Pradeep Agrawal, Director, National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRIP), speaks exclusively with AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS FINDER.
Could you elaborate on the activities of NATRIP?
NATRIP is a project implementation unit, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) created as an autonomous body and registered as a society under the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Government of India. The project is funded by the government and is coming up at seven centres across the country. Among these, ARAI Pune, ICAT Manesar and VRDE Ahmednagar are brownfield projects as they are being upgraded with several state-of-the-art facilities for homologation and development of vehicles. The other centres are greenfield projects that include National Automotive Test Tracks (NATRAX) at Indore, Global Automotive Research Centre (GARC) at Chennai, National Institute for Automotive Inspection, Maintenance and Training (NIAIMT) at Silchar, and the National Centre for Vehicle Research and Safety (NCVRS) of which the National Accident Data Analysis Centre and Research is functioning from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh.
Out of these, NATRAX Indore is the biggest project of NATRIP, spread over more than 4,000 acre, and is among very few worldwide. The total investment in the NATRIP project is more than Rs 3,500 crore. The objectives of NATRIP are: a) To address one of the most critical handicaps in the overall growth of the automotive industry today, i.e., a major shortfall of testing and pre-competitive R&D infrastructure, b) To deepen manufacturing and encourage localised R&D, c) To boost exports, d) To converge India’s IT and electronic strengths with automotive engineering, e) To ensure seamless integration of the Indian automotive industry with the global industry, and f) To facilitate introduction of world-class automotive safety, emission and performance standards in India.
Since NATRAX at Indore is the biggest project, could you provide more details?
A country with a large manufacturing base cannot survive without R&D infrastructure in the long term. This is true for all sectors and more so for the automotive sector. Worldwide experience in the automotive sector has proved this with manufacturers moving out of countries that suffered from a severe lack of adequate R&D infrastructure. The automotive industry requires developmental facilities to support manufacturing as the offshore development process is economically unviable in the long run; the availability of R&D infrastructure ensures all-round development of the industry and the technical pool in the sector. Given that, NATRAX Indore is going to be a one-stop solution for vehicle development, research and testing for OEMs worldwide and match world-class infrastructure for the following:
The NATRAX project will have many USPs. The technology and know-how have been obtained from developed countries, including IDIADA of Spain while the sourcing of equipment and machinery has been done from the UK, USA, Germany, Japan, etc. Also, technology has been developed indigenously with the participation of Indian PSUs, several IITs and other technical institutions in India. It will have several test tracks including a high-speed track with maximum test speed of 375 kmph, a 300-m diameter dynamic platform with zero per cent camber, high-precision surface finish, evenness and geometric tolerance on levels ±3 mm and a fatigue track of various torturous surfaces for accelerated endurance testing.
Will this help develop Indore as an automotive hub?
The emergence of NATRAX in Indore will attract mega automobile projects. A single such project would amount to an investment of about Rs 3,000 crore. Therefore, an investment of Rs one lakh crore could be anticipated by 2026 with the setting up of new automobile and component units. It would also lead to the setting up of R&D bodies, technical centres and training academies as well as large-scale employment opportunities for highly skilled technocrats. In the larger picture, it will lead to global recognition as the Detroit of India.
How does the lack of testing grounds affect the Indian automotive industry?
The impact is felt in several ways. It leads to offshore development in the absence of facilities, high costs in product development, longer product development cycle, and loss in value-addition chain. Lack of domestic skills has hindered further development since job works are also outsourced. Typical product development costs around Rs 500-600 crore to Indian companies, which goes to foreign players in this business.
What is the infrastructure being built in India for crash testing?
There are excellent laboratories at ARAI Pune, ICAT Manesar and GARC Chennai, of which the crash testing facilities at ARAI and ICAT are already operational. The crash laboratory facility at GARC will be the biggest of its kind and at par with global standards. The laboratory is called Advance Passive Safety Lab (APSL) and is spread over more than 2.5 lakh sq ft covered area with more than 80 m as column-free area for testing vehicles for angular crashes, varying from one degree to 180 degree with the capability to change the angle at every degree. This will be a unique feature not available anywhere else, even at the best facilities in the world. The APSL is in an advanced stage of completion and the total cost of infrastructure is more than Rs 170 crore.
Is crash testing mandatory for all vehicles manufactured in India?
Not now. However, it will be mandatory after October 2017 as has been announced by the Government of India and being included in CMVR for all new vehicles. It has been named as Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP).
How is the BNVSAP envisaged to be implemented in India?
Under the aegis of the BNVSAP, cars sold in the country will be assigned star ratings based on their safety performance. It will be implemented in phases according to the plans being drawn up by NATRIP and the Government of India through the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. As per plans announced by the government, within two years of implementation, new cars sold in India will need to comply with voluntary/mandatory star ratings based on crash safety performance tests. Critical safety features such as airbags, ABS and seat belt reminders will become standard in cars sold in India resulting from rankings and mandatory crash testing. Offset front crash, side and rear impact tests will be required by 2017. Cars will gradually have to meet more stringent norms such as pedestrian protection, whiplash injury and child restraint systems, standards and requirements.
India has a high number of deaths due to road accidents, and Indian automotive safety standards have been criticised as being insufficient and ineffective. India has the world’s sixth-largest car market, but is still the only country among the global top ten car markets without proper new car safety regulation or testing programs. It is estimated that vehicles in India will cost 8-15 per cent more resulting from compliance with these norms. However, harmonising India’s vehicle safety standards with global standards is expected to help automakers export locally produced cars globally. Regulations related to occupant safety and crashworthiness namely AIS 096-Full Frontal, AIS 098-Offset Frontal, AIS 099-Side Impact, AIS 100-Pedestrian Safety and AIS 101-Rear Impact are on the anvil for implementation. The validity of certification is for a certain period and recertification may be required in case of change in technical specifications of a vehicle.
Manufacturers often cite non-availability of sufficient crash accident data in India to justify the crash safety regulations and imposition of European standards in India without going into the typical Indian scenario in such a crash safety regime. How is NATRIP looking into these suggestions?
I think the regulatory authority in India is well aware of this fact and the BNVSAP has been drawn up in consultation with several stakeholders, testing agencies in India, OEMs, etc, as well as through referring to the best practices worldwide. The provisions in BNVSAP are in conformity with the prevailing Indian conditions known as of now. In the NATRIP architecture, there is one entity called the National Accident Data Analysis Centre (ADAC) which is a pioneer in the field of scientific in-depth accident data collection, analysis and research. The objective of this centre is to have wide consultations with all the stakeholders, researchers/academia, transport authorities, etc, so as to collect accident data, carry out research and reach certain conclusions regarding the causes of accidents, injury prevention, vehicle and road safety. This project is supported by the ministry officials, IITs and several organisations, including participation by automotive manufacturers and several state governments. So far ADAC has collected a good amount of accident data. So in the future, all such crash safety regulations are going to be drawn up after due technical scrutiny of the vast data available and the crash safety regime suiting Indian conditions can be established towards mitigation of accident fatalities, prevention of injuries and bringing down accident rates.
How do you see this large technology-driven R&D infrastructure project of NATRIP ushering in changes in the infrastructure sector of the country?
The technology and the knowhow of R&D infrastructure in the automotive sector in India was non-existent to the extent it is required to create world-class infrastructure, especially global level test tracks capable of testing vehicles at more than 350 km per hour. In fact, it was unheard of in the country. Even the best of the formula track F-1 in India cannot be compared with the technology required in proving ground construction as test tracks are like open laboratories requiring precision over every square inch and the best proving grounds are spread well over 3,000 acre. While F1 tracks test the versatility of Formula One players, the test tracks are a challenge to the technology and perfection of several types of vehicles to provide optimum level of ride comfort, safety and ease of handling in all possible real-life situations of actual roads and situations.
Besides, investment in proving grounds, i.e., construction of test tracks is capital intensive, technology-driven requiring use of highly specialised work force, and requires machinery not used in India before to such a large extent. NATRIP, in consultation with several national and international experts and agencies with the requisite expertise, has successfully nurtured a pool of home-grown technocrats in this field in India who are now ready to take on global challenges. I consider this as a very favourable immediate outcome of the NATRIP project in improving infrastructure in this country, especially with regards to highways and expressways where we can successfully construct high-capacity expressways in line with the best of European standards. Since all construction work is being done through Indian companies along with the knowhow and participation of specialist foreign agencies, they will benefit from this knowledge and experience and be ready for global challenges in creating such infrastructure worldwide.
Will Vision 2026 for the Indian automotive industry be a reality?
As per the industry data, the aggregate revenue is expected to increase five times to hit $300 billion and the growth in volume will increase 3.5 times. This will enable the Indian industry to contribute around 13 per cent to GDP, generate an additional 100 million jobs and will attract investment of more than $80 billion, i.e., about Rs 4,90,000 crore. As of now, the industry is on the right track and has the potential to emerge as one of the largest in the world. The Indian automotive industry will probably make it to the top five markets by 2020 and unlike the US, EU or Japan markets, the Indian market is far from saturation. More importantly, the growth of economy over the past two decades has attracted global automotive majors to India with trained manpower at competitive costs, making India a favoured global manufacturing hub.
This is clearly reflected from the numbers of new automotive manufacturing plants that have been set up in the past few years. Most of these have been set up in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat due to their favourable industry policies. As per estimates available, some of these include Maruti Suzuki (investment $380 million), Toyota (investment $310 million), Volkswagen (investment $750 million), General Motors (investment $650 million), Hyundai (investment $1 billion), Tata Motors (investment $240 million), Honda (investment $250 million) and Ford (investment $500 million). Meanwhile, there is a need to promote new auto clusters and arrange mega automobile projects with economic spin-off potential as well as address the specific infrastructure gaps and deficiencies that affect the automobile and component industry.
An IDSE officer of the 1988 batch, Pradeep Agrawal is presently heading the Civil and Infrastructure Wing of NATRIP and the National Accident Data Analysis Centre of NATRIP, an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Government of India. He has more than 25 years of experience in interdisciplinary engineering of government defence projects and has worked with strategic projects of the Army, Air Force, Navy, DRDO, Ordnance Factory, etc., in all parts of the country. Agrawal has attended the Loughborough University, UK and interacted with experts involved in scientific crash data collection and reconstruction practices by European Union. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering, Master’s Degree in Project Management, and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with specialisation in Operations Management. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers (FIE) and Member of Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).