Rajendra Petkar, President and CTO of Tata Motors, dwells forth on a host of subjects right from the recent spate of EV fires to the tech priorities going forward.
What is your take on the recent spate of EV fires including the Nexon?
EVs are part of an evolving technology that will have their share of hits and misses. At Tata Motors, there is no compromise on safety and in the case of the recent fire, we will have to simulate the reason in a controlled environment to see what went wrong. Hopefully, we will get to the bottom of the problem very soon.
We are committed to building a long-term strategic roadmap for safety with expert engineering teams, by incubating innovative concepts, choosing the right technology partners and delivering solutions for mass markets through frugal engineering.
How would you react to the BNCAP regulation?
Tata Motors has always supported the Centre’s moves in safe mobility. If we turn back the clock to 1997, we were the first to invest in a crash test facility. Buyers today have started to look beyond traditional attributes like economy and performance. They now prioritise safety before making a purchase decision.
Our GNCAP achievements are testament to our firm commitment towards offering products that can deliver the highest global standards of safety. As we turn towards a new chapter of transformation in the automotive sector, we are confident that Tata Motors will maintain its lead on passenger car safety and remain the preferred choice of customers for years to come.
Nexon was the first-ever GNCAP rated 5-star product followed by Altroz. Tigor and Tiago were accredited with 4-star GNCAP ratings in 2020 for adult occupant protection. Tigor EV is the only EV in the country with a 4-star GNCAP rating.
In the past few years, the company has launched a range of safety-related technologies like electronic stability control, automatic traction control and so on.
Moving on, can you give an update on what is happening in the arena of fuel cell technology?
Like any other fuel, there are risks associated with hydrogen fuel technology too. Hydrogen is by nature highly combustible requiring careful handling and Tata Motors has been following all norms related to its storage, transport and product development.
As hydrogen fuel technology adoption in India is still at a nascent stage, our collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation and Indian Institute of Science has helped us in our understanding process. What we have learnt from ISRO is handling hydrogen and safety strategies are now in place to take us to the next stage.
As for the bus order, delivery is on track and seven buses are being pilot tested in Indian operating conditions. The key objective is to maximise range and we have developed up to 250 km for our hydrogen buses. In the near future, we are targeting higher range applications exceeding 500 km with faster refuelling and higher density.
The National Hydrogen Energy Mission Programme will also increase production of green hydrogen. We are offering state-of-the-art technology not just on the fuel cell or driveline side but also on the bus architecture. We have significantly upgraded the fuel cell technology from a vehicle architecture point, the layout, degree of sophistication in terms of comfort and convenience adding connected vehicle features making our buses
With these positive steps, one can expect a decisive move towards a sustainable future of mobility with hydrogen fuel cell technology playing a predominant role across segments right from public transport and commercial vehicles to passenger vehicles.
Enhancement in select areas of powertrain will continue to improve efficiency and contemporariness of IC engines. We are also adapting advanced substrates for precious metal reduction in exhaust after-treatment systems. We are also in the process of using advanced composition of oils for fuel efficiency and delaying intervals between oil changes.
Can we now have your views on the Tata Ace EV?
We have done a complete backward integration of the Ace EV. Our teams conducted an extensive study on the kind of user application and the vehicle attributes were mapped taking into account their needs. Based on that, we have designed the technology, systems, aggregates etc and created a complete package.
To meet future product portfolio needs, major focus areas will be improvement in EV products by improving innovations in battery technology, E-axles technology and thermal management. There will also be focus on telematics and connected solutions.
What do you have to say about your electric buses?
We operationalised over 250 electric buses in FY22. We have strengthened our play through a per km own, maintain and operate model. We are operating 400 e-buses under our separate business vertical and have also launched E-Dukaan, an online spare parts marketplace.
Can you throw more light on the tech programmes now underway?
Our teams have successfully developed active safety systems and ADAS, the next phase of technologies connected vehicle features (V2X), smart climate control systems, NVH reduction and reliability technologies for engine mounts and exhaust systems.
We have developed safety systems for tippers, performance enhancement of brake systems and anti-fuel theft systems. Some ongoing programmes include performance improvement for EV powertrain aggregates, components for fuel cell technology and voice assistance features.
We are also looking at innovative means for light-weighting of our passenger and electric vehicles through weight optimisation of body and chassis structures. This involves adaptation of light weighting technologies such as advanced high-strength steels.
How about initiatives on the engine side?
To improve fuel economy and overall performance, product development has been around the electrically driven thermostat, fan, oil pump and turbocharger on various vehicle platforms. We have also introduced new engine valve operated brakes. To reduce overall weight and improve fuel efficiency, we are committed to using advanced materials for the oil pump, connecting rod, crankshaft and catalyst substrate, dynamic spark advance in gasoline engine, increased drain intervals for oil for axle and gear box and fuel economy improvement.
We have also taken initiatives on digital product development systems. Our road-to-lab approach through new technology adoptions has enhanced digital product development systems through integration of product development processes and adoption of new technologies and processes, to ensure lower cost impact due to changes and reduced time-to-market.
Further, digitalisation of the paint and heat treatment shop has brought in manufacturing operations excellence and transition to sustainable operations.
We have also embarked on a journey of model-based systems engineering to develop solutions for managing complexity of electrical and electronic features in vehicles. Additionally, we have established end-to-end traceability in product development for adoption of quick changes in product and better control on project delivery and costs.
How has the relationship with Tata Elxsi evolved?
Tata Elxsi has strong domain expertise in the embedded electronics area and done a lot of work in the vehicle electronics side in terms of software strategies. We did a project together for development of the Internet of Things hub which is live since 2020.
More than 3.5 lakh vehicles fitted with the telematics control unit have been boarded on this IOT platform. We are able to get data real time through the telematics control unit. We plan to further our partnership with Tata Elxsi infotainment, telematics and embedded electronics.
Can you throw some light on the Tata Neuron project?
This is an interactive machine learning framework programme. Through deployment of artificial intelligence in real driving emission validation of vehicles, we have been able to bring real-time vehicle and environmental data to analyse and evolve vehicle features just as apps on today’s smartphones, reusing open frameworks. This will serve the company to own the software and also engage with technology players,
The project provides an interactive framework to perform data analytics, data pre-processing and model building using numerous machine learning algorithms, neural networks etc which later participates actively in prediction or forecasting.
How difficult is it coping with high input costs?
Prices of steel, nonferrous metals, precious metals, rubber and petroleum products have risen in recent years and more sharply in the recent past due to recent geopolitical conflicts. They may continue to rise significantly over the near term and in the future.
We have been running a structured cost reduction journey for the past few years to improve profitability and mitigate the risk of commodity price inflation. In FY22, we completed the highest ever 1200+ VAVE (value analysis and value engineering) idea generation workshops with over 1300 participants and implemented 630 cost reduction projects.
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