Rajendra Petkar, Chief Technology Officer, Tata Motors, was among the star speakers at Autocar Professional's BS VI Conclave held in New Delhi recently. He spoke to Mayank Dhingra on the company's journey to achieving BS VI emission norm compliance, investing across the value chain, ensuring affordability for the end-consumer, and readying for BS VI start of production from January 2020 in the continuing quest to stay ahead in the game.
What were the challenges Tata Motors had to overcome to achieve BS VI, which the Indian auto industry has set out to do in a record time?
BS VI migration is not a simple exercise but a very intense migration as it steps up two generations from BS IV and completely skips BS V emission norms. As opposed to other countries, India has to accomplish this major task in just about three years; in comparison, Europe and the US took close to nine years of transitional time. This has been the major challenge for the industry.
When we (Tata Motors) began our BS VI journey back in 2016, when the announcement to leapfrog was freshly made by the government, we decided to take the bull by the horns. We did not question the intent of the government, nor put forth any questions as to whether BS VI fuel will be made available in time.
We decided to get straight onto the job and plan upon how to deliver within the limited allocated time. We began work on a number of fronts, looking at whether we needed to reduce the complexity of our products, both in the passenger vehicle space or in the commercial vehicle segment. We also studied whether there was a need to rationalise powertrains and what kind of strategic collaborations we needed to have with critical vendors and technology partners.
So, while beginning work on all these fronts, we wanted to make sure that we have a very reliable technology strategy in place which will be able to work in the Indian operating conditions, and yet remain affordable to the consumer.
I am happy to report that all our engines that we are going to offer as part of our BS VI portfolio comply with the BS VI norms. Right now, a lot of work is going on in the area of application engineering at the vehicle level. What's also underway is the final leg of validation and homologation certification.
When do you plan to introduce BS VI-compliant vehicles in the market, given that there is an unequivocal directive from the Supreme Court that no BS IV vehicle can be registered as on April 1, 2020?
We are planning BS VI vehicle introduction from January 2020. It is a function of fuel availability as well; while the government is saying that the fuel will be available by April 2020, and we don’t doubt that, what we need to look at is the transition from BS IV to BS VI in the interim. However, as an organisation, we are getting ready for BS VI start of production from January 2020.
What level of investment has gone into BS VI technology development and what is the localisation structure that you have targeted?
There have been investments at the R&D level, in terms of the equipment and the facilities. Moreover, there have been investments in the plant for being able to handle and produce the new technologies and also for the ramp up. Alongside, the vendor community has invested to get ready with the new technologies and solutions.
There is investment in place for the aftersales and support function as well for making all our workshops get ready to handle the new technology. So, as Tata Motors, the investment has been across the value chain.
As regards localisation, it was one of the key aspects while designing our strategy as we knew that the leapfrogging of a generation of norms will bring a sizeable increase in the cost of the technology. Therefore, one of the ways to mitigate that was to ensure that we have a good localisation structure to start with.
Is there going to be a scenario where you would have to absorb some portion of the cost increment and not pass everything to the customer?
I won’t be able to answer that completely as right now we are in the midst of project development. We will have to look at our entire strategy of ramping down BS IV and gradually increasing BS VI production. We also need to look at how the transition is going to pan out in terms of fuel availability.
So, there are many questions that need to be answered before coming to the exact picture of how much we can absorb. But, surely, this being a regulatory shift, OEMs can’t really absorb all of it and the degree of passing on the cost to customer is something only time will tell.
Do you think that with new emission norms, enhanced safety standards and the push towards electrification, the Indian auto industry is not going to get the requisite time for planning its RoIs better?
As with BS VI, this is a two-step jump -- there is going to be a significant movement in pricing and affordability is going to be a key thing. Also, as per data available from the West, it is seen that whenever there has been this kind of a change in technology, there has been de-growth in the market. That is something that worries us and we’re concerned about.
Alongside this, we also have regulations pertaining to safety in PVs and also a lot of other regulations, for instance the bus body and the truck body codes in the CV sector, that one has to deal with. On top of that, we are already looking at defining an electrification strategy. So, at the end of the day, the whole thing boils down to the fact about what is going to be affordable for the consumer.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that we should not be taking any bold or strong steps because if 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, I think that deserves some drastic steps to be taken. While we are not questioning anything at the moment, we need to really plan everything in such a manner that finally it remains affordable to the end customer.
Talking about the customer, how are you planning to make BS VI an easy transition for the customer both in the PV and CV segments, and also ensure that there’s no usage shock?
It all begins with training the manpower at our dealerships and our workshop people, and also educating our customers with the Do's and Don’ts associated with BS VI technology. This is a regime that we follow after every new product introduction and we will be doing the same in this case as well.