Rashmi Urdhwareshe, director of ARAI speaks to Amit Panday about upcoming vehicle safety norms in India, state-of-the-art safety labs and making ABS mandatory on two-wheelers above 125cc.
Rashmi Urdhwareshe, director of the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), speaks to Amit Panday about upcoming vehicle safety norms in India, state-of-the-art safety laboratories and making the anti-lock braking system mandatory on two-wheelers above 125cc, among a host of other issues.
How would you define ARAI’s current state of affairs and what were the biggest challenges for you when you took over as the director after Dr S Marathe?
My biggest challenge was to lead the teams from the top. I have been leading various teams at ARAI in the past and hence I had to ensure that I was accepted in this new role by all my colleagues. My second challenge was ARAI’s own transformation from being a very well established homologation service provider to a research and development centre. This included changing the work culture among the people, establishing the adequate facilities and capabilities, enabling the engineers to take up research projects, and having a strong funding support through our business verticals and parent authorities.
I also recognised the need to strengthen our support services. To ensure these steps, I drew up a 100-day action plan to address all the key issues. Thus I went about in a very scientific and structured manner to deal with it.
Can you throw some light on your 100-day action plan?
It basically captured the resource planning and details of my own development plan, team re-alignment and new business focus. I had earlier worked as the head for the homologation operations here, but leading the entire organisation would require different skills. So I identified an action plan for my own skill development as well.
The action plan also included the steps to be taken for internal and external growth of the organisation. If we look at the external factors such as the government and policy changes, it happened almost at the same time as my transition! So I was able to capture these changed scenario into my action plan.
A number of new developments are demanding new standards within the automotive industry. How is ARAI preparing to address these changes?
ARAI has always supported new advanced technologies, new homologation and certification requirements, setting up new equipment and promoting skill levels. To share a few examples, ARAI has developed CNG or LPG regulations and technologies for cleaner air, safety regulations for buses, trucks and trailers and several other advancements in safety and emissions.
Also, we help the government in setting up new regulations by providing testing expertise, generic level test data and possible technology support. Before setting new standards or regulations of any kind, the government must take an informed decision that comes after considering these aspects. We also provide detailed information or study reports about similar developments happening worldwide, where the industry stands and many other factors.
When the course of your 100-day action plan is over, what are your immediate priorities going forward?
We have a huge expansion plan coming up to support the passive safety (crash testing) initiatives and regulations being brought into the country for the first time. You may have heard about the government taking steps about crash testing, star marking, and safety ratings for passenger vehicles. This would be the first time in the country that such passive safety facilities would be made available in the public domain for use by vehicle manufacturers, government or all concerned. The upcoming facility is undergoing the last phase of establishment. While the installations and commissioning are going on, the support infrastructure is nearly ready.
Of course, our engineering teams are getting trained on the new facility. Here (ARAI’s current campus, Vetal Hill in Pune), we have an advantage as we already have a passive safety laboratory and a strong team to support the new laboratory. This task is taken as top priority.
The second priority is the Symposium on International Automotive Technology (SIAT), wherein we are looking with a perspective of driving India as the centre of automotive development for the future. With this point of view, we are not just looking at the domestic developments. SIAT is one forum which we organise for the entire industry to use, showcase their technologies at the SIAT Expo and in the symposium industry technocrats will talk about new developments relevant to the Indian as well as global level and will share their future aspirations from the market.
We are planning to get some very eminent keynote speakers (over 40 of them); also, a total of 216 technical papers will be presented by national and international experts. SIAT being an SAE conference, we ensure that all these papers have high-quality technical content. These are some highlights of the upcoming event. These are top priorities as of now.
Talking about the upcoming Chakan facility, when will the operations start there? What is the scheduled plan for that facility under various types of testing and engineering services?April 2015 is our internal target for the Passive Safety Laboratory and in June 2015, it will be open for the industry to use it. This lab will have fully instrumented crash dummies, crash testing and data acquisition equipment, which are very advanced and of a full scale level as compared to the ones already installed here (Vetal Hill). The new facility can meet the requirements of full vehicle frontal crash, side crash, offset frontal crash, and also pedestrian safety. These are the new and upcoming regulations for India and we are very excited about supporting the national level initiative for developing safer vehicles for the Indian market.
The facilities which are currently here (ARAI’s Vetal Hill campus) meet certain levels of safety standards. For example, we can execute crash testing here as well but in a limited way. We also do complete system level testing and approvals such as seats, seatbelts, their anchorages, bus rollover and several other passive safety standards.
There is a new Structural Dynamics lab coming up at Chakan in addition to the exhaustive facilities already existing here. The Chakan facility is going to be the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for fatigue testing in the country. The funding is coming through the umbrella project called NATRiP Project (National Automotive Testing Infrastructure Project) of the government of India. So under this project, ARAI is getting funds for augmenting the existing facilities and establishment of new capabilities.
The third major laboratory will cover powertrain engineering. It will have advanced equipment for development of all types of powertrains (including transmission) for diesel, petrol, hybrid and other green technologies.
As regards passive safety, frontal crash testing and other crash evaluations, in India we follow an average speed of 52km per hour, and hence all cars commercially available in India are tested accordingly. However, now there are concerns about the Global NCAP ratings of the made-in India cars. Officials from various OEMs in India have said that this is a marketing gimmick. How do you assess this situation?
NCAP is a special test protocol within which the vehicles are evaluated much beyond the mandatory crash regulations. There is a certain minimum set of statutory or mandatory regulations in every country. Over and above these mandatory regulations, the performance of vehicles is assessed under such programs so that the safety rating of the vehicle is then made known to the stakeholders. Often such tests are done at much higher stringency levels than the mandatory compliance levels.
Even globally, the mandatory frontal crash testing is carried out at 56km per hour test speed. That includes European regulations as well. Indian regulations will be the same. Once the Chakan facility is ready for operations, the mandatory crash testing at 56km per hour will be carried out. In addition, the facility is capable of doing the tests at higher speeds also. Once the crash standards are notified by the government, every vehicle model of category M1 (passenger cars, SUVs; seating capacity of upto 8 people) will have to be qualified to these requirements. Adequate time will be given to the vehicle manufacturers for necessary compliance. That’s how as a step one, mandatory requirements are being addressed.
As a second step, these same facilities can also be used for testing and evaluation as per the proposed BNVSAP (Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program) protocol, which is recently under discussion.
As stated earlier, over and above this mandatory testing, the facility would be capable of evaluating the vehicles even at higher speeds as may be required. But that would be on a voluntary basis. If the vehicle manufacturer wants to claim that his vehicle’s performance is equally good at higher speeds, or capable of withstanding higher impact load, then these test equipment will enable them to execute the same. This is what is currently happening worldwide also. Some vehicle manufacturers do test their vehicles at higher speeds and after clearing those tests, they claim higher star ratings.
It is evident that some vehicles, which were never designed for higher speeds, would not qualify for higher ratings.
The manufacturer has a choice of equipping the vehicles over and above the minimum statutory safety requirements. That’s how it is done in Europe. In India, this is slightly different. We are still at an early stage of mandating the minimum crash compatibility requirements for our vehicles, and simultaneously the government is developing an optional BNVSAP Protocol for the OEMs.
So ARAI has been fully involved in devising these new safety requirements and suggesting the same to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Now they have to adapt the new rules and regulations. By when do you think they will fall into place?
As of now, Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme, the new protocol, is agreed upon by NATRiP, ARAI, SIAM and the government of India. Officials from these bodies have been actively involved in designing and developing the same because it is also linked with the facility readiness. Now MoRTH is reviewing the same and later it would be made public and will be implemented.
According to the latest information from the Ministry, they plan to begin rolling out the new regulations by 2016 onwards. If that happens, 2016 will be for the new models under the new car assessment programme, and 2017 is expected for the running models. Mandatory compliance to Safety standards on Crash and Pedestrian Safety will be notified soon and expected to be implemented with effect from 2017.
What about the two-wheeler safety requirements as of now? How are they assessed?
For two-wheelers, we have safety standards with respect to various performance standards like brakes, noise, EMI/ EMC and component level compliance such as lighting/ signalling devices, horns, mirrors, tyres, wheel rims and several other areas. Also, the government is very keen on bringing ABS (Antilock Braking System) on two-wheelers now. While at the moment the ABS technology (for two- wheelers) is expensive, the Ministry feels that stability of the vehicle should be given more importance. That is one regulation that we are working on.
What would be the timeline for these new regulations that may take shape in the near future?
That is linked with the facility readiness on one hand and industry preparedness on the other. It needs a special test track where two-wheeler ABS testing could be carried out. While ARAI does not have a test track of its own, we do the testing at VRDE, Ahmednagar. Their current test tracks are being upgraded (under NATRiP funding).
Once that is ready, fitment of ABS on mandatory basis could be considered by the government from, say, 2017 onwards. This, as per the plan, would be made mandatory for the motorcycles and scooters with an engine displacement of more than 125cc.
Foreign bikes imported into India have daytime running lamps, a safety guideline which usually companies globally follow. Is ARAI working on similar guidelines for two wheelers?
We debated that for a country like India, which has got bright sunlight in almost all parts, whether additional conspicuity by way of running lamps would be necessary for two-wheelers or not. This is still under discussion.
In ARAI’s own view, yes, this would add to the safety of two-wheelers on the roads. However, the counter argument is that the headlamp consumes considerable energy. So while we are moving towards energy efficient vehicles, will India be able to deal with the trade-off? The next stage of amendments in the lighting systems is also under discussion which will enhance road safety.
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