Q & A
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Wabco Inc.
Interview by: Anirudh Raheja
Q. What role do you see Wabco playing in shaping the future Indian CVs?
A. It is the turn of connectivity after electronics, which helps to improve safety and efficiency. It is about connecting the truck to the ground, and beyond braking, Automated Manual Transmission (AMT), and electronically controlled air suspension. It is about information that optimises the way one liaisons with the truck, and helps the driver to be more careful and efficient. Wabco is globally present in this area, and wants India to benefit from this technology. We have already taken a lead position in providing ABS. It is electronically driven, and one of the first electronic systems to find its way to Indian trucks. It is the first basic feature on the path to safer commercial vehicles. We are rolling out AMT, which makes driving comfortable. It also elevates efficiency, and can save almost five per cent fuel. We are introducing technologies and capabilities around advanced driver assistance systems like Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB). Wabco introduced AEB to the world of CVs, and has been already mandated in Europe. The lane departure warning systems Wabco offers, assist the driver to avert accidents caused by drowsiness. In US, this feature is incredibly popular. It may not be mandated, but has been instrumental in avoiding 85 per cent of the collisions. In India, we are piloting this technology. We are taking an active part in providing the functionalities and hardware for telematics and fleet management. It will be a major step towards optimising logistics. The air disc brakes we have designed may not be electronically driven, they are however essential for safety. Not only are they lighter and simpler than the competition, they save 25 kg per wheel weight. They also enable 10 per cent gain in braking distance. The money that would have been spent on maintenance is saved since there is no need to change the pads. Air disc brakes can go up to 100,000 kms, and this has been demonstrated in India. It takes one fourth of the time to change the pads when compared to drum brake liners. We will soon localise air disc brakes in India. Technologies like these may have been rooted into designs and initiatives taken in Europe, they are being systematically reviewed for cost optimisation. We are leveraging the engineering and supply chain we have established in India. We are conscious about the need for such technologies, and there exists a price constraint.
Q. How is the demand for air disc brakes, AMT and ABS in India?
A. OEMs in India are interested in new technologies. There is awareness for the need to contribute to make roads safer, especially with the country developing so fast. There will be more commercial vehicles on the road. Their rising number will call for systems to make them safer. I think there is pressure from global manufacturers entering emerging markets. They are bringing technologies from Europe. Regional manufacturers are closing that gap and leap frogging to demonstrate that they are also capable of introducing new technologies. Truck manufacturers in India share the ambition to export vehicles to regions with higher standards of safety and efficiency. To compete with fully equipped European trucks, one has to be on par in terms of technology. Such reasons, I think, converge towards a strong interest for OEMs to develop and adapt those systems to their platforms.
Q. What is the level of localisation in AMT and ABS?
A. ABS has been completely localised, including the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) that has been historically manufactured in Europe and exported. With a strong focus to minimise costs in India, we decided to break the rule and manufacture ECUs in India. We have already achieved zero quality defects. Riding on this success, we will make ECUs for more systems in the future. For AMTs we have built an assembly line in our factory at Chennai. We are also progressively localising since we have a network of suppliers. Doing this will contribute to lower pricing for OEMs and fleet owners.
Q. How do you look at your vendor base in India?
A. About 30 per cent of what we manufacture in India is exported. All compressors for Volvo trucks worldwide are built at Chennai. All suspensions for BMW cars are built at Chennai. The suppliers in India are world-class in terms of cost, quality and delivery. It is amazing to see the commitment they have, and the way they adopt management approaches like lean management and six sigma. Our suppliers in India not only support Wabco in India, they also support our factories in Europe and US.
Q. What constraints do you face when it comes to driver assistance systems in India?
A. Driving in an Indian city is quite different from that in an European city. Highway driving is different. The environment there is fairly similar to other parts of the world. We are right now piloting those systems, gathering data, and understanding what exactly the drivers of trucks and buses are exposed to, and how we have to adapt those systems. This would ensure that we do not offer features that are not adaptable. We want to develop functions that specifically address the Indian environment. We are working with OE partners to process this information, and optimise the interface.
Q. India is a regulatory driven market. Does it pose a limitation for autonomous and connected technologies?
A. Most governments of major countries like India are going through the same path. It can be discussed and debated whether ABS, stability control are good or not. Someone has to put the stick in the sand and drive the market. It has been proven time and again that the steps governments take are instrumental in enhancing safety on the road. The Indian government is optimistic about cutting the number of road fatalities by half in the next five years. This would call for the need to impose certain improvements in the way vehicles are designed. They have to meet the set targets. Europe has already mandated AEB and lane departure warning. There are important milestones on the horizon. I think, stability control will become mandatory in US by mid 2017. It will soon be mandatory in Japan as well. It became mandatory in Europe a few years ago. For India to follow suit is absolutely normal. The move up to BSIV emission standards reflects upon us human beings addressing the problem of pollution. It is about pushing the industry towards cleaner engines and vehicles. There was quite a lot of push when EuroVI norms were implemented (in Europe). Lot of technical challenges had to be overcome to meet the incredibly stringent requirements. As a citizen, I am happy that our governments have been enforcing things. The talk about BSVI is normal and healthy.
Q. Isn’t the time frame to BSVI too short?
A. I would say that the technology is available. It was invented by the European manufacturers. All the technologies that are needed to move to BSVI are already there. About the 2020 timeline, it is hard for me to comment. It is a decision that India has to make given the constraints. The sooner the automobile industry offers cleaner air to the society the better it is for all.
Q. Bus Code implementation was delayed. Some regulations seem to lag. How does that affect you?
A. For us, the first experience was the ABS mandate. The government stood by its word and it happened on date. For us, the uncertainty is about managing the supply chain depending upon implementation. We factor those things in our planning.
Q. There is an urgency in implementing the truck code. Crash norms are also being talked about. What do you think of their implementation?
A. Whenever we set off, we always factor such things in the planning. There are a lot of stakeholders, and it takes time to reflect upon the impact of the measure you take. The Indian Government looks decisive. The world seems to be impressed with whatever is going on in India.
Q. How has been the response for AMTs in buses?
A. AMT technology took off in US only three years ago – when the price of oil was USD 100 per barrel. Each market has its own way of maturing. Like any other location, technologies will be adopted in India too. The trend of technology adoption is accelerating in India. It is aimed at elevating safety and efficiency. Except collision mitigation system, safety is often regulatory driven. In US, fleets are absolutely convinced that collision mitigation lowers accidents. In the case of efficiency, it is easier. From the total customer satisfaction point of view, AMT will pay back in a matter of months. The technology is mature. AMTs supplied to Ashok Leyland Janbus were as per the JNNURM program. We also supplied AMTs to many fleets in India through that program. It was specified under the JNNURM scheme. Against automatic transmission in terms of fuel saving, AMT is better. The central government has structured Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). It has asked the state governments to decide upon the bus specifications. The only problem is, the industry is fragmented in terms of fleets, which is not the case in the western world. There are large fleets there. The fragmentation makes it a bit difficult to reach out and convince. Smaller fleets makes it complicated. We have a strong presence with almost 7000 outlets to distribute our spare parts; 250 approved service centres, and precious anchor points which are in touch with trucks drivers and fleets on a daily basis. Wabco is taking steps to communicate values that technologies like AMT could bring.
Q. How do you plan to increase your reach in the Indian market?
A. With advanced technologies finding their way into India, it is becoming difficult for road-side mechanics to attend to vehicles. Training is essential. We are providing them (mechanics) with the right diagnostics tools and equipment. We have placed service engineers in the field to support our network. Roughly at every 100kms, we have a touch point. We are also looking at expanding both, the service engineers and the touch points. There is a need for the service centers to elevate themselves to be able to handle advanced products. There is more and more electronics involved. Globally, there is a Wabco university to support people involved in fleets. In India also we have a similar arrangement, but not as big as a university.
Q. India is known for its IT prowess. Are you investing in software development in India?
A. We have almost three times more software engineers in India than in Europe. Their number is fast growing, and their capabilities are formidable. The latest braking system Wabco has developed for Daimler global, 85 per cent of the software it has, was developed in India. This braking system will go on every Daimler truck, and is modular in nature. India develops major pieces of AMT software as well. The Indian operations are also capable of locally adapting systems developed in other advanced markets for the local market. In case of AMT, we made some adjustments to the system to suit the local working environment. India is right now the second pillar of engineering for us. Germany may lead in advanced technologies, the basic software is built in India. India is thus driving the mechanical aspect of our products and systems. No product is released anywhere in the world without Indian engineers either contributing directly to it, or reviewing it to make sure it has been optimised. This is because there are particular skills including the capability to engineer frugally, which leads to a drop in costs by 30 to 40 per cent. We have systematically shifted all the products we have designed earlier to India to avail of the frugal engineering capabilities the engineers here posses. While it is not just one country that benefits from what we develop in Europe, India is a major contributor to the value Wabco provides to truck, bus or trailer manufacturers the world over. We have more Wabco employees in India (close to 4000) than we have in any other country in the world. They amount to almost one third of the total Wabco employee strength.
Q. Do the Indian operations make a centre of excellence?
A. India is a centre of excellence for vacuum pumps, air suspension, compressors and actuators. We build actuators that are designed in India, in Europe, Japan and US. Compressors made in India support Volvo globally. Around 300,000 ABS systems in India have been localised. There has not been a single reject. Actuators made locally are commanded by ABS electronics. ABS directs compressed air to them.
Q. With systems like ABS and AMT finding their way to India, how far are we from connected vehicles?
A. We are fast moving towards connected vehicles. Wabco has developed a new strategy in that direction. It’s a completely new area of value that our industry would provide to the fleets. We acquired a leader in fleet management solutions in Europe. In India, we have developed a product, that is essential to connect the truck to the ground. It simultaneously gathers information (on fuel consumption, driver behaviour and other functions), processes it and transmits it. Functions like fuel consumption and driver behaviour are incredibly valuable for fleets to optimise their way of functioning.
Q. What is the level of involvement of Wabco when it comes to cloud based technologies?
A. We are gathering information as we are building electronic systems. We know how to interpret enormous amount of information, process it, and send it to the cloud. We are already building all those elements that will ultimately lead to powerful functions. We are working with insurance companies in Europe to gather all the safety events that have happened on a truck. We can have those insurance companies access the level of risk. They can accordingly adjust the premium by judging the level of risk. This can push other fleets to improve their performance; check how many times they trigger safety mechanisms. We have cameras that watch the driver, any time there is a safety event. We send the record of what has happened in the last 30 seconds to a centre in India. This system is very useful in US, as it has driven the number of events down significantly, making everyone safer.
Q. Is telematics a growing business for Wabco? How much does it contribute globally?
A. In India, telematics is picking up well. With BSIV emission norms, the use of electronics will grow. We are engaging with Volvo Eicher as an OE supplier to develop telematics for them. Telematics is a sizeable business for us, and is growing fast. In digitisation, the sky is the limit. The potential of what the big data will bring to fleets in terms of enhancing their efficiency is high. Half the trucks today anywhere in the world are empty. Think about what a Uber type of system can bring to this industry. There are many things in the fleets that can be brought together by the digital world.
“All compressors for Volvo trucks worldwide are built at Chennai.”
The trend of technology adoption is accelerating in India. It is aimed at elevating safety and efficiency.
India is a major contributor to the value that Wabco provides to truck, bus or trailer manufacturers the world over.