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Rajiv Bajaj blames regulatory environment for the current electric 2-wheeler fire incidents – Economic Times

Rajiv Bajaj, MD of Bajaj Auto, slammed the current regulatory environment for electric vehicles as the reason for the rising spate of fires in electric vehicles.

“The relevant authorities in the government have deliberately diluted the norms, leading to a flurry of low-speed vehicles,” he said. “… under the guise of low-speed vehicles, you can bring in junk from anywhere and put it on the roads. If you will not have scooters and e-ricks catching fire, what do you expect,” Bajaj retorted.

“Where have we gone wrong? It is in the environment we have created that concerned people will have to reflect on. As long as the consumer is smarter than these people, they will make the right choices (of proven brands and proven products),” he said. “Why are people who have no business to be in the EV business trying to be in the EV business which must be fixed. It is partly because of the incentives,” explained Bajaj, responding to media queries on EVs.

What concerns Rajiv more is that this environment has promoted “this gold rush.”

“I am amazed; I know of some people. These people have no R&D, no engineering, no purchase function or nothing more than just a half assembly facility; they are importing stuff, which has not been validated for the marketplace, and are putting it out. That is perhaps why you see fires, mishaps and accidents,” he explained.

Over the past few months, there have been instances of electric scooters made by Ola Electric, Okinawa and Pure EV, among others, spontaneously catching fire. The government asked the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to investigate these cases. The findings in DRDO’s report are yet to be made public.

The flagbearer of Bajaj’s two-wheeler biz says there are only two types of EVs, those which have caught fire, and those which are going to catch fire; he said

He stated that much like EVs, even internal combustion engines have caught fire from established vehicle makers like GM and Hyundai – but they have systems and processes to address them.

“The issue is not the fire. The issue is the underlying process in manufacturing,” Bajaj explained.

Bajaj Auto, on its part, is not in the space, “opportunistically,” he said because there is a “big carrot out” in the form of FAME benefit or a state-level incentive which is tempting so many people.

“They perhaps have failed at everything else; they import some kits and assemble them and sell them,” pondered over the state of affairs.

Quoting from the Sufi mystic Rumi’s virtues, Bajaj said, “when the flower doesn’t bloom, you don’t fix the flower, you fix the environment.”

Upstarts, not start-ups

The CMD of the newly formed EV arm says, if you look at the world of internal combustion engines, you have ten large manufacturers at most, but in the EV space, “there is a so-called new EV maker every day; you call them start-ups, I call them upstarts,” he said.

Inaugurating its only EV factory at Akurdi on the outskirts of Pune on his father’s Late Rahul Bajaj’s 84th birthday, Rajiv recalled his father’s legacy and said, “We have always joked that Chetak was his favourite son; I would like to assume that he is very happy, the way his birthday is celebrated.”

Rajiv recalled his initial days at the factory and how some of the colleagues he encountered three decades back have gone on to lead some critical roles at the current factory.

Rajiv refuted a view when asked if Bajaj’s move on the EV space has been slow and steady.

“I will not accept that. Right or wrong, we have a certain way of doing things. It is a robust process we follow that ensures what we produce is of the highest quality, durable and reliable; that is what we produce,” added Bajaj.

The new facility has been built on core themes of focused, integrated and agile principles, which will allow Bajaj Auto to react swiftly.

Set up with an investment of
Rs 300 crore, the Chetak Technologies Limited, the factory will have an initial capacity of 5 lakh units per annum. The company claimed apart from its investment, its vendor network will invest another Rs 500 crore, and together the EV plant in Akurdi will offer employment opportunities to over 10000 people.

The company is currently working on a range of products under the Chetak brand – and it has already started working on a dedicated platform for motorcycles, three-wheelers and Quadricycles. The EV plant in Akurdi will not only serve the domestic volumes of Bajaj and Yulu, but it will also be a key export hub for KTM and Husqvarna scooters and motorcycles in the next two years, said Rakesh Sharma, ED, Bajaj Auto.

So far Bajaj Auto has sold over 14000 EVs across 25 cities, and it is sitting on bookings of over 18000 units. The company is readying itself to produce more, provided supply-side challenges ease, added Sharma.

with inputs from Nehal Chalaiwala