So in which direction are two-wheeler electronics headed? According to Vinay Harne, president, New Product Initiatives, TVS Motor Company, “Electronics for two-wheelers can be broadly classified into four areas – safety, fuel economy, emissions and entertainment. Safety includes innovations like anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Fuel economy largely encompasses fuel injection systems; start-stop and hybrids are interesting emission-reducing technologies.
Finally, entertainment, which is still only marginal in scope, will include communication and music systems. Priorities for Indian buyers are obviously safety, economy and emissions. As for entertainment, even if five percent of the market buys these products, it presents an interesting opportunity for development.”
TVS took the lead in offering ABS on bikes in India with the recent launch of the Apache RTR 180 ABS. The ABS-equipped bike costs approximately Rs 10,000 more than the standard model. The response to the bike has been positive if limited only to enthusiasts for now. TVS was also among the first Indian manufacturers to offer fuel-injection on a bike, the Apache RTR 160 EFI.
But what’s really interesting is TVS’ on-going hybrid scooter project. The manufacturer used the 2010 Auto Expo in New Delhi as a platform to showcase its smart QUBE 2.0 petrol-electric hybrid concept. Said to be in an advanced state of development, the QUBE 2.0 could form the basis for India’s first hybrid scooter. (Hybrid Scootys were provided to the organisers).
Given the availability of such technology on cars, one could reasonably ask why the delay in their application on two-wheelers. Elaborating on the subject, Harne says: “Most advanced electronics first see application in aeronautics. From there, they find use on four-wheelers. And finally, the same technologies filter down to two-wheelers. For instance, even as little as 10 years ago, ABS was a feature only found on high-end cars. Today, ABS is available on many small cars as well. So it’s always a matter of time before there is mass acceptance, sometimes a result of necessity.”
Unquestionably costs also play a large role here. “For any new technology, the price points for application on cars and bikes are different. For instance, if a fuel-injection system costs Rs 25,000, it is six percent of a car’s cost. Now, to keep a typical Indian bike affordable, the price of the system should not exceed Rs 4,000. The challenges of packaging for use on a bike and low-cost targets call for innovation. So in our opinion, two-wheeler application can actually contribute to bringing prices down for the entire industry,” says Harne.
For buyers, increasing electronic content will add to prices. Harne foresees prices for budget bikes to go up by Rs 300-500 on account of electronic ignitions and magnetos. Executive bike buyers can expect prices to increase in the region of Rs 1000 for start-stop and remote start functions. Hybridising a bike will add Rs 10,000 to the price of a bike. This would include the cost of hybrid motor controls, ECUs and battery management systems.
About two to three percent of TVS Motors' annual turnover is invested in R&D. Of this 30-40 percent is employed for development of electronics.
We may still be some time off seeing mechanical devices being replaced by electronic ones on two-wheelers but as an area of development, electronics is definitely gaining thrust.