Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Average Utilisation Of Trucks Has Gone Up Thanks To GST

Mahindra Truck & Bus Division (MTBD) has been carving out a robust presence in the commercial vehicle segment. Riding the success of its Blazo trucks, MTBD is geared up to consolidate its truck business with the recent unveiling of its ICV range of trucks – a segment it was not present before. I spoke to Vinod Sahay, CEO, Mahindra Truck & Bus Division to know about the success of Blazo, and the technologies it is leveraging in the trucking industry, among others.

Give us a perspective about the Indian CV industry and how it is shaping up for the future.

The Indian CV industry has been buoyant in the last year and half. I think the CV industry has settled well following three significant developments – demonetisation, switch from BS III to BS IV emission norms and GST. For a country as big and complex as India, I must say that GST has been one of the smoothest tax reforms. GST has helped the CV industry because the average utilisation of trucks has gone up, the number of km/day covered by trucks has gone up and many needless stops at border checks at state borders have come down. So owing to all these positives, there is buoyancy in demand led by HCVs, ICVs and LCVs.

The Blazo range of trucks has been quite a success in the Indian market. What differentiators are MTBD looking to offer with its Furio trucks to consolidate the good run of Blazo trucks?

MTB has been working on the ICV (7.5-16 tonne) range for the last four years. When we launched the Blazo two years back, there were already established players in the market. We were mindful of the challenge that was ahead of us. Despite that Blazo has clearly positioned itself as a leader in the Indian CV industry – 15,000 Blazos are currently running on Indian roads. For rolling out a product like Furio, we wanted to be absolutely sure that we are offering customers a product and service that they are not getting anywhere else in terms of fuel efficiency, service guarantee, parts guarantee, etc.

We are well aware that we’ll be the sixth player to launch an ICV product in the Indian CV space. We realise that we cannot afford to be a me-too product. MTBD looks at customers from the product lifecycle point of view. Every business runs on two phenomenon – maximising profit and reducing cost of operations, and with the Furio we have offered one of the safest, comfortable and coolest cabins, where a driver with the same level of body fatigue can drive the truck for two more hours every day, which effectively means that he is driving more than any other truck in the industry. It also ensures the truck is running more and generating more revenue for a truck owner.

With the Furio, MTBD has increased service intervals and also offered additional payload as compared to a like-for-like truck; in fact, we are offering 5-20 % additional payload that straightaway goes into the earnings of the customer. On both revenue and cost side, Furio promises a product that earns more for you and reduces your cost of operations, thus making your business more profitable.

Talk about the capabilities that FuelSmart technology brings to the Blazo trucks. Are you offering the same technology with the Furio ICV range?

Everyone talks about best-in-class fuel efficiency but no one offers guarantee about it. We literally did the ‘unthinkable’ with the industry-first FuelSmart technology on our Blazo trucks. We offered fuel efficiency guarantee for our Blazo trucks, else committed to take the truck back. Not a single Blazo has come back to us in the last two years.

The FuelSmart technology offers three driving modes – light (174 hp), heavy (230 hp) and turbo (274 hp). The same engine delivers these three driving modes at the click of a button. If a driver is driving on an empty road on a plain highway, he operates at a lower power mode of 174 hp, and if a driver is driving a fully loaded truck in a slight gradient he can shift to 230 hp – it makes the trip faster because the truck moves fast in a loaded condition. The truck driver is driving in a higher gear (either third or fourth gear) despite the higher hp as compared to any other truck that would be driving in second gear.

For example, a truck driver of a fully loaded Blazo passing through Lonavla or Khandala ghat (mountain pass) can shift to 274 hp and can still drive on the ghat in a higher gear with lesser rpm as compared to other trucks that would literally crawl because these trucks operate at low gear, have a low hp and a higher rpm, consuming higher fuel. Such fully loaded trucks, while passing through ghats end-up losing a lot of their time – something you won’t see in a Blazo.

Blazos operating at 274 hp help save fuel, increase speed of the truck, reduce turnaround time and do more number of trips. Importantly, the driver does not have to stop the truck and can change engine modes as per road conditions. MTBD is offering the same technology with Furio with three driving modes – the peak is 140 hp, followed by 125 hp and 110 hp.

Give us an insight into the R&D that has gone into developing the FuelSmart technology.

It is not just about providing an engine or three switches, since it is an electric engine controlled by an ECU at every gear point. With every power mode in a different duty cycle, we capture the data and get the engine running at the most efficient brake specific fuel consumption (BSFC) curve. It is a complex algorithm, where we drive our truck via different applications. The algorithm with which we have designed our truck is much more complex than just offering three switches. Many have tried to come up with these power switches – in fact, some players have removed it because it was doing more damage to the vehicle.

MTBD has offered the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology on its Blazo trucks. Can you give us an insight about how SCR and Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) technologies are being leveraged in the Indian trucking industry?

As far as the Indian trucking industry is concerned, most BS IV trucks have opted for the SCR technology that has AdBlue® consumption, while a few brands have opted for the EGR technology that has no AdBlue consumption. There was a debate in the industry as to how can a player like us offer guarantee, when the SCR technology has additional AdBlue consumption. MTBD’s guarantee is not just on fuel but also on fluid efficiency. If you compare the cost of AdBlue and diesel of a SCR technology truck with the diesel cost of EGR technology truck, we are still offering guarantee because the SCR technology is much more fuel efficient than an EGR technology truck.

Mahindra is the only manufacturer to offer the latest generation SCR called Smart SCR. We are offering an industry-free airless SCR technology through this Smart SCR, where admin dosing happens through the ECU input. It helps in two ways – first it reduces the maintenance cost because you need to change one filter instead of three filters in a normal SCR, and second, it enables precise dosing and AdBlue consumption is around 30 % lower. So, owing to lower AdBlue consumption and higher fuel efficiency we were able to offer fluid efficiency guarantee.

How is the Indian CV industry responding to the challenge of migrating from BS IV to BS VI?

For all CV players, the biggest challenge is the timeline itself. In my opinion, the level of technical change the industry went through with a product in the CV space is much bigger than the switch from BS IV to BS VI. I cannot comment on the cost implications but the biggest change is the engine itself; we don’t have to go to the new generation CRDe. The big work will be on refining your aftertreatment; there are manufacturers who will do with only SCR and there are manufacturers who will do a mix of SCR and EGR. I don’t think any player will be able to achieve much with EGR in BS VI vehicles. The BS IV verdict of EGR is not yet out as most BS IV trucks have not travelled 150,000 km and beyond, because that is where EGR-related concerns will start reflecting in the truck as well as in the engine performance.

AC driver cabins have always been a talking point in the Indian trucking industry. How has MTBD looked to address this area?

Indian truck drivers find it hugely challenging to drive under hot and humid conditions but do not opt for an AC cabin option owing to apprehensions that it will reduce fuel efficiency. MTBD tried to make a much cooler non-AC cabin with the Furio and is at least 5 °C cooler inside the cabin as compared to any other truck in the industry. MTBD offered a lower rack angle that not only provides the best visibility but also ensures the intensity of the sun falling on the truck is far lower than what it is in other trucks. There are a total of eight air vents – six air vents on the dash and two air vents on the driver’s feet. Of the eight air vents, four each are for natural ventilation and blower & air-condition. The Furio’s adequate natural ventilation will keep the cab cooler and also increase driver productivity.

The country is abuzz with talk about walking down the EV road – how do you see the CV industry embrace EVs?

Electric vehicles for trucks are a long way off – let it first settle in the passenger car segment. EVs come with multiple challenges; you have to create an ecosystem to support it, be it charging facility, battery disposal facility, etc. All these need to be built in cities as it is far more difficult to set these up in highways.

Deliberation On Electronics Take Centre Stage

The automotive industry has been witnessing rapid evolution of electronics in areas of engine management systems, infotainment system, telematics, body/chassis and safety, among other areas. Keeping in sync with the industry-wide developments made, Auto Tech Review conducted the fifth edition of its annual conference, the “CTO Roundtable on Automotive Electronics” on June 27, 2018. For the first time, the conference was held outside Delhi in the auto hub of Pune.

The 5th CTO Roundtable conference attracted participation from various industry leaders, who deliberated on the latest advancements happening in automotive electronics space, role of electronics in achieving BS-VI compliance, relevance of IC engines and how the future is going to stack up.

Conference Chairperson, Rashmi Urdhwareshe, Director, ARAI set the tone for the conference with a highly perspective-based speech. Urdhwareshe said that data computation has emerged as a significant tool that is going to drive the next generation of automotive solutions. Acknowledging the automotive industry’s move towards greener alternatives, the ARAI Director stated that the speed at which transformation is taking place (in terms of embracing electric mobility and connected vehicles) is simply amazing. She added that the automotive industry no longer depends on physical testing and validation as it has advanced tools and techniques at its disposal.

However, unless efforts are undertaken towards improving quality of life, it will be a futile exercise to bring in more and more transportation solutions into the country, she warned. She stressed on the need for investing on technologies that pave the way for intelligent infrastructure instead of focusing on improving existing infrastructure.

The automotive industry has been abuzz with never-ending talk on the relevance of IC engines given the government’s push for electric vehicles. The ARAI Director was categorical that IC engines will continue to stay for much longer than they are predicted, at least in India. The changing automotive scenario will call for new skillsets as the technical requirements for electric vehicles and connected mobility are different from earlier skillsets, she observed.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Srinivas Aravapalli, Senior VP & Head – Product Development (Automotive Sector), Mahindra & Mahindra. He said OEMs need to fundamentally transform their business case assumptions, as the focus currently is not much on additional monetisation benefits post-sales; for example, what kind of value an OEM is creating for the product and what unique experience it is providing to the customer.

He elaborated on the importance of data monetisation and how the automotive industry can benefit from it. Data monetisation has penetrated various industries, but is yet to catch up in the automotive industry, he said. Data monetisation can be handy in providing value added services such as usage-based insurance, predictive maintenance, over-the-air (OTA) updates among others, Aravapalli noted.

Speaking in the inaugural session, Ruchir Dixit, Technical Director, EU & India Sales, Mentor Graphics (A Siemens Business) spoke about how the increasing penetration of electronics will not just let cars take simple decisions, but decisions about life and death for vehicle users. Acknowledging that fuel efficiency is important, he stated that there is little point talking about fuel efficiency unless safety and security are not addressed. Although ‘safety’ and ‘security’ are sometimes used interchangeably, he highlighted that safety is about protecting the world from the device and security is about protecting the device from the world, and both concepts need to be addressed differently.


The first session on ‘The Next Leap in Electronics for ICE and New Energy Vehicles’ saw speakers share diverse perspectives about the automotive electronics industry. Padmesh Mandloi, Senior Technical Account Manager, ANSYS, Software India said the convergence of three mega trends – autonomy, electrification and connected smart vehicles – has enhanced the importance of automotive electronics. He threw light on how the automotive electronics industry is moving away from times, when each function had a separate ECU, and is now focusing on facilitating distributed computing and bringing down the number of ECUs, using the device that allows interoperability or interconnect of the functions.

Industry experts believe that compliance to radiated & conducted emissions & ISO 26262 safety standards, reliability of ECUs/ PCBs and model-based designs are key challenges for the automotive electronics industry. The speakers were unanimous that all these challenges have to be addressed in such a way that benefits the industry as well as the customers.

The session deliberated on how electronics players are focusing on miniaturisation, as the market is looking for smaller devices, wherein more transistors are packed into the chips and the size also goes down.

Manoharan Rajadurai, Head, Product Line Electronics Segment, Continental Automotive India, underlined the importance of a scalable vehicle control unit that can take care of complex functionalities, vehicle architecture requirements for the future, driver demand, torque requirements, etc.

The speakers also touched upon electrical safety of vehicles and felt that ensuring high levels of electrical safety will be a challenge at design, testing and certification phases. The automotive electronics space is witnessing heightened use of software development. Many leaders were of the opinion that connected cars and safety technologies will continue to influence a lot of software, electronics, sensors, radars, etc. The other speakers in this session included Prakash Gowda, Polarion ALM Portfolio Lead, Siemens Software India and Anand Deshpande, Deputy Director, ARAI.


The second session on ‘Driving the Next Generation of Vehicles in a Connected World’ deliberated on connected and autonomous vehicles. Pradeep Sreedharan, VP – Sales & Business Operations, Unlimit IoT said it is a constant challenge for automotive companies to ensure the in-car technology is great. He also talked about the shortening development cycle for new models, down from the two to three years earlier to eight to ten months now.

Arun Devaraj, Head – India, SEA and Korea Engineering, Visteon Corporation said with the advent of silicon and multicores in commuting, the focus is on what more one can be done with a single ECU from a vehicle standpoint. Accentuating the need for computing in ECUs, he said that typically an infotainment system generates 10,000 DMIPS, while a high-end infotainment system over the next three years is talking about between 50,000 to 75,000 DMIPS. For self-driving scenarios, computing could run into one million DMIPS.

The speakers explained that typically, high-end cars can have 75-100 ECUs, while mass market cars have about 30-40 ECUs. Thus, if more computing power is delivered into your ECU it has the ability to bring together driver information, cluster, infotainment, heads-up display and telematics as a single ECU, they said.

Jai Gupta, Head of Software Development Coding and Testing, Jaguar Land Rover India, while agreeing that autonomous vehicles will lead to a safer and better good quality life, said it will take humongous efforts from OEMs to get these technologies on roads. Gupta threw his perspective about the need to work with hardware, software and systems together, wherein the car is not even available before one conducts testing of 80 to 100 ECUs. Under such a scenario, in absence of a car, ECUs are mounted on so-called lab car, as the engine has to be simulated in some platform, he explained. With so much of advancements happening in software on the automotive side, Gupta stated the industry must not compartmentalise engineering. Rather, testing and designing should be done together, he said.

Prashant Deshpande, Managing Director, EC.Mobility touched upon the criticality of leveraging data for autonomous driving or driver assistance features. Deshpande said that tonnes of data are generated but this data is of no use if it is not correctly labelled (box labelling or semantic labelling) and prepared, as without that an algorithm cannot take the right decisions.

Underpinning the significance of labelling and interpretations, the EC.Mobility MD said one cannot make interpretations without data labelling, and without interpretations you cannot take logical decisions. This also explains why much data is captured in various scenarios all over the world. It is also critical to understand that an algorithm must perform, and if an algorithm is not performing correctly and data is not labelled, user could run into challenges, he noted.

The second session was also attended by Brahmanand Patil, Managing Director, Vector Informatik India and Prashant Pawar, General Manager, ARAI.

A panel discussion on ‘Connected Powertrain and the Future of Mobility’ was also held as part of the daylong conference. Moderated by Srinath Manda, Associate Director, Automotive & Transportation, MarketsandMarkets the panel included Umang Salgia, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality, Visteon Corporation; Nishant Tholiya, AVP, KPIT Technologies; Mitali Mishra, CTO, EC.MOBILITY; Narendra Saini, General Manager – Product, Unlimit IoT as well as Jai Gupta from Jaguar Land Rover India.

A study on ‘Automotive Electronics & Connectivity – An Indian Perspective’ was also released as part of the conference by Knowledge Partner, MarketsandMarkets. The conference was supported by Siemens as the Presenting Partner, ARAI as the Association Partner, Unlimit IoT as the Associate Partner, Boyden as the Co-Partner and Continental, Vector, Visteon, ANSYS and EC.Mobility as the Gold Partners.

'Safety Driven By Technology' Conference Harps On Accelerating Road Safety Movement

India wittingly or unwittingly has earned an infamous reputation for registering the highest number of road fatalities in the world. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that the country, over many decades now, has never quite accorded the ‘required importance’ to road safety. Just sample this: 150,000 people are killed in India each year in road accidents that translates into 400 deaths daily; one person dies every four minutes.

That is an ominous statistic and is far more than developed nations like USA, where around 40,000 die every year due to road accidents. Clearly, India has a long path to walk before it can come anywhere close to matching global safety standards. And to brainstorm the road safety issues plaguing in the country as well as to chalk up a future roadmap for road safety improvements, Auto Tech Review recently organised the 5th edition of the ‘Seminar on Safety Driven by Technology’ in New Delhi.

Held on 25th July, the daylong seminar deliberated on the theme “Vision Zero – The Role of Technology”, a commitment undertaken by the industry to reduce road fatalities and accidents. The seminar witnessed diverse perspectives being shared by various industry experts comprising OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, technology providers, government entities, certification bodies, etc across the two critical technology domains of automotive lighting and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), followed by a highly engaging panel discussion.

Delivering his speech during the inaugural session, Rama Shankar Pandey, Conference Chairman and Managing Director, Hella India Lighting said that the conference has provided a launch pad to build a common collective platform to take the safety agenda forward and exhorted all not to keep it confined to discussions alone. Vehemently voicing his concerns about the overall road safety movement in India, Pandey stated that the country has made little progress as far as the commitment of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways to halve the number of road accidents and fatalities by 2020 is concerned. He added that such a scenario can be frustrating and urged all to stay motivated if the safety drive across the country has to be a success story. Acknowledging that the country is ambitious on regulations, Pandey said that road safety success cannot be attained by regulations alone and stressed the importance of innovations towards driving its success.

He criticised the delay in passing of the Road Safety Bill (Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2016), saying it has been posing roadblocks to the safety movement. It is important to note that the Road Safety Bill focuses on five key areas – helmets, seat belts, child safety restraints, speeding and drunk driving.

Rama Shankar Pandey, Managing Director, Hella India Lighting and Conference Chairman
Neeti Sarkar, CEO & PD, NATRiP felt that a lot of safety aspects are not well known and accentuated the importance of connecting at the idea level of what is safety and what constitutes safety. It is imperative to recognise the capacities and start using them, she pointed out. Throwing light on the ‘Vision Zero’ initiative that was launched in Sweden in 1997 and subsequently in many other nations, Sarkar said that a big question hangs over how India will achieve zero fatality rate.

Sarkar stated that the auto industry is witnessing improved technologies in automobiles as well as improved vehicle designs, but wondered if all these initiatives are making pedestrians or affected passengers in other vehicles safer. The NATRiP CEO added that each road accident-related death has an impact of lowering the country’s GDP and called for a robust focus on training new drivers or retrain drivers when they shift from one vehicle category to another along with specialised training (driving on rainy, slipper roads, etc). On the subject of enforcement, she said it is unjust to always pin the blame on the government. Enforcement has to begin from all of us; starting with following the road safety norms.

Neeti Sarkar, CEO & Project Director, NATRiP
Prashant Kumar Banerjee, Executive Director (Technical), SIAM, said that the five levels of autonomous vehicles will actually drive ADAS. Shedding light on a brain-off and mind-off situations, Banerjee said that in a brain-off situation the vehicle takes on its own and will not ask the driver to overtake, while in a mind-off situation the vehicle will be reminded of ‘taking over’ in case of a crisis. He added that regulators are struggling beyond level 3 of autonomous vehicles owing to various complexities. From the Indian perspective, Banerjee stated that road discipline should be the country’s main focus area and wondered what OEMs are offering to improve road safety.

The SIAM Executive Director said that all stakeholders are working closely to explore technological possibilities to push the safety agenda forward. He expressed his concerns over enforcement of speed limiters in vehicles as there is a degree of reluctance among vehicle occupants to use it. The need of the hour is to mull safety solutions in the Indian context. He believes leveraging Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the best option for the Indian market. The objective should be to ensure improved driver road behaviour and improved transport efficiency facilitating safer movement of goods and services, he remarked.

In his keynote address, Mahesh Rajoria, Senior Advisor – Driver Training, Maruti Suzuki India said driver’s fault is the major cause of road crashes in India and added that speeding constitutes 44 % of road crashes. He stressed that a high focus on ‘training the trainer’ at various driving schools will pave the way for safer drivers on Indian roads. Rajoria also elaborated on ARITRA – a camera-based image processing technology, which enables a trainer to offer on-the-spot feedback about a trainee’s performance and also take countermeasures to address improvement areas. ARITRA can be leveraged for issuing driving licenses and will make the driving license issuing process even more stringent, he added.

Rajoria also dwelt on the HAMS (Harnessing AutoMobiles for Safety) technology Maruti has developed with the help of Microsoft Research India. HAMS uses mobile phone camera and AI-based applications to offer inputs to the trainer and trainee besides tracking the eye movement of the trainee. The HAMS technology apprises whether the driver is wearing a seat belt, talking on phone, maintaining safe distance from other vehicles, following road marking, etc, he noted.

The first session on ‘Automotive Lighting’ saw industry experts throw diverse perspectives. Dwelling on the increasing digitisation of light, Christian Haase, VP, Design and Development, Hella said lighting does not end in front or rear lighting, but also in the interior of the vehicle that enables a vehicle owner to take better care of the vehicle and also see what is going on outside the vehicle – thus ensuring a much more comfortable experience. There is a need for discussion of used cases in the Indian market and based on the used cases, the industry can together enhance road safety and offer individualisation for customers, thus building more road safety awareness.

Srinivas Aravapalli, Senior VP & Head – Product Development (Automotive Sector), Mahindra & Mahindra elaborated on the importance of night vision on Indian roads. All stakeholders, be it semiconductor suppliers, radar suppliers, camera suppliers, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, test agencies and regulatory authorities should brainstorm and come up with cost-effective solutions that can be cross-deployed across various OEMs.

Talking at length about the various challenges confronting the Indian transport system, Tuhin Sinha, Advisor, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) said that the annual growth rate in vehicles remains unchallenged at 10-11%, as there is no vehicle rationing policy in place in India. The country has managed only 3 % reduction in road fatalities over the last two and a half years, which is way below the desired standards, he noted.

Avinash Padmappa, Business Development Manager for OPTIS Products, ANSYS India spoke about the many tools available in the market that can facilitate a created environment, be it a test track, specific region or country. The focus is on providing the real material information, bringing it into the product, and subsequently also bringing in all optical systems or camera information, sensors, the sensor position of that in your car, and how the position is going to influence the visualisation, Padmappa noted.

The second session on ADAS saw industry experts provide thought-provoking perspectives. Dr Naveen Gautam, Managing Director, Hella India Automotive and Member of the Executive Board (Business Division- Electronics), Hella said two-wheeler deaths are posing a big concern as it contributes to 34 % of road deaths in India. 50 % of two-wheeler deaths can be converted into just injuries rather than life threatening situations if vehicle users wear helmets, he added.

Acknowledging that the road user behaviour is the biggest concern area, Gautam said it is not always about being educated but also about changing the thought process and being good Samaritans to help accident victims.

Santanu Sonar, Section Head – ADAS, Continental Automotive India said there is plenty of scope for rolling out low-cost ADAS, cameras, various models to develop that focus on lane keeping and detecting lanes in all conditions. he wondered if the consumer is willing to accept the change in technology. Calling for enhanced R&D investments to pave the way for new technologies and solutions, he stated that India can adopt best practices from the mature markets.

Naveen Soni, President, SAFE and Vice President, Toyoto Kirloskar Motor urged all and sundry to shoulder responsibility for the much-needed road behavioural change. It is critical to not just talk about the technologies which come at a cost, but make them necessary as it will save lives, he added.

Raghavendra Bhat, Technical Consultant, India, South and Middle East, ANSYS highlighted the fact that automotive functional safety is a key concern, and OEMs and suppliers must conduct a full-fledged analysis of their capabilities, about what function is being provided, what malfunctions could occur, how this can be mitigated or how risks can be reduced (happening due to malfunctions). This can also lead to a significant increase in costs related to these functionalities, he added.

Mohammad Sah, Product Line Manager, Measurement and Calibration, Vector Informatik India said one of the key drivers for change in ADAS area is the ever-increasing number of sensors, which means the number of suppliers are also different. He deliberated on data fusion that pertains to software engineers (while developing such complex software for autonomous driving or ADAS) processing the information to take decision or manoeuvre the drive, and integrating the data from different sensors.

A panel discussion on titled “Keeping vehicles safe in a connected world – criticality of ADAS & Lighting” was held with Kaushik Madhavan, VP – Mobility, South Asia, Frost & Sullivan as the moderator. Panellists in the discussion included Tarun Agarwal, Sr VP (Engg), Maruti Suzuki India, Dr Naveen Gautam, Christian Haase, Prashant Kumar Banerjee and Dr Madhusudan Joshi, DGM, ICAT.

The seminar was supported by ANSYS as the Presenting Partner, Association Partner, Hella; Gold partners Continental, MSC Software and Vector; Co-Partner ATS; Supporting Partners ARAI and ICAT; and Knowledge Partner Frost & Sullivan.

Testing In Automotive Industry Is Diversifying Drastically

Formed in 2005, the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) was a major initiative of the Department of Heavy Industry, Government of India aimed at enhancing as well as bringing in top-of-the-line testing, validation and R&D infrastructure in the country. I caught up with Neeti Sarkar, CEO and Project Director, NATRiP, to know how it is addressing the diverse testing requirements of the automotive industry in the current scenario.

Give us a perspective about the operations of National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP)?

NEETI SARKAR _ The objective behind setting up the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) by the Department of Heavy Industry in 2005 was to bring in top-of-the-line automotive testing and R&D facilities in India. With the growth of the Indian auto industry, the homologation, quality and emission requirements as well as the testing arena have diversified drastically, thus necessitating the need for setting up an entity like NATRiP.

NATRiP’s focus was on setting up testing facilities – a task replete with challenges. One of the biggest challenges was to introduce state-of-the-art technology in India as very few manufacturers were from India and most technologies were sourced from abroad. Another challenge was to implement it, make it functional and simultaneously develop manpower that can support this testing. NATRiP has imbibed learnings by working closely with the auto industry and keeping itself abreast of new technologies and market demands. We want all our centres to be self-sustainable over the long-term. On that front, ARAI is already self-sustainable, while the International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT), Manesar and Global Automotive Research Centre (GARC), Chennai are expected to be on the self-sustainable path by 2018-end. VRDE, Ahmednagar is a completely Indian government facility funded by the Ministry of Defence and has been generating revenue. The National Institute for Automotive Inspection Maintenance & Training (NIAIMT), Silchar – our one-and-only training centre – and the National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX), Indore are both doing well.

Throw some light on the capabilities of ICAT, Manesar.

Formed in 2006, ICAT is one of the biggest testing centres in North India. It used to serve as the North India hub of ARAI before it came under the auspices of NATRiP. The work on the test track at ICAT is in progress and is slated to be completed by 2018-end. NATRiP recently inaugurated four testing facilities at Manesar – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH), Passive Safety Lab (PSL), Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Lab and Tyre Test Lab (TTL) at its second premises. ICAT has been focusing not just on homologation but also on development. The inception of ICAT has proved advantageous for the auto industry. Development requires a different mindset; you are not just looking at meeting the minimum requirements (needed in homologation) but also bettering that. We need to make a niche quality statement of your product and to do that, you need to test repeatedly and come up with a viable product for which you need an exclusive test facility, something ICAT provides.

NATRiP’s Rae-Bareli centre was envisioned to serve the auto industry needs of North India. Can you tell us why did this centre did not take off?

The proposed Rai Bareily centre had two main components – a testing site for tractors and off-road vehicles as well as an accident data analysis centre (ADAC). NATRiP also had drawn up plans to have a powertrain testing facility. We had endured a lot of hardships in acquiring land and when the land was finally allotted to us in 2014, we felt that the allotted location in Tirsundi was very remotely located. Given all the delay in acquiring the land, NATRiP felt it was tough to make out a sustainable business proposition and we returned the land by 2016. The ADAC used to operate from the ITI Rae Bareli premises in 2011 and was subsequently shifted to our NATRiP headquarters. All in all, shifting ADAC to our headquarters in New Delhi was a well thought-out move.

Give us a perspective about the capabilities of ADAC?

ADAC provides key differentiators and had inked an MoU with IIT Delhi during the 2015-17 period. As part of the MoU, ADAC conducted extensive studies of accidents occurring on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. Although this engagement started as a MoRTH project, it was basically a project between ADAC and IIT Delhi. ADAC has two top-of-the-line mobile crash vans that are fully instrumented and advanced. These mobile crash vans rush to the spot whenever an accident occurs. These vans are equipped with trained engineers, who take immediate on-the-spot evidences as to how the crash might have occurred or what could be the contributing factors. It tracks how much is the impact on the vehicle and on passengers, how the vehicle behaviour is impacting passengers or pedestrians, or study if there was any other vehicle involved in the accident. Another key factor is how much has the road contributed to the accident in terms of blind spots – an area where MoRTH has conducted an extensive survey.

ADAC engineers are able to reconstruct the accident in a scientific manner and are able to bring up factors that might have contributed to the accident. ADAC has so far conducted 249 accident studies, including in-depth studies of 30-odd accidents, including the famous Volvo bus fire accident. ADAC is in talks with various state governments to attend to blind spots and accident prone patches on roads, where our expertise can help bring down fatalities. The focus is on bringing about design and engineering changes on roads so that fatalities can be saved in case of an accident.

How has GARC developed in the last few years?

GARC, Chennai has homologation and developmental facilities similar to ICAT, Manesar. The test tracks at GARC were inaugurated last year, while it is also working on an EMC lab, passive safety lab and crash test. NATRiP is confident about completing all these facilities by 2018-end and offer to the auto industry 2019 onwards. 

NIAIMT in Silchar is addressing the critical need of training. Can you tell us more?

NIAIMT, Silchar is a unique centre comprising of three business units – Driver Training Institute (DTI), Mechanics Training Institute (MTI) and Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Station (IMS). All these units are fully automated. The centre has two fixed and two mobile lanes. The mobile lanes are a unique concept. For example, if an RTO wants to check a particular vehicle at a certain location, but the vehicle cannot be brought to Silchar – these two mobile lanes swing in action. The vehicle is run over these mobile lanes and it gives you the test results in about 20 min, eliminating the need for location dependencies.

MoRTH had notified that all commercial vehicles must be checked for fitness once a year, but it was not implemented in letter and spirit. The ministry has now made an amendment in the Motor Vehicle Act proposing that this should be made mandatory. On the fitness lane, around six tests are conducted simultaneously on a vehicle. A vehicle owner almost immediately knows whether this vehicle is fit or which vehicle parameter is on the edge or has crossed the limit – it helps you analyse your vehicle.

NATRiP has suggested various state governments to start a fitness testing culture in their departments before it is adopted across the country. Today, there is greater awareness among transporters that vehicle breakdown is far more costly than actually repairing it on time. After all, no truck owner would want his vehicle to get stranded on a highway for hours. Ride-hailing players like Ola and Uber are using this fitness lane for optimum performance.

What update can you share on the testing capabilities at National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX) Indore?

National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX), Indore is basically a proving ground and operates as many as 13 tracks. Inaugurated in January this year, these tracks provide different types of severity meant for testing, including gradient, harshness, different types of surface for different types of vehicles (two-wheelers, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, trucks, buses, trucks, tyre manufacturers). NATRiP has put in place a high speed track of 11.4 Km that was built by L&T, who had subcontracted it to Nippo – a firm with extensive knowhow of building such tracks for private OEMs.  

How would you assess NATRiP’s testing facilities compared to global standards?

ARAI and ICAT are already catering to customers as per global standards. GARC will go on the same line once it is fully operational. It is important to understand that ARAI, ICAT, GARC and NATRAX are dedicated to tracks and vehicle dynamics, while the focus areas of NIAIMT and ADAC are different.

Given the upcoming regulations with regards to emissions and fuel efficiency, how is NATRiP equipped to meet the market demands?

NATRiP has been consistently walking down the upgradation path – both ARAI and ICAT are offering BS VI-compliant services to the automotive industry, while GARC and NATRAX are also in the process of upgrading – this should happen by 2018-end. NIAIMT does not get affected because it is mostly dealing with human resource and ADAC is an absolutely new concept.

Monday, October 15, 2018

There Is No Doubt That Electric Mobility Is Irreversible

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) – a joint venture of four public sector undertakings – NTPC Ltd, Power Finance Corporation Ltd, Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (set up under the Ministry of Power, Government of India) – has been at the forefront of India’s ambitious electric mobility programme. I caught up with Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, EESL, for a detailed understanding of its roadmap in creating an EV ecosystem.

EESL has been championing the cause of electrical vehicles in India. How would you assess the overall EV push in India?

There are a few regulatory gaps that existed as far as electric mobility is concerned. Of course, the first key thing in electromobility is the creation of public charging infrastructure and for that you need standards and commercially viable tariffs, so that people are encouraged to put up these charging stations. There is a need for clear regulatory mechanisms, both in terms of fiscal incentives and non-fiscal incentives, rebates, etc. All these need to happen before you see a full blown e-mobility in India like you see in Scandinavian countries, China or some parts of Europe. The government is working on these areas.

A lot of things need to be factored in. It’s a new technology after all – you have to look at grid stability, what kind of prices will come up, which are the technologies that you have to leverage, what charging specifications need to be adopted. Clearly, it’s a long drawn out process but EESL is giving a fillip to this whole exercise by specifically focusing on e-mobility in the government vehicles space. As per our estimates, the Central Government, its agencies, PSUs, etc have roughly half a million cars.

The government has virtually stopped buying new cars over the last 25-30 years. The economy instructions came into force in early 90s, which meant that you can’t buy new cars. Most of the government vehicles are leased vehicles. The objective is to start electrifying the government fleet, especially those hired cars that travel not less than 80 km during the day (intra-city travel) and that’s how ESSL started this whole exercise. The first set of cars EESL procured has a range of 130 km, which is sufficient for replacing these government intra-city vehicles.

EESL offered government agencies three models. First, you can carry out an outright purchase and we’ll add some administrative cost to whatever cost we’ve incurred through the bidding process and the car is yours. The second model is a wet lease, where EESL offers the government entity the car along with a driver for eight hours, for a monthly cost of ` 40,000. The third model is dry lease, where a government department take the car and deploy its own driver at a monthly cost of ` 20,000. From the first phase of its international competitive bidding process, ESSL procured 250 cars from Tata Motors and 150 from Mahindra. As many as 200 cars are currently used by various government agencies. The next lot of 9,600 cars will be evenly procured from Tata Motors and Mahindra.

EESL has issued the letter of award for these 9,600 cars and has indicated when it wants these cars. We want to wrap up this process, which will ensure roll-out of roughly 1,000 electric vehicles every month, as soon as possible.

What kind of support have you been receiving from the State governments?

ESSL is witnessing encouraging participation from the State governments. We have inked MoUs with the Andhra Pradesh government for 10,000 electric vehicles as well with the Gujarat government for 8,000 electric vehicles. We feel that more states will gradually follow suit. EESL does not want to rush because the EV manufacturing capacity in India is still in its nascent stage. We have now floated the second tender. This tender is important as it will enable us to understand whether other players are keen to jump into the fray (apart from Tata Motors and Mahindra). The point is, if we have four to five players in the fray, then reaching out to more states makes more sense.

EESL for now is only focusing on government vehicles. We have installed around 400 charging stations for the first lot of vehicles procured from Tata Motors and Mahindra. A large chunk of these vehicles is availing AC charging points. A car that travels 80-100 km a day does not need multiple charging during the day; all it needs is overnight charging with a 15 A plug, with some safety device that does not cost more than ` 6,000. DC chargers are expensive (approximately ` 2.5 lakh) and can charge in 90 min. EESL has deployed AC charging simply because the specific requirement of the government fleet is less than 100 km a day.

As far as public charging infrastructure in concerned, there is a lack of clarity over selling electricity and the power ministry is looking into it. EESL’s EV focus is not in conflict with any quarter because the payment for charging stations is done by respective government departments. We are only putting up charging points and not selling power.

I believe fuel stations will have to turn into charging stations of tomorrow. There is no need for fast charging at offices and parking lots as one can charge the car for three hours, while in office. However, these fuel stations can be fast chargers. If you look at global trends, you will be surprised to know that only 30 % of electric vehicles avail fast charging. For example, on an average, a car in India is used for around 30 km and these cars have a range of 130 km.

It’s not only about the cost; people will not buy EVs unless they see charging stations everywhere, which is the case with fuel stations. Once all regulatory issues are addressed, you will see a robust charging infrastructure in India that will trigger fast-paced adoption of e-mobility. The running cost of an EV is ` 1.10/km, while the running cost of petrol and diesel cars per km are ` 6 and ` 5.50 respectively and are only growing.

I agree that the capital cost of EVs is slightly higher and most nations across the globe are providing capital subsidy. My take is that instead of doling out capital subsidy, it is better to offer incentives such as waiving-off road tax, registration charges or maybe dole out an interest subsidy. Providing a new green number plate is also a good thought. It is only a matter of time before the cost of EVs will come down. Battery comprises around 70 % of an EV’s cost, and the battery cost has come down by one-fifth over the last five years.

What is your take on the concept of battery swapping?

I think battery swapping is a good option for smaller vehicles like two-wheelers and three-wheelers as well as buses (both inter-city and intra-city buses as they can do the swapping at bus depots that typically have big spaces). I don’t think battery swapping is possible for cars. If you really want swapping stations to work in cars, we must ensure availability of such stations in main commercial areas and the service offered must be quick. Globally, battery swapping in cars hasn’t worked.

Industry experts believe that EVs will be taken in a big way by two-wheelers, three-wheelers and intra-city users. There is a general thinking that IC engines will stay for long distance commercial vehicles. What’s your take on the personal mobility segment embracing EVs?

The personal mobility space may adopt EVs much faster than most of us actually think. There is an inherent economic justification in switching from ICE to EV. In India, we have seen that people are willing to invest at high capital cost if their operating costs are lower. Take the example of a diesel car. Look at any model that has both petrol and diesel variants; you will see that diesel variant always has 20 % more capital cost, but people still invest in it because it has proved beneficial in the long run. As for EVs taking off in India is concerned, it is all about creating charging infrastructure and building public awareness and things will happen.

There is talk that the modular approach of importing batteries and controllers from abroad and assembling it in India isn’t quite the right recipe – what’s your take on indigenous battery cell manufacturing making EVs more affordable?

Well, various studies have shown that the battery cost is $ 200 per kWh and is expected to come down $ 100-110 per kWh by 2022. Some analysts are saying that it will bridge the 100-dollar mark, if the India demand comes into the picture. It’s all about creating an enabling policy and demand.

EESL has been recommending to the government to make an announcement to electrify its whole government fleet over the next three to four years. The point is, if you announce half a million cars in three to four years, it will generate a demand of at least three to four gigawatt hour of battery sold. Why will people not come to India and invest? It is not hard to change from ICE to EVs and Tata has shown that by putting up a car in three to four months.

What is your view on the relevance of Internal Combustion Engines?

My line of thinking is that ICEs will co-exist with electric vehicles. If you look at all the projections in India as well as globally, it indicate that the growth of ICEs may reduce but there is a long way to go before EVs takes over everything else. It is crystal clear worldwide that the future of mobility is electric. Of course, alternate research is happening on hydrogen fuel cells and zinc oxide, but there is no doubt that electric mobility is irreversible. The objective is to reduce the country’s import bill and for that to happen embracing EVs in a big way is the way forward.