May 26, 2023

Acko Drive: Honouring A Legend By Awarding A Rising Star


Kunal Khattar

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There's a relentless spark in Tarun, the need to push boundaries, achieve the highest goals.

Earlier this month, the automotive website ACKO Drive led by auto veteran Siddharth Vinayak Patankar, held its first award ceremony. I had the privilege of handing out the first ‘Jagdish Khattar Rising Star Award’ to Ather Energy’s founder Tarun Mehta. It was a moment of immense pride and recognition of Mr. Khattar’s pioneering efforts in reshaping the Indian automotive industry and the auto after market sector. I am so happy that the award has been given to Tarun Mehta and his trailblazing Ather Energy which is working towards revolutionizing the future of the Indian automotive industry - an electric one.

I see the relentless spark in Tarun, the need to push boundaries, achieve highest goals with an infectious positivity similar to Mr. Khattar.

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In the late 1990’s Mr. Khattar, played a pivotal role in resolving a shareholder spat between the Government of India and Suzuki Motor Company resulting in declining market share. He was instrumental in brokering a truce between the stakeholders and then shepherding the company through a restructuring by rebuilding the operations. He launched many new products & business verticals, culminating in a successful Initial Public Offering. Maruti-Suzuki shares trade at around Rs 8600 today, compared to a listing price of Rs 125. An almost 70x return and that's not including the dividends paid out over two decades. The reason the company is so successful today is not just because of their popular products, but because of the culture and management team that he cultivated. Mr. Khattar was known to identify and nurture new and young talent by giving them new projects to execute or sending them across departments to allow them to gain unique insights from across the organization. It is not just the current leadership at Maruti-Suzuki, but the top leaders at firms like Hyundai Motor, Tata Motors, Nissan, Kia and many others who learned their automotive chops under Mr. Khattar.

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After hanging up his boots in Maruti, at the sprightly age of 65 he became an entrepreneur and started Carnation Auto as India’s first independent multi-brand auto solutions company. Carnation launched 10 business verticals in 4 years including the workshop business, certified used cars, car inspection, car insurance, car finance, spare parts with Magneti Marelli, car customization with DC Design, workshop on wheels and an online portal. Mr. Khattar was instrumental in getting the “Right to Repair” established in the country by winning a landmark victory in the Competitive Commission of India opening up the supply of OEM spare parts, equipment and diagnostic tools. This allowed companies like Cars24, Spinny, Pitstop, GoMechanic, etc to thrive.

Today, India lies on the cusp of an electric vehicle revolution. You see it all around you, but few companies have strived as hard and done as much work as Ather Energy. Because they were the pioneers when it was founded back in 2013, they had to develop not just the product from the ground up, including the hardware and the software, but also the supplier ecosystem and vendor and charging infrastructure since it didn't exist. Very similar to what Suzuki had to do when they made their investment into Maruti. If India is to move towards large-scale adoption of electric vehicles, it cannot just be through incentives and subsidies, but by also creating products that customers want. The engagement they have with their customers and their customers have with their vehicles is one that few other consumer companies enjoy anywhere in the world.

In the last financial year, electric two-wheelers accounted for almost one million unit sales, and while that is but a small percentage of the overall two-wheeler industry in India, where almost 15 million two-wheelers were sold, these numbers are only going to grow. This is evident in the investments that companies like Ather Energy are making. From starting out in just a couple of cities, Ather products are now available across almost 100 cities in India with an amazingly dense and fast growing network of charging points as well.

From selling just a few thousand units, Ather Energy plans to sell over 30,000 units every month by the end of 2023. Tarun also wants to take a lead in not just electrifying India, but also markets across the world, and has ambitious plans of starting exports, just like Maruti decided that it could be a global hub for small-car exports in the early 2000’s.

Not only is Tarun deserving of this award, but I am sure that he will win many more plaudits in the future as well. I would also like to thank Siddharth Vinayak Patankar, Editor-in-Chief, ACKO Drive for naming the award in honour of Jagdish Khattar in recognition of how he always wanted to identify young leaders and nurture and grow them to help India achieve its potential. It was an honour to present the award to Tarun along with Mr. Pawan Munjal from HeroMotoCorp, who is also a significant shareholder in Ather.

Tarun Mehta. Take a bow.

About the author: Kunal Khattar is the Founder of AdvantEdge Founders, a leading early-stage seed fund with a focus on the automotive, mobility & EV ecosystems in India.

Twitter: @KunalKhattar

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