‘Indian industry is investing in safe R&D, not true disruptive R&D’: Dr Pawan Goenka

by Sumantra B Barooah , 30 Aug 2016


Representational image of an R&D laboratory.

India is currently the world’s sixth largest car market and some predict that it will reach the number three spot by 2020. That would mean overtaking much developed markets like Japan, Germany and South Korea.

This journey to a podium place maybe more challenging for industry players (both vehicle OEMs and suppliers) than ever before. The industry will have to play the quality and innovation cards better than ever before, and in a way like never before. Industry veteran and executive director of Mahindra & Mahindra, Dr Pawan Goenka says disruptive innovation is a must for players.

“While we are innovating as OEMs and suppliers, we are nowhere near fully leveraging the potential that we have in innovation in India. Innovation often tends to be reverse engineering or incremental improvement and not often enough doing something that is disruptive,” he said. However, he added that the journey of the Indian industry over the past 10 years has been significant on all fronts. During this journey, the industry has picked up the “low hanging fruits” but the bigger goals lie in the road ahead.

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Dr Goenka, who is a strong proponent of brand India, had in an exclusive column for Autocar Professional, pointed out that from just being an assembler and supplier of small, low tech components, India is increasingly being acknowledged for its skills and competence in automotive engineering, vehicle manufacturing, automotive software and frugal innovation.

In an interaction with journalists on the sidelines of the 56th annual session of Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) with the theme ‘Winning with Quality & Innovation’ in New Delhi today, Dr Goenka highlighted the need for a change in the culture or mindset in the industry towards quality. “Most of us have good resources”, he says but also feels that “tolerance level” for not-so-good quality is higher than it should be. He noted that the drop in consumers’ tolerance level for low quality is a good sign that will help industry players.

Given the rich talent pool available in India, there is much need and scope for industry-academia collaboration for the Indian industry to thrive better. Dr. Goenka, who is also the chairman of board of governors, IIT Madras, said, “I am truly impressed with the quality of research that can be done at our top level institutions in India. It is not leveraged partly because the marketing ability of academicians is not high and partly because the industry in India is not spending enough money on true R&D which involves taking risk. We are spending money, about 4-5 percent of our revenue on R&D. But we are doing safe R&D. We are not investing enough on R&D that is disruptive but does not guarantee success.” The technocrat feels that “like-minded” OEMs can come together and take advantage of the opportunities available for mutual growth.

Talking about growth, Dr. Goenka says that after a long period of negative or stagnant performance, the Q1 performance has been “reasonably okay”. there is nothing that is a major concern for industry growth.

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