Amid a rough phase for the industry, Magneti Marelli, an Italian manufacturer of diverse automotive components, has been building up operations and capacity at a rapid pace. The expansion is part of the company’s strategy to establish a strong foothold in emerging markets. Starting from 2007, the company already has almost every division present in India with some sort of a localised footprint. With nine functional plants, the company is strongly focussed on developing products tailored to suit Indian requirements. We interacted with Saju Mookken, Country Manager, Magneti Marelli India, to get a first-hand account of the technologies expected to drive growth in India.
One of the major operating areas for the company in India is powertrain, where it has a distinct approach. Unlike some other large suppliers, which make engines or large modules for it, Magneti Marelli only makes components. These include throttle bodies, pumps and similar parts for both diesel and petrol engines. The company also manufactures transmissions, which are expected to be a key driver of growth in the coming years.
AUTOMATED MANUAL TRANSMISSION (AMT)
For technology generation, Magneti Marelli gets a major contribution from its participation in motor racing. Motorsports, although a small division, acts as a technology incubator for the company. Testifying this is the fact that all Formula 1 cars on the grid today use Magneti Marelli injectors. One key technology from the Indian perspective is automated manual transmission (AMT), which was developed for Formula 1 cars, but later trickled down to mass applications.
AMT holds a lot of promise for India from Magneti Marelli’s perspective. Mookken told us that India is primarily a manual transmission market but there is an increasing need now to automate this process. However, the Indian market demands a product that isn’t significantly higher in price or fuel consumption, yet the functional benefits should be high. That makes things difficult in India. Achieving this through other forms of automatic gearboxes is tough, as the technology is expensive.
Unlike CVTs or dual-clutch units, in the case of AMTs, it’s just the gear shifts, which are carried out electronically through actuators. These actuators are further controlled by hydraulic electro-valves. In addition, the technology is said to be capable of offering fuel efficiency gains in the range of five to ten percent over an ideal driver using a manual transmission.
Mookken said that not just India but other emerging countries such as China and Brazil too need a solution such as the AMT. Magneti Marelli is already working with more than one undisclosed carmaker in India for supplying AMTs. Interestingly, the company is already working for implementation of this technology on cars across various segments including the A & B segments.
Adding to the positives of the AMT is the fact that it can be applied to any existing manual transmission. All components of the hydraulic unit are placed in the form of a kit, which is delivered to the carmaker. This kit once assembled in the gearbox interfaces mechanically with the gear drive shaft. The gear changes depending on various conditions are decided by a transmission control unit. This eliminates the need to spend heavily in developing or procuring another type of automatic transmission.
The potential for AMT’s growth is immense, as the total population of automatic transmissions currently stand in the low single digits. This is bound to change over the next few years as the number of vehicles continues to grow. AMT’s cost benefits, both in terms of investment and fuel efficiency gains, should help it emerge as a widely preferred solution. Mookken shared that carmakers too felt the same and are confident that India is ready to adopt this technology. The first cars to feature AMT from Magneti Marelli could be on the road as early as sometime in 2014, said Mookken.
Text: Arpit Mahendra