The Unbearable Complexity of Being Simple: Glitches, confusion mar start-up’s electric scooter launch

The premise was perfect – 15 August, 2021 marking India’s 75th Independence Day, a homegrown start-up promising to supercharge the electric mobility revolution in the country, for a reservation amount of Rs 1,947 – not coincidental, but an undisguised nod to the year the country attained independence. As far as making an entry was concerned, Bengaluru-based EV start-up Simple Energy seemed to have timed things to perfection. Moreover, the highlights from the unveil made for eye-catching headlines – highest range for an e-scooter, biggest battery for an e-scooter, quickest-accelerating e-scooter; all this, for a price of Rs 1,09,999.

But while the story of a local, built-from-scratch product bettering all comers has immense potential, a series of errors from Simple Energy threatens to erode potential buyers’ confidence in the start-up.

The mystery of changing specifications

It’s clear from the outset that Simple Energy is banking on the attention-grabbing values of its first scooter – named the Simple One – to attract buyers. Performance, says Simple, is one of the key focus areas with the One, and that the e-scooter will have the acceleration to outrun its competition. In a tweet published on 9 July, Suhas Rajkumar – Founder and CEO of Simple Energy – mentioned 3.2 seconds, ostensibly referring to the Simple One's 0-40 kph acceleration time, which meant it was quicker than the Ather 450X.

Simple Energy's website and print brochure mentioned the One's 0-40 kph time as 3.05 seconds - but in the presentation, that figure was changed to 2.95 seconds. Image: Simple Energy

A while before the unveil of the One got underway, the Simple Energy website was updated with a significantly improved 0-40 kph time of an impressive 3.05 seconds. This is also the figure supplied to journalists present at the unveil in the print brochure. However, at the showcase itself, Rajkumar mentioned the Simple One’s acceleration time was a mere 2.95 seconds.

While the difference of a tenth of a second may seem negligible, in this case, it does make a difference. Just a couple of hours before the Simple One was unveiled, Ola revealed its S1 Pro electric scooter, which has a claimed 0-40 kph acceleration time of three seconds flat. The Simple One’s 2.95-second claim lets it snag the title of the quickest accelerating scooter on sale in India. The Simple website was soon updated to reflect the newer figure post the unveil, which is from “recent data”, said Rajkumar in an interaction with Tech2.

Peak output for the Simple One's motor was rated at 7 kW before and for some time even after the launch. Image: Simple Energy

Then there’s the matter of power output. Before the unveil of the One (and even for some time after it), the Simple website mentioned the e-scooter’s peak motor output being rated at 7 kW. However, at the unveil event, Rajkumar said the Simple One’s peak motor output was a significantly higher 8.5 kW. For perspective, the Ola S1, just a couple of hours before the One was unveiled, also debuted with a peak motor output of 8.5 kW. Speaking to Tech2, Rajkumar put this anomaly down to a “typo mistake” made by “a third party”.

Other anomalies included the size of the rear disc brake (mentioned as a 190 mm unit at the unveil but later revised to 180 mm; the same size as the Ola S1) and Rajkumar’s claim at the unveil of the One having the “best-in-class” under-seat storage space, which is, in fact, incorrect, as the Ola S1’s 36-litre storage bay is larger than the One’s 30-litre space.

The VIN and registration on the Simple One's display belongs to an Ather 450X. Image: Overdrive

Identity crisis

The Simple One showcased on 15 August was a pre-production prototype, and was only running a preview version of the software buyers will see on the finished model. However, the 7.0-inch screen of the scooter at the showcase displayed the vehicle identification number (VIN) and registration number of an Ather 450X – among the Simple One’s key rivals – sold and registered earlier this year. Rajkumar attributes this, too, to a “technical glitch”, a mistake not warranting a second look. However, it didn’t look like this error was addressed quickly, as it was seen in multiple walkaround videos of the scooter.

A shift in statements

At the unveil of the One, the indication made to journalists in attendance was that deliveries of the scooter would begin by October or November. However, Simple Energy’s production facility in Hosur – previewed in a tweet at the start of August – is far from ready, and is a good while away from being operationalised. Rajkumar now says Simple is aiming to begin production towards the end of this year, which means those who have pre-booked the scooter can only expect deliveries early in 2022.

The Simple Energy production facility in Hosur is still a while away from being operationalised. Image: Suhas Rajkumar via Twitter

The scooter itself doesn’t seem fully ready yet. Simple says it is putting the final touches on the One, but Tech2 has learned from journalists in attendance that the scooter ran into technical issues at the very start of the media rides held the day following the unveil. Invited media was requested to not file reviews of the pre-production model or compare it to existing electric scooters, and this is why the media – despite having the One and a go-kart track to themselves – did not file any first ride review/experiential pieces.

Rajkumar has assured customers the scooter will have cruise control, but now says what the One has is "not exactly" a cruise control system.

Ola Electric introduced cruise control on its S1 Pro electric scooter, and while it is certainly not a necessity for a two-wheeler, buyers have been keen to know if the Simple – which claims to match or better the Ola on most fronts – has it, too. Many have been thrilled to find out the Simple One does have cruise control, something Rajkumar has also previously confirmed on Twitter in response to customer enquiries. However, Rajkumar now says what the One has is “not exactly” cruise control, and is unsure if the finished product will even offer something similar to it, as he believes customers won’t find much use for it.

“It is not exactly a cruise control. It is a mix of things, which is not really a very highlighting point for us. It’s just a feature there. It’s not going to be a selling point for us, something that I don’t think customers would even like to use. If it’s there or not there I can’t confirm because we’re working on the OTA update for that. Not sure if we’ll be involving that but we’re working on it. I have to consult my team”, says Rajkumar, when pressed on the topic of cruise control availability on the One.

Tweet, delete, repeat

Rajkumar has been quite active on social networking platform Twitter in the build-up to the unveil of the Simple One, dishing out info on his firm’s maiden product and throwing thinly-veiled jabs at competition. This means that those interested in the Simple One have been keeping a close eye on his updates, but the intense scrutiny leaves no room for error. Rajkumar promised an announcement late on 18 August, but later rescheduled it for 6 pm on 19 August and deleted the first tweet. The second tweet was perceived by many as being the date for the full-fledged, detailed launch announcement, when it was, in fact, just a date reveal, and Rajkumar ended up deleting that tweet later, too.

Rajkumar has deleted tweets relating to the announcement of more details of the Simple One, creating uncertainty in the minds of potential buyers.

As promised, Rajkumar did share a tweet post 6 pm on 19 August, mentioning a ‘mid of September’ announcement of vital details of the Simple One. This tweet, too, was subsequently deleted.

The tweet that aimed to answer buyer queries about the battery and vehicle warranty for the Simple One elicited a backlash from several followers. Simple offers a three-year vehicle and battery warranty on the One, which is the same as what Ather Energy offers with the 450X, and falls well short of the eight-year battery warranty offered by Revolt Motors for the RV400 electric motorcycle.

Bengaluru resident Rahul Prasadh was among many enthusiasts fascinated by the Simple One. A motorcyclist at heart, Prasadh has been wanting to make the shift to an electric two-wheeler himself, and was impressed by the One’s specs, so much so that he asked his spouse and sibling to book the Simple e-scooter, but says they have now mailed the company to request cancellation of the orders and a full refund of the booking amount following constant changes in the company’s statements.

“I really want to support an Indian company, but I got irritated by the inconsistency of the tweets. He [Rajkumar] said everything is on the website, but the website only has the most basic details. Why should a customer have to ask about the product – shouldn’t you have a brochure with all the details and specs on your website? The words he has chosen have not gone down well. All these things are putting a negative perspective in the customer’s mind”, says Prasadh.

The Simple One is said to have already amassed over 30,000 pre-orders. Image: Simple Energy

Having recently parted with his Mahindra Mojo, Prasadh is now keen to get his hands on the Ola S1, and isn’t closed to the idea of revisiting the Simple One – but says he’d now like to take some more time and see how things pan out for Simple Energy.

“I wouldn’t mind buying a Simple, but I’d take some more time. Wait, watch, see initial customers’ observations, maybe get it by June next year. The product is impressive by the looks of it, but the communication part is where they’ve lagged a lot. Some people have even said it seems like another Freedom 251 scam, which is a very bad thing and something that shouldn’t happen to a new company”, he adds.

There is no denying the potential of an electric scooter like the Simple One, but the targeted start of production appears to be ambitious at this stage, given the stark on-ground realities. As they press forward with their plans, Rajkumar and his team will have to tidy up and ensure no more communication blunders occur, or they may simply risk losing swathes of potential customers to two-wheeler brands perceived as more reliable and trustworthy.

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