I’ve followed Tesla from their Roadster days and especially so during my days in California. California, I’ve always felt, was an quick adopter of hybrids. More so, with backing of the state in the way of policies that allowed Hybrids, PZEV’s and BEV to take advantage of rebates and even seemingly minute things like being able to use the HOV lanes with just a single occupant.
It was no surprise that Elon Musk built his base in the heart of what turned out to be a Ground Zero for an EV revolution.
In 2014, after having returned to Bengaluru for good, I was out hunting for a 2 wheeler and a 4 wheeler. My family has always owned a Honda Activa, after all it was the best selling scooter in the country and relatively easy to maintain. I walked straight into a Honda showroom, cheque book in hand, to purchase an Activa I. 6 months later I put down a deposit for a Hyundai Grand i10.
Both purchases were well researched. The Activa I – Brand familiarity + its lighter than the Activa 3G that was on sale at that time. The Grand i10 – Bengaluru traffic made it clear that driving anything larger than a hatch was an absolute nightmare. I wasn’t ready to compromise on safety too, so I took the top end Petrol Grand i10 that came with ABS & Dual Airbags. I did not take the Automatic because the top end trim did not have ABS!. I just wasn’t willing to compromise on that.
Why an EV?
Fast forward to 2018. My wife’s workplace had moved closer by 5 kms and I was looking for a small car, automatic, that she can use to commute. I was trending more towards a pre-owned Reva or e20 as a used battery pack with even half the range would be more than sufficient
As I was researching various ownership reviews and blogs, I came across an Ad for the Ather S340. It looked different – very different from any other 2 wheeler I’ve seen before. And just out of curiosity I clicked on the link to view their website. The website design itself was a huge draw for me. It was clutter-free and had a story like flow to the visuals, with features and tech specs being brought out in not-so technical language. They were able to portray their key features and strengths in a easy to understand manner. What also impressed me was that they weren’t quoting ARAI numbers, but rather a lower True Range* number for advertised mileage.
Who does that? Who junks a higher regulatory approved number and puts up a lower real life mileage number? It sounded insane and seemed like a dumb marketing interns idea!
Here is a scooter that had a Touchscreen display larger than my current phone, had built-in GPS and 3G connectivity, could download the latest OTA. Bloody Hell!. My own android phone – all of 18 months old – had stopped getting OTA updates, and here is a desi company that wants to ships OTA updates to a scooter!
They promised a fast scooter, low maintenance with OTA updates to add more features.- for a fully refundable deposit of Rs 5000. It seemed reasonable and was refundable, so why not just try?. I booked my 450 a fortnight after Ather had officially launched both the 340 & 450.
The endless wait for the 450
So, when I booked the 450, I was given a tentative delivery date in Nov 2018 – Not bad and I wasn’t in a hurry to take it anyway. However, September came and went by with no updates after the initial 20 deliveries. I was starting to lose my patience since there did not seem to be any clear communication from the company about delivery timelines, Until in October when all of us got a dread email – deliveries were being delayed.- to March 2019. Pushed by 3 months!. This did not go down very well with all those folks who were waiting and so Tarun (Co-Founder & CEO) posted a detailed post on the forum explaining the delay.
The Test Drive
2 weeks after Ather officially announced test drives, I booked a Saturday afternoon slot for a test drive and showed up at the Experience Center in Indira Nagar, Bengaluru. The showroom was classy, minimalist and did not look or even give the vibe of a place that sells scooters. Walls were adorned with photos, a giant LED TV with what looked like ride statistics and graphs, 2 large tables that had the 450 in its bare frame, the motor and the battery pack immersed at bottom of what looked like a fish tank (no fishies were harmed).
Since I had already booked a slot, the sales guys (Ather likes to call them Product Specialists) had all my info with them. They took me around the showroom explaining all the neat features of the bike and answering all possible questions I had. They knew what they were selling and were well trained, unlike the typical car salesman who thinks AIRBAGS are a waste of money!
They took copies of my Drivers License and took me out to show 3 450's parked and ready for TD. Put my helmet on and sat on the bike – Press the ignition and nothing happens. Its silent. The sales guy walks up to me and point out a small green tab on the touch screen that is basically screaming “MOTOR ON”. Slowly reversed out and took it for a spin.
The Ride by itself was exhilarating. The throttle response in Sport mode was unbelievable. The scooter was flying, with no smoke from its backside. The brakes were sharp ( I was warned about this). Took a 10 minute ride through the side streets of Indira Nagar just revving and braking. I came back to the showroom with a very wide grin across my face. I was sold and there was no question about not buying this scooter!
On a Wednesday morning, at work, my smartphone pinged the familiar email notification. I ignored it as just another junk mail selling me stocks, real estate or a prince from Nigeria needing my help. I came back home to check my email and noticed one from Ather. I nearly jumped up in joy!
Took me 3 days to think about if I would need to go for a lease or a loan. Lease looked attractive as it came with 3 years of the top tier subscription plan including covering data, service and even charging reimbursement. I finally went for a full payment as I felt I would be using the 450 for much longer than 3 years and did not feel like paying the extra interest amount for the lease. Well the downside was that I lost the free 3 years Ather One (now discontinued) all inclusive subscription plan. Oh well, the grass is always greener on the other side.
A week later, I get a call from Ather about my charging point installation. This was included in the overall purchase and required an electrian to pull cables from my meter box to the charging point. The staff from Ather showed up on time and complete all the work in about an hour. The job was well done with PVC ducting used for the cabling and a RCCB to isolate the charging point from my mains supply. I called up Ather to let them know that the charging point installation was done and they committed to delivery on Saturday, 23rd March 2019.
On 29th March, I walked into the Ather Experience Center and drove out with a brand new Ather 450 & a box of chocolates.
The Ownership Experience
As I write this, I’ve owned the Ather 450 for 575 days and 9735kms. I should have ideally hit 10,000kms at the 1st year anniversary, but thanks to the Corona Virus I’ve struggled to put even 500kms in the last 8 months.
The 450 replaced my Honda Activa I as my daily driver. I’ve used the 450 for my daily trips to work (30kms up & down) as well as the weekend grocery runs.
What impresses me:
I’ve done this. Raced other scooters and bikes from the starting line… I mean.. the traffic signal – inadvertently. And every single time, I leave them behind. I’ve had upset bikers on Pulsars chase me because – how could a scooter of that size beat them!. The torque it puts out in Sports mode is amazing for a scooter with such a tiny build.
The motor whine – I love this!. People expect EV’s to be super quiet but the 450 is anything but that. The high pitched whine is the hallmark of the 450 and sets it apart from the rickety & plasticky EV 2wheelers.
Love the integrated side stand, it makes the 450 look premium. The stand fits flush into the frame and stay there through all the rough roads that Bengaluru has to offer.
Rear shocks are a delight for the passenger. My wife says it’s like riding Aladdin’s carpet. The center mounted shocks just about eat up most of the potholes and the rear passengers barely feels the jolt.
The extra large boot. I can fit the following in my boot-
Studs Ninja Full face helmet
1st generation Portable charger
Public Fast Charging infra in Bengaluru is just OK in terms of the number of points and the locations. However, what I liked the most is the ability to go from 0 – 80% state of charge in about 80 mins. I’ve am lucky to have atleast 3 fast chargers within a 5km range of my office and have tried all of them. They points are conveniently located in mall parking lots with dedicated space for them. Invariably, all 3 locaitons have the charging point right next to the lift lobby so you don’t even have to walk to far from your parking spot!. But not every location is as easy – I will elaborate about this a little later.
Customer centricity – Ather listens to their customers with open ears. They don’t shut you up or brush you away when they hear negative feedback. They take it as a learning experience and try to fix things. They also try to be as honest as they can – without leaking confidential stuff.
What can improve
To be honest, I am inclined to give them some slack. The company is run by two IIT grads in their early 30s. They have zero manufacturing experience on their own but have a good team around them. And, this is the first time any Indian company has tried building a IoT connected product in the automotive space. That being said, there are always things that can be improved
The lack of a center stand is obvious. No matter how many times their design team, Tarun and Ravneet justify not having the center stand, it doesn’t change the fact that the lack of it is a serious hinderance in parking within tight spaces. The security guard at my office used to give dirty looks because mine was the only scooter in the entire parking garage that would site on its side stand.
The side mirrors are an example of why function should be below form. If you are a tall lad like I am then you can only use about 30% of the mirror. I’ve never been able to find the right angle so I just got a blind spot mirror!
The ball socket gives up sooner than I’d like and after a few months starts dropping down every time you hit a pothole. Ather, ofcourse, changes it for free during my service calls – but this needs to be fixed for good.
The headlamp is just sufficient for city roads, however the high beam is not of much use at all. In pitch dark roads, the lighting isn’t sufficient enough.
Software bugs, screen restarts and laggy keyboard on the maps screen are part and parcel of the ownership experience. They managed to fix the laggy keyboard with an OTA, but the screen does restart on its own occasionally. However, since they have isolated the dashboard from critical motor functions, you don’t lose power if the screen resets.
The cascading design of the seat becomes unconfortable on rides longer than 25-30mins. One tends to slip forward when braking as the seat inclines downwards towards the front. This can easily be fixed by adding some foam cushion in the riders seating area at your local bike accessory shop.
The proprietary charging port is kind of a bummer when you look at how state governments are setting up public fast chargers but you can’t use them. However to be fair, Ather is the only scooter that has fast charging capability in India today and when they designed it there was no public fast charging infra in India nor where there any defined standards. Even today, there is no defined standard for EV 2 wheelers.
The pace of expansion with public charging infrastructure needs to improve a lot. I can understand the challenges that they face too. The number of non-mall locations that are able to spare a dedicated parking spot for a charging point are few and far between in Bengaluru. Even if they do find one, the amount of time it takes to get the landlord, the establishment owner and Ather on the same page is too long. There are entire stretches of Bengaluru (10-15kms) that do not have any Ather Grid points, so that is a huge downside for folks who commute or stay in those areas.
COVID has made this worse with some of the establishments shutting down for good leaving the area unserviced now. Ather has a huge amount of work on their hands to expand Ather Grid points throughout the city.
The charging port has an electromagnetic lock that will not let anyone else unhook the charger without using the key and turning it to the ignition slot. While this is a great safety feature, especially when using the portable charger, it’s also a huge headache when owners leave their bike plugged into the Ather Grid public charger – even after the battery is at 100%. This effectively blocks the charger from being used by another owner who may need it urgently due to low state of charge. While it’s the responsibility of each owner to not block charging points, Ather also needs to be come up with a solution to stop this. Disappointingly, we’ve not heard of a plan from Ather to address this.
I’ve had to call the Ather Customer care multiple times for both planned and unplanned service. Some very simple and others downright serious.
Simple issues like the vent cover above the motor falling off or me being doubtful on whether there was sufficient brake fluid were taken care of as part of doorstep servicing. However scheduled 5000km service and another major issue had to be dealt at the service center.
The call center staff are responsive. They thought out of the box and helped get me a team from the factory which was just 1 km away versus sending a service team from their office which was 20kms away. I liked that they kept in constant touch with me while arranging a team to reach me quickly.
They pulled in folks from the technical team, when I had specific questions related to the home charging point, directly into the call to give me answers right away. I liked this!
No questions asked replacement done for parts that are under warranty. I’ve had my mirrors changed 3 times and the boot lamp changed thrice. I recently had the key lock set changed and charger fan replaced – all under warranty and not once did I have to justify anything to them.
However there are things that I would like to see improve, First off.- the lack of any paper work for the service done is a concern. While the service history is available with Ather, I do not get any paperwork for the work that was done on the vehicle. This is something we are asking them to be put up on either the app or the website. Secondly, the service experience doesn’t seem to be consistent – based on the feedback I have read from other owners on the Ather Forum.
Ather sells the 450 as a Smart Electric Scooter. The scooter has multiple sensors, all connected to the dash and relaying data back to Ather Cloud Services. Alerts popup on the dash as soon as a sensor trips and as was in my case, the sensor on the onboard charger detected that the cooling fan was failing and triggered an alert on my dash. I was able to call Customer service with this information and quickly schedule a service appointment to fix it.
Otherwise, the 3G connectivity allows owners to push locations from the Mobile App direcly to the Maps screen on the dashboard, allows owners to track live location of the scooter (If their adrenaline pumped kid has taken it out) and allows the owner to remotely tracking charging status (useful when using public charging points).
Because it’s always connected, they are also able to push software updates over the air. This is super cool considering OTA is something one only saw in mobile phones or the Tesla cars (which aren’t sold in India – yet!). I asked for the Home/Work shortcut on the Maps screen – BOOM, gets added in an OTA update after 2 months. New riding mode to be added – BOOM, ECO mode deployed on all scooter via an OTA. No visiting service centers, no plugging in USB or data cables, just park in an area where you get Vodafone reception (let the meme’s begin) and wait for the Software update to be downloaded.
Quite amazing what Ather can do considering the number of feature requests that are in queue for future OTAs. Awaiting Netflix on the dash so I can catch up on Narcos while waiting in Bengaluru traffic.
Should you buy it?
If the answer to any of these questions are a YES!, go ahead and buy it. You will not regret it.
Care for the environment and want to move away from fossil fuels.
Don’t care for long drives and intend to use it for a city commute.
Look forward to owning a technologically advanced & fast scooter.
Or, you just like to be an attention seeker on the road.
However a word of caution for those who are looking at “Kitna Deti hai”. The price comparison must be made on the overall ownership rather than what you pay on the invoice. EV’s are always going to be expensive because you pay for the fuel (battery pack) upfront, while Petrol vehicles are cheaper to purchase but cost more to run everyday.
[Suraj did some rough savings calculation regarding his own 450, you can check that out here]
Ather 450 Owner
Hey all consider checking out the club merch. All proceeds(ex cost) will go towards helping build EV Charging infra in the country.