'We are hoping to get close to 100 million euros worth of work done from (MBRDI) Bangalore in 2014.'

Manu Saale, MD and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India, speaks to Brian de Souza on its global mission, the challenges of hiring and why it is the digital workhouse of Daimler worldwide.

By Brian de Souza calendar 06 Aug 2014 Views icon9349 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'We are hoping to get close to 100 million euros worth of work done from (MBRDI) Bangalore in 2014.'

Manu Saale, MD and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India, speaks to Brian de Souza on its global mission, the challenges of hiring and why it is the digital workhouse of Daimler worldwide.

What are your priorities as head of Mercedes-Benz R&D?
We have started with a clear mandate and a clearly defined role. We plan to strengthen our necessary competencies here and globalise our R&D activities, bring that to India with its diversity of education and engineering backgrounds. That is the basic approach.
Along the way, we have found that on the value chain, there is also much more that we can do. We have a global plan called the Mercedes-Benz Cars 2020. It is multi-faceted but its strongest arm is internationalisation. We want to design a global footprint of R&D, be close to our customers, complement our strengths and bring in speed, efficiency and cost competitiveness in whatever we do.
Today, MBRDI is the largest centre outside of Germany. We have an R&D staff strength of 21,000 worldwide, 12,000 in Germany and, by the end of this year, about 2,000 will sit here in Bangalore. We have 22 R&D centres in 10 countries, and in Asia, we have this centre as well as a centre in China and Japan.
In 2014, we will have added 700 more people from backgrounds like design, CAD, IT such as SAP and application development, simulation and electronics, electrical engineering and head unit programming to mention a few. The development of the car is going digital, and India is the digital workhouse for Daimler.

What are the strengths that you wish to enhance at this facility?
The Indian eco-system – education and engineering – has some competencies to offer. There are some low-hanging fruit which include IT, electrical engineering, and simulation, the latter because Indian engineers are extremely good in mathematics and analytical skills. We have to bring this all on board and that constitutes our first task.
Our second is to look for the white spots, which essentially means that when a strategy has been mapped out, one has to ascertain what are the skills you have and what you do not. The white spots are the ones that we look to fill and include auto styling and full vehicle development among others. Our headquarters has expressed its interest and intent and, if this expertise can be found here, that's great.
It is not just about hiring but hiring and development; it involves that transfer of knowledge, both strategic and planned, and where it is required, to bring in expatriate expertise from HQ here or send engineers from here there. In a sense, the transfer of technology is a sort of white spots and finally, all this is intended to take us to the next level in terms of delivery out of India. I am looking for expertise, for example, in antenna simulation, and we are looking locally but maybe an expat will come down and train a bunch of engineers here. Eventually, we have to settle down with local talent.

How much of what Daimler AG is doing in R&D could come to this centre?
We have been given clear signals that IT is the backbone, be it in R&D, production systems and so on. Having said that, Mercedes globally has a 5.4 billion euro (Rs 44,064 crore) R&D budget, spread across all centres, and is currently ongoing for the period 2012-15. In India, we began in a small way in 2012 and are hoping to get close to 100 million euros (Rs 816 crore) worth of work from Bangalore in 2014.

What are the India-specific projects that this facility is involved with?
We are a long-term player and are hopeful that the Indian market will grow like other emerging markets such as China’s. It is a younger market in China than ours, is hot and demanding change. We work with them so it is local for global. We are working in electric car development in the south of China for our joint partner with the Chinese firm BYD; this centre has contributed to the Denza electric car. In addition, there is a lot of R&D work going on in conventional cars for diesel and petrol.
The way our global network is envisioned, it does not matter if the competency is in India, or Germany or China, it can go wherever it is needed. If I may give you an example, we have 180-200 people working here for Fuso of Japan and Daimler India CV. There are areas of competency that are best done in Bangalore and this is the centre what would be contacted, be it for a particular part, embedded software or simulation.
India is a trusted location which, in our parlance, means that we have access to what is happening in Germany. We are seamlessly connected to HQ and that makes collaboration and working environment all the better and productive.


What are your priorities for this centre?
We have a strategy map that we are following very rigorously. The dream, of course, is to be able to do all facets of the car development in the digital space, and that is still way to go, and put a car together digitally out of Bangalore. It is a part of Mercedes-Benz Cars 2020, and part of the local centre’s strategy.
Overall, we are looking at supply management, project management, digital prototyping, digital crash and component responsibilities, and doing projects with worldwide suppliers. Being a luxury carmaker, we have our standards of quality; we run projects with suppliers globally and to be able to do that in India is the dream.

What about autonomous driving?
We have engineers here in Bangalore working on self-driving cars and on areas such as fuel cells, alternative powertrains. It is rather paradoxical, I suppose, when one looks outside my window and sees the chaotic traffic.

Can you elaborate on Mercedes-Benz Cars 2020?
It envisions a highly-efficient, customer-centric and technologically advanced car. It envisions innovation in all aspects of the car and which will lead to high customer satisfaction. We want to get into the lead position in luxury cars worldwide.

What can Indian companies do to enhance their credentials in R&D?
In my view, Indian companies do not spend enough, don’t take the long-term view and do not dream big. I am speaking about India Inc in general. It is important for Indian companies to also consider what they can do for global companies.
We have talented people and it is important that they open their minds. In my opinion, the successful ones are those that do, and they can be world-class. Among the many things, it is important to get the transition from college to workplace right, and we do that here at Mercedes as a specialised sort of training.
For reasons of culture and education, we have a restricting mindset here. Our education system needs to encourage students to ask questions and to speak up.
All that one needs is to have the right platform. We have to our credit 75 patents from India for Mercedes globally, last year, an indication of what is achievable when people open their minds. Going forward, we have a target of 100 patents and are on track to achieve that.

As you hire more engineers for this centre, are you confident you will get them?
We have a million engineers who graduate from India’s colleges. We have filtered that and do our hiring from what I call Mercedes-fit colleges. We now know from where to hire through our combined experience in hiring and through our own assessments if you like, of the country’s colleges. Along with HR and technical teams, we are reaching out to the educational institutions. We hope to announce two-tie-ups with a college in Bangalore and in Tamil Nadu, where we will bring in the German technical engineering systems, and in which German universities will sponsor courses, laboratories and short-term trips abroad.

Finally, tell us a bit about your own career?
I did electronics engineering in college and was picked up, on campus, by Bosch with whom I worked till 2011. I have been a powertrain engineer and, among many projects, was part of the team that developed the ECU for the Tata Nano. By 2001-02, I had, of course, switched to the management, lived in Germany and did stints in South Korea, Brazil and China. I have a penchant for languages, strategy planning and customer management that I have been able to put to good use.


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