Arvind Balaji, joint managing director, Lucas TVS, spoke to Autocar Professional's Sumantra B Barooah on the sidelines of the Auto Expo - Components Show 2018 last month.
Are you are taking new steps to prepare your company to tap the new megatrends and where do you see the maximum opportunity?
The way we are doing it is that we are placing our bets in three major areas. The IC engine will continue to be a major part of our business. No matter which projection you look at, it will continue to be there for a while to come. So, we have got products that are BS VI-ready, ready for the way IC engine is going. That is one set.
The second thing is electrification. I think it will happen step by step, depending on the segment. First, it will happen in the e-rickshaw, e-auto and e-bikes. So, that's the first set of products we are launching. We have an e-rickshaw with our motor. I think it's a pretty good motor. Everything is imported today. We have now developed an Indian design, and Indian-manufactured solution. We should have it in production this year.
The third is basically connected vehicles. So, you have seen in the bike a digital dashboard, silent start, remote control. These would be useful both in IC-engined and electric bikes. It doesn't matter what it is. Each has its own journey. We will have to see where it goes, but these are the main trends. We had a technology demonstrator (at the Auto Expo) to show customers what we can do and we had a fantastic response.
Talking about motors, there's also a focus on reducing the dependence on rare earth materials used for motors. Is Lucas TVS also working on this front?
We have tried to see as much as possible to use ferrite magnets. We are also working on some motor technologies for the future which won't. Induction motor is a very old technology that doesn't need magnets. But there are other technologies also. There will be an issue, I think, in the long term, when this thing happens, because China is a big supplier of rare earth magnets. We are aware of that and we are trying to see what we should do to help in that game.
How much investment have you set aside?
Everybody asks about investments. It sounds nice, but the real issue is four years ago we put a team of engineers only to focus on this. It's more our mindset. We didn't look at turnover, investments or anything. We just put in to develop the technology. Now that we have it, it looks nice, but it took us four years of people working on it.
How big was the team dedicated to developing these technologies?
Decent size team but I can't say because the same engineers also work on other projects. I have an advanced engineering department that only focuses on future technologies. So, in that, this is one of the projects.
As the industry evolves, could some of your business verticals become redundant over time?
Yes, of course. That's why we are starting new verticals. The goal is to constantly re-invent ourselves and have new lines of business that will sustain in the future.
In the fast-changing automotive industry landscape, everyone seems to be again in the learning phase. Does this enable Indian suppliers to move from catching up with global companies to be at par, or even lead, in some areas?
It gives us actually a chance to catch up. We are not starting from that far back. And I think this discontinuity is a great opportunity for us who have invested in technology to try to see whether we can make a move.
Are you also looking at autonomous technology?
We have not done anything on that, honestly. I am not even looking at that. I am looking at just our core technology of mechatronics and electronics. That's where we are staying. That's (autonomous) a completely different animal, which is the ability to sense what is happening in the vehicle. We are not spending time on that. Neither are we a steering player nor are we a braking player. We don't have that area, so we are focused on this area.
Anything on the safety front?
Well, wipers are a safety item. We are working on that but not on airbags and that kind of stuff. We are working on some projects on those areas, but when it comes we will. Nothing really at this point of time.