India Auto Inc on emission challenges for India and the way forward

by Sumana Sarkar 05 Jun 2021

The theme World Environment Day 2021 is 'Reimagine, Recreate, Restore.' It also marks the beginning of the UN’s decade on ‘Ecosystem Restoration.’ Inevitably, restoring the ecosystem is closely linked to mobility solutions. Increasingly we hear the clamour about green mobility and clean mobility? But there is a cost attached and most importantly it becomes important to find the middle path between innovation and affordability and march towards sustainability.

This leads us to the two cardinal challenges in devising modern transportation solutions – Improving efficiency and reducing emission. India took one of its most significant steps towards a cleaner tomorrow when the country leapfrogged to BS VI emission norms in a record three-year period. But that’s only a beginning – 

Need for a long-term roadmap
Like an eminent speaker pointed out at a virtual conference organised by Autocar Professional, ‘Meeting Emission Challenges’, it is merely a milestone in a long journey ahead.

Shrikant Madhav Vaidya, chairman, Indian Oil Corporation feels“The auto industry is working very hard on improving the overall efficiency of automobiles. In fact, we have seen a dramatic increase in this particular aspect. I am sure the industry will further work towards efficiency improvement of vehicles.”

Auto industry veteran Dr Pawan Goenka stresses on the need for a long-term emission norms roadmap. “India is among the top five GDP countries, which indicates that India’s growth is closely linked to the growth in the automotive industry. However, industry players still need to improve on the quality side compared to Korea, Japan and Germany to become world class. Local value addition, improvement in technology and exports are other key areas of focus.”

Anjali Pandey, VP – Engine Business and Components Business, Cummins India also reiterates the necessity of a roadmap, “The need for a roadmap is really important. It helps in planning the ecosystem, supply chain and also keeps the end users ready. It is also important for the businesses to recoup the investments made, and also for developing the capabilities in India.” 

The next key emission norms to watch out for are the BS VI stage II and RDE norms. Dr Reji Mathai, director, ARAI stresses on the need for a good strategy in this context, “The Indian automotive industry is always looking up to Europe but we have to also understand that India has cost-conscious consumers. As we move forward, we are aligning ourselves with European regulations and we are already closer to the RDE norms. With respect to BS VI and RDE, we are moving in tandem with Europe, but what also makes us different is our dependence on imports.”

The OEM perspective
The road to sustainability is fraught with possibilities. From sustainable fuel alternatives to vehicles running on electric or hydrogen, there are many options. But often the question is what kind of a challenge does it pose for automobile manufacturers? They need to balance profitability along with keeping environment concerns in the forefront.

Martin Schwenk, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India points out that, “Cost disparity is a key challenge in greater EV adoption. The range anxiety and charging infrastructure concerns need to be addressed. After BS VI Stage II, it is important to establish a harmonised regulatory environment and will help companies adapt better. The Indian customer is value oriented and cost sensitive. Concerns about sustainability are developing. The cost versus emission technology balance needs to be looked into. All that matters at the end is the on-road prices of the cars."

Krishnan Sundararajan, Managing Director, Renault Nissan Technology & Business Centre India highlighted the need for practical goalposts, “Important to determine the next emission milestone after BS VI stage II to synchronise to adapting to new technology. India’s adherence to protocol to not to the level as it was globally, the discipline that’s been brought forth with BS VI implementation made India at par globally. We need to set goalpost at practical level and work towards meeting them.”

Diego Graffi, CMD, Piaggio Vehicles believes that the government’s role will be crucial in accelerating this transition, “Going forward, with the push coming from the Indian government to electric transition will give a boost. This will allow India to have indigenising components. It will give a fillip to demand for vehicles made in India. EVs will have a faster acceleration in the next 4-6 years and India has the opportunity to lead the world. This will happen when the industry moves fast towards localisation.”

Dr Ravi Damodaran, CTO, Greaves Cotton however points towards the need to adapt solutions to local demands, “We should also adapt to Indian conditions. For example, we need to look at the percentage reduction in emission norms from one generation to another (in Europe), we should also look at the drive cycles for India, in Europe the road infrastructure is better so there is need for higher speed. But in India the traffic, road, highway conditions are different and the speed comparatively low, so we need to adapt in that way.”

Growing need for localisation
Perhaps this is why the need to develop local capabilities in India in the drive towards sustainable mobility is becoming all too important.

P Kaniappan, MD, Wabco India, and Chairman, ACMA Sub-Pillar on Regulations charts out the business case for developing India’s self-sufficiency in this context, “The component industry is preparing for alternative fuel systems and electrification of the auto industry. It is likely to evolve in facilitating guiding the country to clean safe mobility. Localisation is one of the crucial ways to manage cost while adapting to new technologies. Developing the ecosystem and creating an appropriate business case is important.”

Biswajyoti Mandal, CTO, Schaeffler India lists out the fundamental challenges in this journey, “Multiple technology options are already helping reduce COby almost 20 percent in ICE. Hybrids have additional costs compared to ICE. Full hybridisation can result in as much as 45 percent reduction in CO2. The battery-operated tech (as we have it now) has many fundamental challenges.”

Pradeep Kumar Thimmayan, VP, R&D, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles highlighted the key priorities to work with, “The industry has three priorities at hand – how to reduce emissions to improve the environment, how to enhance fuel efficiency that would support India’s mission of slashing crude oil import and most importantly, how to improve road safety.”

But this change is not just in the context of automobile or components but also the fuel that’s being considered. Dr YP Rao, CTO, Gulf Oil International Group explains, “With RDE norms coming in 2023, it is extremely important that the sulphated ash, phosphorous and sulphur components from the engine oil are optimised to ensure that the after-treatment devices function at close to 100% efficiency.” 

The road to sustainability is a myriad mix of many considerations. Most importantly India needs to look at syncing its emission roadmap with global standards without toppling the applecart, in terms of local considerations. While the deadline for the next emission regulation is approaching at a fast and furious pace, the road toward achieving it remains rather steep.

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