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

by Sricharan R 12 May 2020

As Meenakshi Sundaram, CTO, Amalgamations Components Group takes stock of the state of India Auto Inc in a post-Covid scenario, he feels “As we keep pushing for 40 years, maybe the R&D investment is minimal but, it has come on the time it was required to survive and move forward. We would differentiate this as before and after 2016, on how we are pushing the industry.”

He was one of the four panelists at a webinar organised by Autocar Professional on May 11. Titled, “Pushing the Technology Envelope” the webinar delved deep into India’s need for investing aggressively in technology. Dr Arun Jaura, MD, Michelin India Technical Centre, Fernando Rodriguez, Head - Engineering, Passenger vehicles business unit, Tata Motors and Dr Ravi Damodaran, CTO, Greaves Cotton, were the other panelists.

“India started pushing the technology envelope from the 1980s in the automotive segment. And, we started with part-to-part manufacture and started looking at the parts, started producing it and moved to print-to-part manufacture. Then we designed and developed small parts which are very different requirements in the market. So, we have pushed our envelopes at different times over the past 40 years,” said, Meenakshi Sundaram, CTO, Amalgamations Components Group.

2016: Prior and post
Elucidating more on the topic from a component manufacture perspective, he explained, “For BSVI, we can send our products to the global market. In the motorcycle segment, we are the first in the world to have BSVI and we can lead the market. This all should come from a regulatory perspective, customer plans and market requirements. All of this gives us a product plan and this plan is different among the Tier-I companies. Be it a small or large enterprise, they can choose to be a leading company or can just become a competition by a player with a price. The customers are not going to pay for requirements anymore. This has changed from 2016 when we skipped BS V and the requirements are now gone. Now, value and functionality are leading the game. The customers are not necessarily stating the requirements. They are asking us to make the requirements by ourselves. And, how do we do that, we need to look at a process internally and make sure that we meet the requirements. At the same time, we provide value and bring up the value chain. So benchmarking is one of step for the Tier-I companies to look at these.”

He added that a smaller company might want to work with a 90 percent reliable component which has 95 percent confidence. While for the same component larger companies might work with 95 percent reliable component with 90 percent confidence. Every company would address it differently. In his company, which makes pistons they have to improve their engineering team for product development. This has to come through technology, and the development process has to be essentially placed inside its organisation. Concept launch, knowledge plan and putting it all together is very essential.  

“Until 2016, we were just saying technology is not available and we cannot do certain things. But, the year has changed the game. It is no more technology-driven but is time driven. And, that is where we pushed this envelope. In Tier-I, we were committing to reliability after the best results. Now, design and commitment start with reliability. Resources are an essential part of the technology envelope. Earlier, we had to do job training, hire people and get the project development done. Now, they have to be data-driven, scientifically driven and trained for a process, technology and more. We are not yet into the process of doing fundamental research but now developing technology with a scientific approach,” Sundaram, said.

He believes that the industry is at “crossroads of ICE, EV and hybrids”, and stated that they need to ride two horses at the same time. IC engines are going to live at least until 2030-40, he said.

“At the crossroads, we need either go to hybridisation or electric or start investing to maintain the current product line up. We need to do both ICE and these for some time now. There has to be a decentralised team working on enhancing the value proposition for current products. We should be individually driven by a plant level or business unit level. At the same time, it must have a centralised organisation that is trying to push the interest towards R&D and this can happen only by building competency. We take engineers, build competencies for a particular technology and make vital collaboration around the world and work with them. Earlier, we were selling only parts and now we are selling solutions. We have moved up the value chain and enhanced it. It is entitled that we need to ride two horses at the same time,” stated, Sundaram.

Answering a question from a young entrepreneur on what they should be manufacturing in the automobile industry from a new young entrepreneur, the CTO said, “Automotive industry is undergoing a change. There is an ICE improvement, an EV change and both are inevitable. As a small company, they need to know what are the strengths and what are they capable of. They have to do benchmarking on where they stand among the market and should come up with a value proposition to beat their competitions. They have to think about where they are placing the product with what value and price. If all these merge together any product can be made successful.” 

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