Tech That! – India is becoming the auto R&D hub for the world

The heightened level of connectivity, software and electronic content in vehicle architectures of the future is driving global automotive players to augment investments into R&D and state-of-the-art infrastructure. India is emerging as a dream destination for developing these new-age technologies.

By Mayank Dhingra calendar 21 Jan 2023 Views icon31932 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Over the past six months, there has been a flurry of global automotive players expanding their research and development (R&D) operations, particularly those in the software, engineering and electronics domains, in the country. Many of these leading automotive MNCs have unanimously chosen the capital of Karnataka, Bengaluru, also referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, for setting up their global technical hubs. Besides cost efficiency, the key reason behind India coming to the fore as an emerging destination for developmental work in these domains is the bevy of talent and a large pool of highly-skilled software and electronics engineers the country has to offer to enable the automotive industry’s transition towards electrification.

Why India?

  • The global automotive industry is projected to demand 1,50,000 software engineers.
  • Approximately 6,00,000 people are working in the software, embedded systems and electronics domain.
  • Availability of a high level of diversified and experienced workforce with cost benefits.
  • Big players like Marelli, Volvo are among others who are investing for the combination of brain arbitrage, humility, hunger, innovation and speed that India uniquely offers.

According to KS Viswanathan, Vice President, Industry Initiatives, NASSCOM, “India is home to 5.1 million engineers working in the technology space and of this, one million are in the engineering research and development (ER&D) ecosystem. Approximately 6,00,000 people are working in the software, embedded systems and electronics domain, and the demand for this skillset is growing at a rate of 33 percent every year.”

“The global automotive industry is projected to demand 1,50,000 software engineers in the near future and India offers huge potential to supply qualitative engineers in scale.”

From US-equity-giant KKR-backed Marelli to the Swedish Volvo Group, and more recently Magna International and BorgWarner, India is emerging as the new automotive technology hub of the world, and attracting foreign investments to develop a thriving local ecosystem of innovation and future-relevant ideas.

Marelli, which opened its second technical R&D centre in India in Bengaluru in September 2022, says that the city is the world favourite for top corporations globally when it comes to R&D. The automotive Tier 1 major is trying to build end-to-end products all the way from hardware to software locally for the next-generation of EVs for global markets.

“India offers a high level of diversified and experienced workforce to accomplish this task. India is one the most important R&D and innovation hubs in the world, and we are very excited about the deep talent pool here,” said Dinesh Paliwal, Executive Chairman, Marelli.

“Marelli is not investing in India for cost arbitrage — those days are long gone — we are investing for the combination of brain arbitrage, humility, hunger, innovation and speed that India uniquely offers,” he added.

“India has the richest pool of talent for conventional engineering, as well as software and electronics. We have developed a deep technical knowledge on these topics and we also have the scale to build a sizable engineering team. More importantly, we have extremely motivated engineers who are ready to take on global problems — and that is a killer combination,” remarks Raghavendra Vaidya, MD and CEO, Daimler Truck Innovation Centre India (DTICI), which commissioned its operations in Bengaluru in November 2021.

In order to match pace with the acceleration in powertrain electrification, electronics and software-defined vehicle (SDV) development, US-based Magna International which inaugurated its new engineering centre in Bengaluru in October last year is bullish about the technical expertise available in India. “Vehicles and their systems are becoming more electrified and software defined, which changes the architecture and how we need to develop them. With this new engineering centre, we can further strengthen our vehicle systems development and IP creation, especially in the areas of e-mobility,” said the company’s CTO, Anton Mayer.

According to Dilip Sawhney, regional director, Rockwell Automation, “We have multiple centres for software development India in Pune, Noida, as well as at our global engineering centre in Bengaluru. India is relevant as a country to all verticals — software and control systems, intelligent devices, and lifecycle services — of our global business from a software development perspective.”

These are among some of the key companies which have recently chosen to bank on India’s competency in software and electronics engineering to address the challenges of a disruptive future as the mobility sector undergoes rapid transformation with sustainability becoming a pressing issue and a key driver for the adoption of electric vehicles and autonomous driving solutions.

The global automotive majors have expanded their India R&D operations to grow capabilities to cater to development programmes not just for India but for their global markets. What is also enabling them to do so is the massive strides in connectivity and cloud computing which is allowing engineers to collaboratively work on projects despite being geographically far away from one another. Artificial reality, digital twins and 5G connectivity are just some of these enablers that we have witnessed at these centres of excellence in the recent past.

“Data is enabling OEMs to get closer to customers and understand them better. Product development will become fast, efficient, and competitive with digital twins that will cut across the entire enterprise, right from development to sales, in a dynamic way. The concepts of 5G and Cloud are enabling companies to become even more efficient and competitive,” said Debashis Neogi, Managing Director, Renault Nissan Technology & Business Centre India.

The active deployment of such technologies could be seen at Volvo Group’s latest technology lab in Bengaluru, which has a virtual reality (VR) zone, as well as sees deployment of extended reality (XR) solutions that are enabling a digital twin of a truck for innovating on vehicle ergonomics, kinematics, cable routing design, electrification, and safety system design among others.

Volvo has also deployed a collaborative virtual workspace (CVW) by using cloud-based, 5G-enabled virtual reality headsets from Meta that are enabling its collaboration in the digital world. By leveraging 5G technology, the tech centre aims at seamless collaboration with its global teams with minimal latency.

For German Tier 1 giant Continental, its Bengaluru-headquartered Technology Centre India (TCI) is the largest R&D centre for the Group globally, and “this is the only unit which is perhaps the melting point of all the business verticals under one roof, and this allows for knowledge sharing and learnings.”

“At TCI, we are an Asia application hub with project responsibilities for Japan, Korea, China, and obviously India. Furthermore, we already have autonomy for many core domains, for instance, radar technology,” said Latha Chembrakalam, VP and Head, TCI, Continental.

“There are many projects which are getting executed in India right from their conceptualisation stage. We are trying to augment this in a bigger way and are therefore building centres of excellence (CoEs), which have been the pillars of Continental TCI for the last couple of years,” she added.

TCI, which sees up to 95 percent of its business coming from global projects, is eyeing to grow its engineering workforce by around 20 percent every year with huge confidence from its parent in Germany. “We have a CoE for software, systems, agile, innovation and products. These are the five horizontal bases which power the competency that we have across the technical centre.

“We are looking to transform the centre from a best cost to a best-value location. There is no country in the world which can ramp up talent at such a fast pace while at the same time leveraging the potential of collaboration available in the Indian ecosystem, whether it be with start-ups, academia, or industry bodies like NASSCOM. Furthermore, our quality of education is comparable or even better than many parts of the world, which is only strengthening our position as a technology hub on the global map,” Chembrakalam said.

Marelli gets a tech boost with new Bengaluru R&D centre
On September 27, 2022, Marelli inaugurated its new Technical R&D Centre in Bengaluru and further bolstered the company’s innovation capabilities, particularly in software engineering.

When fully operational, the new R&D centre will accompany the company’s established engineering centre in Gurugram to strengthen its research team to more than 1,600 engineers. The Bengaluru facility located in the Embassy Manyata Tech Park, is expected to employ around 600 engineers in about two years’ time.

“With software becoming a key element in enabling the vehicle of the future and a crucial differentiator in the automotive market, it will be critically important for Marelli to boost its capabilities in this technological field and to develop highly competitive and attractive products” said Ravi Tallapragada, President of Marelli India and Electronic Systems division of Marelli.

The centre will innovate on software for cockpit DCU (Domain Control Units), digital clusters, powertrain, and electric powertrain products. Alongside, the developmental focus will also lie on system validation for electronic systems, powertrain, and electric powertrain products as well as automotive lighting and sensing technologies. The facility will also get equipped for mechanical design simulations for electronics and lighting products.

Magna outlines $120 million capex in new engineering centre
US-based Tier 1 giant Magna International expanded its India footprint by establishing a new engineering centre and outlining a mega investment of US$ 120 million (Rs 988 crore) in Bengaluru to support e-mobility.

The new centre, called Magna Innovation Campus Bengaluru, is in the heart of the Brigade Tech Garden, rich in engineering talent, and will serve as a key centre for Magna in powertrain electrification, electronics and software defined vehicle development.

The 2,40,000 square-foot facility is expected to open in the first quarter of 2023 and will employ engineers and technical experts working on software and system development, simulation, testing and vehicle integration, as well as digital, data and cloud solutions for electric vehicle programs.

Approximately 1,000 engineers and technical experts are expected to be hired by the end of 2023 with the capacity to add up to 250 more as needed.

Continental invests Rs 1,000 crore in new Bengaluru R&D campus
November 2022 saw German Tier 1 giant Continental inaugurate its Rs 1,000-crore campus — Technical Centre India — located in the Electronic City, Phase II, in Bengaluru.

The facility can house over 6,500 employees. The campus brings together the broad range of Continental’s technological capabilities in a vibrant, collaborative environment designed to accommodate the needs of future workforce. The new campus houses hi-tech software, hardware, and vehicle test facilities for R&D and a plethora of training centres, with each floor equipped with multiple collaboration areas, all of which contribute to enabling innovation.

With a Platinum Certification from India Green Building Council (IGBC), the campus is rife with green lung spaces, renewable energy sources, and rainwater harvesting, all of which contribute to Continental’s sustainability ambitions. With a strong workforce, TCI is one of Continental’s largest and key R&D locations globally, catering to both global and local markets.

According to Prashanth Doreswamy, President and CEO, Continental India, said, “Continental is committed to India. Thanks to a strong local ecosystem, progressive legislation, and our huge engineering talent enabling our ambitious growth. We have made significant investments here in the last few years, including greenfield manufacturing plants and the expansion of production lines for vehicle electronics for passenger cars and two-wheelers. Our new R&D campus represents yet another milestone in our growth.”

BorgWarner sets up new Technical Centre in Bengaluru
BorgWarner established a 26,500 square feet Technical Centre in the Kundalahalli suburb of Bengaluru in the month of December last year. The official opening of the centre took place on December 7, 2022. The new technical  centre will have capacity for up to 250 engineers. The centre will focus on systems software development, fuel handling design and mechanical simulation for internal combustion engines, and hydrogen engine management systems.

In addition to meeting the needs of commercial and passenger vehicle OEMs in India, the site will also support BorgWarner’s other global technical centres.

“The Indian team provides essential support to many global OEM programmes. We are also proud to work with several prestigious Indian customers and continuously look for opportunities to better serve them,” said Federico Morales-Zimmermann, Vice President of Global Product Engineering, Sales and Business Development, BorgWarner Fuel Systems.

“We are expanding our local technical base by moving into this new facility. This enables us to improve our already excellent support for local customers and positions us well for the future,” he added.

Volvo inaugurates new Tech Lab in Bengaluru
With an intent to establish the largest technology centre outside of Sweden, Volvo Group inaugurated its new Vehicle Tech Lab at its Bengaluru campus in India on November 10, 2022. Located in the software capital's Bagmane Tech Park in CV Raman Nagar, the new tech lab boasts cutting-edge technologies like a virtual reality (VR) zone, a driving simulator, a 3D printing machine for rapid prototyping, a live mock-up chassis space and an electromobility zone for development of power electronics for EVs.

The centre is an extension of Volvo's existing Global Truck Technology (GTT) R&D centre in the country, which has been operational since 1998, and will collaborate with Volvo's other labs in Gothenburg, Sweden, which is also the company's headquarters, as well as in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the US, to drive innovation on the company's latest range of FH all-electric trucks.

The Volvo Group intends the new Vehicle Tech Lab to be a playground for over 1,700 software and hardware engineers working in Bengaluru to drive innovation in the global Volvo trucks product line up, including upcoming electrified and fuel-cell electric trucks.

Volvo Tech Lab

  • The Indian set-up is the largest technology centre outside of Sweden.
  • Boasts of virtual reality zone, a driving simulator, a 3D printing machine for prototyping, a live mock-up chassis space.
  • Specially curated electromobility zone for development of power electronics for EVs.

Volvo expands Digital Tech Hub footprint in India
The Swedish automaker’s passenger vehicle arm — Volvo Cars — is betting big on Indian software talent to develop solutions for an all-electric mobility ecosystem.

The company has expanded its Digital Technology Hub to a new and larger facility in Bengaluru. Volvo Cars says that it is further strengthening its commitment to the Indian market by the virtue of this new space that will encourage collaboration, innovation and offer a flexible style of working.

The Digital Technology Hub will boost Volvo Cars' capabilities in software engineering, data science and analytics, product management and user experience among others and will act as a full-fledged delivery organisation for Volvo Cars globally. The centre will develop digital services and solutions for the Volvo Car Group by leveraging collaborations with key partners in these domains.

According to Jonas Olsson, Head, Digital Technology Hub, "Volvo recognises the vast pool of talent in the country and our Digital Technology Hub leverages the best available talent. We expect this talent pool to be 240-member strong in a year’s time."

"While this hub strengthens our presence in India with the opening of a new office space in Bengaluru, it will also contribute to the ever-growing digital needs of Volvo globally more so as it readies itself to showcase and launch cars of the future that have digital technology as their integral part," he added.

The entry of such renowned automotive players in India for accelerating their global research and development (R&D) activities amidst a scenario of rapid transformation of the automotive ecosystem drives home the point about India’s level of competence for undertaking crucial engineering work, be it in software, electronics, or mechanical domains.

The country’s premier engineering institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs are already globally known for churning out crème-de-la-crème talent when it comes to core engineering and the growing opportunities within the country, particularly in the automotive landscape, will now ensure that there is a win-win for the industry and academia. As alternate-propulsion technologies and autonomous driving gain more pace in the future, the need for software, electronics and digital-mechanical engineers will only grow in tandem. Expect

India to rise to the occasion and develop new solutions that cater to the needs of humans. According to Manu Saale, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India (MBRDI), “Technology is increasingly being required in the automotive industry and India is an attractive destination from a cost and scale perspective; it is worth coming to the country.”

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's January 15, 2023 issue.

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