India’s inspiring journey: From nowhere to becoming the epicentre of global automotive R&D
Evolution is a natural process. To certain extent, evolution is inevitable. If we look around, everything is moving up. An automobile today is much evolved from an automobile two decades back for instance, the evolution of cars has called for umpteen evolution; evolution in quality of talent, tools for research, connectivity, work methodologies etc.
Technology centres, commonly known as R&D centres have played a critical role here. At the very beginning, the work at these technical centres was quite restricted in nature and the R&D teams maintained by automotive giants were minuscule in size compared to work force deployed for other functions like manufacturing etc. If one closely observes the activities of major automotive companies and their Tier-1s, it is very difficult to not notice the increasing spends on research and development. Earlier, these centres were a ‘good to have’ kind of thing. Now they are a ‘must have’, a requirement. As companies became more serious about the outputs from their technical centres, measures were put in place to ensure an evolution of technical centres themselves. In this process of improving the R&D centres, the most integral factor of the whole system was talent. Access to utilities and commodities is prime consideration while setting up anything; technical centres are no exception. Apart from talent, from the perspective of an automaker, many other key factors play a crucial role in selecting a place to setup their ‘intellectual’ facility. Over a decade, India has seen a steep rise in number of companies opening their R&D centres or technical centres in India. In this article, we will take a look at India’s journey; from nowhere to becoming the heart of global automotive R&D.
How did it start?
Post the economic reforms of 1991, almost every global player in the automobile market got interested in India. Everyone wanted to enter the India market; how and when, were the two pertinent questions depending upon the availability of resources and long-term plans of each the companies. Some of the first R&D centres were opened in India during the mid-late nineties. It is very interesting to know that Maruti Suzuki, a home grown brand of the country, started its R&D activities in 2000 whereas, Mercedes Benz had set-up a dedicated research and development entity in Bengaluru in India in 1996. Initially, most of the technical centres of global automakers and their Tier-1s had one primary task : achieving high localisation as that was the only way to make their models cost competitive as India is well-known to be a cost sensitive market. Indian consumer wanted smaller, fuel efficient cars and most of the R&D work happened on these lines.
Since late 2000s, India underwent a face lift much faster than anyone could anticipate. It was this face lift which turned India from a modest country of cost-sensitive buyers to an automotive hub of global importance.
India 2.0: The sought-after destination for every automaker
India always had a potential for being a major part of the global economy; it just started to realise that post 1991. A large number of individuals getting good quality education, an economy open for global inflow of cash, technology, and resources and many such factors came together and by mid 2000s, India was a perfect destination for every automaker across the globe. The median income of Indian middle class and the very number of people graduating from poverty line to middle class increased steeply. The educated younger ones and the middle generation with more global exposure developed liking for safety and features over mileage and low price. The sheer demographic dividend of India combined with conducive government policies made it an ideal place not only to sell automobiles but also to manufacture. Being present in India 2.0 was like a gateway to most of the automakers and their Tier-1s. A country, which was just a buyer so far, became one of the largest producers of automobiles. And this, gave rise to almost all major carmakers to open their R&D centres, which would provide R&D and technologies for Global projects. A look at the infographic below, shows what kind of technologies are being worked on in different parts of India.
How did India become a centre of global R&D?
Though many large manufacturers had their manufacturing setups running smoothly in India, the R&D centres were working specially for Indian markets. The global R&D centres in India was still a far-fetched idea. Once the technical centres started functioning through India and started hiring local talent, the confidence in the usability of the local brains went up. We have been closely studying the statements and new from numerous automakers and tech suppliers to automobile industry. Most of the websites and statements now highlight that Indian technical centres are working on global projects, developing technology and products for Indian as well as global markets. For instance, Volvo and their Indian JV partner, Eicher developed Pro 8000 heavy-duty truck platform that was launched not only in India but also in Indonesia and Thailand. After this assignment, the centre took over the task of developing a medium duty truck (10-15 tonnes) exclusively for the overseas market.
Another story worth mentioning is the global R&D centre of Bosch India, which was inaugurated in 2014 at Adugudi, near Bangalore. Bosch Group operates in India through its 13 group companies and has 7 research and development facilities in the country. As of 2019, almost 83% of the Indian business of Bosch Group comprises automotive solutions. Today, Bosch has more than 15,000 research associates working in India working on key technologies such as driver assistance and passive safety, active safety, anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stability program (ESP), and hardware development.
According to the official statement on Bosch website:
The Bosch Research and Technology centre in Bangalore, India, is part of the international Bosch Research community dedicated to using technological innovations to solve the problems of tomorrow. Here, the associates investigate various challenges on the path toward a connected, smart, and energy-efficient tomorrow. We focus our research along three main themes: advanced data analytics for IOT applications, computer vision and numerical methods, and algorithms for real-time embedded systems. Our research solutions and prototypes not only cater to the wider global Bosch business but also focus on solving regional challenges pertaining to India.
Almost every technical centre has a similar story to tell. The official statement on the Mercedes Benz R&D centre website positions their Indian research entity as a key entity for all future mobility solutions through C.A.S.E for building autonomous and electric vehicles. In fact, many automobile companies and their technical suppliers look at India as an ideal place to set-up centres to cater to the global markets.
Raj Kalra, president, MAHLE Holding (India), in his statement to Manufacturing today, highlights : “As an engineering centre, this (India centre) is a unique one. Worldwide even though we have R&D centres for specific business units, this one will service the entire world from here itself.”
Renault’s Kwid was its first concept car to be unveiled outside Europe. Designed in India, this car was subsequently launched in other countries like Brazil. South Africa, Argentina.
Continental AG, the leading German automotive supplier, working in critical area of automotive safety technologies has one of the largest technical centres in India. As per the information on company’s website, the centre works exclusively on futuristic automotive safety technologies that will first see the light of day in advanced economies such as the US and Europe and gradually filter to emerging nations. This very clearly highlights that though this centre is in India, it is primarily catering to most imminent needs of US and European markets.
If one looks at the whole spectrum of automotive R&D work happening in India, one is amazed by the sheer diversity of the work. Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electrified (C.A.S.E.) are the driving factors of the global automotive industry. We have tried putting up the R&D activity happening in India under these verticals:
A connected car shares information bidirectionally with systems outside it and receives inputs for better operation, maintenance, or user experience. In India, lot of research and development work is happening around these lines. Some of the examples are:
– Harman India R&D centre has audio solutions for connected vehicles as one of the key focus areas.
– Bosch R&D centre in India is working on solutions for connected vehicles.
– Faurecia inaugurated special R&D centre in Pune for innovating smart interior systems
– Mercedes Benz has positioned their India R&D centre as a centre to drive C.A.S.E. from their global operations.
– Autoliv working on biomechanics-based safety systems.
– Michelin R&D centre at Manesar working on developing connected tyres.
– Mercedes Benz R&D centre working at harnessing Big Data for seamless vehicle connectivity.
– Continental’s R&D working on developing HMIs required for connected vehicles.
– Great Wall India R&D Centre working towards AI based solutions for autonomous vehicles.
– Ford Motors employs more than 10,000 engineers in its R&D centres in India and autonomous mobility is one of the major focus areas.
– Mercedes Benz R&D teams working on Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence to aid development of autonomous vehicles.
– Ola Mobility Institute is working towards doing ground research on future of mobility and developing sustainable and energy efficient models of shared mobility.
– Uber has many times clearly hinted at making India it is global R&D hub and has been consistently investing in its R&D centres in India. These centres are involved in doing research on shaping the future of shared mobility and looking at incubating start-ups working in the domain of shared mobility.
– Ford Motors has more than one R&D facilities in India. Ford’s Mobility Experience Lab includes simulations for Ford’s Office Ride, an app-based shared mobility solution for corporate employees, which has achieved over five million rides since its launch in mid-2018.
– Marquardt GMBH, a Germany based solutions supplier inaugurated R&D centre in Pune and is working in the domains of vehicle electronics, Battery Management Systems and Cell Control Modules for Electric Vehicles.
– Great Wall India R&D centre working on developing software for hybrid and fully electric vehicles, and Battery Management Systems
– Renault’s R&D is working towards developing a fully electric vehicle.
– Nissan’s R&D centre, located at Chennai is involved material research for Electric Vehicles.
Thus, India has now become a hub for these R&D centres to work on projects for global requirements in CASE mobility Areas. The Infographic below shows what kind of activities are being worked on in CASE mobility areas in India.
What has been covered in this article is just the tip of the iceberg. Almost every major automaker and almost every major auto supplier already have a fully functional technology or R&D centre in India which is working on their global projects. Many of these centres are also exploring the opportunities to partner with global technology suppliers to develop innovative solutions for global market.
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Note – All information in this article is based on our research of published information. We are not responsible for its use in any way. Readers are advised to verify the content from their own sources before using this information for any purpose.