Even as it continues to explore and plan to launch electric vehicles in the country, for a very long time, market leaders Maruti Suzuki India has been strong advocates of other promising alternate propulsion technologies
The nation needs to look at the current energy situation holistically. Considering the fact that between now and 2030, 85-87 % of the car parc will continue to be non-electric, India must look at three alternate technologies – CNG, hybrids and biofuels – to reduce oil import and pollution by 2030, RC Bhargava, Chairman, MSIL had told the media about a year back.
The company has now initiated the “Mission Green Million” with an objective to hasten the process of introducing greener vehicles in the country, thus strengthening its resolve of sustainable mobility. Notably, the company has sold 1.15 mn vehicles run on CNG and smart hybrid technologies in the last decade, and the next million may come from strong hybrids and EVs, apart from the existing smart hybrid and CNG technologies, said CV Raman, Senior Executive Director (Engineering), MSIL, in a recent interaction.
In recent times, the government, too, has pushed for the expansion of the CNG network in the country to 10,000 stations. That is certainly a welcome move. CNG is a tried and tested technology that can be easily integrated into various vehicles. Except for EVs, CNG has the cheapest running cost.
The company is also looking at introducing strong hybrid technology in its petrol cars that would help increase fuel efficiency by as much as 20-25 %. The agreement between Suzuki and Toyota towards mutual supply of hybrid and other vehicles in India should help. Secondly, MSIL is keen to democratise its smart hybrid technology and possibly improve the fuel efficiency from the current levels of 7-8 %. Building a hybrid ecosystem, including localised parts, could potentially lead the company transition to electric, said Raman. That may not happen immediately, but these are steps that need to be taken.
RETHINK AROUND DIESELS?
Meanwhile, the company maintains its stance on diesels. It will continue to watch how the market evolves, especially post the implementation of the BS VI emission regulations in April 2020. Raman thinks the diesel penetration in the market might go down to about 10-15 % from the current 25-30 %, once diesel goes out of the hatchback segment. Certain market segments might need diesels, but that need is not very clear at this stage, he said adding there will be more clarity once every other manufacturer launches their BS VI models.
Is the promise around shared mobility starting to dwindle? Bhargava has often batted for shared mobility as a more economical proposition for people to use cars. There is a need for policy-level support and promotion of shared mobility, as it enables a much larger population to avail the use of cars. Not just for commuters, shared mobility would mean increase in the use of cars for the industry as well, hence sales, he has argued in the past.
The last three years have certainly seen a strong penetration of shared mobility, with a lot of vehicles getting sold in that sector. Nonetheless, it’s starting to taper now, raising questions about the potential and actual growth of this trend. There are a few clear reasons – the economic slowdown has had an impact; the fleet in certain metropolitan and Tier II cities has evolved, and most critically, the remuneration for Uber or Ola drivers has come down significantly in terms of the incentives that are being offered. This has led to a fall in numbers of people wanting to get into this business. The initial days of people making money using app-based mobility services are gone, Raman said.
Having said that, there are possibilities of new businesses emerging in the future, such as subscription-based services or self-drive models. Raman is hopeful, but said these options need to be evaluated for volumes and market acceptance. For example, the leasing business is evolved in Europe and the US, but hasn’t seen much success in India due to the complex taxation involved in that business. If the taxation can be worked out in favour of the business, the lease model could become more prevalent in India, transitioning to subscription and self-drive modes, Raman said.
At the Auto Expo 2020, Maruti Suzuki showcased its newest concept model, the all-electric concept SUV-coupe, Futuro-e. Raman said the concept is designed as an “Indian car with global sensibilities”, and is based on the requirement of the Indian consumer – the aspirational, progressive and young Indian customer looking for newer design. For MSIL, which doesn’t follow a set, distinct design language, the Futuro-e is a design intervention; one that showcases the company’s transformation and intent, and one that addresses the aspirations of the future Indian consumer.
Maruti has been riding the SUV wave in the market with products that resemble and cater to consumers’ preference and liking for vehicles with a raised stance. Take the S-Presso for instance, or the Ignis. The Futuro-e is new in the sense it is MSIL’s first coupe-style SUV. From a powertrain perspective, the Futuro-e has been developed to be able to take multiple engine options – a pure EV, ICE, or hybrid.
There’s a transformation of the mindset within the company as well. Raman explained: the company has hitherto been doing ICE and then switching to hybrids or EVs. With the Futuro-e concept, the company is thinking EV and then thinking of how to integrate other options. This thought will henceforth drive the company’s strategy, he confirmed.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah