Automotive bearings are used for a variety of applications including wheel hubs, engine, interior applications and transmission modules. Major factors driving the bearings market today are increasing production of vehicles, rising domestic demand from developing countries and the growing need to develop and implement technologically advanced solutions. FAG Bearings is India’s largest supplier of metal bearings to the passenger car segment, and the company plans to undertake major investments in the coming years to tap the inherent potential which the segment offers. ATR recently met Dharmesh Arora, Managing Director, FAG Bearings India Ltd, to discuss the nuances of the bearings industry and the impact of government policies in the long term.
As a part of the Schaeffler Group, FAG Bearings supplies to automotive as well as industrial manufacturers globally. In the Indian market, FAG is witnessing increased demand for its products for two-wheeler and tractor applications. FAG’s current portfolio of advanced solutions for wheels, powertrain and engine accessories supports the automotive industry’s need for higher levels of integration, safety requirements, driving comfort and environment protection.
CHALLENGES IN THE INDIAN MARKET
Upcoming BS VI norms will present a big challenge for automotive players in India, and being a global entity, FAG Bearings has the required expertise and experience in building Euro VI-specific components. However, the Indian market presents different set of challenges, quality requirements and segment specifications, which have to be tailor-made for customers.
For a bearing manufacturer, adapting to new emissions norms requires the enhancement of combustion efficiency and working on after-treatment solutions. Working on BS VI-related requirements, FAG’s focus has been on improving powertrain combustion efficiency, which increases the thermal capacity of an IC engine by reducing internal friction. Improved valve cam facing is a key requirement for increasing combustion efficiency. In the valve train, there is increasing usage of hydraulic lash adjusters and rocker arms, moving away from tappets, pushrods and other technologies of the past. This presents a wide scope for bearing manufacturers to improve upon their existing capacities. For accessory drive systems, front end accessory drive (FEAD) systems are required to take care of vibrations through the use of tensioner systems, and the overrunning alternator pulley (OAP) has been a key advancement in the smooth running of modern IC engines.
There has been significant activity happening in the automotive transmissions domain, with increased focus on automated manual transmission (AMTs), dual-clutch automatics (DCTs) and continuously variable transmission (CVTs). In India, the challenge is frequent clutch operation during heavy traffic, and an automatic transmission that does not hurt fuel economy is likely to be the perfect solution for the Indian market.
In the above context, FAG has developed an indigenous electronic clutch management (ECM) system, a two-pedal mechanism where the clutch is automated and works without requiring the driver to operate a clutch pedal. The driver only needs to shift gears directly (without manual clutch operation), with the system utilising a sensing mechanism that recognises the intention to shift, and automates the clutch operation. This eliminates the need for manual clutch actuation, leading to a hassle-free driving experience, combined with the fact that this mechanism doesn’t hurt fuel efficiency the way a conventional torque converter AT does.
INCREASED ADOPTION OF AMTS
The Indian market is cost conscious and it is essential to have products that are affordable, yet offer the convenience that consumers these days demand. With increased urbanisation and worsening of traffic conditions, AMTs present a viable option for the modern day driver in terms of comfort and ease of usage. It is the first stage of automation and with volumes growing, it is an indication for carmakers to channelise their R&D capabilities for further development and refinement of this technology.
In terms of adoption, AMTs are expected to stay in the A segment or the entry-level B segment, due to their limitations in terms of smoothness and refinement. More refined and advanced systems like DCTs and CVTs are expected to gain momentum in higher-end car segments. This is due to better integration of transmission and engine capabilities in these systems, compared to a standard AMT unit. Automatic transmissions today are also being tuned for optimised fuel economy, which also helps reduce emissions.
THE WAY FORWARD
Electrification seems to be the future of personal mobility, with hybridisation taking place gradually across most major global markets. Transmission requirements in these vehicle types will be significantly different, with e-CVTs doing duty on e-axles running independently of the powertrain. It is important to develop efficient transmission modules for such vehicles, with micro-hybrids representing entry-level hybrids.
As the Indian automotive industry matures with the requisite policy support, schemes like FAME are expected to offer benefits to manufacturers who take the hybrid/EV route. Also, with the government planning to substantially increase the amount allotted for FAME, hybridisation could gain significant momentum in the near future.
For development of electric vehicles, it is important to make battery technology more advanced and affordable. The current crop of EVs is priced higher than IC engine-equipped vehicles with similar features, which may not work. Reduced costs, coupled with better charging infrastructure, could boost EV demand in India over the mid-term future. Till then, hybrid technology appears to be more viable for the Indian market.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley