Despite the fact that India has one of the lowest penetration of vehicles among emerging markets, the country has the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of road fatalities globally. While pedestrian safety standards continue to be worked upon, many global suppliers of automotive safety products and equipments and their OE customers have been on the forefront of introducing measures to ensure vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians are safe on Indian roads.
One such supplier is the German major, Continental. On a recent trip to India, Auto Tech Review caught up with Nino Romano, Vice President Functions Development, Electronic Brake Systems, Continental and Martin Kueppers, Vice President Sales & Business Development, Electronic Brake Systems, Continental to understand what lies ahead from the Continental stable that promises to curb road accidents in India.
Two critical components in modern vehicles that help push the safety envelope are the EBS and ESC systems. The effort, Romano explained, is to let the products network with different systems in the vehicle, including cameras, infrared, radar systems, or the passive safety systems. With car-to-car (C2C) and car-to-infrastructure (C2X) communication gaining popularity, Continental has been investing a lot of effort trying to get information not just from sensors in the vehicle, but also from the environment, traffic jams, and other vehicles on the road.
“The safety potential by networking the system is not something related only to Europe or North America, but has huge potential in India as well. We are completely sure that our EBS systems could help cut down road fatalities in India by at least one-fifth,” assured Romano.
The initial challenge for Continental was to engineer safety products suited to the Indian market, but bringing safety awareness to the end-consumer is also becoming a core area of its responsibility. There has never been a challenge big enough from an engineering perspective; however, pushing safety to a value conscious Indian consumer is quite another task.
Romano said the company is trying to understand how much the end-consumer is willing to pay for safety. “Our products are modular and scalable and that gives us the flexibility to downsize and offer the right product to the consumer, at the right price. We are aware of the price sensitiveness of Indian consumers, but we want to ensure that this price sensitivity would not kill our approach to bring safety on to the streets,” he said.
Markets like India, and other emerging markets, have been the focus for Kueppers and his team of late. There’s an understanding that market penetration in India comes from the top. High-end cars already come with all necessary safety features, and the first signals of the middle segment cars being introduced with safety features is now getting visible, Kueppers said. There is a visible pull effect in the market – if one manufacturer starts offering safety features, others will have to follow soon, he observed.
“Indians by nature are value conscious, but we continue to see a surge in awareness for safety in this market. Even in the two-wheeler segment, we’ve had the introduction of the first ABS system in India, and consumers understand the benefit of this product in saving lives,” Kueppers noted. TVS Motor Company was the first Indian two-wheeler manufacturer to offer an ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) in the Apache RTR 180.
The ABS offered on the TVS Apache is a good example of modularity practiced by Continental. This unit comes with a single control on the front wheel, but Romano said the product is capable of being scaled up as per the requirement. “If there is a demand for more safety features in the Indian two-wheeler industry, we can easily put in additional safety features in the system.”
There’s absolutely no compromise on safety and reliability, Kueppers assured, but “we do compromise on noise behaviour. Customers in mature markets tend to be very sensitive towards noise. Indian consumers, being not too sensitive about noise, give us the liberty to work and reduce some cost from the system.”
While a lot of these aspects are regulatory driven, Continental has assured laws of the land would not stop them from introducing safety features and equipments in the Indian market. Notably, the European Union has voted in favour of mandatory ABS for new motorcycles over 125cc from 2016. Kueppers confirmed they are currently in talks with other two-wheeler makers in India, and believes it’s just a matter of time before others opt for it.
MK 100 – INDIA BOUND?
Continental has continued to invest in improving braking performance through several decades. The newly introduced MK 100 brake family is aimed at the emerging markets, and is significantly better compared to its predecessor. The modular product makes scalability possible, and it makes it possible to install ABS/ESC in all vehicle categories – right from a two-wheeler to a large SUV.
Romano said the MK 100 is 30 % lighter compared with the earlier ESC generation, but that is not due to any change in material used. The valve characteristics of the aluminium valve block have been optimised, and Continental engineers have been able to bring in the same hydraulic forces in the system by less weight, and less steel in the valve. “To bring in the 30 % weight reduction, we reduced the size of the valve, which also means we reduced the size of the valve block, reduced the quantity of aluminium and reduced the size of the motor,” he explained.
Interestingly, throughout the MK 100 product family, the hydraulic and electrical interfaces are compatible with each other. That makes the product easily applicable for OEM platform concepts wanting to benefit from a truly scalable product range.
In the past, the company had made applications for different vehicle segments, but with growing demands for efficiency, it worked on a system that had the same levels of safety, functionality and performance. The design concept will produce added functional value even for price-driven, entry-level versions, and that is what gives Kueppers and Romano the confidence that there will be a keen request for the MK 100 from Indian manufacturers as well, because Continental is eyeing the entry level A- and B-segment cars.
The new MK 100 went into series production in European and Asian platforms in 2011, and many more OEMs in Europe, NAFTA and Asia have confirmed their acceptance of the product for future vehicle platforms.
The MK 100 ABS Entry variant, which was specifically designed for the hatchback and small sedan segments in growing markets, will be locally produced in India, along with China and Brazil. The packaging of this variant is compact and extremely light at less than 1.2 kg, and fits in the MK 100 ESC M box dimensions. The XT version can be extended to cover the D-segment as well, stated an earlier company release.
One of the exciting new steps the company is undertaking is in the area of environment and CO2 reduction. “Our focus through the MK 100 system is to take care of the requirements emerging out of electric and hybrid vehicles, for instance. These vehicles also need a total independent brake system,” said Romano.
That’s where the MK 100 ESC Hybrid steps in. It is based on a standard hydraulic brake system, but has an additional brake pedal position sensor. “In EVs and hybrids, we have to cut off the brakes from the driver pretty much totally, because every manufacturer wants that the brake energy that we’re applying on the calliper, is not wasted. They want the brake energy to be recovered,” explained Romano. The regenerative braking with the MK 100 makes the recuperation of braking energy possible. The braking energy is converted into electric power that is used to charge the vehicle battery.
Romano and Kueppers are convinced about the Indian potential for safety products. With a growing level of maturity and awareness, it’s but a matter of time that consumers will start demanding products that ensure enhanced safety, they believe.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah