Mahindra opens R&D factory
Mahindra & Mahindra has invested Rs 650 crore in its most ambitious vehicle project till date – the XUV500.
A tour of the facility gives one a fair idea of what M&M is up to. The engineers in the 34 labs conduct research ranging from new engine platforms to vehicle platforms to next generation-electric vehicles.
The key developments that will see the light of day within a few years will be in the form of products in both Mahindra’s and SsangYong’s showrooms. Engineers from both companies have jointly begun work on a new engine platform. “One variant of that platform has done its ‘first firing’. It should be ready in 18 months,” reveals DrPawanGoenka, president, automotive and farm equipment sectors, M&M, and chairman, SsangYong.
The new engine family will have six variants which will go into both Mahindra and SsangYong vehicles. The engines “will not be identical” but will come from the same line and will be 80 to 90 percent common. Usually, M&M hasn’t developed engines in tandem with new models. “This will change now. Engines will be ready six months before a vehicle’s launch,” says DrGoenka.
Work is also underway at MRV on a dual clutch transmission (DCT) which experts say gives vehicles better energy efficiency and driving comfort than conventional automatic transmission. M&M is partnering with a European consultant to develop the DCT.
Alternate propulsion technologies
A team of over 40 engineers along with a European consultant is also working on hybrid technology. “Full-fledged hybrids will be ready in three years,” says a confident DrGoenka. M&M’s micro hybrid/stop-start technology is finding a growing market through its SUVs and pick-ups and will now be introduced in SsangYong’s vehicles.
Tests on bio-diesel technology are also being run simultaneously. M&M has outsourced testing of 100 percent bio-diesel in Scorpios which have clocked 50,000km. Currently, the Scorpio can run on B10, or diesel blended with 10 percent bio-diesel.
Engineers are also at work on new-generation technologies such as electric and hydrogen vehicles. Work is already on to develop the next-generation electric vehicle powertrain where Mahindra Reva (acquired by M&M in May 2010) is taking the lead. M&M, which will roll out the NXR EV later this year, says it will be ready to launch the next-generation EV in three to four years.
Focus on lightweighting
M&M has earmarked a Rs 30-50 crore investment on weight reduction R&D and MRV has set up a separate 100-member team to develop lightweighting technologies. RajanWadhera, chief executive, product development, technology and sourcing, says: “We are working on a set of 12-13 technologies focused on reducing weight. Our aim is to reduce the weight of an SUV by upto 250kg.”
DrGoenka, an R&D person at heart, admits that even M&M which he says has done well in product development needs to raise the bar in advancing technologies. “The environment at MRV will be conducive for creativity,” he says. The infrastructure at MRV will also reduce M&M’s dependence on external agencies and suppliers like ARAI and AVL. DrGoenka admits the infrastructure for various R&D works has been more of ‘jugaad’ (makeshift) facilities so far. “But it is something that showcases Indian engineers’ abilities in frugal engineering rather than something to be embarrassed about.” But jugaad facilities are able to play a limited role. This is why M&M has invested in various testing facilities for NVH, transmission, fatigue testing and others. The new facilities may provide engineers the best but DrGoenka worries that they may take away the frugal engineering capabilities of his engineers honed in the ‘jugaad’ facilities all these years.
What MRV lacks at present is a chassis dynamometer, crash test facility and a wind tunnel. The company is set to invest in the chassis dynamometer facility very soon, but has refrained from developing its own crash test facility. Instead, it plans to utilise SsangYong’s crash test facility, which will help bring down costs.
Back in 1993, when DrGoenka shifted from General Motors, USA to M&M in India, there were 50 engineers in the company’s R&D team. This number has grown to 3,000 now. And from spending Rs 30-40 crore, or roughly 0.5 percent of its sales revenue in 1993, M&M’s R&D spend has risen to Rs 750 crore, or three percent of the sales revenue, last year. It’s still much lesser than global OEMs but it reflects the increasingly strong focus to build in-house capabilities to strengthen R&D required to move into new territories globally.
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