THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Last May, Benson Baby Augustine, a dealer of Kerala Automobile Limited, had to disagree with the service head of the public sector company that rolled out the first electric autorickshaw called Neem G.
“I had to argue with him when he refused to dispatch the parts of an e-autorickshaw I sought. The e-auto I sold to my customer broke down and I had to arrange the spare parts urgently,” he said.
“He told me that I had to wait for some more time to get the parts due to the lockdown restrictions. I pleaded with him to make some makeshift arrangements, but he was not willing. Then I told him that he would get his salary on time whether he arranged the parts or not as he was a public servant. But a driver, who found it hard to meet his daily expenses by riding an autorickshaw during the restricted time slot, could not afford to wait endlessly.”
This provoked the service head who declared that he would never attend Benson’s call again. He kept his word. “He hasn’t attended my phone calls since then. I had sold around 20 KAL e-autos by then. But I have a responsibility to my customers, so I decided to drop the dealership of KAL and took the dealership of Hykon Hetto Electric Auto,” said Benson.This is not an isolated incident. Various stakeholders of KAL e-autos have different tales to narrate, despite the product having the quality to compete with the vehicles of private companies.
Another dealer on condition of anonymity said, “We will not say that the product doesn’t match the requirements of the industry. There are issues with the e-auto like fast draining of battery especially in the early stage, complaints of fork bend and inferior-quality shock absorber, etc. But these issues can be addressed by tweaking the product based on the feedback from the ground.“But the major issue is that it’s a public sector company. If it is a private company or at least PPP model company, it would have become the segment leader in Kerala by this time.”
C R Vijayan, driver of an e-auto in Kottayam town, said, “I have an experience of over 39 years in the field. Earlier, I was a private bus driver and then a tipper lorry driver. For the past four years, I have been riding an auto to meet my expenses. In my experience, the auto is generally good. There were some issues like excess body vibration, which I resolved by reducing the number of plates. I have also changed the driver’s seat according to my convenience. There are also some other minor issues. But in totality, the vehicle is worth its cost. I spend Rs 60-75 to charge the auto and get Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 a day. Earlier, I used to spend around Rs 400-450 in fuel charge,” he said.
“The only major limitation I felt is the speed constraint of 50km/h. But for an autorickshaw, this speed is enough in normal circumstances,” he added. Another dealer said earlier the company had used imported Okaya battery for powering the motor. Later, it introduced the 90 AH Jascon lithium battery. At one point of time, there were issues of draining the battery suddenly, resulting in reduction in the mileage. This was addressed by introducing the 120 AH battery offering 100km mileage on single charging. On average, a driver will now get 80-85km on single charging, he said.
A senior KAL officer told TNIE that the company is going through a tough financial crisis. The banks have frozen the accounts and there is a delay in payment of salaries. The last government had spent around `35 crore for KAL.
“We need more money to address the crisis. Moreover, we require talented young blood at least on a contract basis, be it in the R&D division or plant. Without bringing in a change in the present structure of the company, the project is difficult to get traction,” he said.
This is evident from the performance of the company, which claimed that it would sell 15,000 vehicles in a year during the launch of the e-auto, but it could hardly sell 148 units till July.
Tough financial crisis: KAL
A senior KAL officer told TNIE that the company is going through a tough financial crisis. The banks have frozen the accounts and there is a delay in payment of salaries.