Ather Energy's sprawling new facility is spread over 120,000 sq.ft. and can produce over 110,000 vehicles and 120,000 battery packs in a year. This is just under the first phase of operations, and the facility will be expanded on the 400,000 sq.ft. land allocated by the Tamil Nadu government. The current facility was built with an investment of ₹ 130 crore over a period of nine months. What makes it special though is the fact that the bulk of this overlapped with the lockdown, which made the complete process a challenge in many ways. As the brand begins to scale operations, we visit Ather Energy's massive new facility to witness the rollout of one electric scooter every four minutes.
Ather says that about 90 per cent of the components on the 450 Plus and the 450X are sourced from local suppliers. Barring the battery cells, which are imported from LG, South Korea, the rest of the components are sourced from suppliers in and around Bengaluru. This was also the reason why the company chose Hosur to set-up its new facility. The region already has a thriving auto components supplier base for two-wheelers and is already home to behemoth TVS Motor Company. Suppliers from Chennai and Coimbatore also provide other crucial components including the electric motor, making it geographically closer. Moreover, the team was looking for a location that would be within close proximity to the Bengaluru headquarters for better coordination between the production and R&D teams.
The Assembly Line
Ather's plant operates a single assembly line for now with room for at least two more on the same premises. Running parallel to the assembly line is the battery production facility that operates in a closed room, and requires a more controlled environment. With the company wanting to safeguard its Intellectual Property (IP), we were not allowed to photograph the first couple of stations on the assembly line or the battery production room.
However, we did get a good look at the Ather scooters being built from scratch. The facility has 13 connected machines and over 15 manual stations, which are connected to the main system under the Industry 4.0 factory standards. The assembly line is divided into 37 stations (up from the 14 station assembly line at the older plant) and it's the first couple of stations where you see most of the hardware coming together. Each station has two people working on it with the electric motor being the first component attached to the aluminium frame. This is followed by the battery pack, suspension, tyres, brakes, and handlebar.
With the assembly line moving forward, the exterior panels start to dress up the skeleton of the Ather 450X. The battery pack goes into the floorboard and is followed by the fibre-glass panels, lighting systems, and the touchscreen instrument console. We also noticed that the assembly line boasts of a young workforce from opposite genders, and that's always encouraging to see!
As you approach Station No. 37, the Ather 450X is nearly ready to be shipped off to its owner. The technicians load it up on a lift to screw in the final panels in place, which is followed by a dyno test. This includes a high-speed test as well as testing the Park Assist feature in both forward and reverse modes. The scooter is then taken to the final checkpoint to check the paint, finish and detailing under bright lights. A test rider will take it out for a short spin to check the brakes and suspension. With all the plastic wraps in place, the electric scooter is given the 'OK' tag by the quality check team.
It took Ather nine days to produce one scooter when it first began production in 2018 at the Whitefield factory in Bengaluru. This increased to 750 vehicles per month in 2019 and 1750 units per month in 2020. The new facility produces 9200 units per month and can roll out a new scooter in every 4.01 minutes. That's 210 vehicles per day on a two-shift basis with 90 per cent efficiency.
Ather Energy has announced a series of new markets as part of its aggressive expansion plan. By March 2021, the company plans to establish a presence in 27 cities across 15 states in India and demand, it says, is only building with every new market. The plan is to expand to a total of 40 cities by the end of the calendar year, while also expanding its fast-charging network to over 1000 chargers in the next 20-24 months.
Ather is anticipating huge demand from the newer markets and has plans to invest about ₹ 635 crore going forward over the next five years. The company's next phase of expansion will see a total installed capacity of 500,000 units in the next couple of years. The plant employs about 350-odd personnel with nearly 90 working on the assembly line alone. This number will expand to over 4000 employees over the next five years, which Ather says will be trained in the requisite skills to work in the EV sector.
The production ramp-up and market expansion are putting this start-up right on top with the big players in the two-wheeler sector. So, when do we see a new electric offering from Ather Energy? Not until 2022 for sure. For now, co-founders Swapnil Jain and Tarun Mehta say the plan is to streamline the production process and roll out the 450X and the 450 Plus to customers. So yes, the delivery period will come down going forward to about a month after booking.
The manufacturer's 300-strong R&D team will continue to operate from the headquarters in Bengaluru, and is working on other projects too. Ather promises there's lots happening and sure enough, there will be more reasons to stay excited.