Todd C Morgan, senior vice-president (Global Product Development), Varroc Lighting Systems, speaks to Shobha Mathur on bringing new automotive lighting technologies to India, setting up a new global tech centre in Pune, and innovating to bring costs down.
Can you detail the global products and technologies that Varroc is developing and how many of them are suitable in the Indian context?
On the technology front, we are spending a lot of time on LEDs as there are no big suppliers, so LEDs are the primary focus. From the global perspective, there is a lot of talk in Europe on matrix technology, lasers and organic LEDs and I think these are really true innovations that are coming. However, they are primarily performance-based and expensive technologies at this point.
Our aim is really how to take innovation, drive the cost down and bring it to India. The strategy is to primarily service the mainstream market — for instance, in case of LED headlamps we can bring their cost below that of Xenon lamps. We don’t believe Xenon will slowly disappear from the market. Some 25 watt Xenon programmes will still be around in the near future but from a lamp perspective we can make an LED lamp cheaper than a Xenon.
There are also a lot of styling aspects so they have an interesting and innovative appearance and that’s a big benefit. We are able to drive down costs of technologies like daytime running lamps and light guides as well. The new Mahindra XUV500 and Scorpio have just been launched with really cool and innovative light guides, the idea is to continue this work. It is easy to develop technology that is expensive but the real players in the market need to figure out how to take innovation and make it cost effective.
Is Varroc developing some special lighting solutions specifically for India?
We have several programmes in India and are developing a new global technology centre in Pune, which will support the Indian market as well as the global market. Today, we have 53 engineers there and could easily expand them up to 100. At present, our largest technology hub is in the Czech Republic; India will be our second largest hub. We are already using these staffers for the global programme. While one in North America is working on the Tesla Model S programme, another is working on European programmes; we are rotating people and training some of them in the Czech Republic and bringing them back here. The Pune centre will not be a back office but a true development centre with full capability including design responsibility. I am looking for innovative and creative people in my development centre.
When does it go on stream and what made you choose India as a technology development hub?
We are already working on European and North American programmes but will be moving into our new facility in January 2016 albeit temporarily. Hopefully, by end-2016, we will move into our permanent facility, which will have additional labs, in Pune located near our manufacturing facility. I am a strong believer that manufacturing and engineering need to work closely together. Collaboration between tooling, manufacturing and design is absolutely critical and I don’t want to lose it in India.
The reason we chose India is because it has the strongest pool of technical talent available who speak English. Of course, cost is also a factor but it's not our primary driver. Capability is our primary driver because we need strong creative technical people and India is the right place to find them. We want to grow the Varroc Lighting Systems business which constitutes a small portion of the total business of the Varroc Group and change in technology will allow us to grow in India. The focus is on driving innovation in the mainstream.
Since Varroc’s strategy is to make LEDs cost effective, how do you develop it innovatively?
One is making sure we use proven designs and models. For example, we have launched a localised H7 projector in India and are manufacturing our own projectors here. We apply the designs in India, look at material saving, try to find more cost effective materials, and also look for weight savings. Also, we use standard engineering tools, we write our own software for optics. Our engineers in India use software programmes so that they are more efficient. We don’t have to do multiple rounds and make prototypes; we can do all this on a computer and show the customer what it will look like. The key is to do it efficiently, do it right, accurately and drive the cost down.
How much can you lightweight the lighting solution?
We look a lot to the non-visible components like headlamp housings. LEDs allow some weight savings if you do them smartly, get rid of the huge BMC thermoset reflector and replace it with thermoplastic reflectors. We also look to use passive cooling on LED headlamps so that we are able to rid fans for weight savings. On the signal lamp side, with LEDs we can make lamps smaller and more compact.
Recently the power and energy minister, while speaking at an event on the ministry’s initiatives, spoke about its focus on LED lights in India by 2018, with 77 crore conventional bulbs to be replaced by LED bulbs. That means a lot of opportunities for lighting companies. Your comments.
The driver in implementing LED lighting, not only in the automotive market but in the general lighting market, is driving the cost of LEDs down and we are all getting the benefits from these kind of directives. The government is involved in mandating this technology in the industry and it will increase volumes and reduce costs, and we see it happening in the automotive market.
LEDs currently are mostly limited to rear lamps in high-end cars. By when do you think it will become a mass market product in the front lamp of the car?
Halogen is not going away and will remain a dominant factor in forward lighting. LED applications will be about styling; I foresee there will be the base level version of halogen and then the up level with different features, different styling and different functionalities. Philips is coming out with new performance halogen bulbs (H19 and H18) that will enable more luminous flux and allow two things — keep the same reflector and have a higher performance or make the reflector smaller and have the same level of performance and then when you style the LED lamp then you can go for a lower style profiling.
Indian customers are also becoming more interested in daytime running lamps in position functions and over time, prices will go down. What is important is that daytime running lamps are a big requirement in India because they are a safety aspect. Customers love their experience but until there is a regulation in the industry, DRLs will be seen more in the premium segment.
What kind of regulations are required for the lighting industry to drive it forward?
They should be very similar to European regulations. Daytime running lamps are critical in India — we have to remove barriers in the existing legislation that is based on yesterday’s regulations. Now technology is moving ever faster and we need to re-write those regulations for which we need to work very closely with the regulatory bodies.
Lighting is the first product designed in a car. How closely do you work with OEMs for its development?
Lighting is highly styled, it is a safety aspect, has a functional performance which means how do we plan the engineering aspect. Working collaboratively with OEMs is critical and showing the design studio what is technically possible is the key. Our customers have been very open to that and we have been quite successful. Our strategy is to introduce innovative products at a cost competitive price.
Varroc, after the Visteon acquisition, has been on an inorganic growth trajectory growing its products. What synergies do you share with the acquired entities and how are you leveraging their technical expertise?
There is a lot of synergy for two-wheelers; the software tools and physics are exactly the same on a four-wheeler car as a two-wheeler. Obviously, we have different engineering specifications but we share our tools. On the flip side, Varroc Lighting Systems will be more active in going after small lamps for four-wheelers that we have traditionally not been strong in but with our two-wheeler friends who have a very cost-conscious mentality, we are able to apply their lessons in the four-wheeler market.
What is the future roadmap to strengthen your product base?
We always look for a good business opportunity but Varroc is open to doing the right thing that makes the right business sense. We are currently present even at the high end. Again our focus is to take that innovation, say matrix and LED lamps, and continue to drive down the cost and build that bridge. We do a good job on very low cost lamps and are very strong on the high end and have low cost suppliers as well as premium suppliers. Building that bridge is where the focus is but there is more opportunity to accelerate that movement of technology into mainstream. We have the same applications and programmes in Europe and North America, and are moving innovation into A and B-segment vehicles which is also a priority for Europe.
Varroc was working on eight automotive projects in India and also expanding its plants. What is the status on it and plans for future investments?
We invest where it makes business sense and we will follow the customers where they are pulling us. We are able to leverage the Varroc Group footprint to support our lighting system as well.
How do you perceive current trends in India compared to those prevalent globally?
The government wants to reduce traffic fatalities by 50 percent in India. That is a huge target and they need to look at the right legislative requirements for it. This comes from key regulatory needs — daytime running lamps, developing the design studio and driving the costs down.
This exclusive interview is part of Autocar Professional's 11th Anniversary issue (December 15, 2015)