Testing the Ather 450X electric scooter

ather 450x pune orig


BU Bhandari has taken the dealership for Ather for entire Maharashtra. As of now they are located at the Pashan Road Abhimanshree showroom, but the plan is to start an experience center on Bhandarkar Road. We had a chat with the BU Bhandari team – and they seemed to be quite gung-ho about the company – and their belief in the future of automobiles being electric.

Video : We ride the Ather 450X Pre production model

The businessman inside of me is worried about RoI – and how the dealers can justify the lakhs that they will spend on showroom rent and manpower. Am told that the Pune Revolt dealer is spending 5 lakh per month on rentals alone. Its been about 2 years since Revolt deliveries have started – and I don’t see sales volumes justifying such large overheads.

The USP of the Ather is the very Star Trek sounding Warp mode. Warp mode is really mind blowing, it is when the 6 kW battery deivers full power to the wheel, doing 0 to 50 kmph in under 4 seconds. Am not a supercar junkie, but can imagine the high that Ferrari owners feel in the few seconds that it takes for their vehicles to reach escape velocity. Comparison of power to weight ratios with petrol vehicles may tell you a different story in theory. An Activa, in the books, has the same power to weight ratio as the Ather. But all that power is not delivered to the wheels. In the case of the Ather, most of it is. Another difference is that all the Ather torque is available right at the start – unlike the Activa, where the engine has to reach 4,000 rpm for peak torque to happen.

The display vehicles were pre production models of the Ather 450X. We were told that there may be some changes in the aesthetics, but the motor and the controller software of the display vehicles has been upgraded to 450 X design. The frame mounted motor is indigenous and is being supplied by Mahle. The rpm goes through a 2 stage 9 : 1 reduction using pulleys and belt drives to drive the wheel. The motor is mounted directly under the driver seats – as are 3 of the 4 pulleys. To add to the fun, you even have the motor cooling fan in the same location. As a result, there is quite some vibration that gets transmitted to the driver. In addition, there is a very industrial belt noise that comes when you start the vehicle. Later on wind noise takes over, and reduces the effect of the belt-motor-fan noise trio. 

The underfloor battery helps in stability. Most components on the vehicle are IP67 rated, so I would not be scared of monsoon riding. One worry area is about the touch screen based odo-speedo meter. Am worried about the neighbourhood brats trying to vandalise this beautuful screen. But I hope this is an unfounded worry. Most high end cycles come with lever operated removable seats – and I am happy to report that in my 2 decades of owning many high end cycles, I have only had one case of seat theft. The console is indeed one of the other high points of the Ather.
Being able to see Google Maps on the console is going to be the icing on the cake for the speed junkie techie. Having a screen also allows the software engineers on the team to play around with colors and shades to convey to the  user all kinds of information. Your real time wh/km is indicated for instance by color. When the screen greens up – you are in environmentalist mode – sipping the least energy from the battery pack. When it reddens up, you know you are in high adrenalin, low range zone. The Economy and Ride mode are indicated by E and R, so was expecting a W for Warp mode. But no Sir, the Warp mode is indicated by a Flash Gordon type Flash.

The vehicle feels stable on the road at high speeds. I was told by the dealer team that the top speed is 90 kmph – and in the short rides that I took, I could hit 70, so I would believe the claim. The vehicle weighs 108 kg. And that surprised me – as it has an aluminum chassis. There is definitely an advantage of weight when you are a higher speeds and travelling on not so good roads. Not having a hub mounted motor also means that the unsprung mass of the vehicle is lesser, leading to a better ride quality. But from a chassis perspective, the vehicle is over engineered. I can say the same thing about the Mahindra e2o too. If weight parity with the Activa was the aim, why invest in an aluminum chassis?
From a range perspective, Ather will need to go through a weight reduction program. I would imagine that 80 kg should be a good target weight to reach. It definitely means a leaner motor. It means reversing configuration – having a 6 kWH battery and a 3 kW motor. I am not too sure if the Ather team has tried out the Bosch motor used by both Bajaj and TVS teams. But my guess is that the motor will deliver the same torque and zip, at about half the watts or less. 

In Warp mode, the bike is sucking in juice at the rate of 44 Wh/km. To put that in perspective, that is half of what my wife uses when she is driving her e2o electric car! And that too when the Ather weighs just 10% of an e2o weight. After the right brain ecstasy, the left brain logic. The Ather is fitted with a 3 kWH battery. So what it means is that at peak power you are getting a range of just 50 km. Godspeed, my fellow e2o owner, and a speed demon asked this question: Can the Ather do Pune Satara in 2 hours? For those who are not aware of Maharashtra geography, the question can be rephrased: Can the Ather do a 100 km in 2 hours? And the answer is going to be a sad NO. Even with fast charging thrown in, you will still take 4 hours to cover that distance.

​The Ather, in its current configuration, is very much a city animal. And the unfortunate reality is that the speeds don’t matter so much when you are faced with the mundane realities of congested roads. Ather has a very loyal fan following. The dealer team shared with me that the fan club members are actually in love with the belt noise – and are actually requesting that it be increased! Reminds me of the Harley Davidson fans, who in the earlier days, used to say: if it ain’t leaking oil, it ain’t a Harley. Loyalty is a great thing to have for a marketer. I wish and hope that Ather will be the Tesla of India. But we must remember that the Tesla revenue kick happened only after the Model 3. Till then it was a niche player, happy to keep its toys supplied to the rich boys. What Ather needs is a Chetak equivalent beast – giving its rider a 100 km of range at cruising speeds of 65 kmph. 

More Detail about  Ather 450X


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