Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Udit Sheth, Executive Director, Setco Automotive Ltd.

How far have you come on the ceramic clutch front. Would the 2015 Prima T1 have them?

We have given them (Tata Motors) the offer for ceramic clutches but the 2015 T1 Prima is using a 17-inch diameter organic clutch. In racing conditions, ceramic clutches are always better because they support a high ability to accelerate. However at the kind of horsepower the (T1 Prima) truck produces, a ceramic clutch may not be needed. I think for now, they (Tata Motors) aim to get the racing right and get into component engineering in the next phase. Right now the focus is on tweaking the engine and its weight, to get more power out of the vehicle. This may be followed by braking dynamics and clutch dynamics. Last year (2014), we took all our clutches back from the race trucks and analysed their performance. What we found was that they could be re-installed and used for another 2,00,000 km.

You have been supplying clutch systems to Tata Motors for a long time. How do look at Tata Motors’ pursuit for AMT?

AMTs also have clutches. It is just that they are used differently. I don’t see too much of a threat over there. I think we are still far away from building AMTs as a standard feature. Also, in India we still need to get our power-to-weight ratio right. This has a direct impact on fuel consumption, as well as the wear and tear of parts. Overloading and the poor condition of roads are still our biggest challenges. It all revolves around the operating conditions.

Having a global presence, do you foresee any drastic changes in the clutch industry?

There will be no drastic changes. Changes will be in the area of noise and vibration. Noise and vibration harmonics will play an important role due to rising environmental concerns. So, the clutch manufacturer will have to come up with products which improve driver comfort. Products which lessen fatigue and offer better road safety. One would also need to be at the edge of cost and development.

How advantageous it is to make in India, you recently mentioned that Setco will be commissioning a foundry at Kalol?

I think our primary advantage in India is that we have good engineers. They have the ability to work keeping international market requirements in sight. Then, we have better costs. It is however, not only about cost reduction, but also about innovation. India does differentiate itself when it comes to low cost products. We are able to customise the products better, unlike China, which is known for producing bulk quantity.

India seems to focus on innovation in terms of costs, or should it clearly stand out in a particular area?

Innovation in terms of costs and standing out in a particular area are two sides of the same coin. The difference I see is in our engineers, that they need to get their hands a little more dirty. They need to get on the shop floor. In India, we have a lot of disguised unemployment, and there is a need therefore to efficiently use our manpower.

With a need to build world-class trucks, we still seem to get the power-to-weight ratio right. There’s the scarcity of drivers. What do you think?

Ours is a market in which owner driven trucks do not constitute a large part of the CV industry. If he will buy for self driving, for sure he will go for a vehicle with better features.

You think such a market will evolve in India?

It is too early to comment. We still have people who are not trained, and work for minimal amount. Half of the truck drivers out there have been cleaners earlier. One side of it is that if the driver faces bad roads and uses the clutch frequently, it is good for our business. Replacements will go up. And experts can easily tell whether the clutch has been abused, or has had a manufacturing defect. Also, it is the overall value proposition that will decide whether we will have enough drivers in the future.

What kind of clutch technology does India need?

I don’t think it will be changing dramatically. The clutches developed for advanced markets like Europe will fail in India, not because the product is faulty but because the engineering standards of the clutches vary according to market performances.

New technologies that you are working on?

Normally as the clutch wears, you have to adjust it. That adjustment is done manually, and can be automated. We are currently working on a technology that will automate the adjustment of the clutch. We expect it to enhance customer satisfaction. We need to target OEMs first as aftermarket will not move forward until OEMs are willing. There will be a need to leverage both.

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