Dr Seshu Bhagavathula bids goodbye to Ashok Leyland, and India

by Sumantra B Barooah 05 Aug 2020

Technocrat and an auto industry veteran, Dr Seshu Bhagavathula is set to start a new phase in his life. The 60-year-old engineer has retired from commercial vehicle major Ashok Leyland as its president – new technologies and business initiatives, last Friday, after the end of his extended contract period. He may continue to play a support role in some cases.

Dr Seshu, as he is widely called, had joined Ashok Leyland as its CTO in April 2016, a role which he held for three years. In that role, he also led the technology functions across Ashok Leyland group companies. He had four key responsibilities to deliver during his stint. The recently launched highly modular truck platform called AVTR, is one among them. The others were, transition to BS VI, EVs, and a mid-to-long term product planning roadmap.

The modular platform, which claims to be able to offer  up to 6 lakh different vehicle configurations, could play a lead role in Ashok Leyland’s strategy to be among the top 10 M&HCV OEMs globally. The ‘Modular Business Program’ project, started in 2016, marked a departure from the earlier product development approach at Ashok Leyland. Dr Seshu was also a member of Daimler AG’s modular program, and that experience came more than handy here.  In an interview with Autocar Professional last year, Dr. Seshu said, "With modularisation, our addressable market has gone up. Things that we have not been able to offer before, we can offer from now on."

In the electric vehicle (EV) space, Ashok Leyland was the first in the commercial vehicle segment to make a major move. Its bus model called Circuit-S, launched in October 2016, was the first ‘made-in-India’electric bus.

The 72-year-old OEM also launched what it claims as India’s first integrated facility for design, prototyping, testing, process prototyping and solutions design, in its Ennore plant two years ago. Though the business and the overall EV market have not progressed satisfactorily, these steps would help once the critical scale starts building up.

The OEM bets on a partnership strategy to build a sustainable EV business. In an earlier interview with Autocar Professional, Dr Seshu said, “"In the modem e-mobility value chain, you cannot do everything on your own. You require intelligent partnerships to master the overall value chain. You can't go and start buying companies. So intelligent partnerships are all about new business initiatives."    

A German citizenship holder, Dr. Seshu will now head back to his German home, near Stuttgart. The India part of his career is “more or less” over. However, it won’t be surprising if he is roped in by an Indian organisation again, given that organisations hungry for growth, building technological and innovative capabilities are constantly on the lookout to get highly experienced industry professionals on board.

Dr. Seshu’s career began with Daimler AG, as a manager in its radar division. His India stint started in June 1996, as the founding managing director of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development India, a key development hub for Daimler globally. Prior to joining Ashok Leyland, Dr. Seshu had a stint as CTO, Apollo Tyres, working out the company’s Netherlands base.

Dr Seshu, an electronics engineering graduate and doctorate degree holder in high frequency technology, has earned his name as an industry professional. He also holds several patents, including 3 in transportation telematics, and about 35 technical publications. However, not many may know that he is also a marathoner who has run close to 20 marathons and 40 half marathons. Now that he will have more time in hand, the sexagenarian may be found more often in marathon circuits in the coming months and years.