Until we met the people behind the scene, judging the product by just the basic details, we didn’t know that we didn’t really understand a lot of aspects. Just like many, we believed that the Ather 450 is tech-packed product for green commuting. But in fact, as we were told, that was hardly the mission.
Getting to know their vision in a meeting at Ather Energy’s office at Bengaluru, was an eye-opener. I couldn’t decide whether to be amazed or ashamed after the chat with the bosses there, as they shattered the pre-conceived notion that all that could be invented in this industry has already been, and the future is just about adapting to electric powertrain instead of fuel burners. As a matter of fact, a lot of electric vehicle startups aim to do just that. But Ather saw the bigger picture, and has poured in hundreds of crores in developing that picture, and the Ather 450 is just the beginning of realising their goals.
The first thing to know, is that the company did not get into this domain because there was good business potential for electric scooters, they say that they did because the market was yet to see a better two wheeler and there was a lot of scope to develop it. Electric powertrain was just one among many factors that was a part of their vision. They say that they looked at this development holistically and worked on giving the best of all things that form a two wheeler.
The Ather 450 was not groomed just to be the best electric two wheeler in the market, it was crafted to be the best two wheeler period. That includes, design, features, performance, mileage, handling, comfort, and value additions. With all this hype in our heads, we set about to test ride the Ather 450 in the city of Bengaluru, but before that, we were taken to the Ather Space at Indiranagar, Bengaluru, to understand how they showcase and sell the Ather 450. And man, did they reinvent that too!
Firstly, it did not feel like a two wheeler showroom at all. The place felt like a modern museum and had an aura better than some of the premium motorcycle showrooms. In short, it didn’t feel like a space for sales, it’s a place where you get to know a product and a brand, and that’s it.
At the heart of the space, was an Ather 450 on a table, stripped off of its plastic clothing, revealing its otherworldly all-aluminium chassis that looks so beautiful even though it didn’t have to. The walls there hold a curated collection of photos and physical prototypes of the Ather’s development that gets the walk-ins well acquainted and connected with the product. The staffers there explain all about Ather 450, even the technical stuff with the help of some of the individual components showcased there, like the battery, motor and the wall charger.
Speaking of chargers, the Ather Space is part of the Ather Grid, a network of charging stations, so you’d notice a couple of Ather 450s parked at the side of the showroom being stylishly charged, while the owners wait socialising with each other as they are a part of the Ather community.
The dedicated forum of the Ather community has a lot of interesting stories directly from the owners, about their weekend trips (what you’d think may not be possible), fun modifications, and most importantly about the brotherhood of being part of a community that the owners express and the support that they provide to each other for charging, and the like.
Such information is not something you’d expect to cover while buying a two wheeler for commuting, but witnessing all of the above, I had the urge to book the Ather 450 probably because of its appeal as a lifestyle product rather than a transportation tool.
Now to the effervescent question, what’s any of this got to do with an electric scooter? Turns out, Ather has been reinventing the whole philosophy of everything around a two wheeler, right from the design, the output, the experience and the evolution. And we believe this is just the start of it.
Ather Energy, from the beginning, has been eyeing the long term prospects of the two wheeler industry in conjunction with the changing atmosphere around vehicles, right from government policies to evolving customer expectations, and has leaped way into the future in just shy of five years. With a massive pool of engineers, and a brilliant workflow in transcending into the far future, the company has developed the basis, a platform for all the electric vehicles they would roll out after the Ather 450 tested the waters. So if you think you can judge the success of the company by the sales numbers of the Ather 450, then you’re not looking at the larger picture yet. What’s amazing is the fact that they have already successfully implemented a lot of fundamental game changing technology in the Ather 450, and this inspires intrigue on what more they are yet to execute.
Being a prospective buyer myself, assuming all the above doesn’t matter to me, all I want is a well-functioning and reliable scooter to commute, I’ve somehow gained the confidence to go with it because compared to the alternatives Ather seems more dependable given their massive resources in hand and the way they have chosen to utilize it. Heck if I had started an electric scooter company in a country like India, I would’ve launched a simple scooter in just a year or so, made sure it had highest range, and would’ve spent most of the investment on marketing it.
What Ather challenges is that the 450 is a better product for the money compared to any scooter or motorcycle. In terms of design, though it’s subjective, one can safely argue that it’s a class apart. The bosses were so particular about using as minimum area of stickers as possible and absolutely no chrome. The result, is a shapely white body like what appears to be left behind by guests from other planets, which also has room for elaborate artworks. You’d find some in the Ather forum. Regarding the heights of meticulous designing, one last mention, please take look at the side stand.
In terms of utility, the floorboard is quite expansive, probably the largest compared to any of the 125 cc scooters, and the under-seat storage is simply massive. It fits a full face motorcycle helmet perfectly plus a lot of junk that usually sits in my pocket, plus a bottle of water! The rider seat could’ve been more comfortable, it felt inadequate for me, and in all honesty I’m not an average sized person.
The ride quality was truly premium, and the whizzing robotic sound of the motor was quite joyful to accelerate. There is no other sound while riding, making listening to music while riding so blissful. The handling of Ather 450 was pretty motorcycle-like, inspiring so much confidence while cutting across Bengaluru traffic not to mention playing the game of “skip-that-pothole”. The stability of the scooter is so very evident that you’d notice the scooter self-aligning to the vertical axis after leaning in turns. This is courtesy of meticulous designing to avoid every gram of unnecessary weight, and placing the battery box beneath the tall floorboard. The only place where conventional steel tubes are used in the scooter is the frontal section of the chassis where telescopic fork is mounted. The rest of the chassis is made up of die-cast aluminium which is made in segments that are bolted to each other. There is so minimal welding involved that it seems almost impossible upon hearing about it first. The rear of the scooter has a short and stubby monoshock, right at the centre unlike in conventional scooters. It has preload adjustment just like the monoshock in motorcycles.
The performance, in one word, is exhilarating. So much that it’s unfair to compare it with the likes of 125 cc scooters. Because for starters, the Ather doesn’t have a CVT, ergo no rubber band effect that causes huge loss of power transmission to the wheel. The toothed belt drive of the Ather 450 is a composite made with carbon fibre, with a warranty of 50,000 km. It does a brilliant job of pushing the scooter ahead of most vehicles when the signal turns green, and especially carrying my triple digit weight, accompanied by an insanely-hefty gadget-overflowing backpack. And all they heard was “sshhhh“. The performance at slow and go situations was pretty admirable as well, and the time taken to reach 80 kmph was really quick. And this was in the Ride mode! Switch to Sport mode and you’ll be surprised for good.
Ather has said that they will be pushing an ECO mode via an OTA (Over the Air) update anytime soon, which means, the existing customers as well would one day key their Ather to find the third riding mode magically appearing, giving them an extra few miles of range should they switch to this mode. It’s like blessing our vehicles with a rain of petrol. Sorry, couldn’t help it.
The realistic range that Ather promises is 65 km, in Ride mode, in petrol-like riding behaviour. When your finger itches to switch to Sport mode, you can expect at least half of that range. Good thing you can switch back and forth anytime over and over, and still keep a track of the range remaining with decent accuracy. If not, the percentage of remaining charge will always help you determine whether you’ll at least get to the vicinity of your home or not.
The 90/90 R12 MRF Zapper FG tubeless tyres on 12-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, seem to be sufficiently grippy. The bybre triple-piston caliper on 200 mm front disc gives a decent bite while braking, but the combi-brake involving the 190 mm rear disc with Bybre single-pot caliper is not so great. I’m urged to pull both brake levers for a confident stop even if it wasn’t an emergency braking situation.
Last but not the least, the 7-inch capacitive touch screen that hosts a linux-based OS giving you access to plenty of features with the aforementioned OTA updates, makes the ride quite pleasurable. The interface is very clean, legible and safe to say attractive, so much that you’ll miss it when you get back to your petrol vehicle, be it even a bigger motorcycle.
The software features include, switchable riding modes, odometer, dual trip meter, current ride statistics, average speed, clock, battery charge indicator, estimated range, navigation without realtime traffic updates, vehicle document storage (soft copies), guide-me-home light, parking assist (reverse riding upto 2 kmph), screen brightness adjustment, sound on/off for turn indicators, error diagnostics, and the like.
The company also offers Ather App on almost all smartphone platforms, which displays almost all the statistics mentioned above, and also shows realtime charge level when the scooter is on charge far away from sight. The App also lets you choose your destination well before you reach the vehicle, so that when you start riding, the destination is pushed to the scooter and the navigation starts working without manual intervention on the scooter’s display.
With so many features, a promising heritage and a height of quality on all aspects of owning and riding a vehicle, why wouldn’t I think of owning one. The only reason, which is a biggie, that made me not to book the scooter on the spot, was that I don’t live in Bengaluru or Chennai, and though Ather can sell it to me, they recommend I don’t buy it before they reach my city, because they won’t be able to support in a rare case that I’d need it one day. But that hasn’t stopped some buyers from far far away, for whom that risk is well worthy against the pleasure of ownership. Yet, there is still a burden of bringing the vehicle to Chennai or Bangalore for a quick check up once in 6 months, just to make sure everything is working fine.
What’s amazing again is that Ather has worked in an all-new level, making rigorous and accelerated tests, to determine and collect data on all possible failures of all components of the scooter, that with the help of a slew of active sensors on the vehicle, they get alerted on any possible failures that might happen in the future. When they are alerted through the constant internet connectivity on the Ather 450, they follow the action plan and make a call to the owner, suggesting them to drop by the Ather Space, or to just give an appointment for the service person to come visit the vehicle, to check and rectify the issue before it even creates a problem that affects the user. It goes like “Hello, I’m calling from Ather Energy, I’d request your appointment in the next two weeks so that our technician can have a check on your vehicle so that you won’t have to report a problem maybe in the next two months.” How insanely reassuring of mental peace is that!
Now imagine, with so much research, learnings, inventions and implementation in place, established quietly in the past five years, they now have a working system which they are finally putting to practical use via the Ather 450, how difficult would it be to launch a wide range of two wheelers – scooters and motorcycles in the coming years, with sheer perfection in product as well as ownership experience? Aren’t they looking like a plausible candidate for total world domination in the two wheeler industry like one of those bond villains now? For real, I’m excited for the future.