MIRA sets up shop in India

The engineering consultancy firm with a difference finally sets up shop in India, more than a decade after it won its first contract here.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 03 Jan 2012 Views icon5992 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
MIRA sets up shop in India
It’s everything that the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) is intended to be. And much more.It’s the only independent vehicle engineering firm in the world that can boast a proving ground with 93 miles of test track and 35 major test facilities including full-scale wind tunnels, climatic cells, and NCAP-certifying crash labs.

All in one location, not scattered over six sites.It’s at the cutting edge of low-carbon and electric vehicle development, advanced driver-assistance and pedestrian-protection systems, and intelligent transportation, technologies it sees heightened interest in, both worldwide and in India.It’s 65 years old, it’s British, and it’s globalising aggressively.It’s MIRA Ltd.

And it has now followed in the footsteps of its Austro-Canadian peer Magna Steyr, establishing an engineering office in Pune in an equal-interest joint venture with British-owned powertrain CAE services specialist Caepro Technologies.

The JV will give Indian clients “improved access” to MIRA’s full breadth of engineering capability and depth of development expertise spanning the spectrum of land vehicles from two- and three-wheelers through passenger cars and trucks to off-highway, agricultural, and defence vehicles, according to MIRA business development director Geoff Davis.

The accent is on the “non-powertrain” technologies in a vehicle, though services available will include full-vehicle and systems engineering, integration, test, development, validation, and certification — a “mini-MIRA offering”, Davis calls it.

Caepro MD John Roebuck will double as managing director of MIRA Caepro Pvt Ltd, which officially opens for business at the Auto Expo with Davis and MIRA’s CEO George Gillespie on hand to announce the partnership to its existing and prospective clients.

The three will then go visiting “target” customers to elicit input that will enable the joint venture to develop a business model optimised for the Indian market. “As a joint venture we can be cleverer with the use of resources [than MIRA would be alone] and give Indian customers access to world-leading industry best practice with significant cost benefits,” Roebuck told this correspondent in an interview together with Davis.

The idea is to provide local clients with a progressively increasing local delivery and development capability, with MIRA in the UK in the background providing expertise and guidance. Over time, more and more capabilities will be built up on the ground, Roebuck said. Not just in analysis, which is what Caepro does now, but in actual attribute engineering — noise and vibration, ride and handling, vehicle dynamics, and durability.

Rather than open up a sales office, or continue with its country representative, partnering with Caepro allows MIRA – uniquely – to come up with local-cost offerings. By contrast, the classic “European imported” operations of most of its competitors (except Magna Steyr) all have a European cost base. Moreover, dialogue with customers, Roebuck explained, will help ensure that the JV has a “really competitive” value proposition in this extremely price-sensitive market. “Often firms come here, get themselves a nice expensive office, pay expat salaries, have people fly back and forth in business class… So what price benefit do customers actually see? I’m fairly doubtful they see any.”

Another key consideration in the partnership is that the JV will serve as a low-cost in-house CAE team for MIRA. “We currently outsource CAE activities to various partners around the world, but it’s clearly in our interest to outsource exclusively to Caepro,” Davis said, pointing to “commercial benefits” of undertaking CAE activity here rather than in the UK, be that on Indian or other programmes.

Davis, a former Ricardo engineer (like Roebuck) who joined MIRA two years ago, said he’s seen in the benefits of moving from a “single sales representative model” to an engineering entity. Having a “local presence” and a local cost structure in any market has a “great benefit” on margin, he pointed out. “It shows you are committed to the market, and the customer base acknowledges that.”

The downside, of course, is that MIRA will have to split revenues with Caepro. But Davis expects an increased turnover, simply because the JV’s “cost-effectiveness” will make it more attractive for Indian OEMs. “By being able to offer more activity locally we’ll clearly have an advantage when costing for programmes, and that should enable us to win more of them,” he said. In the delivery of projects it obviously helps to have a local team delivering part of the project or involved as part of the client liaison. But that’s not all — as vehicle programmes MIRA Caepro engages in grow in number and scope, the level of hardcore local engineering input will be increased till at some point the JV is able to deliver complete work packages out of India, maybe with some support from the UK.

“Starting with advanced CFD (computational fluid dynamics), NVH, and durability analysis, it will gradually start to add local project management. The intention is that it will eventually have full turnkey local capability for small projects, and contribute significantly to much bigger programmes,” Davis emphasised.

And though it will somewhat simplify access for Indian OEMs to one of the world’s most comprehensive independent test and validation facilities, MIRA Caepro nevertheless wants to “align itself with local test providers” so that it is in a position one day to be able to provide fully local solutions, he said. “Rather than having to ship the vehicle to the UK, we could potentially do the testing here to validate the simulation results of our analysis in India.”

Engineering behind the styling

While its poster developments of late have been in the area of “alternative powertrains” – a Jaguar XJ hybrid limousine and a hybrid 4WD version of the Škoda Octavia combi, – MIRA is also a leader in passive safety engineering, having been responsible for crash structural design and occupant protection for cars as diverse as Mercedes-Benz’s decadent SLR McLaren and Gordon Murray’s radical T.25 concept.

It also has a long tradition in the clean-sheet design of commercial vehicle “platforms” that goes back to projects it did for Leyland Trucks, at one time the world’s leading truckmaker. Since 2006 it has engaged in a global development partnership with Torino Design in which the two undertake truck and bus styling projects jointly, and then MIRA conducts a lot of the “engineering behind the styling” — developing critical attributes such as durability and handling.

The company independently designs chassis structures for a diversity of commercial vehicle concepts and wheel configurations; works on thermal management, aerodynamic performance, and crash capability; and tests and validates components. With possibly the most extensive library of durability cycles for the lab testing of trucks and buses for emerging markets in South America and Asia, including China and India, available anywhere, it can – and does – also “help clients get through certification”.

“We have comprehensive expertise in the truck and bus sector. We have good experience in India, and a good reputation with the likes of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland,” Davis said. Asked explicitly whether MIRA is involved in engineering Ashok Leyland’s NextGen cab, known to have been styled by Torino Design, all he said was: “That would be a good example of how Torino Design and MIRA would work.”

In the defence sector, MIRA is “heavily involved” in supporting the UK Ministry of Defence not just in tuning existing vehicles for specific missions but also in developing both “relatively high volume” vehicles and unique concepts for niche applications. One field MIRA is “very strong” in is unmanned vehicles for hazardous or high-threat environments, human exposure to which is best avoided — in particular, the autonomous type that make their own decisions about how to get to a destination.

“We can develop vehicles that identify threats and obstacles and navigate their own paths, and we are doing that currently for the UK MoD,” Davis said. “We also have a number of discussions ongoing, both with Indian and other Ministry-of-Defence equivalents, on unmanned projects.”

MIRA is also willing to help existing commercial vehicle manufacturers who have defence offerings to optimise their chassis architectures to make use of the maximum of carryover parts from series production, he pointed out. “We haven’t got business in India at the moment, but we have got discussions ongoing with Indian clients and clearly the joint venture will pick that up.”
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