India’s air pollution is no match for this new low-speed electric vehicle platform

In India, a startup that grew from making a warehouse scooter has introduced low-speed electric vehicle models using a unique approach and a ground-breaking production cycle.

A man rides Greendzine’s Irrway NXP 500 “electric trike” in the street

Drew Turney

December 10, 2020

min read
Product image of a yellow Greendzine Quark U electric moped
Greendzine set out to make India’s first electric moped—the Quark U rendered here—look different from typical gas-burning bikes. Image courtesy of Greendzine.

Popular perceptions of India often paint a picture of a technology-hungry, crowded land where ancient tradition and innovation meet in close quarters—and often seem at odds. But like other nations where large sectors of society are still developing, it’s had an environmental cost: 21 of the 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India.

Production of electronic vehicles (EVs) has fallen by the wayside in India, but the government is determined to gain ground lost to the US, Europe, and China. By 2030, it wants electric cars to account for 30% of all new car sales, an ambitious goal considering EV sales make up only a few percent today. To help create momentum, India enacted its National Electric Mobility Mission, which includes subsidies for EV sales and production incentives to encourage local EV design and manufacturing.

Bangalore-based Greendzine is determined to be part of this new paradigm. Karthikeyan Sundaram, cofounder and chief technology officer, and Anjan Kumar, cofounder and CEO, are using design modularity to create low-speed electric vehicles faster than anyone else in the industry.

The company has a unique five-step process that begins with thinking like an EV owner. “We do a lot of deep diving in terms of secondary research and customer interactions to understand what they like and don’t like in a product,” Sundaram says. This scientific approach revealed three primary pain points for EV buyers: range anxiety, charging anxiety, and servicing anxiety.

“We wanted to understand the customer interest in electric vehicles,” Sundaram says. “We believed the form of the product is a first attraction point, so we wanted to understand whether the form will be a differentiator to allow customers to switch from conventional gasoline vehicles. Hence, we launched Quark U, an electric moped differentiated from the electric two-wheelers which follow conventional petrol scooter form.”

Next is what Greendzine calls “fail fast and fail forward,” in which everything is designed modularly from the same basic platform. Parts and builds are prototyped quickly using 3D printing and abandoned without excessive loss of time or intellectual property if they don’t work.

A man in a red shirt and helmet rides a go-kart-style three-wheeled electric vehicle
The Irrway NXP 750 variation of Greendzine’s three-wheel vehicles is made for drifting on go-kart tracks and other suitable locations. Image courtesy of Greendzine.

It all leads to Greendzine’s accelerated product-development strategy called “concept to product in 90 days,” which Sundaram says is a necessity in today’s economy. “It’s a super-accelerated marketspace,” he says. “You can’t afford to do three years of market research and take two years to build a prototype. By that time, years later, your market has shifted by light years.”

The product line

A man in a yellow safety vest rides a MOPTtro electric vehicle in a warehouse
Greendzine’s bidirectional MOPTro SNAIL (Short Narrow AIsLe) can maneuver through the tight alleys of warehouses. Image courtesy of Greendzine.

This has resulted in three products currently in the marketplace. The design and manufacturing platform has placed Greendzine firmly in the low-speed EV market, where products have a top speed of about 60 kph (40 mph) and a maximum payload of about 200 kilograms (440 pounds). The product line consists of the Quark, a two-wheeled personal EV; the sporty-looking, three-wheel Irrway; and the MOPTro, a smart order-picking vehicle tailored for commercial warehousing operations.

The starting point for all Greendzine products is a 48-volt design platform. Vehicle form and styling can vary, but core components such as the motor, controller, battery, and charger operate at 48 volts, irrespective of the type of vehicle Greendzine makes.

That means the power-train hardware, firmware, and software are uniform across multiple product applications. In other words, for every new product, the underlying programming and hardware already exists or there’s a robust supply chain for the 48-volt platform. All three Greendzine product lines have a number of standard parts that cover 70% of the bill of materials.

“This means very effective cost and resource management,” Sundaram says. “We have quick design turnaround time—common parts across multiple products means reduced supply chain time and complexity. It saves time for testing components and validation, and we have better control of cost, even at low volumes.”

A large part of that modularity was made possible through design software, particularly Autodesk Fusion 360 and Inventor. Greendzine is part of Autodesk’s Technology Impact Program, which donates software to organizations that promote environmental or social good. Sundaram says the software enabled Greendzine with the kind of approach the company sought.

“We’re able to build modularity into the system,” he says. “Fusion 360 is like clay modeling for us. It’s very easy for us to get forms validated quickly, which helps us move the model into preliminary prototyping, which we typically 3D print. We get a physical form quickly, and we know whether it fits the requirement or not. That’s how we fail fast and forward.”

In addition, since deploying its first vehicle, Greendzine has connected all its vehicles to a cloud platform. (Owners get an app that gives them full metrics on their vehicles’ performance and status.) This gives engineers four years of data on product reliability to draw on to further expedite design, validation, and prototyping.

Ultimately, the company’s aim is to develop EVs that are not only affordable but also sustainable, according to Sundaram: “We focus on building technology; then, we focus on building brand. And, finally, we partner with large manufacturing partners who can help us scale everything up to market.”

Recently, Greendzine partnered with Godrej Material Handling division (a leading handling brand in India) for the marketing and distribution of MOPTros across India.

Born to work

An electric vehicle power train with large wheel
Greendzine can adapt its G-Torque power train to all of its vehicles. This one is for the Quark U electric moped. Image courtesy of Greendzine.

Given how well-thought-out Sundaram and Kumar’s business plan is, it’s surprising to learn that Greendzine’s MOPTro product variants were not part of the company’s business plan—it came about almost by accident. When Greendzine’s Irrway products were featured in a newspaper article, a large e-commerce company’s founder saw it and contacted Greendzine to solve a mobility problem in his warehouse.

The operating cycles in warehouses are stringent and punishing—much more so than in personal or consumer use. Electric vehicles that transport goods operate day and night, with every stop and start affecting the performance of the vehicle. “If you’re talking about a large e-commerce warehouse, operators have to stop and start vehicles almost 1,000 times a day,” Sundaram says. “It’s the equivalent of cranking your car engine 1,000 times. You can imagine the kind of load which goes on in the transmission and the battery.”

Designing to such conditions—and the hardiness needed to maintain peak performance—is how Greendzine perfected its G-Torque power train and NanoGrid battery-charging technology. These technologies make mincemeat out of even the highest-demand short-range recreational use.

For the future, Sundaram and Kumar are looking toward the government’s mandated change to EV penetration in India. They have partnerships with academic institutions throughout India. One of the most exciting is with Bangalore’s International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-B), one of the country’s top universities in computer science and artificial intelligence. “We’re currently working on a research project with them on autonomous vehicles and robotics as a technology development for our vehicles,” Sundaram says.

Greendzine is betting its future on research and development to accomplish its goal, which Sundaram says points in one direction: “We want to make electric mobility the preferred choice by offering a novel solution at an affordable cost.”

Drew Turney

About Drew Turney

After growing up knowing he wanted to change the world, Drew Turney realized it was easier to write about other people changing it instead. He writes about technology, cinema, science, books, and more.

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