In its drive towards meeting the BS 6 emission regulations, Tata Motors focussed on complexity reduction as well as driving modularity and commonality across platforms
In an interview with Auto Tech Review, Girish Wagh, President, Commercial Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors, talked about the company’s transition to BS 6, and the prevailing slowdown, among others.
Girish Wagh is currently serving as the President, Commercial Vehicle Business Unit at Tata Motors and is also a member of the Tata Motors Executive Committee (ExCom). Prior to assuming this role, he was the Head of Product Line MHCV. Wagh had also served as the Head of the Programme Planning and Project Management function, where he was responsible for the delivery of all passenger vehicle programmes. He also spearheaded the operations of the Passenger Car Business Unit. During his stint at Tata Motors, Wagh has delivered key projects such as the Tata ACE mini truck and Nano, and the recent passenger cars like Bolt, Zest, Tiago, Hexa and Tigor. He has worked in various roles related to manufacturing, purchasing & supply chain, business excellence as well as managing development & introduction of new products. Wagh holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Manufacturing Management from SP Jain Institute of Management Research, Mumbai. During his spare time, he enjoys his workouts to stay fit, listens to music and follows sports.
ATR _ Vehicle manufacturers have adopted different approaches in their transition from BS IV to BS 6. While some have opted for commonality of parts, some others have opted for a modular structure. What has been Tata Motors’ approach in this transition?
Girish Wagh _ Tata Motors’ approach in our transition from BS IV to BS 6 has been largely driven by how we deliver better value to the customer. Of course, there is focus on efficiency measures like modularity, part count reduction or complexity reduction, while delivering better value to the customer, but I believe efficiency measures come later. Our first priority was to deliver a better product to the customer. We were clear that there will be a price hike for customers, when we conceptualised our entire BS 6 range two and a half years back. Our objective was to negate the cost increase for our customers by offering something that will have a good payback.
For the entire range, our focus was on either improving operating economics or augmenting the revenue potential. Further, we focussed on improving comfort and convenience of vehicles and in this regard looked at our connected vehicle architecture as to how it can improve business and fleet management of our customers. We have carried out quite a few value addition features in some of our vehicles, including unitised bearings that do not need maintenance or greasing, automated manual transmission, gear shift advisor to improve fuel efficiency, hill start aid, tyre pressure monitor system, etc.
We also looked at complexity reduction and focussed on bringing in modularity and commonality across platforms. We’ve made significant progress on that. We also introduced our ‘Premium Tough’ philosophy – you can sense the ruggedness, when you see our trucks from a distance. Inside, there are a lot of intricacies as well as fits and finishes that are introduced on our commercial vehicles like Prima and Winger.
We believe these are the things that will gradually make a difference in customer decision making. The BS 6 transition for us was not just a milestone for regulatory compliance but going beyond regulatory compliance and offering a better value proposition.
Real Driving Emissions (RDE) are set to come into force from April 2023. Do you see any scope for any kind of development for OEMs?
All OEMs are on the verge of meeting BS 6 emission norms and the monitoring of such vehicles will begin as soon as BS 6 vehicles are out in the market. Once BS 6 kicks in, every OEM will realise where they stand in terms of RDE and based on that they can take a call on what kind of development needs to be carried out so that all OEMs adhere to the RDE norms before April 2023. Tata Motors has started generating data on its Alpha and Beta prototypes to ensure we are well positioned in our journey towards RDE. Like our transition from BS IV to BS 6, even in the case of RDE, we will ensure it is not just an emission transition.
Give us an insight into how Tata Motors intends to deploy different technologies for your product range?
The selection of technology has to be finally based on what value you add to a customer apart from ensuring regulatory compliance. We have leveraged different technologies for our diesel vehicles depending on the usage each vehicle has. For example, the highest technology could be Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC), Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). In some cases, it could be EGR, DOC, DPF and Lean NOx-Trap (LNT), while in some others it could be DOC, DPF and SCR only. We have deployed each of these technologies across different applications in our range, because we believe that a certain technology will make sense for a particular product.
If global trends are anything to go by, heavy commercial vehicles (three axles and above) started with the EGR-SCR technology and gradually moved to the SCR-alone technology that enables the engine to run hot in a most efficient manner. When diesel exhaust fluid was introduced, its price was equivalent to diesel. So, if you are able to reduce the consumption of diesel exhaust fluid, it was equivalent to improving the fluid economy as equal to diesel consumption improvement. Gradually the prices of diesel exhaust fluid came to a half of diesel prices. If you improve diesel consumption by 10 % then in operating economic terms you have to improve diesel exhaust fluid by 20 %.
Ultimately, you have to take a call at the overall level on what is going to be the most beneficial for customers. We are going to deploy DOC, DPF and SCR technologies in our heavy commercial vehicles, as these are best possible options and combinations for the customer.
How do you assess the impact of the new axle load norms on the Indian CV industry?
The logistics cost in India as a percentage of GDP is in the teens (it could be 13 or 14) as compared to developed nations like Germany and USA, where it is 6-8 %. Clearly, there is a big divide that has to be bridged. The government’s move to increase the axle load was possibly a step towards ensuring the cost per tonne kilometre goes down, but its implementation was done in a retrospective manner. All vehicles in the parc were allowed to ply with heavier load, even though they were not engineered for that heavier load.
This kind of regulation is generally implemented in a prospective manner and not in a retrospective manner owing to which regional transport offices gave approval to all existing vehicles to carry higher load. This led to a sudden significant hike in the freight carrying capacity in the parc. Clearly, we are not going to have a load increase by about 20 % or so to fill up the additional capacity that got created. That is why we had to wait for some time for demand-supply imbalance to come to a new equilibrium.
With the announcement of the increased axle load norms, we reengineered our entire medium and heavy commercial vehicle portfolio and came up with new increased axle load vehicles across our range that ensured we offered nothing but customer delight.
Old vehicles are seen as crucial causes of air pollution. What’s your take on the vehicle scrappage policy?
As far as vehicle scrappage policy is concerned, we need to define our own norms. The government and SIAM are working on deciding the end-of-life vehicles. We should look at multiple parameters as restricting ourselves to the vehicle life criteria may not be enough. The number of kilometres run, how a vehicle has been used, the final condition of the vehicle could be some other criteria. Once the end-of-life parameters are clearly defined, the government could focus on incentivising old vehicles and enable vehicle users to dispose-off the old vehicle and use incentives for buying a new vehicle.
Undoubtedly, vehicle scrappage must be carried out in a scientific manner and not in an unorganised manner. One has to understand that some vehicles have been around for a long time, which means we are going to handle scrap that will not be recyclable and such scrap can pose environmental concerns. We are offering our technical knowhow without getting directly involved, in terms of ensuring the process used is the right one and the business is viable in a short period of time.
What’s your take on increasing sophistication in vehicles?
In the Indian context, passenger cars have been ahead of commercial vehicles, in terms of integration of various electronics and electric control units. Tata Motors enjoys an advantage since we have a presence in the passenger car space as well. The amount of electronics introduced in BS 6 is much higher. For example, our top-end 5530 tractor has an engine electronic control unit (ECU), which will also operate the aftertreatment. In some cases, there is a separate ECU for aftertreatment, where the ECU and the engine have to talk to each other. There are many sensors like lane departure warning, hill start, electronic stability control, etc. I think a lot of data collected has to be processed well and the integration of electronics from the hardware and software point of view will be important.
The CV industry is enduring a prolonged slowdown. How do you assess the way forward?
The slowdown in the CV industry is on account of a mix of cyclical as well as non-cyclical factors, such as increased axle load and liquidity squeeze. And for the auto industry to stage a strong comeback, the economic cycle as well as the consumption has to go up, infrastructure projects have to pick up pace, industrial production along with agriculture goods transportation and mining have to accelerate. Further, the capacity created by the increased axle load should reach a new equilibrium with increase in freight. The liquidity squeeze, however, is gradually coming back on track, but we still have to track a few metrics. We need to watch out for what will be the fuel prices post-BS 6 and the industry will hope that there is not much fuel price hike as it will be a big blow.
It is tough to put a timeframe on when the auto industry will recover, but if you looked at slowdowns in the last 20-30 years, some downturns had stayed for 12 months, while some had stayed for 24 to 30 months. As the industry grappled with slowdown, Tata Motors actually focussed on what we can and should do, and we completely revamped our product range. Finally, it is your product range and how you deliver services to the customer both at the selling point and after-sales that will determine your brand strength as well your market share.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Tata Motors