As a child growing up in Himachal Pradesh, Sudhir Nayak witnessed how global warming affected the delicate climate of his hometown. He says snowfall in the region has gradually declined over the years.
“In my teens, I have seen snow only twice,” Sudhir, Founder of EV (electric vehicle) charging solutions providerElectric, recalls.
This experience pushed Sudhir to make protecting the environment a personal mission. “We can reverse climate change. It is a human-created unnatural phenomenon over the last 150 years… that can easily be reversed by humans in lesser time than that,” the founder tells YourStory.
Founded in 2020, Gurugram-based SunFuel Electric deploys advertisement-backed high-speed charging infrastructure for luxury EVs such as Mercedes (EQC and EQS), BMW (iX and i3), Audi E-Tron Jaguar i-Pace, and Porsche Taycan.
These vehicles are available in India for quite some time now, but the charging infrastructure required for these cars is missing. SunFuel is filling that gap.
In the process, the company says it is getting high-visibility spots in luxury premises of premium hosting partners such as Radisson Hotels, Country Inn Hotels, IHG Hotels, and golf clubs, among others.
“Since advertisement business is about three things– Location, Location, and Location; SunFuel has opened up a totally new advertisement space for brands that want to be present in premium locations, as well as underscore their association with sustainability,” the founder says.
The startup has three co-founders—actress and friend of Sudhir, Gul Panag; Mathew Koshy and Rishabh S Mehta.
EVs enable users to charge vehicles at multiple locations, including homes.
So, while public charging infrastructure is required, it still remains underutilised even in geographies where EV adoption is past 50% such as Denmark and Norway, the founder says.
On the business side, public charging infrastructure cannot rely on charging alone to be profitable. This is why SunFuel has built a city charging infrastructure on the foundation of pDooh (Programmatic Digital Out of Home), where each charger becomes a recurring revenue-generating asset of Sunfuel.
Further, the public charging infrastructure has three pillars—destination charging, city charging and highway charging.
SunFuel is currently focussing on destination charging, the founder says.
“We have a laser focus on this pillar and right now we are doing nothing else but destination charging. We want to ‘create and own’ this category before we move to the city and highway. We have a glimpse of what we want to do in the city and highway through our very first AdPod charger coming up at the DLF EMporio Mall, and a lone 120 KWH Highway Charger on the Kalka-Shimla Highway in Devyani’s Food Street at Solan,” he adds.
The company has installed monolith chargers in its host partners’ space. Monolith is a level 2 AC charger designed primarily for destination charging in luxury hotels and resorts. It is also deployed in golf courses like KGA, Bangalore Golf Club, and Trivandrum Golf Course.
“We wish to grow in concentric circles. We want to own the destination charging segment, and then move to the other segments. The current execution in these segment is more of a study-use-case to learn the ropes and do it first-time-right when the right time comes,” he says.
How does it work?
SunFuel’s core offering is experiential high-speed EV charging enabled through advertising. To enable this charging experience, it uses an OCPP platform to enable its proprietary OTC (One Tap Charging) card.
Users can discover the charger through Google Maps, word-of-mouth references, or SunFuel’s app.
SunFuel follows a B2B2C model that reaches its end-user through another business such as hosting partners. Users have to pay for the charging services.
While the pricing is variable from state to state, it ranges between Rs 10 – Rs 15 per kWh for AC charging and Rs 17 – Rs 21 per kWh for DC Charging.
Another component of its business model is E-Trails, a community initiative led by Co-founder Gul Panag
Under this initiative, hotels that are EV enabled by SunFuel contribute room nights every year to the E·Trails kitty. These room nights are disbursed to the early adopters of EVs (community members) through cashback offers or curated group travel plans.
“E·Trails community has been our secret sauce that helped us crack chain deals with international hospitality majors like the Intercontinental Hotel Group and the Radisson Hotel Group,” adds Sudhir.
The startup has so far raised $500,000 in its pre-seed round from Sunjay Kapur Family Office and other angel investors including Nav Chatterjee, Sajiv Dhawan, Dev Punj and others.
Market opportunity and traction
According to ICRA Research, EV penetration in India is set to increase over the next five years, especially in the electric two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and e-bus segments.
The startup, which is in the pre-revenue stage, plans to install 350+ chargers in 2023 (already confirmed traction) and 1,000 in the next year. It is already live with 80 charge stations and has delivered 4,500 charge sessions.
Players operating in this segment include Statiq, ChargeZone, and Zeon, among others.
“However, none of them are focused on High End Luxury EVs; and premium hosting partners. Most charge point operators are focused on two-wheelers, three-wheelers, last-mile delivery vehicles, and entry-level EVs,” concludes Sudhir.