A few weeks ago, the unveiling of a long-range electric concept sedan at the Geneva Motor Show by India’s largest automaker sent all social media channels aflutter. Built on a modified Optimal Modular Efficient Global Advanced (OMEGA) electric vehicle architecture, the ‘E-Vision Sedan Concept’ is capable of attaining a top speed of 200 kilometre per hour, according to the company. It can also reach 0-100 kilometre per hour in less than seven seconds. The adaptation of electric mobility in India is going to be gradual, predicts Rajendra M Petkar, who took over as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Tata Motors from April 1, 2018, in an interview to APF’s Manish Pant. However, there is a need to simultaneously evolve conventional vehicles and internal combustion engines during the transition period, he adds.
Globally, today there is a move away from diesel engine, with some countries even proposing a complete embargo on it by 2040. Does this mean we are nearing the end of the road for diesel vehicles?
We need to look at this in a holistic manner. As long as you are using the carbon-based fuels, whether it is diesel or gasoline, you are going to have pollution. You can try to minimise pollution through technological intervention. However, if the aim is to have zero-pollution vehicles, then the conventional internal combustion vehicles are not going to be able to meet that requirement. Whether by 2040 there will be diesel engines or not, depends largely on the question as to how do we want our environment or quality of the air we breathe? Therefore, electric vehicles are a step in the right direction and there is going to be a natural progression towards them. In the intervening period, we need to be continuously evolving conventional vehicles and internal combustion engines to be able to minimise tailpipe emissions.
In this backdrop, where does the Indian auto industry stand?
You have to look at it from the point of view of segments and market that is regardless of ‘OEM A’ versus ‘OEM B’. If you look at small compact vehicles that are generally powered by low horsepower three-cylinder engines, those vehicles are bought by entry level consumers. That segment has a limited driving range or requirement of not more than 2,000 kilometres per month. Studies have very clearly shown that if you have low mileage being covered by a particular vehicle segment, then diesel is not going to make sense and it is more of gasoline. Therefore, in the compact segment, it is essentially gasoline that is the dominant power train. But those who have a duty cycle like taxi operators where they are required to run their vehicle a lot more, diesel makes more sense because the fuel gives more mileage. Although diesel vehicles cost a lot, their operating cost is lower than that of gasoline. Therefore, it is a function of the segment, duty cycle and personal versus commercial vehicles.
How do you see regulation that takes effect over the next two years changing the landscape?
If you see the migration that is going to happen from BS IV to BS VI, it is something that is going to happen in a period of three years. If you compare that with the western world, they migrated from Euro 4 to Euro 6 in a span of seven to nine years; in between they had the Euro 5 stage. But as far as India is concerned, the migration is going to be a leapfrog. You are going to completely skip BS V. Therefore, a congregation BS V and BS VI technologies are required. There is phenomenal work and complexity involved. When you have to cover the entire range of vehicles in a span of three years, it’s a significant challenge. OEMs like Tata Motors are getting fully geared up to be able to deliver vehicles in the defined time frame.
With so much happening, do you think that the Indian market is ready for electric vehicles?
The market readiness of the electric vehicles depends on three factors. One, if the product is there. Taking Tigor as an example, let us assume the product is there. Second, if the product is affordable because today, all said and done, we are yet to reach that inflection point where an electric vehicle is comparable to a conventional vehicle. Although that inflection point is going to be there at some point in time. Third, whether we have a good charging infrastructure. Therefore, when all these three things come together, which we believe will happen eventually, there will be a shift towards electric vehicles. But it is not something that is for today.
What opportunities do you see for an automaker like Tata Motors in this dynamic scenario?
We have been investing in these technologies. We have been working on getting the right kind of technology in our power trains, the kind of package we need to put together, and in the kind of features and functions we need to offer that are going to be more user friendly. All of this is going to help us create a differentiated product, and Tigor is a small manifestation of that. Thanks to the partnerships that we have, plus the focus on in-house R&D and aggressive localisation that is going to happen, all that is going to basically allow us to come up with a product faster and, at the same time, deliver what the customer is looking at an attractive value proposition.
What platforms do you see as dominating the market in the passenger and commercial vehicle segments over the next ten years?
If you take the passenger vehicle segment, we see clearly a pull that is happening in compact SUV and SUV segment. There is a progression that is happening towards those categories of vehicles. It is driven by the aspiration to own a SUV, its performance, its agility, it flexibility and, plus, the automation that is inducted in the vehicle. Whereas, if you take the case of commercial vehicles, it is driven completely by the total cost of ownership. The customer will gravitate towards a product that makes sense to him. But we know the driver is a very important part of that. Therefore, all the products that Tata Motors is now coming up with, keep the comfort and convenience of the driver at the centre. The Intra compact truck launched at the Auto Expo 2018 has a wide cabin, plush interiors, hatchback, music system, walkthrough cabin and very good interiors. Since the driver is going to be at the wheel for ten to twelve hours, he shouldn’t dread being inside the driver’s cabin. Such considerations prompt us to continuously offer something better to the commercial vehicle segment.
Since India is known to be a very price sensitive market, is there a shift in consumer preference?
India is undoubtedly a price sensitive market but customers are willing to pay as long as they are able to share value. If the buyer sees value in the total cost of ownership of a product, he is going to go for it. And over and above the total cost of ownership, if the manufacturer also provides better comfort, convenience and safety, it is going to be an icing on the cake. That’s the mindset of the commercial vehicle operators. We keep innovating and offering products keeping the driver at the centre as far as commercial vehicles are concerned. In passenger cars, it’s more about aspiration.
India is undoubtedly a price sensitive market but customers are willing to pay as long as they are able to share value.
We have been working on getting the right kind of technology in our power trains to offer products that are going to be more user friendly.