for India is the fact that most of these vehicles are being charged overnight and use the energy produced by coal powered thermal plants. This leaves the eco-friendly or green aspect of using an EV hanging in the balance.

To this, Venkataraman says, “So this is actually a very strong argument that is being given to which there are several answers, political answers, technological answers, strategic answers and even hopeful answers like we are just starting to build EVs and will shift from thermal plants soon. All things considered, we still think that EVs are going to be the future and we have modelled our programs around it.”

According to BITS Pilani WILP, the most effective way to accelerate EV adoption and production is by developing engineers who can identify and solve segment-specific problems effectively and in a timely manner. For this purpose, the university actively collaborates with major OEMs and creates work-integrated models to address unsolved problems.

“Sometimes there are problems which are unknown and we don’t even have solutions to them, EVs are at such a stage right now. Engineers have problems such as how do I store energy, how do I efficiently discharge it, how do I thermally manage the system and how do I use this to run a vehicle. This is a problem which is not very well defined, manufacturers try something and they think it is working fine but then they find out that the technology is failing in the market.

A manufacturer claims that an EV will do 180 km on a full charge and later finds out that on the roads, the EV range is actually falling to 150 or 120. So for problems such as this, academic institutions can play a vital role by developing technology and engineers. That is where we are trying to be. We are building our expertise and infrastructure for it, we are developing our labs which can actually define the problem and offer a solution. A place where OEMs can come to find answers and collaborations.” Venkataraman tells TOI Auto.

It is not just large OEMs that can benefit from collaborating with the academic sector, new budding EV startups can also collaborate with universities such as BITS Pilani WILP and efficiently develop the technology and workforce that will help them deliver a viable and safe product. “In the EV space, there are many startups who cannot build such facilities on their own. They can and do approach us to define their problems and formulate solutions. We are also offering programs for major OEMs where they can approach and collaborate with us to develop EV solutions. Once a subject arises we create specific courses around it to help manufacturers. We are also developing specific short-term programs related to particular problems that can be enrolled into.” Venkataraman said.

So if you are a startup or an aspiring automotive engineer who wants to specialise in EVs, then maybe it is time to look beyond conventional MTech and automotive engineering courses and leverage university programs available at places such as BITS Pilani WILP to become future-ready. For aspiring engineers, Venkataraman gave the following advice, “I think you need to have a strong foundation in the engineering and technology of electronics, then they can specialise in a subject. They need to equip themselves with a strong understanding of software as well. Being a collaboration between the institute and the organisation, we provide faculty support and the organisation provides mentor support to help students learn. We teach theory and application and actual experimentation can happen in the OEM's workplace. The minimum requirement for the MTech program is a bachelor's degree in engineering and relevant experience of two years and organisation consent. We are seeing a lot of interest in the programs and enrolment numbers have been growing each semester. ”