India’s EV revolution has barely gotten off the ground, but its proponents already seem to have a sizable chip on their shoulders.
Ola Electric CEO Bhavish Aggarwal has called a senior auto journalist “Petrol Media”, and mockingly shared pictures of Burnol in response to his criticism. Two days ago, Aggarwal had shared a digital rendering of what seemed like a futuristic-looking with Ola written on the front. “Can you guys keep a secret?” Aggarwal had tweeted, hinting that Ola was about to launch an electric car.
Now Ola has just begun deliveries of its electric scooters, and there have been hundreds of complaints from consumers about delayed deliveries, unfinished features, and fake claims of range, so many were taken aback at the company going ahead and hinting at producing an electric car.
“Dont jump before you can barely crawl!,” wrote Autocar Editor Hormazd Sorabjee, who has been writing about the auto industry in India since 1986. “Such ‘secrets’ maybe good for valuation but not for Ola Electric’s credibility. Scooter needs to be sorted out first, before even thinking cars which is a completely different ball game that can’t be won with cash alone,” he tweeted.
Aggarwal could’ve acknowledged that there had been several issues with delivering his electric scooters, and talked about how Ola was fixing those gaps, but he chose a different tack. He responded to Sorabjee’s tweet with the hashtag #PetrolMedia, and added a gif of popular ointment “Burnol”, which is used to treat burns. Aggarwal seemed to be hinting that the media was supporting petrol car manufacturers, and was unfairly criticizing Ola which was manufacturing Electric Vehicles.
It’s hard to imagine what “petrol media” is — most people seem to agree that electric vehicles are likely the future of the automobile industry, and Ola, with its electric scooters, has received reams of coverage from all media outlets. While there were some who found Aggarwal’s retort funny, most of Twitter didn’t take particularly kindly to Aggarwal’s tweet.
Some Twitter users pointed out that Autocar India, whose Editor Aggarwal had called “Petrol Media”, had extensively covered electric vehicles. “Remember those who criticize, are on your side. They want @OlaElectric to succeed, that’s why the frank, but bitter truth,” wrote a Twitter user, while sharing covers from Autocar India about electric vehicles.
Others felt that Aggarwal’s behaviour was inappropriate. “Can startup bros not take a valid criticism without resorting to name calling!?” wrote a Twitter user.
“The last thing a CEO should do,” wrote another.
“This response to a genuine criticism confirms my theory that Ola won’t succeed in its grand endeavours,” wrote another user.
Some users pointed out that while Ola had claimed to deliver thousands of scooters, only 238 had been registered till the end of December. “All this on the basis of ‘238’ delivered scooters & that too with numerous complaints! I really hope they get that sorted first before moving to a car,” said a user.
Some people thought that Aggarwal was trying to copy Elon Musk. “He’s like Chinese remake of Elon Musk. Inferior in all respects,” wrote a Twitter user.
Others compared him to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who’d briefly become one of the richest women in the world on promises of changing the diagnostics industry with her blood tests, but had eventually turned out to be a fraud and was jailed. “Elizabeth Holmes of India,” wrote a user.
Others felt they’d lost all respect for Bhavish Aggarwal. “Had respect for this man. Now it’s down the drain. Do this guy even know who Hormazd Sorabjee is?!” said a user.
“This clearly reflects your arrogant attitude.. Shame shame shame!! Boycott #ola,” wrote another.
This would seem like a bit of a PR disaster for Ola, which is already struggling with complaints around its Electric Scooters. Ola had delayed its delivery dates twice last year before finally commencing deliveries, and its delivered bikes were missing several promised features including Cruise Control and Hill Hold. More worryingly, while Ola had claimed a range of 181 km in all its marketing materials, customers had discovered that their scooters only showed a range of 135 km when fully charged, with some viral videos showing Ola’s scooter delivering a range of as little as 98 km in Bangalore traffic. A few weeks ago, Ola had said that it wouldn’t be delivering its base S1 Model at all, and customers who’d ordered the S1 would receive the heavier S1 Pro with its additional features locked.
Amidst this bedlam, Ola has gone ahead and teased an electric car, and its CEO has now resorted to name-calling against people who pointed out some of these flaws. It remains to be seen how Ola’s electric initiatives pan out, but it would appear that Ola already has enough on its plate with several problems to fix and new products to launch. And as the reaction on Twitter shows, people feel it might be better served with action than with gifs of Burnol.