Affordable safety tech vital for India's two-wheeler industry: Experts at AutocarPro webinar

by Team Autocar Professional 29 Oct 2020

The risk of being killed in a crash is nearly 20 times higher for two-wheeler riders compared to car drivers. This is exactly why the two-wheeler segment in India, which typically sels in excess of 25 million units annually (in a non-Covid-impacted year) has the potential for significant technology penetration that also brings about greater safety. However, two-wheeler buyers in India, who happen to be tech-savvy, are hugely value-driven. As a result, experts feel that developing safe, sustainable and environment-friendly solutions at affordable prices is important to make a difference.

Day four of the Autocar Professional’s Two-Wheeler Virtual Conclavefocussed on a variety of connected issues on the topic including the new norms in the two-wheeler space after BSVI, safety regulations, developing cost efficient yet advanced safety features in India, technology evolution and scope of connected vehicle technology in two-wheelers. The experts debating on the issue comprised:

  • Alexander Klotz, Head – India Technical Center, Continental
  • Omkar Panse, VP & Head – Digital Connected Solutions, KPIT Technologies
  • Ramanathan Srinivasan, MD, ATS Group
  • N V Marathe, Director (Acting), ARAI

Autocar Professional’s Special Correspondent Mayank Dhingra moderated the discussion, which proved to be a lively 90 minutes. 

Continental’s Alexander Klotz: ‘Technology that combines safety and environmental concerns will be key focus area in future.’

The head of Continental’s India Technical Center, Alexander Klotz, kicked off the discussion, bringing into focus the key theme of the webinar, affordable safety technology and said, “India is a value-driven market. Obviously, the market is not about high-cost solutions but always appreciates technology that is leading and world-standard. Hope the market looks towards most efficient and sustainable solutions.”

Klotz highlighted that, “Industry initiative is key in mass adoption of safety technology in two-wheelers.” Cost and awareness are the two driving factors behind the adoption of any innovation in the automobile space. Citing the example of ABS adoption in Indian two-wheelers, he explained that, “Integration of the braking system needed awareness as well as was a key business decision, given low volumes initially. Awareness, technology advancement and legislation supported mass adoption of the key safety measure.”

Talking about the pace in which regulations are being adopted in India and the readiness of India Auto Inc for adoption of CAFE and RDE norms, he has “concerns about rushing into new regulation too fast, and industry needs to calibrate the timing of fresh regulation carefully. We should as an industry align on the timing, so that is manageable for everyone, and not confuse the buyers. I would give at least a year's time before switching to any new regulation.”

Touching upon the topic of connectivity and safety, Klotz said, that Continental already has developed eHorizon almost a decade ago that provides a preview of the road ahead to vehicle control units, enabling predictive driving solutions for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and two-wheelers.

Continental’s eHorizon for two-wheelers (pictured above) is a cloud-based data management service which increases safety, eco-efficiency and enhance riding pleasure. The data is collected and aggregated from various sources and transmitted back to the vehicle that can help motorist better understand their route, and hence travel much more safely.

Klotz also said that the industry can explore bringing emergency brake assist functionality for two-wheeler users, as that can further help reduce two-wheeler accidents. He revealed that Continental is “actively looking at introducing various safety sensors and solutions used in passenger cars to two-wheelers."

Speaking on the need for connected helmets, Klotz said “We have seen developments on that front, be it audio connection or having integrated small screen in the helmet. We also need to explore the ability to use a smart helmet with any bike, so that one can use it as per their convenience.”

Klotz pointed out that “electrification is going to be a dominant trend,” in India and sees huge potential. He is “convinced that electrification of two-wheelers and three-wheelers in India has the potential of becoming attractive from a cost perspective.”

KPIT Tech’s Omkar Panse: ‘Huge customer base in India a key advantage in changing the price point/introduction of new technology.’

Omkar Panse, VP & Head – Digital Connected Solutions, KPIT Tech too concurred that the Indian customer is cost-sensitive, “OEMs s are continuously looking for what needs to be given from a regulatory perspective and also value addition. It is a balancing act, but ultimately the price tag is what matters to the customers.”

“India has a huge customer base for two-wheelers and it is a key advantage to bringing the new tech in these segments. There is an urgent need to deploy a system to alert the rider about a potential threat. Many accidents in two-wheelers are because of blind spots and a notification beforehand would save a life. We are seeing developments and prototypes in ADAS for two-wheelers. But, making it affordable for the market here will play a significant role. There's huge potential for OEMs to enhance the brand experience with a connected helmet with touchpoints, display visuals and audio support. Role of V2V and V2X technology needs to increasingly focus on security and safety aspects. The regulatory aspect needs to focus on that,” he added.

According to him, OBD ports open up a lot of opportunities and would bring more value to the customers. “A connectivity platform for two-wheelers should be seamless. Bringing in the best-of-the-phone features is the key driver of digital innovation for us. Connected features cannot be detrimental to user safety.”

Sharing his views on the upcoming norms, Panse said that, “India is such a large market and whatever we do here will have a huge impact.” At the end of the day, a certain age of vehicle contributes to a large number. They also witness an enormous push and pull from the market towards EV and he feels it will be interesting to see how this catches on.

He pointed out, “With BS VI, it is about the overall system of hardware and software. Even the OEMs are working on software updates. It is going to increase and one have to wait and see how it turns out.”

He explained that the focus needs to be on customer satisfaction ultimately, “Connectivity coupled with technology in premium segments and with safety-efficiency in commuter segments will be the key. But the most important focus is  giving the experience at an affordable price point.  

ATS Group’s Ramanathan Srinivasan: ‘Safety, efficiency and sustainability key focus areas.’

With the auto industry evolving, the testing procedure has evolved along with it. According to Ramanathan Srinivasan, MD, ATS Group, with more strict norms there will be more testing. But, one important aspect is to have the “correlation between the on-road tests and lab simulations.”

The basic aim according to him needs to be, “Safety, efficiency and sustainability key focus areas. Primarily attention on how connectivity can save lives. Improving and upgrading existing two-wheelers is another major focus area.” 

“We are bringing the 'road to the lab' with dynamometers and more. A lot of tests that we used to test on roads are now able to simulate most road conditions in the lab. This is a faster process for development and a much faster way to reach the market. Testing through simulations cuts down time for development substantially,” the ATS Group managing director stated.

He explained that all the testing facilities were recently developed to meet  BS VI norms. With new norms like RDE and CAFE coming in, he feels that the similar infrastructure with a little tweaking would be enough. They do not expect to see any major changes in terms of infrastructure and additional investment for the new norms. 

“We are bullish on e-mobility and are going to set up new EV test laboratories next year. We have placed orders for equipment and machinery. We intend to provide end-to-end testing services, backed up by engineering services. Safety, efficiency and sustainability are the key focus areas. Improving and upgrading existing two-wheelers is another major focus area. Primarily, there should be attention on how connectivity can save lives,” Srinivasan pointed out.

Highlighting the need for specific and pointed innovation, he added that, “There are many lives lost because of two-wheeler accidents. ADAS in a two-wheeler would be really helpful. It can notify riders about approaching vehicles and can be instrumental in enhancing safety for two-wheeler riders and pillions. A small kit alerting the rider would be more valuable.”

Neelkanth V Marathe: ‘The habit of braking suddenly is reason why ABS is a necessity for two-wheelers in India.’

Neelkanth V Marathe, director (Acting), representing India’s premier automotive testing agency, ARAI also resonated the panel’s overarching sentiment when he said that, “Features and safety are crucial but this should also match affordability levels of major consumer segments.”

India is one of the world’s largest two-wheeler markets in terms of volumes and affordability plays a key role in keeping this segment abuzz. Given the huge cost that has already gone in making the vehicles BS VI-ready, the question is India Auto Inc ready for the next regulatory norm? Marathe explains, “The timeline for RDE and CAFE norms are already announced, there is no question of whether we are ready or not. RDE, especially is the key norms to improve air quality in the country. The objective everyone is working towards is to meet it in 2023.”

But he specifies that India cannot simply copy-paste regulations for the RDE cycle, “Working and driving conditions in India are very different, behaviour of vehicles is a key challenge in the current scenario. We need to take into consideration the correlation of the lab tests and the final outcome."

ARAI is also looking at developing virtual simulation capabilities for testing and helping development but he highlights the need for validation. “There are so many climatic conditions, models that we need to test. In couple of years, there will be some data that will be generated. When we talk about virtual simulation, it needs to be validated and bring in the confidence,” added Marathe.

Technological innovation and safety go hand in hand in the two-wheeler space and the life-saving helmet forms an integral part of this value chain. On the topic of helmet usage, Marathe pointed out that, “This is a very critical question as it has got a political, cultural and many other angles associated that sees people not using helmets. One thing that is most important, is that the two-wheeler rider should be concerned about his/her own safety, and strap on a helmet.”

He also spoke on simple features that can enhance safety such as engine cut-off if the side-stand sensor detects that it has not been retracted, “It is often that people forget to retract the side-stand and that can lead to crashes around cornering. Liewise, the saree-guard because it is the ground-reality in the country, which may not happen in other countries.”

He also said that while ABS has not been completely mandated in all two-wheelers (less than 125cc) it is a very strong feature in any vehicle, “It may not be required globally, but looking at our (in India) braking habits, it was decided to introduce it. Our habit of braking suddenly and the overall riding culture in India is a key trigger why ABS is a necessity for two-wheelers in India.”

All four industry exprts were unanimous in their view that any long-term sustainable development and innovation will attract mass adoption only if it fits the customer price tag and offering safety at an affordable rate needs to be the primary driver of innovation in the two-wheeler industry.