2012 South India Special: Continental taps India base for low-cost ride

Continental’s ‘Simplify your Drive’ (SyD) concept takes personalisation to the next level, enabling car owners to change the look and feel of their vehicles by switching between different preconfigured driving profiles

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 31 Jul 2012 Views icon2426 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
2012 South India Special: Continental taps India base for low-cost ride
India has the distinction of being the preferred base for low-cost engineering. It also has the dubious distinction of being No.1 in the number of road fatalities every year. German component major Continental is trying to address the problem via the technology route.

The two-wheeler space is a major focus. Continental is currently developing a low-cost anti-lock braking system (ABS) for two-wheelers. It is the supplier to the TVS Apache, the first Indian two-wheeler to offer ABS as an option.

“We are working on an ABS system which would be even cheaper than the one supplied to TVS. This version is designed to be usable in even regular commuter bikes, without pushing up the price significantly,” says Joachim Nell, head of technical centre and director, affordable cars strategy, in an interview to Autocar Professional.

Continental also supplies ABS for four-wheelers. As volumes grow, it plans to localise the systems, which in turn will also help it drive down their costs. “We will localise the assembly of ABS. We will also offer to other customers products which will go into production in the next few years,” says Claude d’Gama Rose, MD, Continental Automotive Components India. The ABS products will be made at the Manesar plant.

The volume of the Indian two-wheeler market, the world’s second largest, and the opportunity of technological improvement make it sound business sense for Continental to tap its global expertise to develop new products for emerging markets. Cost remains a challenge. For example, one of the ABS products could be targeted for bikes priced in the Rs 40,000 range also. Continental’s 600-engineer-strong tech centre in Bangalore plays a key role in leveraging its technological prowess and low-cost solutions available within the company's global operations.

Continental’s expertise is in mechatronics. The commercial vehicle and aftermarket division (two-wheeler business falls under it) is working on solutions to replace mechanical instruments with digital ones in two-wheelers. It is estimated that electronics has penetrated only 20 percent of the two-wheeler volume. “We have started work on a new low-cost platform of micro-controllers. We are exploring new material to bring down the cost as much as possible,” says Hemal Shah, head – CV and aftermarket, Continental Automotive Components. Shah adds that Continental has bagged the mandate to supply electronic instrument clusters to Honda’s Kumamoto plant in Japan. It also supplies to Yamaha.

Continental’s R&D team in Bangalore has managed to bring down costs significantly. For example, the cost of a particular electronic cluster has been brought down by almost half compared to its European version. This is in line with one of the megatrends that the company is heavily focusing on. “We see the megatrend of affordability running across global markets but it is coming from the newer, emerging markets. The objective is to satisfy the aspiration of mobility, not just among high earners but among the middle class also. Understanding affordability actually comes from emerging markets,” says Rose.

On the two-wheeler side, Continental has several projects. Stop-start is one among them. The system, it says, reduces fuel consumption by 10 percent in the regular riding cycle. But given the relatively longer waiting periods in Indian riding conditions, savings will be more. Fuel injection system is another. “We have a very competitive fuel efficiency system in terms of cost and is specific for India and China,” says JoergLaatsch, VP, Engine Systems India Asean, ContinentalAutomotive Components India. To put costs in perspective, Laatsch points out that a fuel injection system will be 2-3 times less in costs than the system for premium bikes in Europe.

Shah also points out that OEMs have prepared themselves to offer better technology through higher electronic content, but haven’t introduced them due to the cost factor. New regulations like the BS IV norm for two-wheelers, expected to be effective in 2014, are expected to help increase electronic content. For example, fuel injection systems will then be preferred in order to meet the emission norm. Other electronic features such as a tyre pressure monitoring system and one innovative technology to filter unnecessary revving of the engine are also on the cards.

With the maturing of the industry, Continental is set to play a more active role in the coming years. The 30 billion Euro company earned around five billion Euros from Asia during 2011. The setting up of a new $36 million R&D centre in Singapore encapsulates the Continental board’s growing focus on this region.

Continental personalises driving

Continental’s ‘Simplify your Drive’ (SyD) concept takes personalisation to the next level, enabling car owners to change the look and feel of their vehicles by switching between different preconfigured driving profiles.

The concept has been extensively modified to meet Indian needs. Based on driving profile, functions such as engine and chassis settings are automatically configured together with the Human Machine Interface such as displays, interior lighting and force feedback pedal.

Autocar Professional checked out Continental’s prototype demo car which had three configuration settings: Work, Play and Home. We were surprised with how effortlessly one could switch between modes at the touch of a button. The look and feel of the interior including the display, engine and transmission settings, infotainment and comfort systems, all adapt to suit the selected driving profile.

At present, most OEMs offer driver profiles (Sports, Comfort, Dynamic modes) only in their top-end cars. However, SyD now opens up the possibility of introducing similar profiles in low-end cars as well. When the concept is ready for volume production, automakers will be able to store their own special settings in the vehicle as per the driving profiles.

Tejas Desai, head of Interior Electronics Solutions (IES), Continental Automotive India, says: “SyD India will help manufacturers in India to adapt their vehicles to their target groups even better and reduce the number of compromises required during the course of vehicle development. In India, we see a lot of technology coming in from the developed markets which were designed keeping those markets in mind. What we want in India is that the same technology should work in a different manner so that it suits us better.”

How India drives With this in mind, the Indian arm undertook the project of Indianising the SyD. It involved a joint effort of 10 engineers from the systems and software division in Pune and engineers from the technical centre in Bangalore. They defined the SyD India profiles through a series of studies on driving patterns and consumer behaviour including demographics and cultural diversity in India. Based on the findings, Continental offers customised features such as Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Powertrain ECU, PASE (PAssive Start & Entry) System and other interior electronics to suit the Indian market. The layout and the information displayed to the user have been designed and selected after a thorough understanding of what information Indian drivers want to see and how they want to see it.

SyD India further gives car owners the freedom of controlling the various functions of the car and get necessary information through smart mobile phones. The car informs the owner via text messages about its position and technical conditions, bringing a sense of security. Additionally, they will be able to integrate their smart phones with their vehicles using cloud computing. When SyD is ready for commercial sale, it will have the option of being upgraded and even further personalised. Life just got simpler.

SUMANTRA BAROOAH (with inputs from Devesh Shobha)

INTERVIEW WITH Tejas Desai, GM, Interior Electronics Solutions, Continental

What is Simplify your Drive?

SyD is a concept that makes our car technology more relevant for normal users. By normal users, I mean those buyers who go for a particular car because they see good features in it but are not able to exploit the full functionality of what’s available. With SyD India, what we want is that the car user can use the features more often and allow the car to adapt to the user rather than the other way round.

What were the challenges faced while Indianising the product?

The biggest challenge was to think about what defines ‘Indian’. One thing we had to do was to think how our cousins or uncles would react to a particular feature and then always make sure what the technology should do for them. We didn’t spend crores of rupees to develop this product; this is something that can be done locally once we know ‘what we want’. And this I see as the biggest challenge.

Have you approached OEMs in India with this product? When will SyD really come to the market?

We have spoken to all the carmakers India and it does really appeal to them. The Indian market is very diversified and how these carmakers use these features will be different.

It’s difficult to say when as it’s not something that will come as a one shot. You could start to see it coming in cars as a super-set of the different features and technologies that could be in. And OEMs will bring it in different stages to get their consumer base more aware and also to get more feedback. You would start to see it in one of the global OEs very soon. We are ready to give the OEs whatever their requirements are.

How did the SyD India project commence and what is its status now?

The technology came from Continental, Germany where a lot of innovations were taking place. Our aim was to get these products into our market and Indianise it. I wanted to bring the technology to India and since we have cars starting right from the Nano and going upwards, I wanted to make a concept that suits cars from the bottom segment to the very top.

The vast majority from the low segment and for sure the top segments are our target group. The application is extremely broad. We can do engine calibration to enhance engine sound, get more power versus being more fuel efficient. We can have a customisation auto-lock system to more extreme suspension control and active ride dynamics. It’s really across spectrum and it allows OEMs to have a scalable path.

Can SyD be retrofitted?

For cars that do not have an existing system, no. For OEMs who already have the system in place, they can offer it in different forms.

How much would a basic package cost to the end user?

It really depends on the OEMs and how they have their cost configured. We have done different applications and shown different modes where, for a given OEM, there was no additional cost. For the features they had in their car, they simply needed a new set of calibrations. Depending on the configurations that you have for a particular OEM, the actual cost would vary from OEM to OEM. It depends on how the infrastructure has been set up in their cars.

What is the update on the eHub?

Our eHub project is something that we have talked to many OEMs, not only in India but outside of India as well. They are very excited about it and we have significant interest from many OEMs. But one of the things that’s difficult for the eHub is that it’s a much bigger change. So the OEMs will have to wait for a new model to come in for them to incorporate the eHub. It’s not something that can come in as a refresh or a facelift. But it will definitely come out sooner or later.

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