-Kapil Shelke, Founder, Tork Motorcycles
Even while motorcycle manufact-urers in India and elsewhere are going all out to make the bikes more powerful, more stylish, and even more brutish but still dependent on petrol, there is a smaller world within that big league where teams are working on producing electric motorcycles that will ultimately vie for the same pie. One such company is Pune-based Tork Motorcycles. Its first production in the electric motorcycle category – the T6X – which was developed in just a year after the prototype was showcased, is rapidly being readied for launch in April-June 2017 at a promotional pricing of Rs 1.25 lakh. Kapil Shelke, Founder, Tork Motorcycles, speaks on what’s driving the company ahead. Edited excerpts:
Could you provide an overview of the company and what led to its establishment?
It started with my interest in electric motorcycles while studying engineering. I decided to build one as a college project. That was in 2008 when I and my team built an electric bike with a trellis frame which was capable of doing speeds of up to 96 kmph with a range of 60 km. We were confident of having developed a good product and so entered this bike in the first-ever TTXGP held at the Isle of Man in 2009. A bit of tinkering by adding more batteries and a new, faster controller saw the bike hit a top speed of 156 kmph! But what was amazing was that on our first outing at this first-ever TTXGP, ridden by Isle of Man rider John Crellin, the bike actually managed a podium finish, that too among a 15-strong grid of teams with bigger budgets and more experience.
This fuelled my interest further and I kept working on developing a more powerful, faster electric motorcycle. The next year, i.e., in 2010, we secured an overall third place in the TTXGP, which had expanded to a six-round championship. In more recent years though, as racing in these electric motorcycle championships has started to get exorbitantly expensive, we have decided to use our expertise to make electric motorcycles for the road. The company was started based on my experience of working as a CTO of an EV maker in China where I had access to plenty of knowledge on batteries.
Could you elaborate about the T6X which will soon be available in
After building five successful prototypes so far, Tork Motorcycles has created its sixth bike and a first mass-market electric motorcycle in the form of the T6X. The T6X is powered by a 6 kW lithium ion battery instead of a conventional internal combustion engine. The bike manages an impressive 27 Nm of torque and a range of 100 km in a single charge. The top speed is 100 kmph at present and the battery is good for 80,000-1,00,000 km. The bike’s battery can reach 80 per cent capacity with just one hour of charging, and gets fully charged in two hours.
The T6X runs on 17-inch alloy wheels shod with tubeless tyres that Ceat has developed specifically for the vehicle. Braking power comes from ABS-equipped disc brakes, 267 mm rotors upfront and a 220 mm rotor at the rear. The bike weighs 130 kg, has a ground clearance of 160 mm and a seat height of 785 mm. The highlight is the full-digital 4.3-inch TFT instrument cluster which can display GPS maps. It comes with Tork’s Intuitive Response Operating System, which not only monitors the bike’s vitals, but also lets the rider switch between ‘sporty’ and ‘economical’ drive modes. In place of the traditional fuel tank, the bike gets storage space for a helmet and a mobile charging point.
The T6X has been developed as a serious electric option to petrol engine motorcycles. While the T6X is intended as a city commuter, it looks racy enough to attract enthusiasts. The team wanted the bike to stand apart from the general perception that electric bikes are small, cheaply built, battery-powered scooters. From the production version, it’s amply clear that the T6X has the muscle and sheer good looks to take on any bike in the 150-200 cc segment in India.
The bike is a technological powerhouse as well. It’s been designed to fit right into the lives of the modern-day rider by integrating various bike systems into a smartphone app. This will let riders keep tabs on their bikes’ battery status wirelessly, allow the GPS to suggest battery saving routes and even control things like throttle response and power output through the app.
What is the infrastructure set-up and capacity of the company?
What we have today is an R&D centre where we design the vehicle, do basic engineering, prototyping and testing. We are currently a team of 20 people. The plant will come up as we move towards production. Right now we are fine-tuning and testing T6X to improve further on quality and safety. It’s a long process. We have made six motorcycles so far, and all are prototypes and nothing has been sold. But we will commercialise T6X soon. Till date, we are only a racing and R&D company.
Who will be your target buyer?
Our target buyer would be a knowledge worker, a college or university student, or a citizen who would like to upgrade himself/herself. T6X will be a lifestyle product and not just a transportation medium for its user.
What are the advantages that electric motorcycles offer over and above the fuel bikes?
These vehicles have no noise, no vibrations, no kick, no frequent gear shift, no anxiety of fuel burn in congested traffic, no frequent servicing needs, and low running and maintenance costs. We are offering all this, plus similar specifications and performance with its peers. There are several factors that will lead more people to buy electric motorcycles such as convenience of riding and maintenance, more than enough range for city users, residential individual fuel stations, long battery life, connectivity, etc. We believe these factors will come first, rather than low running cost and green mobility.
How do you propose to go ahead?
Once we set up our plant, we will start with Pune, Bengaluru and Delhi in the first phase. Then we will move to Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Chennai. We also plan to start exports in the next two-three years. All these cities will have physical locations to see the Tork T6X, test ride it, and buy it. We will also put up service networks in these cities.
How does the Indian market for electric bikes compare with other countries?
The Indian market demands mid-range performance motorcycles. The era is over when people wanted cheap and affordable electric two-wheelers just to save money. Now people need a performance vehicle which does everything that any petrol motorcycle does. The buyers are turning towards electricity because of rising interest, success of Tesla in the USA, push from the Indian government, incentives and subsidies. Globally, the electric vehicle market is more stable and established. USA, Southern Europe, South East Asia and China are developed in terms of the EV market.
What are the challenges when it comes to selling electric motorcycles?
The biggest challenge is people still believe electric vehicles are costly to buy. The fact is that considering purchase costs, running costs and maintenance costs, EVs cost less to anybody and this includes EMIs as well. The second biggest challenge is people believe that they will have to replace batteries after two years, which will again cost them much. The fact with T6X is that the batteries will be good enough till the life of the motorcycle. You don’t have to replace them again.
Are there any government incentives to promote the production and sales of such motorcycles?
Yes, there is a subsidy of up to Rs 29,000 to the customer from the government. Plus there is a subsidy for companies like us who will install charging infrastructure in cities. Also, some of the states have low VAT rates, no registration is required, and no road tax, etc.
— HUNED CONTRACTOR