Electrifying the World

Electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly growing in popularity. EV sales increased 116% from 2020 to 2021. A Reuters analysis revealed that 37 global automakers plan to invest nearly $1.2 trillion in electric vehicles and batteries over the next seven years. And given the worsening effects of climate change, this trend seems likely to continue. 

But simply buying a new electric car is not the only way to go green. There are a number of startups that specialize in converting traditional gas-powered vehicles into smart EVs. Volektra is one of them. Volektra has developed proprietary drivetrain technology that makes it easy to transform a traditional vehicle into an electric one. KingsCrowd sat down with Volektra founder and CEO Manish Seth to learn about the company’s technology, sales strategy, and more.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

Volektra logo
Company: Volektra
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $12,000,000
Min Investment: $100
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Apr 30, 2023
View Deal

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Volektra is a company with a vision to democratize sustainable mobility. We believe anyone who wants to make or own a sustainable mode of mobility should be able to do so without being handicapped by technology and know-how.

We are working to make it easier and affordable for both manufacturers and consumers to manufacture or own an electric vehicle. For manufacturers, we provide them with our advanced electric drivetrains (motors and controls) that reduces the time to market for new vehicles and meets their exact need at the right price. For consumers, we are providing easy to install electric kits that can convert any bike or trike into an electric one in as little as 15 minutes. We are reducing the technological and cost barriers to entry for companies and individuals to make or own an electric vehicle.

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Being born and brought up in India, I have seen and experienced the issues of pollution and climate change firsthand. I myself got asthma because of pollution predominantly from the exhaust of two- and three-wheeler vehicles. So I always wanted to do something to solve this problem so that others don’t have to go through this. This was the reason I started my career in the automotive industry. 

After close to two decades of working, the turning point came in 2019 while working on a project with two of the world’s biggest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to convert an existing car into electric. I found out that one of the core issues faced by engineers was to get the right drive unit — i.e., motor and controls — for that vehicle. That prompted me to think that if the world’s largest OEMs are having problems finding the right product, what would happen to smaller and new companies? If we have to move to sustainable transport soon, then the problem of electric drive units that meet the needs of smaller vehicles must be solved. We also found that the market is so big that we need many companies like us to fulfill the demand.

What is your strategy to start selling your e-bike conversion kit?

At first, we are going for a direct-to-consumer model with our e-commerce site where anyone in Europe, the U.S., or India can order the kit and get it delivered to their home. We will also provide support for installing the kits in case someone does not want to do it themselves. This will help us to ramp up as per our plan and make sure we provide products that meet our quality and technological standards. Later we will partner with distributors and channel partners to shore up our sales. We are also in talks with bike companies who want to use our kit as standard on their bikes and sell those as electric bikes. This gives us another source of predictable business-to-business revenue.

What is your strategy to grow the sales of your electric motors for scooters and rickshaws?

The demand for our products for scooters and rickshaws is currently outpacing our forecasts. So our main aim is to increase our capacity and upgrade the production facilities and people to meet the demand. Also, we are developing software solutions for speedy tailoring of the products according to customer needs — for example, using OTA updates and AI-based quality control that will make sure that we are able to meet the demand without compromising on quality. In addition, we have also established partnerships with companies that have manufacturing experience and vast dealer networks that will help us increase the production and provide sales and service channels.

What is the need for your products around the world, especially in India?

The need is driven by…

  1. Environmental aspect (top down) – Approximately 400 million two- and three-wheelers will have to be electrified by 2030 if we have to meet the target of keeping the global temperature increase within 2 degrees celsius, and governments across the world are framing policies to promote electric bikes, two- and three-wheelers. This cannot happen unless there are enough companies working to provide the drive units for those vehicles, and Volektra is working to lead that market.
  2. Behavior change (bottom up) – More and more people are becoming aware of the hazards of the status quo in mobility. They are changing behaviors and are open to using sustainable means of transport such as e-bikes, e-scooters, and electric 3-wheelers to reduce their carbon footprint. And we are providing them with easy options to join the electric revolution through our easy to install retrofit kits.

The small electric vehicle market is growing at a rapid pace, with e-bikes outselling cars even in the U.S., according to Bloomberg. In India, the inflection point for three-wheelers already happened a few months ago and now electric three-wheelers outsell internal combustion engine counterparts. Demand from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries and African countries for affordable electric two- and three-wheelers is growing faster than the supply, and we are receiving multiple requests for quotes for collaborations. 

We are raising the bar further with our next generation magnet-free technology, which will disrupt the existing technology and solve a clear pain point of having magnet-free motors that outperform magnet-based motors. 

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

The market is segmented by two types of players:

  1. Traditional automotive suppliers – These are the big companies with 100-plus years of existence who have certain products for small electric vehicles, but most of those products are super expensive as they are based on technology from cars and the development time of new products is too long due to the inherent nature of big companies. This leaves a gap in the market for products that are affordable but provide the same quality expected of established suppliers at a speed that is half of the normal development time. For example, an e-bike system from Bosch will cost more than $1,500 while a similar or better-performing system from Volektra is less than $800.
  2. Chinese suppliers – The majority of the market is dominated by Chinese companies who have mastered the low cost product strategy and can provide almost any product that is required. The problem here is that those products are of average quality, unreliable, have supply chain issues and service issues, and are not technologically advanced. There are a couple of exceptions, and those companies are ruling the market as of now.

We are positioned in between the two players and we differentiate from traditional suppliers on technology (focused on small vehicles where we are stronger), price, time to market, software-focused hardware and being highly customer-centric. From Chinese suppliers we differentiate on technology, local manufacturing, quality, agility, and customer support, and therefore our customers pay a premium price for our products as compared to Chinese products.

How would you explain the impact of your company on the environment?

HUGE. Carbon dioxide/pollution – A two- or three-wheeler is estimated to cause 10 times more pollution per passenger mile than a car. The primary reason is the smaller inefficient engine and the predominant use of low-quality fuel, which is sometimes mixed with additives to reduce the cost of driving at the expense of pollution. A large part of the world’s population moves on two- and three-wheelers. If you take the pollution out of these vehicles, you can really see the impact they had on the environment. Thus by electrifying these vehicles we aim to contribute significantly to avert a climate disaster. We are aiming to reduce 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide through use of our products (direct/indirect) by 2030.

Magnets/nuclear waste – Many electric vehicles rely on drivetrains that utilize rare earth magnets while some vehicles also utilize magnets in sensors. Producing 1 ton of rare earth material to make a magnet is estimated to generate 2,000 tons of toxic waste and can result in radioactive exposure and radioactive waste generation. One ton of magnet generates approximately 60 tons of carbon dioxide. There are regions in northern China where dumping of waste metals has caused the water to become toxic. In the rush to make everything electric, people might be causing another problem which puts these new solutions under a spotlight and begs the question if they are suitable for the next generation.

Through our magnet-free technology, we are solving the magnet and rare earth problem — which may not seem to be big right now but will blow out of proportion as global warming has.

We look forward to seeing where Manish and his team take the company. Volektra is currently raising on Wefunder.