Greaves Cotton has built a solid reputation over the years in the area of manufacturing diesel, LPG and CNG engines
In an interview with Auto Tech Review, Dr Ravi Damodaran, Chief Technology Officer, Greaves Cotton, shared his perspectives about innovations taking place in the automotive engine space, and disruptions in the industry, among others.
Dr Ravi Damodaran is currently the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Greaves Cotton, a role he has been serving since January 2018. He carries over 30 years of experience in manufacturing, engineering and research in diverse products, technologies, geographies and cultures, including 15 years in leadership roles. Dr Damodaran has also served as an advisor to industry, business leaders and promoters on strategy and technology. Prior to joining Greaves Cotton, he had previously served as President – Technology and Strategy at Varroc Engineering as well as worked for Delphi Automotive Systems and General Electric.
ATR _ Over the years, Greaves Cotton has built a big reputation in manufacturing diesel, petrol and CNG engines. Can you give us an insight into innovations being carried out in this space?
Dr Ravi Damodaran _ We are a diversified engineering company and manufacture - powertrain solutions including CNG, LPG and diesel engines for three- & four-wheelers and small commercial vehicles. The need of the hour is to stay alive to the evolving market requirements and Greaves Cotton took a call to shore up its clean technology portfolio, and subsequently forayed into the electric vehicle (EV) space with the acquisition of Ampere Electric Vehicles last year – a move that enabled us to have a presence in the last mile electric two-wheeler personal mobility space.
Our diesel engines are now being developed with the common rail direct injection (CRDi) technology for fuel injection and liquid-cooled thermal management systems that ensure improved performance, emissions, driveability and fuel efficiency. In addition, the aftertreatment technologies are also getting increasingly sophisticated with intelligent control of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and diesel oxidation catalysts (DOC) as well as particle oxidation catalysts (POC) for carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate reduction. LPG and CNG engines (bi-fuel, with petrol limp-home back up) will also be liquid-cooled with electronic fuel injection technologies for better performance, reliability, emissions and fuel efficiency.
We are also focussing on developing mono-fuel CNG engines aimed at catering to those markets, where CNG/ LPG infrastructure is not a constraint anymore. Such mono-fuel CNG engines deliver improved performance and fuel efficiency.
Vehicle emission reduction is a huge concern area across the global automotive industry. Can you give us a perspective about the kind of refinements needed?
Measuring exhaust emissions from vehicles is a complex issue, and it’s a topic that has been extensively discussed over the past many months. As one of the market leaders, Greaves Cotton is undertaking proactive steps to address this emission issue. The cylinder combustion in a diesel engine has witnessed improvements with better fuel and spark in case of petrol/ CNG/ LPG engines, using electronically controlled injection systems. The spark ignition engines use a feedback from oxygen sensors to correct the fuelling and spark advance in real time, ensuring emissions are kept under control.
Exhaust gas recirculation is also electronically controlled to reduce nitrogen oxides (sometimes with a similar feedback loop). Catalyst technologies have evolved over the years to ensure that they convert the engine pollutants into harmless gases faster, and at lower temperatures, while keeping the weight of expensive precious metals to a minimum.
OEMs are now focussing on weight reduction to offset the additional weight of new components that are required to meet mandated emissions and safety norms. OEMs are consistently working on the engine design to improve thermal efficiencies and reduce friction to enhance the overall fuel capability.
Diesel seems to be gradually going out of favour across the world. Your thoughts?
Since diesel powertrains favour vehicles that are heavy duty applications or run more kilometres, long-haul vehicles are mostly diesel-driven and not petrol. In India, the artificially created gap in fuel pricing, due to the subsidised diesel cost for many decades, has increased diesel demand on smaller vehicles, including passenger cars. With diesel prices being rationalised over the last few years and given the additional costs of emissions required on a diesel vehicle, it does not make sense to run small diesel cars in the country, like everywhere else in the world.
It is estimated that demand for diesel vehicle will exist for three-wheelers, all commercial vehicles (taxis included) and luxury segment passenger cars, as the total cost of their operations will still be better than petrol. This is because the diesel powertrain efficiencies are significantly higher than that of petrol powertrain technologies in India. In addition, the tighter CO2 emissions of the future will tend to favour diesel and CNG as compared to petrol; thus, extending the life of diesels in heavy duty and long-haul applications. I strongly believe that the smaller powertrains will move to petrol hybrids, driven by the future CO2 norms.
With regards to lightweighting, have we achieved all we could or there’s still scope to extract more benefits?
Vehicle lightweighting is one of the fastest-growing and preferred approach to enhance fuel efficiency globally as well as in India. In India, it is estimated that we have mostly exhausted the potential of converting metal into plastics, which also applies even to the two-wheeler segment. The next level of lightweighting will involve costs of technology such as hollow metallic components in engines, high strength plastics that meet safety standards on body parts or aluminium chassis.
Most of the high-end imported vehicles in contemporary times do have some of these technologies. However, these have been out of reach of the dominant small car segment due to the high price point. Fuel efficiency improvements due to advanced engine technologies such as gasoline direct injection (GDI), mild hybrids and hybrid powertrains offer better value propositions and are expected to be useful in the near future to meet the next emission norms (fuel efficiency norms). We believe that the advanced lightweighting technologies for chassis and body will find use in EVs more than ICE vehicles.
The industry is increasingly turning towards being connected. What’s your take?
The concept of connected mobility improves efficiency at vehicle level as well as at fleet and industry level. The wave of digital transformation has introduced us to the concept of vehicle communication, which is increasingly being used to improve fuel efficiency and energy utilisation. For example, parasitic losses from accessories such as coolant pump, fans, etc. are reduced by running them only when required. The feedback from sensors allows the engine control unit to run them on demand.
At the fleet level, we are now in a position to extract data related to vehicle utilisation and load locations, which further helps optimise logistics, implement high-level maintenance and improve vehicle utilisation to subsequently enhance ROI. Lastly at an industry level, connectedness has helped improve asset utilisation for car aggregators, reduce transportation costs of customers and will directly impact, in terms of reducing road congestion.
Within the powertrain domain, transmissions continue to witness significant advancements. What can we expect in this area?
Manual transmissions are efficient on their own, but it impacts the powertrain when combined with an engine. It is important for the driver to understand at what engine speed (rpm) to upshift and downshift to get the best fuel efficiency. Managing the gear with the speed of the vehicle properly can lead to better efficiency of the powertrain.
Automatic Transmissions (AT), including continuously variable transmission (CVT) and dual-clutch transmission (DCT), enable the engine to run at its best operating conditions (engine speed), thus helping the driver to switch gears as required. While the vehicle speed depends on the use of the accelerator, this makes it easier for a majority of drivers to derive maximum efficiency from the engine. The construction, design, clutch engagement and gear shifts are electronically actuated in automated manual transmission instead of manual shifts by the driver. Although it is a cheaper option, it may not be preferred by luxury car drivers as they can feel the ‘jerk’ during gear shifts.
The industry is witnessing a shift in demand from manual to automatic transmissions owing to frequent gear changes that can cause driver fatigue. The transmission hardware of automatic transmissions (CVT, DCT, AT) are totally different, in terms of design and construction as compared to manual transmissions and there is a great deal of sophistication in these designs to meet requirements such as fuel efficiency and smoothness during gear sifts, thus making them expensive. Higher on-road efficiency can be achieved at steady states, which is not known to many drivers.
How is Greaves Cotton approaching the EV opportunity in India?
The big push for EVs in India is signalling a turning point in the Indian auto ecosystem and may also open up opportunities to provide storage support for renewables. The introduction to e-rickshaw has enabled the e-cycle rickshaw driver to graduate to a more efficient and environment-friendly vehicle, which not only ensure an increased income, reduced fatigue and better life but also a better ROI to the buyer. And to accelerate our transition to smart and sustainable eco-friendly vehicles, we have added Ampere Vehicles to our portfolio. Over many years, Ampere Vehicles has efficiently contributed towards a sustainable environment with a range of affordable electric scooters. This is part of Greaves Cotton’s long-term strategy to strengthen its presence in the last-mile e-mobility space that is seeing significant interest from government and commuters alike.
What is your line of thought on the relevance of ICEs with the focus on EVs?
ICE is a proven technology and the existing infrastructure provides customers a complete ecosystem with all requirements for it to thrive. The issue is with fossil fuels that emit harmful gases, leading to a rise in global warming but ICE engines running on biofuels are environmentally-friendly. One such technology is the production of methane from urban waste. Urban waste is increasing at a rapid pace, which can be tapped to produce large-scale methane for consumption and distribution of the ICE engine ecosystem.
This will reduce carbon emissions as well as reduce dependence, but significant investments are required in battery manufacturing, charging infrastructure and electric powertrain or EV manufacturing. Clean-tech is the way forward and we at Greaves are ready with a wide range of fuel-agnostic solutions offering a superior total cost of ownership to our customers. Having said that, we feel that we need to have a balance of both ICE and EV and let customers decide what they want.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Greaves Cotton