With good GDP growth, the youngest population in the world and growing spending power, India today ranks among the prominent automotive markets globally. Recognising this, automakers are increasingly developing global vehicle platforms in India.
Recent examples of local design and development are Renault India’s Kwid hatchback and Maruti Suzuki India’s Vitara Brezza SUV, both runaway successes.
However, demanding customers, shrinking product lifecycles and the emergence of disrupting technologies pose challenges to the automotive industry, especially in vehicle design, to stay pertinent and appeal to customer aspirations.
To debate future India-specific design, a number of auto industry experts came together at the second edition of the ‘Future of Automotive Design Conference held on the theme of ‘Design Empowering Tomorrow’ in Chennai on August 19. The conference was organised by the Tamil Nadu Technology Development & Promotion Center and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), with Autocar Professional as a media partner. The event saw attendance from nearly 300 delegates representing various automotive sectors.
In his keynote address, Dr B Bhaumik, professor, Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, highlighted the challenges the auto industry is likely to face as an increasing vehicle parc results in growing traffic congestion.
According to him, surface transportation will remain an essential part of everyday life for years to come and it’s apt to deal with it collectively, holistically and responsibly. “We need to work on India-centric solutions applicable to conditions here which are likely to be different from the developed world. We will have to encourage smart and shared transportation and discourage private ownership of cars. A rapid shift from fossil fuel to alternate energy sources and recycling and systematic design solutions are necessary as the industry moves forward.”
In his inaugural address, Dr V Sumantran, chairman, Celeris Technologies, said, “Design is about cost innovation as products are getting massively complex with software. There will also be the issue of man-machine interface. The future is mobility systems and how the product fits into the system. We have to design for the entire mobility system. The millennial customer is unique and designs have to deal with the uniqueness and we have to design for the soul.”
Ramkripa Ananthan, conference chairperson and chief designer (AFS), Mahindra & Mahindra, in her theme address, said vehicle designers are futurologists and work systematically on a pattern based on an understanding of past and present and predict what the future could likely be.
In a panel discussion on ‘What will be our future?’, panelists deliberated on the future of automotive designs, shared perspectives on customers, market, technology, designers and the future trends.
Moderating the panel discussion, Mahesh Babu, CEO designate, Mahindra Electric Vehicles, said the lifecycle of products is drastically coming down and there are a lot of disruptions in technology as also people’s lifestyles.
V G Ramakrishnan, founding partner and managing director, Avanteum Advisors LLP, spoke about the technologies which will influence design and the role of technology. He focused on four key elements for designers to work around namely, customers, available infrastructure, environment and regulations. The key trends for the future are largely sustainability, connectivity, autonomous vehicles and safety, all of which designers will have to look at while designing future vehicles.
Expressing concern on the kind of R&D happening in India, he said: “In India, we don’t see much of original research and innovation happening to solve problems. We tend to bring solutions from around the world and try to implement here. This is not going to work in India.”
Evoking Steve Jobs’ profound statement that customers don’t know what they need and it’s the designer’s duty to think of them, Dr Abraham Koshy, professor, IIM-Ahmedabad, said, “Designers need to immerse the context of a customer’s life to understand the problem and see how customers are likely or unlikely to pick up the product. This is the route through which designers can innovatively think for better solutions.”
Sharing his perspectives beyond the automotive industry and opportunities for designers in this eco-system, Myles Cummings, senior lecturer and academic leader, Raffles Millenium International Chennai, said, “Today we are in very interesting times as so many things are happening around and as a designer things are changing radically. This brings challenges as to from where to start and choose things ahead of time to make things better.”
Sharing the end-users perspective, Ramesh Manickam, design director, Centroid Design, spoke on how users’ needs are going to meet by designers or by a start-up-driven eco-system which is more agile to innovate.
In the plenary session on ‘Future of the planet - interventions of the Automotive Sector’, Praveen Chakrapani Rao, VP (R&D), Comstar Automotive Technologies, spoke about sustainable development and referred to the UN’s climate agreement in Paris which involved governments, business leaders and campaign groups.