The global automotive seating specialist Adient, which recently announced investment of $30 million in a new testing facility in Pune, plans to use its India-based technology centre for developing products for aerospace industry. In this interaction, Murali Rajagopalan, Director and Country Manager, Adient India, tracks the trends in auto industry and their impact on the development of seating systems.
How will the new automotive seating prototyping and testing facility in Pune help Adient India?
The new facility will provide physical testing to augment the capabilities of the existing technical centre in Pune, a global Center of Competence at Adient for computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided design (CAD) automation and finite element analysis (FEA) simulation expertise. With this facility, we will be able to support our customers on an entirely new level, so I see this as an exciting new chapter for Adient India.
With the new testing facility, we will be in a position to provide our customers faster turnaround time for developing products. Sending seats for testing outside India raises cost of developing new product and development time. The facility will help our customers save money as well as time and will also help us serve our global customers faster.
It is easier to develop new product for Indian customers, if you have the capability to validate it in the country. So (as a result of Adient’s testing facility), the motivation to do new things will be very high.
Can you take us through Adient's journey in India?
Adient (then a division of Johnson Controls) established its operations in India in 1995 through the formation of Tata Johnson Controls, a collaboration with Tata Automotive Components.
In the first part of our journey, we had a great business relation with Tata for 18 years. The collaboration helped us grow our customer base in India. Even though we were associated with Tata Group for 18 years, we had customers across India.
Now, after becoming an independent company, we expect much faster growth going forward. The primary drivers for this high growth will be the company’s focus on one product ie seating, and addition of engineers in our tech centre for handling increased amount of work that is going to come our way.
What is driving the demand for your products?
There are four factors driving the demand for our products. These are regulation (as seats are highly regulated to ensure safety of the driver and co-passengers), carmakers’ requirement to have a differentiated product (to gain a competitive edge in the market), changing consumer needs (customisation) and technology (that can make products faster at a much lesser cost).
Are safety regulations in India at par with global standards?
Safety regulations in India are becoming stringent and very soon it will be on par with global level. This trend will also help us as we develop products which meet international standards.
What are key trends in the global automotive industry?
Autonomous vehicles, rise in demand for full electric vehicle (EV) with increasing mileage range and shared mobility models with customised interiors are three main trends that we see in the auto industry.
How will these trends impact the development of seating technology?
These three forms of mobility will have different impact on the seating system.
Autonomous (driverless) vehicles will be the biggest change as it will have an impact on safety and controls of seating systems. There are no dashboards, steering, air bags, etc; hence, the seat will be much bigger in terms of content in autonomous vehicles.
While privately owned vehicles run for about two to three hours daily, vehicles operated by car aggregators (shared mobility) such as Ola or Uber runs for 13 to14 hour in a day. Shared mobility means more usage of vehicles. So in terms of durability of seats, there is going to be a change. Similarly, seat has to be comfortable for different types of people (women, children, aged people, etc). Thus, durability and ability to adjust to different consumers are the most important factors to be considered while developing seating for shared mobility.
In electrification, vehicle will be driven by battery and not by the engine. The biggest limitation of electric vehicles (EV) is that distance covered by them in a single charge is far lower than the gasoline powered vehicle. To extend the range of the electric car, OEMs need to reduce the weight of the vehicle. Hence, lightweighting is an important aspect to be taken into account while developing seats for e-vehicle.
But carmakers have been focusing on lightweighting even before EV became the talk of the town…
When gasoline prices were soaring, lightweighting gained traction from the vehicle manufacturers to lower running cost of the vehicle. With gasoline no longer expensive, lightweighting is no more a concern for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. But, for EVs, lightweighting is the most important factor to develop vehicle having long ranges.
For lightweighting, are you seeing increase in usage of composites for seat making?
Composite materials are still in their primitive stage as far as seating is concerned. Steel is still the material of choice for seat making. Companies are developing technologies to make steel stronger by using alloys (so that less steel is used for the same application, thus reducing the weight of the overall vehicle). Research on developing high-strength steel is far ahead than composites. Carmakers prefer steel as
it is familiar material and they know how to design the tools to make steel products. Composites are still an unexplored territory.
Are you also looking at developing materials for seat making?
We are not developing steel materials ourselves. Adient, along with car makers, is working with suppliers in India to develop materials for seats.
Are you looking at other sectors (apart from automotives)?
Globally, we have big focus on aerospace. In May 2017, Adient tied up with Boeing to improve comfort, efficiency and functional requirements of commercial aircraft seating and interiors.
Will India be part of aerospace development programme?
At present, 90 per cent of the work undertaken at the Pune technology centre caters to Adient’s global development programs. In aircraft industry, makers (Boeing, Airbus, etc) do not select the seats, but airlines decide the seating systems. So we need to work with airline companies and aircraft makers to develop seats for aerospace industry. We have started the work on this globally in the last six months. Very soon we will commence work on aerospace (the engineering job) in the Pune technology center.
What are your growth plans for India?
India is one of the few countries were automotive market is booming. Consumers becoming increasingly tech-savvy opens up new opportunities for us. The Pune technology centre is a part of Adient’s global research network and will expand as the scope increases with the addition of new projects/research areas.
We have been growing at nine per cent annually in India and we expect to continue the growth momentum. We are aiming to double our sales in five years.
In addition to OEMs, we are eyeing to tap the aftermarket segment and are presently developing products for aftermarket which we plan to launch very soon. Adient will invest in new assembly facility depending on new customer acquisition and technology in India.
To extend the range of the electric car, OEMs need to reduce the weight of the vehicle. Hence, lightweighting is an important aspect to be taken into account while developing seats for e-vehicle.
Carmakers prefer steel as it is familiar material and they know how to design the tools to make steel products. Composites are still an unexplored territory.