India’s National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure project has aroused great interest from European counterparts which are keen on outsourcing some services, says Taarun Dalaya.
The other big advantage would be the latest and more advanced equipment that the project would procure compared to what most of the existing European agencies possess. Perhaps it is from sensing this scenario that the project’s detailed project implementation report foresaw Natrip to be exporting services worth $ 3 billion every year. It is not just testing and certification agencies that have approached it but several OEMs from Europe, companies from neighbouring Asian countries and governments. Australia too has shown interest.
Many OEMs overseas realise that the new products being launched by them, meant for the Asian region and their testing in Asian conditions, can be done at Natrip. There are some OEMs which do not have operations in India but are in contact with Natrip and have expressed the wish to do a lot of business -– some advanced testing like Euro 5 emission testing, fatigue testing, mileage accumulation, etc. Natrip will be definitely offering these facilities eventually. Three centres of Natrip, namely International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) in Manesar, the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) in Pune and the Global Automotive Research Centre in Chennai, would offer such services.
“The governments of some countries are finding out what level of stringencies Natrip would follow and if they can accept the certification that we will give. All this without India having signed the 1958 agreement of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe 's (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations where mutual recognition of testing facility is accorded to signatory countries”, says Chaturvedi.
Known in short as WP-29, India joined this forum by being a signatory to what is known as the 1998 agreement and is considering signing the complex 1958 agreement as well, except that it needs to carefully look at certain commercial bindings. Chaturvedi is a member of the committee that is advising the Indian government on the implications and helping it to take a decision. Natrip has also started participating in the deliberations of a large number of agencies of the Indian government. It is a member of the Technical Standing Committee of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR). Hence it now has a say in the formulation of regulations. It is also a part of the Automotive Industries Standards Committee.
##### The attention that Natrip has been getting from overseas, besides India, is not because it has been marketing itself aggressively. Chaturvedi clarifies that formal marketing of the organisation’s facilities will only take place once the ground activities have taken a bit of momentum. “We are thinking of launching a global marketing initiative towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year as we would be quite mature by then and we can easily market what all is available with us to the automotive industry” he says.
Natrip has however been making presentations in conferences in India and abroad and has also been reported in well-known overseas publications without canvassing for publicity. This, Chaturvedi acknowledges, has brought a lot of potential customer focus on the organisation. Another plus for Natrip has been the MoU it has signed with the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) of UK. The VCA is a British government body which is involved in homologation and certification activities worldwide with a presence in several countries and now in India too.
Natrip’s engineers are being currently trained by the VCA to hone their certification skills. This partnership is expected to garner a lot of business not just from India but globally. On April 10, ICAT became the latest homologation agency of India (like ARAI) after it received Type Approval certification powers under Rule 126 of the CMVR. The government of Haryana has allotted an additional 42 acres and that has been transferred to ICAT. According to Chaturvedi, this centre is already doing homologation for OEMs in India now, including a large two-wheeler manufacturer.
In the first year itself, against its target of earning revenue amounting to Rs 4 crore, ICAT has earned about Rs 6 crore in FY 2006-07. It achieved breakeven in the first year itself, with a figure that includes depreciation. Its targeted revenue for next year is Rs 11 crores and Chaturvedi is confident that this would be achieved.
There will now be competition between ARAI and ICAT, which the director believes, is the idea. He says, “Already some level of competitive spirit has emerged and it is healthy. ARAI will not lag behind as on the whole the pie has increased and, as in any new centre, it will take time to build all the capabilities. “However I cannot deny that there will be an initial impact on ARAI. But it is a partner and we are working together. Eventually the testing certification business will get distributed among the three centres”.
Chaturvedi feels that ultimately 4-5 years down the line, homologation or regulatory testing certification would constitute only about 20 to 25 percent of overall revenue earned. The balance would come from advanced engineering services such as assisting clients develop new products. Natrip has also begun working on providing conformity of production certification where a vehicle introduced in the market is required to be re-tested every six months.
On the progress in land acquisition, Natrip is going to be in possession of all the sites except the one at Rae Bareilly. Land availability at this place was held up during the tenure of Uttar Pradesh’s former Mulayam Singh Yadav government. But it should be available with Natrip, by the time this article goes to press, as the new government of UP has indicated the location of 487 acres of agricultural farmland.
##### GREEN INITIATIVES
Land for the Indore-based proving ground called National Automotive Test Tracks, Natrax in short, is expected to be available by July this year. Out of a total requirement of 4,100 acres, 700 have already been transferred to Natrip while 3,400 acres, which were in the process of being acquired, got mired in compensation issues. Chaturvedi is of the understanding that the government of Madhya Pradesh is reviewing the rehabilitation package. Only 140 families will be displaced and will be relocated in a residential area close to Pithampur.
According to Chaturvedi, Natrip “as a gesture to alleviate the pains of transition of these people" has decided to fund the common infrastructure of the new site of these families. It has already released around Rs 2.5 crore to the MP government which will be used for funding improved roads, water supply, a school and a primary health centre. In the case of ARAI, the additional land which belonged to it and which was earlier classified as forest land has been cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee. A clearance from the ministry of environment and forests is now awaited. Land at Chennai and Silchar is already in Natrip’s hands.
Natrip, Chaturvedi claims, has been sensitive to the environment. The horticultural plan of each site has formed a very strong component of the overall project. Efforts are being made to conserve every tree. Wherever it is not possible to keep the tree at a current location, it is trying to engage experts to assist in the relocation. The environment ministry has exempted all Natrip projects from environment impact assessment clearance.
“We have pledged to plant more than 50,000 trees over all seven centres,” Chaturvedi says. The project is also making sure that it will be responsible in the consumption of energy. All its buildings will make optimum use of natural lighting and have been designed as “green buildings” even in terms of the building material that will be used. Solar energy will be used in a big way – for streetlights, common services and non-critical applications of energy. Water conservation will include water harvesting in six of the centres.
WIND TUNNEL TESTING
The designing of the centres will go through three stages–preliminary designing, definitive designing and, finally, detailed designing. Natrip has crossed the first and second stages and as soon it completes the third stage, it will float tenders to start construction. One of the most important facilities that Natrip will be proud of possessing is the climatic wind tunnel facility to be located at Indore.
Chaturvedi, along with the secretary of the department of heavy industries had, some months ago, visited DaimlerChrysler’s famous wind tunnel at Auburn Hills.They got to see what a wind tunnel could do to promote the development of an automotive industry in a country like India. The secretary was very impressed and asked Chaturvedi if Natrip would possess a wind tunnel.
When the latter replied saying that they could not because of fund constraints, the secretary promised that additional funds would be given and such a facility must be installed. Natrip has therefore sent a proposal to the relevant government ministry outlining the blueprint for such a facility. Once this is cleared, the organisation will have added clout to the variety of its proposed cutting-edge services and will bring the world closer to its doors.
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