Yamaha Motor India has been posting good growth in the recent past, primarily due to its growing product portfolio. A large part of this growth is being fuelled by scooters, which continue to grow way faster than motorcycles in the Indian market. March 2014 recorded a 29 % uptick in scooter sales vis-à-vis the same period last year, a growth attributed partially to its newest scooter Alpha. We caught up with Toshikazu Kobayashi, Managing Director, Yamaha Motor Research & Development India (YMRI) Pvt Ltd to understand more about the work being done on new products and the upcoming trends in the two-wheeler market.
For any scooter manufacturer in India, the primary challenge is to crack the hold that Honda Activa has in the market. For the Alpha, Kobayashi said, engineers at Yamaha worked extensively to offer segment leading benefits to consumers in order to make their product more appealing. A key requirement in the Indian market is fuel-efficiency, where the Alpha is claimed to deliver 62 km/l (SIAM certified), putting it ahead of the competition. This has been achieved due to numerous factors including the throttle positioning sensor (TPS), paired to a BS24 carburettor.
Other changes included improvement in combustion efficiency and reduction in friction. The aluminium walls in the engine also underwent a thinning process, leading to lower weight, said Kobayashi. In addition, the Alpha makes use of plastic panels at places where the competition uses metal. This significantly reduces weight, aiding performance, efficiency and manoeuvrability.
Since the Alpha has been positioned as a family scooter, it features a seat designed to make it easier for shorter people's feet to touch the ground. Also, a longer seat than the segment leader allows for more comfort, when riding with a pillion. We were told that these changes were carried out in collaboration between Indian and Japanese engineers at Yamaha.
YMRI is improving its technical capabilities extensively, as the core motive of the company is low-cost model development. There is significant progresses towards the earlier announced target of developing the lowest cost vehicle and components, said Kobayashi. The Ray Z, based on the Ray was developed mainly in India, reflecting the present independent development abilities of the centre.
YMRI has already initiated a project called INDRA (Innovative and New Development based on Responsible Analysis) involving technical specialists from YMC headquarters in Japan to match the quality standards required by Indian customers, reduce lead time & inventory cost, improve material cost ratio and ensure competitiveness in the Indian two-wheeler industry. The project adopts a collaborative approach with some of the company's key suppliers in developing components and products that best suits Indian standards and requirements. This standard allows the company to meet Yamaha's global standard while reducing cost drastically, said Kobayashi.
Going forward, the company will continue to focus on motorcycles and scooters, but given the growth rate of the latter, it'll try and launch more models within that space, we were told. In the coming years, YMRI will continue to focus on all technical areas with a larger focus on fuel-efficiency. As emission norms tighten in the country, YMRI will look at technologies such as closed loop fuel-injection to improve efficiency. Responding to the low-cost approach clashing with expensive technologies such as fuel-injection, Kobayashi said that they'll need to develop a low-cost fuel injection system for the market. Without doing so it would be hard to maintain the cost-benefit in the highly competitive Indian market, he added. Also, for low-cost segments, the focus will be to maintain more mechanical systems than adding electronics in order to reduce cost and complexity.
Speaking of larger and premium motorcycles and Yamaha's absence from the 250 cc segment, we were told that the company has already showcased the R 25 Concept at the Auto Expo but refused to mention any timelines for its launch in the market.
Talking of trends in the coming years, he said that engineers will have to focus on aspects such as improvement in combustion, friction reduction and improved aerodynamics. Beyond these, YMRI will focus on the right packaging of the vehicle based on consumer requirement. Multiple variants such as the Ray Z can at times help bring in new customers, making customer-specific packaging as important as new technology introduction, concluded Kobayashi.
Text: Arpit Mahendra