Yasuo Ishihara, president of Yamaha Motor Research & Development India, speaks to Shobha Mathur on developing products and processes for India and the importance of optimisation.
Yasuo Ishihara, president of Yamaha Motor Research & Development India, speaks to Shobha Mathur on developing products and processes for India, equipping its motorcycles with ABS, increasing localisation and the likelihood of launching a rival to the Honda CBR 650F.
You established the R&D function at Yamaha Motor Vietnam. How different are the technological requirements in India and what are your immediate priorities for India?
At the time when I went to Vietnam, there was no R&D function there and we needed to start from scratch. The work between Yamaha India and Yamaha Vietnam is very different as Yamaha India already has an R&D base.
The Vietnamese two-wheeler market is very small, the economy is different and the motorcycles also differ. While India has many small-capacity scooters and mopeds, in Vietnam only two categories are enough. Also India has different motorcycles catering to varied customers.
In line with Yamaha’s global business development mission, I am now studying the harmonisation point in India as I did in Vietnam.
What will be the focus for new product development and innovations at YMRI?
In India our first priority is affordable pricing and cost reduction. There are not many new technologies and innovations to reduce costs, but optimisation as per customer requirement is most important.
For new product development, we will utilise our headquarters’ capability but since they are not aware about the actual customer preferences in India, harmonisation is our duty – both for our customers and some of our partner suppliers.
How would you describe the latest technology trends in terms of ABS and airbags worldwide in two-wheelers? How many of these technologies will be brought to India?ABS is already mandatory through governmental regulations in European countries. In India, SIAM members are also discussing how far advanced brake systems are effective for safety. Our aim is customer safety and we are studying ABS technologies suitable for Indian customers.
Yamaha has an ABS technology globally available and we can transfer this technology to our models, related to component supply. We can start discussions with our suppliers to enable some localisation within two years. We want to implement ABS in India as early as possible. We will first import some components from some global locations and then proceed with localisation. That is one option.
In terms of airbags, there are some systems for two-wheelers in Europe. Airbags are very effective in four-wheelers because the vehicle has a compact shell but a two-wheeler does not have a shell or a seatbelt.
In an accident, we suspect an airbag-fitted two-wheeler can be effective. My personal opinion is that wearing some special clothes controlled by an electrical system will be more effective for a two-wheeler. In the event of an impact, the clothing balloons into an airbag and protects the rider. I had some development ideas when I was in Japan but they have not yet been released to any market.
Which are the new initiatives that Yamaha is taking to step up fuel economy and safety in bikes and scooters in India?
For safety equipment to be effective, there needs to be an improvement in Indian road conditions and driver’s operational visibility especially when a motorcycle is coming from the opposite side.
Our recently launched Saluto motorcycle delivers 78 kilometres per litre, which is currently the highest level in our models. With our Blue Core technology, there are many concepts that can be utilised like managing the fuel supply system. In India, the carburettor is the main fuel system mainly due to cost savings. But when we use a fuel injection system like in the FZ150, we can manage fuel more precisely and reduce consumption by more than 10 percent.
New technology from our HQ R&D can help improve economy as well as other functions but it also pushes up price. So optimisation is very important for Yamaha Motor R&D India. Even if there are very good functional benefits but if the product price is very high, the customer is not happy – a balance between new technology and price is very significant.
Yamaha is believed to be working on a low-cost model for India. What features should such a model possess?
As we proceed with our development, there are two relevant points –optimisation because we want to reduce our product price. In Japan, customers want very high quality as they don’t want to take the motorcycle to the repair shop which means reliability is very important. For this, high cost of material, process and structure is necessary which drives up the motorcycle's price.
In India, many customers take their two-wheelers for cheap repairs. At present, for such customers, we don’t want to produce a very high level product – we want to customise as per his requirement. When we develop products for advanced countries with no maintenance for 10,000km, it may be too much spec for Indian customers because many kinds of maintenance are cheap and easy in the Indian market.
In such a case, we try to reduce the duration to maintenance to 5,000km in order to save the customers’ payment when they purchase our product.
On the supplier front, earlier we used to develop new products as per drawings from our HQ. Now, we start cross-discussions with our partners before making the drawing so that we can get the supplier’s inputs. Based on that input, we can start preparing a reasonable optimised drawing suited for Indian manufacturing.
How much further can you step up localisation with increased collaboration with suppliers?
Localisation is almost 100 percent already. Now many parts are harmonised according to our requirement and our partner’s requirements which was not the case earlier.
How do you plan to leverage the new Chennai R&D centre? When does it go on stream and will the technologies be outsourced to Yamaha globally?
We cannot do that from the beginning because we are still in infancy. The Chennai R&D centre will open next year. For a 3-5-year policy, we would like to share the development job mission as our country’s R&D.
We have a big R&D centre at our HQ, in Taiwan, in Thailand and also in Italy and China. Each R&D centre has its own strengths and we share the tools of technology. In India, our strong point is low cost and affordable development. If Yamaha wants to launch a very low-cost motorcycle in a particular country, we support and supply development results to them. That is our duty.
What will be the difference in the development profiles of the Chennai and Surajpur R&D centres?
We don’t want to maintain double operations because of loss of work. We will proceed with main development work at Chennai but continue important model manufacturing in Surajpur for which R&D support will be necessary. So the work in Surajpur will be different from Chennai but we want to keep some R&D function here.
What, according to you, are the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian component supplier base for the two-wheeler industry?
The strength of the Indian suppliers is that they are dynamic. With some suppliers in Japan, we need to wait two weeks, one month or even six months for approvals for work but in India suppliers are very quick due to the dynamic nature of operations of their management. So when we want to undertake a certain spec, we can conclude the change with the suppliers in a very short time.
Suppliers in India can manufacture many different parts as they enter into technology partnerships and joint ventures with suppliers in other countries. That is what surprises me. Also, if the customer requires, they will expand and supply various other products as well and finally offer the complete solution.
Quality is not so high in India for some parts but if required suppliers can quickly improve their quality.
How is the Indian two-wheeler market perceived in Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan?
While Japan, Europe and the USA are one step ahead, Indonesia and Vietnam are only half as advanced. We can find good technologies in the ASEAN countries and bring them to India.
The biggest difference however is market size and volume – Vietnam’s total two-wheeler market is around 3-4 million while India’s is around 16 million. Also, usually, it is easier to reduce the process cost with mass production.
Do you think that the Indian two-wheeler market is now mature for entry level twin-cylinder sports bikes like the R25 and the R3?
I estimate that in the next two or three years, the premium bike segment will double or triple. We are now keenly watching the market for higher-capacity bikes for sporty use like the R3 in India.
We have started the R3 programme in India as a CKD operation and will commence localisation part by part.
Yamaha does not have much of a presence in commuter motorcycles in India. Do you have any plans for this segment?
Yamaha’s DNA is racing and sporty bikes but we don’t forget family use either. We have successfully produced many commuter motorcycles in the ASEAN.
In India, our strategy is the top-to-bottom approach – from the R15 or FZ series to the Saluto and Crux, and we have achieved a standard 125cc motorcycle. Our strategy is to gradually expand quantity while our sporty bikes can also be in a good position in India.
Do you see a growing demand for entry level single- or twin-cylinder performance bikes with an engine displacement of 200cc-500cc in India over the next 2-5 years?
This is related to the marketing strategy and manufacturing condition but personally I want to expand in the over-500cc segment.
Honda has recently launched the CBR 650F (in India) and we want to catch up. If everybody in our company agrees, then we can introduce such a model very quickly as we have it in other countries. Initially, we can bring it as a CKD.
What is Yamaha’s future technology roadmap for two-wheelers?
While the time schedule is not clear, fuel injection and an electrical controller for total motorcycle functions is a step forward. Such technology makes customers happy as it is easy to use for a comfortable ride. We want to add such tech for our top-end models.
Our 1000cc YZF-R1 manufactured in Japan is completely controlled by electrical systems and achieves high performance. Maybe smartphone connectivity to some other electrical device is my dream in a motorcycle going forward.
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