Every now and then, you come across a start-up whose backstory is as far from the stereotypical narrative as it could possibly be. India’s Tadpole Projects is one of them. The story of how a boy from a small town in Jammu, India started a successful EV company makes for an intriguing story.
“It all started because of a college project,” laughs co-founder, Jawaad Khan.
“Our eighth semester involved students undertaking a project, which would then be reviewed by the engineering department. For my project, I decided to make an electric car. There was a problem though – my background was in electric engineering, and I had no domain knowledge of either automotive or mechanical engineering. Somehow, I managed to successfully convert an ICE-based Maruti 800 into an EV.”
Subsequently, this idea won a competition at the International Start-up Enrichment Tour (ISET) set in Singapore. That’s where Khan was approached to incubate his start-up at IIT Delhi.
“While we were focussed on solving the problem at hand, unlike many other founders out there, we didn’t dream of revolution and changing the world. I come from a very small town in Jammu’s Chenab Valley region. I think I’m probably the first person from there to have a start-up of my own,” he continues.
Tadpole Project’s desire to convert vintage cars into EVs is what thrust the company into fame. The company’s first project at IIT Delhi will go down in history as India’s first ever vintage car to be converted into an EV, where the car’s original transmission was retained, cementing its position as pioneers of retrofitting exclusively in the premium car category.
Since then, Tadpole Projects has won awards for Best R&D and Best Start-up e-Mobility by All India Council for Robotics and Automation, consulting with OEMs, and developing retrofitted trucks for certain unnamed automotive players.
Today, it’s valued upwards of INR 200 million and is all set to receive funding. The company has also managed to acquire 600-800 clients organically from across diverse markets, and as Khan points out, exclusively in the premium car category.
“We’re working with a leading industry name on two fronts. First, we’re developing a crane for them, which, on successful completion, would be India’s first electric heavy-duty vehicle. We’re also providing them with consultancy services. Moreover, we’re also in talks with the Indian Army, where we’ve showcased our products and retrofitting solutions to the Indian Army Chief.”
How Retrofitting Keep The Costs Down
Retrofitting has huge potential in a market like India. Khan rightly points out that Indian consumers have a strong emotional connection with their cars, almost considering it as another member of their family. Price also remains a priority for most owners.
“If you drop the price of fuel by INR 40, nobody will care about electric vehicles. Despite all the talk, not many are concerned about the environment. Why most people care about EVs is because of one reason alone – costing. Their operating cost is very high and electrification is the solution,” says Khan. “Getting a new vehicle costs someone INR 1.2 million, whereas retrofitting your existing vehicle cuts down this cost to INR 400,000-500,000.”
“We are making electric vehicles without adding new vehicles on the road,” he adds.
Safety is a Priority for Tadpole Projects
As the different state governments across India are strengthening measures around having old cars on the roads, retrofitting seems like an ideal solution that gives a new lease of life to old ICE cars. In fact, there is an advisory from the Government of Delhi that on retrofitting their cars, car-owners will get additional 7-10 years of life.
“We’re developing our own batteries. This allows us to have total control in terms of safety and eliminates lots of unnecessary cost. That aside we’re also developing our own kits, as well as designing them ourselves, while making use of the car’s existing transmission. In terms of the cost, 50-60% of our costs arise from the batteries, followed by the EV motor kit, which includes a motor, controller, contractor, and finally the part for the chargers, which costs a lot less comparatively.”
When looking at market sentiment, there is some amount of apprehension that exists when it comes to retrofitting, Tadpole Projects is confident that safety is paramount to the company. For now, the company is waiting to receive relevant approvals from government agencies such as the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) as well as the Regional Transport Office (RTO).
“Our immediate goal is to pick up funding, and immediately after that we’ll be pursuing the relevant authorities for approvals. Getting approvals is an expensive process, which is why we’re waiting for funding to get started on that front,” Khan explains.
“Moreover, our aim is to expand throughout the country. We aim to start with three franchisees to begin with and then to cover all of India, even on a district level. We also want to foray into the niche of construction equipment segment, which is a billion dollar industry that no one is targeting.”
Tadpole Projects has also created a subsidiary – Trouve Motors – a premium, cleaner and safer segment of bikes, which the company claims is the future of electric bikes. Unlike other players in this space, these bikes will not just be imported from China and assembled in India.
In fact, Trouve Motors will be powered by its parent company’s R&D, and see Tadpole Projects undertake complete product development responsibilities.
Set to hit the road next year, Trouve Motors aims for its EVs to be the first ones with a blockchain integration in it. In the works are a maxi scooter, as well as a hyperbike that’s all set to compete with ICE engine hyperbikes.
Tadpole Projects and its founders have quite a few things going on for them. How the company, and its subsidiary Trouve Motors, fares will be very interesting to watch.