As car displays keep getting bigger, Sachin Lawande, President & CEO of Visteon believes that there are intrinsic drivers of the trend. In a freewheeling interview with Hormazd Sorabjee, he details the company’s new technologies, India plans and also the semiconductor issue.
What are your views on the evolution of the Indian market and Visteon’s plans for India?
Talking about the Indian market, after coming back to India after two and a half years, I’m actually very optimistic with what I’ve seen and the meetings that I’ve had with the car manufacturers. I would say that the Indian market is in a period of transition. I’m seeing that the automakers as well as the consumers are pushing for more technology in vehicles. There’s a realisation that cars are more of a mobile device on wheels.
Are customers willing to pay for it as well?
Yes, customers are willing to pay for it, which has really encouraged us to listen to some consumers in fact. My family members, first-time car buyers, very young in their early 20s are willing to pay Rs 10 lakh for their first car. This is something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The other observation I’ve made about how spending patterns are evolving in India, I’m seeing more and more younger people wanting to experience the better things in life. In the past, India earned to save and now, India’s earning to experience, whether it is about going to good restaurants or having a nice car.
Your SmartCore system which we’ve seen in the XUV700 is a real game-changer for products and I think that’s one thing which really stands out and even Mahindra’s pushing their whole infotainment system. So, has that been a good ambassador for Visteon?
All credit to Mahindra for launching a terrific product, a game-changer. The reception from the consumers was terrific and there’s a reason for that. If you look at that vehicle and the technology within it, I think that the vehicle is easily worth twice the price it is carrying in the marketplace today and I think it compares very favourably with some of the best-known brands globally.
I’m particularly proud about the fact that we were their partners for the SmartCore system, the big screen in the dash and as I was taking a ride just earlier this week in an XUV700 in Mumbai, and sitting in the vehicle, the first thing you notice is that big screen. This is a great statement that I can make finally that an Indian OEM is putting out a vehicle with the same level of technology that you have in some of the highest-ranked brands in the world. In terms of what it did for Visteon was, it put us on the map immediately. As soon as the news got out that Visteon had collaborated with Mahindra, we were getting calls from everybody. So, it turned out to be very good for us.
How do we see that filtering down into more mass-market cars? And, more specifically, to India?
What we see is that those 10-inch displays will get larger. Imagine two or even three 12-inch displays nicely done under one cover lens, giving the appearance of a single large display. That’s going to be one of the first things that’s going to happen in the Indian context. Now, in order to improve the perception of the display, we are bringing new technologies such as optical bonding and LOCA bonding, which is new for the market. Prior to this they were all air-bonded, meaning that there used to be an air gap. The resolution wasn’t good, the reflectivity was too high. Brightness was a problem. That is being taken care of once you move to optical bonding, and the way we believe we can democratise it is by investing in that capability here in India.
Therefore, you will have optically-bonded screens manufactured in India?
The first plant is going online very soon later this year and will have the capacity to build one million displays.
Do you also plan to export from there?
I believe that we will consume all that capacity in India. A million displays in the automotive sector and we are already thinking about a second plant, the location of which is yet to be determined, because we believe these larger displays are going to be in at least 50 percent of the vehicles sold in the market.
We hope to be the first to introduce this capability and capture the share of the market. Once we get to that 12-inch mark, you can only make a flat and rectangular display. The moment you go beyond that, it has to be curved and have a different form factor. For that, the technology is fundamentally different. We are going into the different kind of OLED technology. We are working with the leading OLED suppliers to build OLED on glass. Essentially, OLED on glass lowers the cost and allows us to have a different shape of glass.
This is obviously for the higher-end vehicles but do you foresee a time where all cars, even base cars, will no longer have any analogue display and will all be digital?
I believe that in the very first wave, we will see larger, relatively flat displays resulting in a tremendous shift away from knobs, switches and buttons, even at the lower end. With more emphasis on touch and we’ll talk a little bit more about voice capability.
From a safety point of view, there is a debate that we are missing the tactile factor that knobs provide. Maybe on the distraction side, some level of ADAS could take care of safety issues?
ADAS is a great way to visualise what’s around me in the car, it warns me if I am making any lane change or any manoeuvre that might be risky, so it’s a very useful thing to have and that’s what is driving the adoption. ADAS is coming to India in a big way now. With ADAS and more driver monitoring, that’s looking for signs of distraction, fatigue, it can address the safety factor here in India. I think what we need to do in the automotive industry is own the responsibility of making the driver experience both convenient and safe.
Moving to the other end, we are the biggest two-wheeler market, we’ve seen even EVs are taking off. Is there a lot of potential and do you expect the next wave of digital displays in that segment?
What many people don’t know is that we at Visteon already supply about a million clusters for two-wheelers a year, but a million in the market it’s about fifty million each year. Now, what’s even more exciting for me, in particular, is many of the trends that we’ve talked about already – increased processing capabilities, connectivity, ADAS – are also coming into two-wheelers.
The largest OEM in the world, when it comes to two-wheelers, is Honda. So, Honda is our lead customer for technology, where they are now taking bigger screens, bigger displays. With a lot of connectivity, with the phone, with the cloud and we are now looking at how we bring ADAS functionality for two-wheelers. So, think of SmartCore for two-wheelers. The technology is actually very similar.
How do you assess the chip issue from a Visteon perspective?
The chip issue is big. But we have a lot of relationships we can leverage because of the position that we have in the industry. We do get preferential access to executives of these companies, which obviously helps in getting more support. And we have really good capabilities to redesign because it also comes from the fact that this is the core of our business.
Many of the other suppliers have other businesses as well. We have a certain capability that is not very commonly found in the industry. My message has been that we'll work through this crisis together with them, and we'll come up with different strategies. From the end of September onwards, we'll be able to supply 100 percent of the demand because we did about five different things. If we were not to do those things, we would not be able to supply even 25 percent of demand.
And those five things are...?
Redesigns, alternate parts, bringing in different suppliers rather than being dependent on one. It doesn't compromise the experience at all. What it does add to is the cost. I mean, we have taken a lot of costs to do these things that in the normal environment would not have been there. Our inventories have gone up as a result and the dollar impact has been high. But we will not do anything that compromises on quality. We go through the same quality checks, same quality processes, testing, etc, because you do not want to have any issue with your reputation. Reputation in this industry is everything.
This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's July 1, 2022 issue
In Conversation with Visteon's Sachin Lawande