Mention braking solu-tions and the usually quiet Sriram Viji, the young Deputy Managing Director of Brakes India Pvt Ltd is quick to start sharing fascinating insights into the vertical. The company is ready to launch its product for the intermediate commercial vehicle (ICV) segment this year, informs Viji. On the issue of introduction of autonomous vehicles on Indian roads he feels that the existing complexities will make any immediate shift challenging. Manufacturer and supplier of braking applications for automotive and non-automotive applications, Brakes India is also the largest component manufacturing company within the TVS Group, which has its international headquarters in Chennai. In conversation with Manish Pant, Viji shares insight into emerging trends in automotive industry and its impact on braking systems.
You recently spoke about
launching “a new paradigm in braking solutions”. Now what does that mean?
Braking systems are ever-evolving. What we see as a new paradigm in braking is catering to some of the mega-trends and advances that we see on the light and passenger vehicle side in the Indian market. These include electric vehicles, vacuum less braking, mega-stability control, safety features such as emergency automatic braking and autonomous driving features. On the commercial vehicle side, we are still a far cry from that paradigm shift. However, we see segmentation and evolution happening in the commercial vehicle market, enabling us to provide value proposition for each segment. In some cases, at lower and in others at higher cost, but at a far better total cost of ownership (TCO) so that the return on investment (ROI) for the end customer is much higher.
You recently announced two
new products for commercial
and passenger vehicles. What
does that entail?
On the commercial vehicle side, the launch is the result of a product development design within Brakes India. This basically entails converting intermediate commercial vehicles with higher gross vehicle weight (GVW) range of six to ten tonnes from a pneumatic to hydraulic braking system for better progressive feel and stability. That also helps in enhancing safety. Of course, the biggest benefit is a lower weight system that provides quicker ROI to the end customer. If you look at our launches with ZF, they are more focused on future technology in passenger vehicle braking.
What other new products are you looking at launching in the current financial year?
Our intermediate commercial vehicle (ICV) product is vehicle ready. This is a uni booster combined with all four-wheel ends having a reaction beam caliper. We have taken license for our reaction beam caliper from Meritor. It is a hydraulic caliper that has proved its worth worldwide. That’s the biggest launch we look forward to on the commercial vehicle side. In passenger vehicles, we have recently released what we call low or zero drag caliper. This helps improve the fuel efficiency for the vehicle as well as life of braking pads. It was recently rolled out during the SUV launch of an OEM. We are very proud of this product and are already getting excellent feedback about it. The second launch that we recently had was the electric park brake (EPB) launch with Jeep Compass. We have also secured contracts with a couple of other OEMs. We expect to make further progress with the product given our level of localisation in technology. We have a clear advantage on EPB, with ZF being the number one in the technology globally. We are also working on a version for small cars in the Indian market today.
You have been very closely engaged with OEMs. Has there been any evolution in your relationship with them given the fact that many disruptions are happening in the space?
You are absolutely right about that. Disruption is clearly happening. OEMs are engaged in a lot of soul searching in terms of how they can adapt to these mega-trends. Being on the braking side, we are involved with autonomous driving vehicles as well as a little bit on the emission side. Where we can, we support our customers with the available data and products.
How critical is R&D to you?
Also, are you looking at further expansion overseas?
It is clearly very important to Brakes India. We have had an R&D department from the day we launched operations in 1962. We introduced the brake dynamometer shortly thereafter. We have been investing in both our facilities and engineering team for a very long time. There is definitely more of a push towards R&D in the past few years given the changing nature of the market. With that our focus will also change somewhat. Since electronics and software are becoming important we have to develop the inhouse capability to work with them. But we will not forget where we came from and will continue to invest in mechanical products and braking. We have the largest number of dynamo and noise dynamometers in India. We have a test track that was developed a few years ago with anti-skid braking system (ABS) testing capability.
With regards to our going outside of India, we have a JV with ZF. We work in the Indian market, while ZF is active in the global market. We have a clear understanding with them and it has worked extremely well over the past 50 years. We will continue with the same dynamic going forward. Whenever there is an opportunity from ZF to source parts from us globally, we support them. We do have export contracts on certain drum brakes and calipers. We also have big export casting contracts for our foundry from ZF as well as other commercial vehicle customers. We also have some direct commercial vehicle export contracts outside of the ZF scope, where we work with local OEMs on export contracts for their local branches. A footprint outside of India will come only if there is a specific need for us and not as part of our business strategy.
India has undertaken one of the biggest road building exercises in the world. Together with that, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been very emphatic on the safety aspect. Do you perceive an increase in public awareness on the issue of late?
Yes, there is indeed a shift as people have become more aware. The work on infrastructure by the government is fantastic. From where it was till a few years ago, the country has made great strides. But whether we have got things right in all cases, no. We still have a long way to go. We have expressways that are not divided, we have turning points in the middle of highways, we have tractor-trailers packed with passengers moving at 30-kilometres per hour speed next to a truck loaded with 13 tonnes of cargo and going at 100-kilometres per hour. There are clearly areas where we need to make improvements on safety from an infrastructure perspective. But I think some of these changes will be generational. You cannot expect someone who has learnt to drive in a certain way to change suddenly. Therefore, it’s a combination of enforcement, generational change and infrastructure, and the automotive industry has to play a big role there as we can do a lot on vehicle safety. It’s going to be a collaboration between several entities and will take time.
A supplementary question; do
you think we are ready for
If you could start from the scratch with driverless cars, that would be great. But given where we are, there is a big problem with driverless or autonomous cars when it comes to boundary conditions. They work great in a structured environment. However, boundary conditions in here are extremely complex. There is a lot of data that you get from the West which is either irrelevant or doesn’t work very well in the Indian scenario. Making a shift today would be tough if you only intend to mix and match. There might be innovative ways like demarcating spaces for driverless vehicles. It is going to be beneficial as our accident rate is very high, which is sad. But I see the existing challenges as too insurmountable for us to be able to make the shift quickly.
If you could start from the scratch with driverless cars, that would be great. There is a lot of data from the West on autonomous cars that is irrelevant for the Indian scenario. Making a shift today would be tough if
you only intend to mix