Torbjorn S Holmstrom, Chief Technology Officer, Volvo Group, spoke to Kiran Bajad on the latest global trends in the CV industry and India’s role in its growth plans, among other things.
Torbjorn S Holmstrom, Chief Technology Officer, Volvo Group, who was in Bangalore recently, spoke to Kiran Bajad on the latest global trends in the commercial vehicle industry, India’s role in its growth plans, and the challenge of technology in the environmental area.
Reduction of CO2 emissions and making public transport attractive are challenges globally. How is the Volvo Group working towards addressing these objectives?
We are actively trying to optimise transport solutions in a way that they can be sustainable, which means not destroying the environment. Right now, there is very much focus on reducing carbon dioxide; earlier there were concerns of particulate emissions but we have taken them down close to zero.
At present, in the Europe, we are executing Euro 6 emission norms. If a region or a country is ready for that technology, we have a very quick way of introducing it. If India decides to go Euro 5 or 6 we have the technology. We are pushing the technology to its limits and right now carbon dioxide is the focus.
When it comes to automation, driverless car technology is seeing much headway. How do you see commercial vehicles, especially trucks, moving towards such advanced technology?
We are working on exactly the same technology. Right now, the technology is little ahead of legislation because there is an issue of driverless trucks or cars. Who is responsible if something happens? Is it the one who has programmed the vehicle or the connectivity provider? We are currently testing such vehicles in confined area, test benches and labs.
We have conducted a test where 4-5 vehicles are in a convoy and the first one is driving the rest. It is possible, the technology is available and we are developing it. The steps leading to this stage of a driverless vehicle would include lane keeping support warning systems, collision mitigation, automated Queue Assistance, Intelligent cooperative systems, sensors for all-round vision & protecting road users among other technologies. My view is that it will take a few years more, may be 5-10 years, before we will go to completely driverless trucks starting with off highway applications. That is very much about legislations and infrastructure.
What are the technologies that the Volvo Group is working on for markets like India where emissions norms are not very stringent and the market is slowly progressing towards higher emission norms?
We see India is Euro 3 and 4 right now and we have had Euro 5 for many years tested and with many vehicles on the road. We have Euro 6 for almost two years and have matured technology already all over world. So if India would like to go for Euro 5 or 6, we feel very safe to introduce it as we know the technology and the market. If the Indian market is ready for that technology, we can introduce it.
When it comes to India as a source of technology and innovation, it is very much around software and also frugal engineering which is very important for company like Volvo. We also have technologies for lane keeping support warning, radar automatic cruise control and automatic queue assistance, all of which contribute to better safety and fuel consumption.
How do you see electric and hybrid technology progressing in the Indian commercial vehicle industry?
I think hybridisation on long haul trucks is far ahead. But for pure hybridisation, where you recuperate braking energy that is best for stop-and-go type of operation, then buses have delivered fantastic results.
The next step is plug-in-hybrid – you have hybrid and you charge to be able to run longer distance on electricity – and the third step is full electric.
For the bus segment in India, there should be interest to go in for hybridization. For plug-in, you have to have the infrastructure and charging stations along with collaboration between regions or cities to support the charging infrastructure. For full electrical, you need infrastructure where you could charge on the road and that is many years ahead.
What I think will come in trucks is probably light hybrid where in you recuperate braking and by this have the possibility to reduce fuel consumption.
What, in your opinion, are some global trucking trends that will find their way to India?
I think what will come to Indian market is automatic gear shifting. If you combine that with knowledge about engines, you could optimise fuel consumption. We have huge success in Europe and US when it comes to automatic manual transmission.
Safety is a key topic for Volvo globally. Mandatory ABS for CVs in India comes into effect from October 1. Do you think India needs to adopt a few more technologies?
ABS is a very important step towards safety. It reduces the braking distance and you get better control of the vehicle which is very important. It is a first step but there are many other things like automatic cruise control where you have radar that locks the vehicle in front of you, you use braking and acceleration and in combination of automatic manual transmission it will be very safe. With this, you will not crash into a vehicle in front of you.
This typical safety tools I think will come to India now since you have better roads than before and probably higher average speed and more powerful vehicles going forward. That’s the way we are seeing in many other markets.
What are the future trends you see in trucks worldwide?
An example would be more and more aerodynamic-friendly trucks and trailers in the future. It will be a great opportunity to increase the transport efficiency and lower the carbon dioxide footprint produced in tonnes per km. This will come with autonomous vehicles, various other safety enhancements I mentioned and use of connectivity in future trucks in the next 5-6 years.
Do you foresee any use of new materials in vehicle manufacturing?
3D printing is a new ways of production, not mass production but it opens up for completely new designs. Today we are designing either by forging, casting or machining with limitations. But if you do 3D printing, then you open up for so many dimensions of design.
You said quality, safety and environment are the key areas for the Volvo Group worldwide. Which area do you see as more challenging?
I think the environment is the challenge in producing a sustainable transport solution which is where we put most of the money. Why we do so because it straight goes down to the bottom-line for the user. It is very much about fuel consumption. If you take the total amount of focus and resources, then it’s very much about the environment. Over the years, we have a very good safety record when it comes to safety standards and quality. The challenge right now about technology is very much in the environmental area.
How important are the India operations for the Volvo Group globally?
We- in the area of product design and development- started with 10 people in 2005 and today we are 1,000 in Bangalore. India plays an absolutely vital role and it is a very important site in our global structure, the third biggest in terms of technology. India is contributing not just to development of vehicles but also supporting other locations including the US, Europe, South America and Japan. India operations not only work on software but engineering, chassis and cab – all aspects of the vehicles.
Since India contributes to Volvo’s global operations, are you looking at fresh investment in India in the near future?
We have grown very rapidly in India in 10 years and right now we are stabilising our operations. We have reached a level where now we want to stabilise and really enhance the knowledge what we built up over the years. Hopefully, the market will take off and everything then changes. We delivered new trucks and now we have to see the market coming and then there are various ideas we want to materialise.
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