Jacques Esculier, Chairman & CEO, Wabco Holdings Inc.
As part of the Prima T1 racing, what do you hope to derive?
I think that this truck racing event is a good way to promote the CV industry. It is a good way to bring before the public the achievements of this industry. It is a major pillar in the economic growth of the country. It is difficult to see a country flourish without an efficient transportation system. Participation in such an event also allows us to highlight breakthrough technologies that help commercial vehicles become more efficient during their operation. We are contributing largely to this by featuring a new ABS system that has been mandated by the government. The date of enforcement being April 1, 2015, for new trucks, and October 2015 for the existing trucks. I think it is a fantastic step forward. India has one per cent of the total commercial vehicles in the world. However eight per cent of the world’s fatalities occur in India. ABS is a major cornerstone to enhance safety. It is exactly the reason why it has been featuring on the trucks today.
Apart from scarcity of drivers, there is a need for skilled drivers who understand new technologies. How do you see India coming to have such drivers?
We want to make technology more accessible. We are helping our customers make CVs that are more comfortable and safe for the drivers. More than 50 per cent of accidents happen due to loss of control of the truck. 28 per cent fatalities out of 50 per cent accidents happen in India. Overall it is a fairly dangerous job, and it is very complicated too as it involves dealing with various complex machines. We are making it safer for the driver as we work with OEMs. Our technologies also make CVs more attractive for drivers. We will be making it more comfortable and easier to drive for the driver by providing AMT (Automated Manual Transmission), an electronic system which you can put on the top of your manual system. It is a breakthrough not only in India but across the world. Apart from saving five per cent fuel, it also saves the driver from regular shifting of gears. Saves the driver from effort and training. This allows him or her to concentrate better on the road. The electronically controlled air suspension that we offer, makes the vehicle more comfortable. It also saves fuel by optimising the way the load on the axles is distributed. For example, there are trucks today, which have double driving axles. We have one driving axle instead of two. When the truck starts we can transfer load on that particular axle by using this air suspension to distribute the load. This is the technology that we are bringing in along with driver assistance technologies. For commercial vehicles, we were the first supplier to bring these systems; the collision mitigation systems, lane departure system or the drowsiness warning system. Early in the morning on freeways, both collision mitigation system and drowsiness warning can be of much help. We sold over 1,00,000 units of our ‘Onguard’ collision mitigation systems. All those who have equipped their trucks with these systems in the US have already validated that they have seen more than 80 per cent avoidance of rear end collision, which is the biggest source of accidents.
Do you see any limitation in using these technologies in India? Issues like roads limiting the axle load carrying capacity?
You cannot compensate for the limitation unless you take out weight from the truck. We are also contributing to make trucks lighter. Though not in India, we have introduced a new material to reduce the weight of the compressor by 50 per cent, which can be up to 30 kg. We have innovated by designing the lightest air disc brakes so far in the world. As this industry will gradually adopt air disc brakes, we will certainly offer that innovation for making the truck lighter. I feel the government here is very committed towards improving the infrastructure, which will surely support the economic growth in the country.
But there is a trend that people want to go for bigger trucks that can have better payload capacity yet be as cost effective as a smaller truck?
If the infrastructure allows, it is better to have bigger, long haul trucks than smaller long haul ones as the former maximise weight and have better payload capacity. Around the hub you really don’t need those large trucks but for hub itself you can’t do without big long haul trucks.
Considering Europe’s well defined hub and spoke model, how do you see the same evolving in India, and how will that help a supplier to grow along with the OEMs?
Infrastructure of the industry itself is yet to mature in terms of having larger fleets. You need to have spokes (the network) in the hub and spoke model. You need to simplify what it takes to move from one region to another and not having to stop for paying taxes. This country will progressively mature and match with the other areas of the world, which have progressed in terms of infrastructure in the logic of optimising the transportation of goods and thereby the usage of commercial vehicles. We are here to provide all the support and technologies that will be required.
In India, you command a good share of the CV braking system market. ABS is also in. AMT however is yet to be addressed. How long will it take?
If you look at Europe, it is ahead of other markets in adapting technologies in commercial vehicles. Close to 80 per cent of the trucks in Europe use AMT. For years, the US market did not adapt to this technology. Around 3-4 years ago, the US market started adapting. It recognised the value of two things, fuel consumption and shortage of drivers. The two were making it very complicated to execute the work they had. By short cutting the training and eliminating the very difficult part of shifting gears, it has unleashed a lot of hope. The payback time of AMT is proving to be six months, which is a very short payback time. We respect the time a market takes to mature, and gain awareness. The first area where AMTs will penetrate well is in city buses. It is a very economical way of enhancing fuel consumption and makes it easier for the drivers. It will progressively gain space over what has been going on in Europe, US and Brazil. Indeed, AMT was invented by Wabco in 1986 for Mercedes-Benz. Another technology is the Electronically Controlled Air Suspension (ECAS) branded by the name of ‘Optiride’ that we are bringing into India. This is a highly adopted technology in Europe. We have an ECU that optimises pressure in the air bellows that are a part of the truck’s air suspension. The suspension is also load sensitive, and speed sensitive. As the truck gains speed, it can be lowered to ensure better aerodynamic efficiency, and save fuel. It also offers kneeling for buses to make them user friendly for disabled people.
You mentioned that AMT will be seen in buses first. What about automatics being claimed to be the best solutions for buses?
When compared to AMT, Automatic Transmissions (AT) are extremely heavy. We are replacing them in city buses. AMTs allow flexibility in the production of CVs because they just sit on the top of a manual transmission. So a manufacturer can decide whether his transmission will be manual or AMT. Economical in terms of acquisition, the cost of an AMT is incredibly low. It also consumes less fuel than automatics. One of our customers has saved 10 per cent fuel by using AMT in the city buses. AMT is largely dominating in Europe, which I think is the most advanced industry for commercial vehicles. I also think of it as a good point of reference. Wabco already works with customers like Volvo, Daimler and ZF transmission. We are also working with Fast Gear in China, which is the largest transmission manufacturer in the world, and with China National Heavy Duty Truck Group Co. Ltd. (CNHTC) which has its own transmission business.
Your AMT is already in the Indian market?
Our AMT is found on the Ashok Leyland Janbus, which is already plying in Kolkata.
Collision mitigation system will enhance the safety of CVs. For a cost sensitive market like India, what is your application road-map for such technologies?
Even though what we bring to China and India is an adaptation of what (technology) we have developed for US or European market, we respect the specific application of the market and we just can’t take the product off-the-shelf and sell it in various markets. We have been working hard to find a cost level and specifications that would be acceptable to India for collision mitigation system. It is not certainly desirable in the city traffic because here in India, you are always prone to a collision due to heavy traffic. So you may need a different kind of functionality depending upon the speed itself. This is the work that we are doing right now to provide the best optimised system that will benefit the Indian market.
How involved are the India operations in the development of such systems?
The ‘Optidrive’ system is modular in nature, and was developed specifically for the emerging markets. When you look at what we develop for Volvo and Daimler, it needs five years of development, and is extremely expensive and tailor made. They can amortise it as they produce huge amounts of gearboxes and they equip all of them with AMTs. So, the volume is high. You may not have such an application in a country like India where the volumes are a lot lower. The development costs are heavier and can’t be managed specifically for each gearbox by optimising and tailoring the design. So we came up with this idea of a modular system that shortened the adaption system and was less expensive. In-turn, it became accessible for Ashok Leyland and CNHTC in China. This design was built by Indians, Chinese and Germans. The software was developed in India and we have more than half of our total software developments being carried out at Chennai. The product development concept of Wabco is around two major pillars. One is in Germany. Historically Europeans have been offered new technologies that did not contain the concept of optimising the design. You want to be the number one in emerging markets, and it is India that is optimising technology. There’s not one new product that we develop in Germany, which is not reviewed by the Indians. The products we had designed long time ago are redesigned for India. More than 30 per cent of Wabco employees are in India, which is also the largest employer of Wabco work force. So, India is the centre piece of the entire strategy.
The transport minister has been pushing for alternate propulsion mediums. Scania has an ethanol bus running in India. There’s the BYD electric bus in Bangalore. Do you see scope for such technologies to reach a practical level?
We are accompanying this trend, and provide two things. One is an electric air compressor. If you stop the compression engine in a hybrid system, it will still compress the air. So we have an electrically powered compressor. The second fundamental thing is you have to manage your energy extremely efficiently. You have to figure out how you are going to absorb that energy without challenging the safety of the vehicle. We have invented EBS system in CVs and we have been developing the EBS system for manufacturers who are developing those hybrid systems or electrical systems. The hybrid concept is very attractive, and is the focus of most of the countries. However it is still very challenging in terms of pricing returns. It has to be subsidised, and if you don’t do it, it will be very complicated to have a financial equation that allows it to flourish. The problem is with batteries which need replacement. They are extremely expensive. So there is an upfront cost, then maintenance cost and operational cost which is heavy.