Jeep will soon be introducing its BS VI-compliant diesel engines for India, beginning with the Compass Trailhawk variant. On the sidelines of the Jeep Compass Trailhawk media drive, Auto Tech Review caught up with Kevin Flynn, President & Managing Director, FCA India, to understand its perspective on the future of diesel engines, emission compliance technology and the way forward for the Jeep brand in India.
Kevin Flynn is currently serving as the President and Managing Director of FCA India Automobiles Private Limited. In his current role, the 60-year-old industry veteran is responsible for setting-up and managing commercial operations of the Jeep brand. Flynn took up this role four years back and can be credited for successfully bringing to the market iconic Jeep SUVs such as the Grand Cherokee, Grand Cherokee SRT and the Wrangler. Under his leadership, FCA received the most number of awards for its SUV Jeep Compass in 2017-18. Prior to joining FCA India, he was the Managing Director of Jaguar Land Rover, South Africa & Sub Sahara Africa region. Flynn had also previously worked for Lexus, Porsche, BMW, VW, Audi and Lamborghini. He is a British national, residing in India and his family has settled in South Africa. Flynn has a penchant for motorsports, rugby, tennis and motorcycling and also plays golf during his free time.
ATR _ The automotive industry is witnessing many disruptions both at a local and global level. What’s your take on the mobility of the future?
Kevin Flynn _ At the moment, the disruptions within the Indian automotive industry are slowing down. As a car company we are certainly keen to now start seeing a turnaround. The Indian market is huge and it is always going to provide an opportunity to automotive companies to further their growth. There are a lot of players in India and there are more foraying into the market with high expectations, but at the moment the market is going through a recession phase, in terms of sales. Having said that we are pleased with the way FCA has been able to maintain its market position in the segment we compete in. With the country’s general elections over people now have a sense of what the next few years are going to look like. I’m hoping for an upturn in the second half of 2019.
With BS VI around the corner, give us your perspective about the future of diesel-powered vehicles in India considering the fact that the country’s top passenger vehicle maker Maruti Suzuki has opted to move forward with petrol-powered IC engines only. What impact this will have on the overall diesel ecosystem?
One of the things that we had earlier communicated is just what we’ve done with the BS VI technology. And with the Jeep Compass Trailhawk, we are launching a fully BS VI-compliant powertrain. Another interesting aspect about the powertrain is that it can run both on BS VI and BS IV fuels.
Diesel in some respects is getting some bad PR, but the legislation is what actually dictates the life of diesel in India. We at FCA have met the latest legislation and emission norms with a smart technology that is reliable, solid and drives the vehicle beautifully. We have even leveraged this technology to further enhance the way this 2.0 l diesel engine delivers its power and performance.
Of course, to get to this stage involved extensive R&D, additional components and therefore it’s going to cost more. Clearly, diesel engines will become more expensive because that cost has to be covered for buying more technology and components. Going forward, time will tell which route consumers take but I believe people will start moving to petrol to some extent. Some car companies that have made announcements are perhaps more biased towards smaller engines. Maybe that’s the right route for them to take because in a vehicle with smaller engines, the pricing is very critical. And therefore it’s going to be a consumer choice. So from a point of view of legislation, FCA can meet all requirements and can even exceed it. At the end of the day it’s going to be what the consumer wants and what the consumer is prepared to pay for.
Could you give us an insight into the technologies that are being leveraged to meet the BS VI compliance on the diesel engine?
We at FCA are highly excited about the Indian market, focussing on exports from India and supplying to international right-hand drive markets. With this technology we are also catering to many other international markets. We are right up there with the international levels and this is integral to our global strategy, where diesel is still required. We are injecting urea into the componentry, which allows us to clean up the NOX gases that are being emitted. In return, the vehicle effectively emits hydrogen, small bits of CO2 and H2O, which is a little bit of water. It is, in fact, cleaning up the exhaust gases hugely; it is a smart technology and is at par with global standards.
Rightsizing of forced induction petrol motors seems to be a viable alternative for buyers looking to switch from diesel vehicles due to restrictive norms. What’s your take on this?
When we were developing the Compass, we looked at the way the market was moving and we wanted to ensure that all our bases were covered. With the compass you can have either a 1.4 l turbocharged petrol engine delivering 165 hp and 250 Nm of torque, or a 170 hp diesel 2 l engine, which again is turbocharged, giving you 350 Nm of torque. We have actually put the 7-speed DDCT transmission on the petrol, which is fantastic for city use and is very intuitive. We’ve now put the 9-speed automatic transmission onto our diesel as well. We understand the need to have both of those areas covered, in terms of petrol and diesel emissions. We are meeting the requirements from a technical perspective. So there are options available for our customers, and it’s going to be interesting, which direction a consumer in India wants to take. Consumers in India still love the torque, fuel economy and the way it drives.
This new Compass Trailhawk now comes with a four-wheel drive system that has taken it to a new level. The vehicle offers an amazing off-road drive and is an ideal vehicle for urban use. The legislation will set out the landscape. For instance, in Delhi there has been quite an anti-diesel lobby for some time. We are seeing a decent number of customers opting for the petrol variants. The petrol-powered Compass is highly desirable across metro cities. But then we now have this new 9-speed automatic transmission on the diesel. We’ll see how the market behaves because consumers have a choice of automatic transmissions in both engine options.
Lightweighting, dynamic platforms, advanced high strength steel, etc are being widely adopted across the automotive industry. Will these benefit in achieving regulatory emission norms?
We are right now focussed on the Compass and what’s important for us is that we are not only meeting those weight challenges, but also meeting the rigidity norms. We at FCA have controlled the body torsional movement even under extreme off-road conditions. It is quite happy to lift a wheel off the ground when it has to and there’s no movement in the body or body noise. All efforts are focussed towards meeting the performance and DNA requirements of Jeep that is all about adventure, authenticity and driving in all conditions.
Can you talk us through the engineering dynamics of the Compass Trailhawk?
This is quite fascinating for us because we actually started-off with a Compass. And for this Compass to be a Trailhawk and then for it to get the trail rated 4X4 badging and achieve really amazing feats, it had to undergo rigorous testing. There is a small team within our Jeep engineering community that will take every vehicle designed, like the Trailhawk, and then put it through some really tough testing, before they award it the badge of honour in this respect. Between the Trailhawk and a normal Compass, the body is the same and that says a lot about the fact that our range of vehicles starting right at the Sports Plus model, have the same layout and the same body.
We have independent suspension and disc brakes all around. We are not using twist beams; neither are we using drum brakes. We are leveraging sophisticated automotive componentry. However, we have tuned the Trailhawk’s suspension. So not only is it brilliant off-road, but actually it’s also incredibly comfortable and sure-footed when you are in an urban environment or on highways. We have put in the 9-speed automatic gearbox with the diesel, but actually it’s the four-wheel drive and the low ratio that has been engineered in. The crawl ratio is now 20:1, which is an amazing capability. Even when you are driving on the rocks, it is almost undramatic in the way it goes across some of these terrains. So the capability of this vehicle is exciting and thrilling, but then actually it can also be put on a crisp suit and be perfectly at ease in an urban environment.
Can you enlighten us with Jeep’s product roadmap for India? When would FCA be looking at a new BS VI-ready variant or a new product entirely?
This BS VI technology will now be adopted effectively across the Compass range. We will very shortly announce the new generation Jeep Wrangler that we will be importing into India and that is obviously going to meet all the required norms. There was a statement made by FCA’s senior directors on the direction for India, which involves a study on a B-segment SUV as well as a three row D-segment SUV. True to those promises, we are working diligently and are very excited about our future. This is where we are today bringing this brand new technology into the market and a vehicle of such competence and capability. It is another demonstration of the direction we are taking.
What’s your view on internet cars and connected cars currently being rolled out? Is this a direction Jeep would pursue?
Our ethos is certainly around the capability, authenticity and the adventure that comes with the Jeep brand. These other elements will play a role and trends are going to come, but I think one has to also focus on the company’s core DNA. I think the first priority is to deliver on exactly what you stand for and not necessarily be taken by just getting the latest technology as fast as you can.
TEXT: Joshua David Luther
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay