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India, China border spat: Bird group's EV hatchback plans in limbo

By Surajeet Das Gupta
April 15, 2021 14:34 IST
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The car was expected to have a price tag of Rs 10 lakh and launch was slated for this June.

A year after the Bird group, which supplies aviation services to hospitality, tied up with Chinese automaker Haima Automobiles to assemble an electric hatchback car, the promoters (the Bhatia family) are now re-assessing the joint venture given the change in geopolitical realities between the two countries.

According to experts, the car was expected to have a price tag of Rs 10 lakh and launched this June.

 

Haima was set up initially as a joint venture between Mazda and the Hainan provincial government to sell the rebadged cars of its Japanese partner. Later, it was sold to state-owned First Automobiles Works.

Sources in the know confirmed that a change was necessitated by the geopolitical situation.

As the two were planning to assemble the vehicle in India, they did not want to take the risk of any disruption in the supply chain as key components had to be imported to make the electric hatchback.

The company spokesperson of the Delhi-based Bird group declined to comment on the issue.

The Bird group now plans to concentrate on electric two wheelers.

It has recently tied up with Australian e-mobility brand VMoto and is expected to bring in its model range which includes the Vmoto CUX and the CU mini range of two wheeled electric vehicles.

Under the deal, Bird will buy a minimum of 10,000 units in the first year of operations.

The launch is scheduled for towards the end of 2021.

Sources say that the company is looking to target the affordable mass market where it will lock horns with players like Ola Electric, which is setting up a 10 million per annum capacity and expects to roll out its electric scooters by June.

The Bird group will also take on Hero Electric which is looking at doubling its capacity and is currently the largest player in electric two whe­elers.

“We will be looking at assembling the product in the country and are looking at third party outsou­rcing deals too,” said a source aware of the developments at the Bird group.

This is not the first time that Bird is venturing into electric two wheelers.

The group had tied up with US-based Bird Rides Inc in 2020 to introduce its Bird Cruiser - a two wheeler electric vehicle - for targeting the B2B segment of the market.

But the arrangement did not take off. In fact, the Bird group is one of the early entrants in the electric vehicle space.

For the last 10 years, it was the exclusive dealer in India of Segway Personnel Transporters and offers a wide range of mobility options which can be used as transportation, for playing golf, for airports, businesses, and even for law enforcement.

The products have been assembled in India and are at the high end of the market, priced between Rs 6-7 lakh and clearly with a very limited market.

The Bhatias also understand the automobile business, being one of the key dealers for BMW in the country.

That apart, the group has diversified interests from ground handling for airlines, the Amadeus reservation system for ticketing, and an upmarket chain of hotels in India and the UK.

It was also recently in the news for reportedly making a bid with Ajay Singh, the promoter of SpiceJet, for Air India with sovereign funds in west Asia.

Photograph: Kind courtesy, Cardekho.com

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Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi
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