Sona Koyo Steering Systems, an automotive steering major is presently pursuing a strategy of developing future technologies, which is pretty much what all companies are doing. What makes it interesting is the fact that the company is working on some technologies that are yet to be implemented by OEMs in India. Given this unique approach, we caught up with Sunjay Kapur, Vice-Chairman & Managing Director, Sona Koyo Steering Systems, who shared the technology route being treaded by the company.
BUSINESS – PRESENT & BEYOND
Business for the company has gone through a paradigm shift in terms of technology preference in the last few years, said Kapur. He added that till a few years back almost 70 % of the market was inclined towards hydraulic systems but the order has reversed now in wake of increased demand for efficiency. Further, in the small car segment, there are largely two systems in use – column type electric power steering (CEPS) and the pinion type electric power steering, of which the former is more popular. The company, through its joint-venture company, can deliver components for the steering system as well as the entire system. This flexibility allows the company to cater to a wider range of customers in a much better way, Kapur said.
Talking of new business areas, he said pressure-die casting and sheet metal businesses hold good potential for the future. The steering business, however, continues to be the largest contributor presently. Within this business, the company is also catering to off-highway vehicles including tractors and ATVs, apart from LCVs.
FOCUS ON ENGINEERING
Beyond using its own engineering skills, Sona Koyo also works with regional institutes as well as global ones on product and process development. Traditionally, Indian automotive suppliers have been built-to-print oriented but with consumers demanding more technology, suppliers now need to be involved from the design stage, Kapur said. With the level of technology demand coming in, suppliers are becoming pretty much like an app store to the OEM, he added.
As the industry heads towards a smarter vehicle ecosystem, suppliers need to look at smarter systems as well. For example, a smart steering in case of Sona Koyo, Kapur said. Talking of such a system for India, he mentioned that India is no longer behind its global peers in terms of technology adoption. Sona Koyo is already working on such systems and is ready as well in some areas. It is noteworthy that the company has developed a steer-by-wire system indigenously, a technology yet to be adopted by an Indian OEM. There are OEMs, with whom this technology is being discussed, but Kapur refused to name any of them.
Talking of development of EV technologies on the back of the work done by the company for golf karts, Kapur said he's not looking at vehicles but technologies that can help form the basis for an efficient EV. Once such technologies are in place, with the help of group companies that do products such as axles, a decision will be taken to integrate them in the best possible way.
Talking of technologies aimed at a long-term horizon, Kapur mentioned a driverless tractor developed by the company indigenously, apart from the steer-by-wire system. The idea behind developing these technologies is to showcase the company's technical capabilities rather than addressing immediate market demands, Kapur said. Elaborating the two technologies, he added that the tractor's vehicular operations can be controlled through a mobile phone, making it more convenient to operate for an end-user.
Such advanced technologies are first being tested on off-road vehicles to make the learning process easier and then move onto more complicated vehicles, told a spokesperson from R&D. A user's mobile communicates with a receiver mobile, which in turn interacts with the electronic systems in charge of vehicle functions. Right from remotely starting the tractor to steering it, or from braking it to operating the applications attached to it, can be done using this technology. This technology can prove particularly useful in environments hazardous to humans, among others.
The steer-by-wire system too was shown to us, which unlike conventional steering systems, does away with the column running from the steering wheel's base to the footwell. This is replaced by electronic modules, which communicate with each other and create the steering movement corresponding to the driver's input. While removing the entire column brings about the thought of weight and cost-saving, we were told this gain is offset to an extent by the additional electronic systems put in place to avoid any mishap in case of a failure. The main benefit arising out of this technology would be improved safety for the driver in case of a crash due to absence of a metallic structure seen on present vehicles, said the spokesperson.
Going forward, Sona Koyo's focus will be to constantly improve present products, while developing technologies of future that lead to sustainable mobility, concluded Kapur.
Text: Arpit Mahendra