Fernando Rodriguez: “Safety is going to be one of the technology drivers for the future.”

by Nilesh Wadhwa 12 May 2020


The world around is getting more digitalised, connected and smarter. And with Covid-19 pandemic bringing lives and industries to halt, the relevance and importance of digitalisation has just been accelerated.

On National Technology Day on May 11, which marks the anniversary of Pokhran Nuclear tests in 1998, Autocar Professional hosted a webinar with the theme of ‘Pushing the Technology Envelope’.  

The panelists included:

  • Dr Arun Jaura, managing director, Michelin India Technology Centre
  • Dr Ravi Damodaran, CTO, Greaves Cotton 
  • F Rodriguez, Engineering Head, TataMotors
  • Meenakshi Sundaram, CTO, Amalgamations

Sharing his vast knowledge on the automotive industry, Fernando Rodriquez, Head – Engineering, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit (PVBU), Tata Motors, spoke on the global and domestic trends that is shaping the automotive segment. Rodriguez has over 30 years of experience in the automotive industry. 

Rodriguez began his presentation on how Indian consumers view and demand technologies, which is completely different from other markets. “In the past some of the technologies (in automotive) were mainly driven by regulations, be it safety, airbags and ABS among others. It was difficult for OEMs to introduce airbags in the country, if it was not demanded by the regulation. This was quite specific to Indian market, in other parts of the world, the technology introduction is usually driven by consumers, after which it becomes a regulation. It was not in the case in India, but now it’s changing.” 

He pointed out that in India, while new technology is appreciated it has a strong relation with cost. “Historically it was difficult for OEMs (to offer latest technologies) because of the price consciousness in the Indian market.” He says while the scenario still exists in India and is challenging for OEMs to offer newer features/technologies without adding significant cost. “It is a challenging but interesting market,” comments Rodriquez. 

Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared & Safety tech
The technology head, points out that the global automotive industry is now looking at the megatrend of ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared), “In India there is a need to add the Safety aspect as well”. “Safety consciousness (among consumers) is growing rapidly, in Tata Motors we are proud of what we have done in safety, and are at present leaders and will continue to be leaders in the future as well.”

He explained that for long customer didn’t perceive safety as a value, but it is now changing, and it will become a growing influencer. Autonomous tech is one of the major trends worldwide, but will take time to find demand in the Indian market because of the riding condition, infrastructure and cost of technology, among others. “While we will not see SAE Level 3 or 4 (autonomous tech), we will see ADAS tech in SAE Level 1 and 2 vehicles, in the form of brake assist, cruise control being progressively introduced in the Indian market. This will also be because of push towards safety, and will grow stronger by time. Bringing these features to Indian market, is not the same case as in the Japanese or European markets. It (the technology) will need to adhere to India-specific conditions. For instance, animals on the roads, there will be something that needs to be customised, and it will again need to be not very expensive,” pointed out Rodriquez. 

It is quite interesting to note that Tata Motors’ has been for past few years leading the safety quotient in its passenger car offering. And in fact, Tata Motors’ was the first Indian OEM to get a 5-star safety rating for the Nexon SUV from Global NCAP in December 2018.

Another trend seen by Rodriquez in the domestic passenger vehicle market is in the area of connectivity. “There are two aspects of connectivity – In-vehicle connectivity (infotainment, Bluetooth connectivity), where you will see cars having physical buttons making the way for soft-touch buttons, controlling features with voice commands will also increase. Second being, outside vehicle connectivity (connected car), where the vehicle will communicate with the infrastructure and environment around it, and share various information like traffic conditions. The scenario has not started yet in India, but will be in the future.” 

He also sees demand for EVs picking up in India, as the challenges of infrastructure starts improving. The government too is pushing EVs. On the other hand the concept of shared mobility will see further development because of connectivity, which will allow a lot of services and possibilities even allowing business opportunities feels the Tata Motors veteran. 

Lightweighting and emissions
Rodriquez said that beyond safety and ACES megatrend,  Tata Motors is also “looking at technologies in the area of lightweighting, new materials, BIW, powertrain, it is also about digitisation of engineering process. With digitalisation which is becoming sharper and more accurate, which allows to set higher target and meet higher customer expectations. By running simulation at system levels (not component), we can have extensive prototype testing, all of this can be optimised, which will allow easier modification allowing for the highest accuracy before the first prototype. This enables for more optimised vehicles,” explains Rodriquez.

Speaking on the powertrain development, he said that the segment was mainly driven by two factors, legislation and fuel efficiency. Pointing out that in Europe talks around Euro 7 norms have already started, which means “BS VI is not the final step”. In terms of improving fuel efficiency will not only see powertrain improvements, but the whole vehicles needs to be optimised, “Fuel efficiency is a key theme going forward. Not just in terms of the powertrain but the complete vehicle fuel efficiency. It will be a driver for both reduction of carbon dioxide and better efficiency.”

It is difficult not to have any discussion around future expectations in any conversation in the present time, as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way one looks at different tech. “The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is making everyone think what more can be done to ensure safety? From an OEM perspective, we can think about adding air purifier, which will certainly help in some way. We see more preference in personal cars, then shared mobility, this is something that we see in the short-term which is being witnessed in China. The consumers want to feel safe, this is not going to be not just short-term but long-term. Because the customers will want to feel safe in their vehicle.” 

Rodriquez believes that collaboration across industries including OEMs, Tier 1, and others including start-ups will bring new technologies and enable more optimised system and technologies in the vehicles. He said while the automotive industry has seen many challenges in the past, the current phase is one of the most challenging period in the industry, because of all the factors are coming in the same time, and Covid-19 is changing the normal way of life.

What is most important is how relevant is the technology, not think about it in the beginning, but think about what your customer and future customer need, and if you are capable to do that, then you are much robust and be fit for the future. 

“There is a need to customise technology to match customer needs that puts you in a robust position to drive technology-based development” Rodriquez said.

Role of technology planning
Citing the ever increasing role of technology planning, Rodriguez said, “It is important to have a technology roadmap, in Tata Motors, we have structural process to have technologies. It is very open, and listen to what’s going on, the global trends, partners, customers, suppliers are telling us. We make a proof-of-concept, and see what is the financial, quality impact, and how will it impact the overall dynamics.”

He concluded saying, “Need to customise technology to match customer needs, that puts you in a robust position to drive technology based development.”

Read More
India Auto Inc needs greater tech planning, penetration and execution: Experts at Technology Day webinar

Dr Arun Jaura: “The dynamics of the automotive industry will completely change and we have to be prepared for that."​

Dr Ravi Damodaran: “Create a technology roadmap and build capabilities to execute it.”

Meenakshi Sundaram: “Differentiating between product value will be the key to winning more customers.”