School friends Raghu Kerakatty and Mahesh Siddegowda began laying the foundations of their electric mobility venture, Toutche, in 2015 following discussions that their hometown of Mysuru had drastically changed since their childhood. (Above image of a rider on an Heileo e-bike.)
This was primarily because of rising traffic congestion and air pollution. Raghu, a product of NIT-Warangal and IIM Bangalore, and Mahesh, a mechanical engineer from Mysore University, felt something had to be done.
Incorporating Toutche in February 2018 and launching their Heileo range of electric bicycles (e-bikes) the following year, they took their first major steps in the e-mobility sector. “Aside from addressing commuting needs, we picked e-bikes because they are the only vehicles in the EV segment that also help cultivate an active and healthy lifestyle since you have to pedal them. We chose to focus on the transport sector that contributes to 25% of the CO2 emissions and address problems of traffic congestion affecting us on a daily basis,” Raghu, co-founder of Toutche tells The Better India.
On 5 July 2021, the venture launched the latest model of their e-bike — the Heileo H100. It’s a hybrid style e-bike built with a 6061 Aluminium alloy frame and packed with 345 and 460 watt-hours of power. Weighing a light 18.5 kg, it’s equipped with an intelligent controller, detachable lithium-ion battery made of Panasonic cells which offers a battery range of 60 km and 80 km per charge (on pedal assist mode), and a 250W rear BLDC hub motor.
With bookings starting on 5 July, the Heileo H100 comes at a starting price of Rs 48,900.
Offering a top speed of 25 kmph powered by electric mode (pedal assist or throttle), what’s interesting about the Heileo H100 is that consumers also have the choice of using it as a high quality regular bicycle (with 7-speed Shimano gears) when required. Meanwhile, the electric mode is powered by five levels of power assist and a right-hand-side throttle.
Manufactured at their unit in Mysuru with service facilities available in 18 cities across India, Toutche offers 18 months of warranty on the battery, electric motor and controller, alongside a two-year warranty on the frame of the Heileo e-bikes (including the M100, M200 and H200).
Quality Over Everything
Unlike their competitors selling cheap e-bikes, Toutche believes in delivering quality to their customers.
“There are quite a few things that go into making an e-bike. A good quality (aluminium frame with top-notch gears and parts) regular cycle costs anywhere between Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 today, which we benchmark as the minimum quality for the bicycle side of e-bikes. There is attention paid to design, finish and the kind of parts we use. We can then proceed to our electric drivetrain. The most important part is your battery, which constitutes about 30% to 40% of the overall cost of any EV. Two things dictate the cost of the battery — capacity and quality of battery cells. The larger the capacity, the longer the battery life. After all, battery life depends on how many times you charge it. With a battery like ours that offers a range of 80km, you charge it fewer times as compared to an e-bike carrying a smaller battery,” says Raghu.
E-bike makers can choose either generic cells or use good quality cells from companies such as Panasonic and Samsung.
“If you use cells from Panasonic or Samsung, they are about 35% to 40% more expensive but more reliable with a longer shelf life. This is why our e-bikes are more expensive. We’ve not had a single battery recall from our customers since 2019. If you look at a lot of e-bicycles that cost Rs 25,000, their battery capacities are almost half ours which will not mean just lesser range per charge but also shorter life for the battery ,” he adds.
Additionally, while most e-bike manufacturers take the approach of ‘our e-cycles are cheaper than riding an IC-engine two-wheeler’, it is a very commuting-driven proposition. If you try to ride these e-bikes without electric power, they’re quite average in terms of riding experience because they are not meant to be regular bicycles.
Raghu claims, “At the foundation of our Heileo range is a good quality bicycle. Even if you switch off the power, you can ride it like a good regular cycle. The detachable battery can be charged anytime and anywhere, using a regular power socket at home or the office. Alongside the e-bike, customers also get a charging kit.”
‘In It For The Long Haul’
In terms of sourcing, the drivetrain (battery and controller) is designed and manufactured at their facility in Mysuru. This takes care of about 50% of the e-bike cost. Toutche also has its own in-house tech team based out of Bengaluru. However, the electric motor and frames are imported. “We don’t have frame making capability in India yet. Rest of the components are either sourced locally or from South East Asia and East Asia,” he adds.
While espousing the qualities of the Heileos range of e-bikes, Raghu is adamant that consumers must do their own research before buying an e-bike. With a lot of new players emerging on the scene since the inception of the e-bike segment in India barely five years ago, there is intense competition to attract the most consumers.
“Consumers must understand what product they are buying, where it’s coming from and acquire an understanding of what they should look for in an e-bike. Of course, consumers should look at costs, but they should look more closely at what will determine longevity. They should figure out what are the elements that affect an e-bike’s lifespan and choose one that suits them best. You should invest your money on a product that you know well about” notes Raghu.
Toutche’s focus is to deliver long-lasting, durable, higher quality and reliable e-bikes. “Till now, I have not put any sales quota on any of my teams. Yes, we are higher priced, but a few years down the line people will know our e-bikes have lasted longer than promised and will appreciate that. We’re in it for the long haul,” he adds.
Today, Toutche has customers from across the country. They sell their e-bikes through their own online store, other established ecommerce partners and dealers across India.
“Our end purpose is to become a global brand. We are looking at the United Kingdom market, alongside the Middle East, Australia and North America next year. I’m based out of London, which is our hub for international operations. This is why quality is super important to us. To take matters to the next level, we are also looking to raise some external funding as well. We are in discussions for our first round of investments as we speak,” he claims.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)