Indian automotive market is slated to become the third largest automotive market in the world after China and the US with a big portion of the growth coming from the A and B segments. Thus, there will be a strong demand for lowering the cost of upscale and luxury technologies such as soft touch and smart surfaces in auto interiors. As shared mobility and electric vehicles gain importance, automotive interiors are also expected to undergo changes. The revolution of innovation in auto interiors has just begun, says Rakesh Rao.
Speaking at India's ever first Global Mobility Summit, MOVE, in New Delhi on September 7, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a very optimistic picture for electric vehicles (EVs) and shared mobility in India. For the better future of mobility in India, he emphasised on 7Cs - common (common man), connected (conjunction), convenient, congestion-free (barrier-less), charging, clean and cutting-edge (new methods of development).
“Shared mobility will be adopted much faster by the Indian diaspora than a significant growth in EVs. Shared mobility concept is already in use via some of the ride sharing companies like Ola, Uber etc. and it will continue to grow especially in crowded urban areas like the big four metropolis and other rising B-cities. EV introduction will be faster in buses and fleet vehicles than in personal vehicles due to constraints in charging infrastructure for personal use,” says Gajanan Gandhe, Senior Vice President of Asia Operations, International Automotive Components (IAC).
As electrification trend goes up, there will be stronger need for connectivity and continuous monitoring of battery life, traffic, and other features that will have to be integrated into the vehicle. “The EV interiors will have less of aesthetic focus and more of electronics integration, especially in the low end vehicles. As luxury EVs like Tesla and BMWs make their way into the Indian market, it will change the requirements to a sophisticated, luxurious and functionally intergrated interiors,” informs Gandhe.
But some experts argue that the profound impact of shared mobility and electric vehicles is yet to be felt on auto interiors segment. Vidyadhar Limaye, Director, Faurecia Interiors India, opines, “Gaining importance of shared mobility and electric vehicles certainly augurs well for the companies in automotive interiors business. However, the two trends still have some time to gain traction on the ground in India to make compelling business case in the immediate term. Given the growing urbanisation and increasing vehicles on road, shared mobility will certainly become a significant alternative for commuters in the coming years and there is immense possibility for interiors business in that case in terms of offering solutions in areas like infotainment, comfort, ergonomic etc inside the car.”
According to him, electrification will have a good effect in terms of interiors getting importance or more focus than before and so will become a unique value proposition for OEMs. “But, it will still be substantial years before the electric vehicles (particularly PVs) on Indian roads are going to be seen in abundance, given the absence of appropriate infrastructure in the country,” he adds.
Gajanan Gandhe explains, “There is a huge opportunity for suppliers of raw materials, and innovative processes and technologies in these areas to localise their products in the Indian market using the 'Make in India' scheme to address the needs of the Indian market and also explore the opportunities for exports to other markets worldwide. IAC has contributed to this by bringing many global suppliers or their technology to locally produce in India there by reducing the cost to be suited to Indian requirements. We also continue to invest ourselves in many of these technologies to offer our customers the ability to integrate high end features into their small and medium vehicles at a reasonable cost. However there is a large list of materials and technology suppliers that are yet to localise and expand their operations in India.”
With India emerging as one of the leading markets for automotive, many auto interiors players are consolidating their presence in the country to offer the best possible service to their customers. Also, suppliers are moving closer to their customers – the OEMs.
For example, Spanish firm Grupo Antolin opened a new center in Sanand (Gujarat) in May 2016 after automakers like Ford and Tata Motors opened their facilities in the new auto manufacturing hub of the country. The plant, which is equipped with the latest technology, manufactures overhead systems, sunvisors and plastic parts for the interior of automobiles.
Similarly, IAC recently inaugurated a brand new facility in Manesar to service the needs of its customers in North and Central India. “IAC India is growing faster than the overall growth of the Indian automotive market. We have invested in brand new technologies for interior plastics, headliners and flooring in this facility which should help us address the growth in that region. We will also be shortly inaugurating a brand new, state of the art interior manufacturing facility in Nashik for our customers in the western and central regions. Both these plants will address a significant number of new product launches for our customers, both in the PV and UV as well as commercial vehicle segments,” informs Gajanan Gandhe.
IAC is also working on the expansion plans for setting up facilities in South, Central and Western India for the future awarded business. He adds, “IAC continues to manage its growth both organically and looks for any opportunities for acquisition. Our key strengths in design and engineering (over 150 designers and engineers focussed on interiors), operational excellence and customer relationships have helped us grow over the past few years and will continue to support our future growth as more and more OEMs demand localised design and engineering as well as manufacturing closer to their facilities.”
“Electronics are contributing significantly for the advancement towards semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. Many electronic features such as hands free technology, heads up display, interior lighting, multiple sensors inside and outside the vehicle for autonomous driving, safety features that allow better control of vehicles while driving as well as during accidents, highly accurate and integrated navigation systems etc are improving the comfort and assurance for the drivers and passengers of the vehicle. Planning for integration of these devices into the interior design strategy begins well ahead of the overall styling of the car interiors.” says Gajanan Gandhe. Once the overall product strategy is defined, the styling team incorporates all the advance features into the design before detail engineering activity is undertaken. This obviously involves an early system involvement from major interior suppliers to ensure overall harmony and functionality of the vehicle interiors.
Vidyadhar Limaye opines, “The integration of electronic content inside car cabin is seeing a tremendous growth in the connected and aspiring world including India. Faurecia globally has made some significant acquisitions and made partnerships in this direction to offer in vehicle infotainment (IVI) and advanced telematics solutions, that Faurecia Interiors India would get benefit from, given the increasing seamlessness taking place between the traditional products and electronics inside the car.”
He adds, “In India, the soft-touch instrument panels are gaining a momentum in the market as the customers outlook is shifting from basic variants to value variants and undoubtedly the premium variant demands will also get a boost going ahead. Faurecia Interiors India is certainly sketching the plans for such future demands.”
To tap opportunity such as this and others, Faurecia Interiors, a supplier to auto majors, is also setting up a new plant in Andhra Pradesh. “Opening of new Faurecia Interiors plant at Ammavarupalli (Andhra Pradesh) inside Kia Motors Supplier Park is a significant move for Faurecia in India and is scheduled to be commissioned in the first quarter of 2019. The new facility will provide near-term capacity improvements and also allow Faurecia to bring forth a renewed commitment to India’s automotive OEM segment,” says Vidyadhar Limaye.
Faurecia Interiors, which started its India operations in 2013, is a leading supplier of instrument panels, door panels, center consoles and airvents to OEMs like Ford, Renault-Nissan, FCA, Isuzu, Fiat, Hyundai, PSA, Tata Motors and Kia Mobis. At present, it has four manufacturing units (two each in Chennai and Pune) and a technical center in Pune (with complete range of engineering capabilities like innovation, A-surface design and development, product process validation, benchmarking and competency for mechanism activities like airvents, mobile docking devices, cup-holders, armrests, roller shutter door etc).
“Going ahead, the company looks to maintain its technological advantage to offer products / services to OEMs in India, very much aligned to the dynamically changing landscape in the automotive industry in India where technology content is getting richer day by day,” says Limaye.
Automotive interiors market is expected to witness a steady growth as the customer today gives a lot of importance to comfort, style, luxury and overall design aesthetics. Designers are contemplating ways to reconfigure space that can transform into various functions, such as an office, home or an entertainment centre. “Lot of fleet operators, OEMs are now looking at better design options and new features to be given to end customers. Electric vehicles have also changed the dynamics with focus on light weight seating systems. Moreover, Indian automobile industry in the last decade has made significant progress by adopting stringent emission standards, and is progressing towards technical alignment with international safety standards,” says Sudhir Mehta.
New materials (composites, fabric, metals, etc) are also changing the way automakers are designing their interiors. Mehta highlights, “New materials like composites, etc are the need of the hour as weight and cost have become crucial and it affects the overall design of interiors. Automakers are also feeling increased regulatory pressure in terms of light-weighting, better noise & vibration insulations, etc. With the introduction of new materials, it opens new doors for design and development.”
To tap the new opportunities and expand its business further, Pinnacle Industries aims to be a one stop solution provider for commercial vehicle interiors. Mehta elaborates, “We specialise in design, development and manufacturing of automotive interiors for commercial vehicle segment ranging from roofing to flooring. As the industry is showing signs of growth, we need to strive hard, leverage new business opportunities and take on upcoming challenges. We look forward expanding our clientele, introducing new offerings and expanding our production capacity. Going forward, we will be aggressively exploring innovative avenues for ramping up our sales network.”
Suppliers are also focusing on providing specialised services and solutions to meet the customer’s high expectations. “Globally as well as in India, Faurecia Interiors is trying to align its strategy towards moving from being a commodity-based supplier (supplying parts such as door panels, center consoles, instrument panels and others) to becoming a technology company. In India, the company aims to position itself as the only supplier with the required capabilities to help the carmakers transform automotive interiors in their respective products in line with the rapid transformation,” opines Vidyadhar Limaye.
Faurecia is aggressively working on its R&D on interior systems that include connectivity, human machine interface, integration of electronics and other complex domains, in order to bring ‘Smart Life on Board’ which is one of the key strategic priorities for Faurecia. “The company at the same time will continue on its lead on providing soft technologies and India centric innovations to its customers,” he adds.
Prashant Kalgaonkar, Strategic Account Manager - Automotive, Lectra Technologies India Pvt Ltd, explains, “With rising demands, OEMs/tier I suppliers are introducing high end fabric for entry level cars as well and, hence, there is a need for optimum solution fitment to cater to these demands. There is pressure on manufacturers on the cost and, therefore, it is paramount for them to make best fitment which is techno-commercially viable. Thus, increase demand on optimised designs to save on fabric consumption, in the early stages of the product lifecycle, becomes mantra for success. Lectra through its CAD software for automotive viz Formaris, Diamino, DC2D and DC3D are able to support them in fulfilling these stringent design needs.” Lectra supports soft material and works closely with all the tier suppliers, automotive OEMs in car seat design and manufacturing. It offers integrated platform from CAD to cutting room.
In line with increasing customers’ aspirations to have luxury content in their car interiors, use of high-end upholstery for car seat is increasing. “Customers need seat colour that matches with the interiors. They are demanding theme based car seats along with steering wheel covers. Use of leather (hides) is also up, with customers/OEMs looking for a combination of leather and high quality fabric seats and trims,” says Prashant Kalgaonkar.
To give a boost to its India business, Lectra is focusing on key accounts in automotive T1 suppliers and OEMs so that it can continue to be their strategic technology partners in seat designing & manufacturing and airbag cutting. “We work closely with design and development centres in making cost effective (techno-commercially viable) designs. We aim to be the leading player in car seat design and manufacturing. With Lectra’s increasingly leadership position in airbags manufacturing, a strong impetus on air bag manufacturing in India as it is a mandatory feature for all car models in India going forward,” states Prashant Kalgaonkar.
As the Indian automotive market doubles from 3 million vehicles to 6 million by 2020 and consumers expecting world class quality products, auto interiors market is poised to grow at a much faster rate in the future with specialised, customised solutions being the order of the day.
In India, the soft-touch instrument panels are gaining a momentum in the market as the customers outlook is shifting from basic variants to value variants and undoubtedly the premium variant demands will also get a boost going ahead.
As for the impact of the growth in shared mobility on interiors, it will result in a significant change in the thought process of how the interiors are designed for safety, comfort and personalised features.
The number of component variants required (in CVs) is much higher as compared to PVs. Hence, the tool cost for commercial vehicle interiors becomes a major concern as the volumes are much lower as compared to PVs.
With rising demands, OEMs/tier I suppliers are introducing high end fabric for entry level cars as well and, hence, there is a need for optimum solution fitment to cater to these demands.