I am seated in the office of Dr Santosh Maini, president of the Maini group, as we await the arrival of Chetan Maini, CEO of Mahindra Reva and unarguably India’s Mr Electric. The office is filled with many awards, degrees, books and a plethora of family photos. The books and awards reflect the illustrious tale of the Maini family while the family photos reflect a core value that underlies the group.
I am intimidated, yet excited by what I see around me and can only imagine what this interview will turn out to be like. Eventually, Chetan Maini casually strolls in and takes a seat in front of me. In my effort to stand up and greet him while simultaneously wanting to hand over my visiting card, I drop it. Embarrassed, I reach down to get the card but by then he has picked it up. My trepidation is washed away, the instant Chetan (in a refined voice mildly peppered with an American accent) says, ‘Hi, how do you do? Please have a seat’.
The all too familiar background question sets the tone for our conversation and Chetan starts the proceedings by telling me about the origins of Reva Electric Car Company (RECC). The inspiration sparked when he was a student at Michigan University in the late 1980s. He was a member of a winning team that raced a solar-powered car across the United States (and won) after which they drove the same car across the length of Australia.
India was a very different place at that time. The Licence Raj had been dismantled in 1991 and liberalisation was pollinating it seeds in all directions of India. There was great scope for growth for anyone with a dream and as a passionate car lover, Chetan, saw the potential for alternate energy powered vehicles and ultimately decided to return to India and start the company.
RECC was setup in 1994. There was a need at that time to move from performance-oriented EVs to technology-based solutions which would meet every day needs. He adds on a more humourous note that the trend has done a 360 degree turn and it is performance that people want from their EVs today.
Over the course of the next six years while the company developed, it also worked on its first and most popular product, the Reva. Its development saw a lot of hand-on work from Mr C himself who says that he was there for every stage of the development and literally saw the car come together.
The car was launched at a technology exhibition in Bengaluru in 2001 and it just took a short while for them to get an order for around 100 cars from a variety of customers. Their first office and showroom was the very building we were sitting in during the interview. Aptly named Maini Sadan, it located in the heart of Bengaluru on Lavelle Road and it is from here Maini expanded the business and eventually managed to get dealers for their vehicles in 8-9 cities across the country.
They began exporting the car to Europe in 2002 with a major push in 2004. At this point,with a hint of dignified pride in voice, he says that his heart swells every time he sees a Reva or Revai/G-Wiz parked in urban centers abroad. The Reva underwent its first and only major update in 2008 where it became the Revai.