OEMs across the globe are striving to make their vehicles more vibrant and safer as demand for new or refreshed model continues to surge. Feature updates in vehicles today are not limited under the hood and are being sought after in vehicle appearances as well, including the wheel design. Apart from providing the vehicle a distinct look, alloy wheels are safer and deliver better performance. Auto Tech Review met up with KK Jha, CEO, Minda Kosei Aluminium Alloy Wheels (MKAWL) to know about the growing potential of alloy wheels for passenger cars in India and how it is gearing up to meet the market demand.
Alloy wheel penetration in developed markets like the US and Japan has touched as high as 80 % in four-wheelers. In India, alloy wheel penetration is about 30 %, and is likely to go up to 50 % by 2025, as consumer design preferences in vehicles are changing fast.
FLOW FORMED WHEELS
MKAWL is currently working on introducing flow formed wheels into the market. Jha said in the flow formed wheels process, the wheels are first casted and subsequently partially forged under heat and pressure to make alloy wheels more robust and also lighter in weight against dye cast wheels. The casted forged wheels tend to offer elongation properties of up to 10 %, which is good enough for most of the wheels to sustain impact. Complete forging of wheels may increase elongation properties to 15 % and are used in high-end cars; however, the process development makes the wheel cost a fortune.
Kosei Minda Aluminium Company Ltd, currently a sister concern of MKAWL, is developing flow formed wheels and is meeting the market requirements in the country.
MKAWL is currently manufacturing aluminium-based alloy wheels that are developed using a tilt pour gravity casting process at atmospheric pressure. MKWAL keeps up to 30 % extra buffer on pressure the tyre undergoes. Once the sample wheel is prepared based on the design inputs by the manufacturer, wheel simulation is conducted to figure out its expected performance levels in real life conditions.
Compared to a rim wheel, aluminium wheels are 7-8 % more elastic and can shave-off up to 15 kg weight from the vehicle’s kerb weight, thus making the vehicle lightweight and fuel efficient. Explaining the benefits of lightweighting, Jha said reduction of every kg of weight on the suspension results in significant improvement in suspension performance. He expects penetration of aluminium wheels to go up significantly.
With electric vehicles, the overall vehicle weight is bound to go up, primarily due to the weight of the battery systems. EVs would need bigger alloy wheels to cover more distance in lesser rotations and thus, would require lighter alloy wheels. Looking at a buoyant demand, MKAWL has stepped up its production capacity to 1.2 mn alloy wheels in mid-2018, from an initial capacity of 90,000 units in 2016 to develop quality products.
FOCUS ON R&D
MKAWL‘s Bawal facility is just two years old and is working in tandem with the Kosei technical centre in Japan and Hong Kong for execution of newer projects for now. MKAWL has drawn up plans to subsequently become self-sufficient by building internal capacities, as demand is gradually picking up momentum. MKAWL’s engineers regularly visit the international centres of Kosei as it is aiming to further increase its tooling knowhow. Jha said the company focussed on the process of developing alloy wheels and is now gradually shifting to tooling knowhow to develop castings in-house and become cost efficient.
Further, MKAWL has set-up an alloy wheel test lab inside the facility to conduct various tests before the wheel goes into manufacturing. Radial fatigue tests, cornering fatigue tests, impact testing machines along with pendulum impact testing machines have already been installed inside the premises to conduct and simulate dynamic loads test and structural performance tests to build upon its engineering capabilities.
A company named Kosei Minda Mouldings will be created to make tools and dyes for the company and thus, develop more knowhow. Jha refused to divulge any further details about the new company at this stage.
MKAWL is also stepping up capacities at its Bawal facility with a new separate line, aimed at boosting production by 30 % to keep up pace with the growing alloy wheel demand. The company has also pumped in Rs 200 cr to step up its Gujarat facility that is rolling out 45,000 units every month against an installed capacity of 60,000 units. The company has earmarked Rs 150 cr for carrying out expansion at its facility aimed at further increasing capacity to 1.2 lakh units by Q3 2019. While a majority of volumes still come from Maruti Suzuki, volumes are also picking up momentum for Mahindra & Mahindra passenger cars, including the Marazzo and XUV500.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja