'A challenge like BS VI offers us an opportunity to showcase our frugal innovation capabilities.'
Ashok Leyland’s CTO Dr Seshu Bhagavathula on frugal innovation to meet the challenge of BS IV by April 2017 and BS VI by 2020, introducing new technologies into the existing M&HCVs and electrification of Indian CVs.
Ashok Leyland’s Chief Technology Officer Dr Seshu Bhagavathula on frugal innovation to meet the challenge of BS IV by April 2017 and BS VI by 2020, introducing new technologies into the existing M&HCV range, electrification of Indian CVs, and the focused effort on reliability engineering. An interview by Kiran Bajad.
What are the technological trends you foresee in India’s commercial vehicle industry over the next 2-3 years?
India is a very price-sensitive market, which means every new technology being introduced has to address that challenge. For example, Automated Manual Transmission, which helps drive fuel efficiency, definitely has a future in India. In terms of safety, you will see a lot of technology like electronic braking systems coming in. Telematics is another growth area, which not only helps the driver but also provides real-time information which, in turn, helps improve driver productivity.
We have our own telematics and are working on these technologies to take them to the next level. There will also be technologies for driver assistance systems like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including blind spot detection, lane departure systems and cruise control coming into the Indian market.
You have worked with Daimler for over two decades and have seen the commercial vehicle industry at close quarters in the developed world. How does the Indian CV market stand from the technology point of view?
On the technology front, the Indian CV market is undergoing a transformation and this is largely due to the upcoming BS VI emission norms which will change everything that we do today. BS IV norms will reduce emissions by 60 percent and four years from now India will have BS VI, which will reduce emissions by 95 percent. This will transform the Indian CV industry and we too will be affected in this journey.
In Europe, where I worked for many years, it took 10 years to migrate from BS IV (Euro 4) to BS VI (Euro 6) and India has barely four years. The 2020 deadline means putting trucks on road and having to be ready in three years and going through the lifecycle test of 100,000km.
Ashok Leyland displayed its readiness for BS VI with its Euro 6-compatible 4940 tractor-trailer at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi.
Ashok Leyland does everything in-house. We have been spending most of our technological resources on getting this right, which means compliance of the legislations with our innovations.
We believe every challenge like this offers us an opportunity to showcase frugal innovation which Ashok Leyland has the capability to come up with.
Ashok Leyland was the sole OEM to showcase a BS VI-ready tractor-trailer at the 2016 Auto Expo. Do you think this will give the company a first-mover advantage?
Yes but when we develop a new truck or bus with new technology, it means we have mastered one prototype. To able to sell thousands of them requires what we call internally ‘reliable engineering’. So developing a prototype and mass producing them requires 3-4 years. Secondly, BS VI also requires, what we call ‘in service conformity’, which means anyone in future can stop your truck and check the emissions.
This means during the whole lifecycle of the product, the emissions have to be at the same level; this also means there are a lot of electronics as they have to control it all the time. Engines have limitations in terms of emissions and the only way to reduce emission is to put a ‘chemical factory’ at the emission point. This chemical factory also requires fuel, which means fuel consumption should go up, but our job in R&D is use the fuel to reduce emissions and at the same time reduce fuel consumption by way of increasing efficiency by compensating everything. That is what Ashok Leyland wants to do.
Considering that Europe took a decade to migrate from Euro 4 to Euro 6, is India ready for this transformation?
I think the Indian eco-system, which is ready with BS IV, will present challenges with BS VI. The fuel requirements are very different and India is a very big country. If you tank up on the wrong fuel then there is an issue, given that trucks go long distances.
Ashok Leyland has developed zero emission vehicles in the form of an all-electric Dost SCV and a 10-tonne electric Boss truck.
I see it as a challenge especially in CVs because they carry more weight and the systems cost much as an engine. So basically, there will be two engines in future in a truck or bus. This additional cost needs to be compensated somehow and the one who does it better will be the winner in the market and that is where the challenge lies.
Can you highlight Ashok Leyland’s product strategy?
As BS IV is mandatory from April 2017, we have to provide it on all our trucks. So our focus is to get the old models to be BS IV-compliant and bridge all the little gaps we have in our product portfolio, which should take about a year.
We are also introducing new technologies with BS IV as the aggregates have to be optimised with new innovations in gearboxes coming up like the automatic and manual transmission. For BS IV, the overall vehicle has to be optimised, which needs the aggregates to be redesigned. This is underway at our technology centre and by April 2017 there will be new optimised vehicles on the road.
Having launched the Captain range of heavy duty trucks last year, we will typically have 3-4 new major or minor modifications of each product every year.
We will also make use of the phase from BS IV to BS VI to ramp up our aggregates in such a manner that we will have ready vehicles equipped with new technology.
As regards small CVs, you have only the Dost in India. Will this product portfolio expand in the near-term?
In R&D, typically the work being done on a product will probably appear in the market 2-3 years later. We are working on increasing our product presence there (in the SCV segment). This will help us to become a full range CV player in the future.
To what level are alternate fuel vehicles relevant in India and what are Ashok Leyland’s plans on this front?
Alternate vehicles are all about partnerships. Since India doesn’t have this technology ready, the eco-system is not there. In such a scenario, a vehicle maker would like to go with partnerships. We already have this partnership (with Optare in the UK) and have been developing it for a long time.
With Optare buses, we have already increased bus range by 45 percent; the ultimate aim is to go up to 200km which remains a challenge for every company including us but it will be achieved soon. The government has signed the global Paris Treaty and I foresee a series of initiatives from the government for hybrid and other fuel options. In the next 3-4 years, things will be different in this area and I think the smart city concept in India coupled with emission-free zones, which are there in Europe, now seems to be happening in India.
Personally, I think it is like a wave and it picks up the momentum; the companies which are ready with it will ultimately win. Although, we see infrastructure for EVs as critical, India will see electrification of transport in pockets where infrastructure does not play a much bigger role. For example, one particular route of a bus which goes from point A to B; in such pockets we will see electrification come in and this is more suitable in smart cities.
Once this happens, then the infrastructure will come up. We have a dedicated division in our R&D called XEV, which works on alternate fuel powertrains.
You have readied the electric Dost and Boss. When do we see commercial application?
Demand is coming from various States in India, asking us to showcase these technologies. I don’t know whether the market is currently ready for these vehicles but as an R&D effort, we have to be ready as a modular concept.
As and when the market demands such vehicles, we can put them together and introduce them.
Will autonomous CVs have a market in India?
It is very difficult to predict the future but it is relevant in pockets like mining where the terrain in known and there are a limited number of trucks moving around.
The kind of technologies that Daimler, Volvo and Scania have demonstrated in Europe a few months ago is necessary to showcase the possibilities in future and Europe requires it. There, around 25 percent of highways are choked with trucks; so if you reduce the distance, a lot of highways will be freed. So in Europe, autonomous driving trucks will come rather quickly but in India there are certain applications where the autonomous truck has potential.
At present, what are the key R&D focus areas for Ashok Leyland?
Electrification is a major area as is gearing up for BS VI. We are also working on improving the reliability of our trucks. It is not about offering service at the right time but about not getting a trucker to service at all by offering more reliable trucks. Here, at Ashok Leyland, frugal innovation is going to come into play and we are spending a lot of time to become a major player in reliability engineering.
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