In this exclusive interview, Ashok Leyland shares about its approach that has seen significant transformation for BS 6 norms
The Indian automotive industry continues to face unique duty cycles and requires robust capabilities for successful implementation of sophisticated technologies. In an exclusive interview with Auto Tech Review, Dr N Saravanan, Chief Technical Officer, Ashok Leyland, throws light on the company’s approach that witnessed significant transformation for the upcoming BS 6 norms.
Dr N Saravanan joined Ashok Leyland in 2005 in the Product Development function, after working for over a decade at Ford Motor Company in the USA and Intel Corporation. He served for two years as CEO at Nissan Ashok Leyland Technologies Ltd (starting from 2011), where he oversaw the development of light commercial vehicles (LCVs) for the JV. Dr Saravanan had taken over as Head of Engineering at Ashok Leyland in 2013, and in June 2019 was appointed Chief Technology Officer. In addition to this role, he is also responsible for the company’s Electric Vehicle (EV) business. Dr Saravanan has over 20 publications to his credit, and is currently on the board of many industry bodies in the areas of safety, regulations and emissions. He brings with him rich experience across various sectors such as vehicle engineering, verification and validation. Dr Saravanan holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
ATR _ The auto industry adopted a mixed bag approach for BS IV norms, while Ashok Leyland opted for the iEGR (intelligent exhaust gas recirculation) technology. What has been the company’s route towards complying with BS 6 norms?
Dr N Saravanan _ We just had three years to migrate from BS IV to BS 6 norms, and with India facing unique duty cycles, it was important to get the technology right for optimised vehicle performance. We at Ashok Leyland always work on retaining vehicle ruggedness, which is our brand’s DNA that led to increased challenges. We spent considerable time in understanding various available options and supplier base.
We have leveraged our competencies in iEGR as well as of Albonair, our sister concern to develop Mid NOx. The technology offers optimal use of iEGR, SCR systems for vehicles to comply with BS 6 norms. It will enable compact designs for incremental payload, easy maintenance as well as low AdBlue consumption. Given the varying operating issues like long haul vehicle, ICV or a high speed bus or an intra-city bus, we believe that it is the right technology option that has been designed to cater to all such requirements.
It has been challenging, but we have made good progress and are ready to sell this technology at the earliest. Ashok Leyland has spent around ` 600-700 cr over the last four years to upgrade various facets in the entire ecosystem – dealers, service teams and supply chain – to comply with BS 6 norms.
How did Ashok Leyland leverage its international presence to develop products that comply with BS 6 norms in India?
We might have technological expertise for Euro 6 in other parts of the world, but that can’t be brought into India as it might not be able to meet cost targets. Indian duty cycles are different and people do not realise that city traffic like Bengaluru is the worst duty cycle in the world, where buses operate at a speed of 10 km/h. For the Euro 6 technology to operate optimally and chemical reactions to happen, you need to have certain temperature levels in the exhaust systems that can only be achieved when the engine is operating at a certain level of performance and temperature. If the engine is operating at low torque levels due to low speed, the vehicle will never be able to achieve desired temperatures; thus, no reaction will happen and this is where EGR comes into play. So you are able to treat most of the things upfront enabling lower temperatures when you operate, especially in city duty cycles.
Another example is a garbage truck that needs to stop at every 10 m; thus, the technology has to be robust. We have also tested vehicles in Rajasthan, where high temperatures are assisted with desert sand, which is more or less like fine talcum powder. I want to see which global OEM has tested in such conditions, as such challenges are inherent.
This is also followed by customer usage as they might put in kerosene tomorrow for reducing costs. Nothing in this world can stop the customer from using BS IV fuel that has been lying with him for a year. Same is with the AdBlue, which is available in various qualities and prices. So we will continue to face such challenges and are hopeful that our solution suits the operating conditions. We have tested the BS 6 vehicles for over two million km till date, and this is further expected to go up to five million km before the deadline is implemented to ensure product robustness.
Ashok Leyland is emphasising on the commonality of parts for transition from BS IV to BS 6 norms. How does that help?
From the engine side, Ashok Leyland has a large commonality as we leveraged the same iEGR platform we developed during the BS IV norms. Ashok Leyland has also invested a significant amount of time in improving the base engine to comply with BS 6 norms without any significant reduction in fuel efficiency. However, the chassis has undergone a significant change, as we actually took the opportunity to combine three platforms into one platform. Since it was altogether a new chassis, we opted to make it modular and conducted significant validation. Chassis-wise a few parts remain common, which are typically large parts like front & rear axles, gearbox that will remain similar to BS IV. But the chassis, the frame and cross-members and suspension will be unique for the modular platform.
Why did Ashok Leyland opt for a modular structure and what about the bus platform changing gears with BS 6 emission norms?
We opted for a modular structure purely from the complexity perspective. Once modularity is introduced, it is much easier to introduce changes and cut down on various costs significantly. Modularity has also enabled Ashok Leyland to funnel three platforms into one. Migration of three different platforms to BS 6 norms would have been a huge task amidst the huge number of developments required to upgrade them.
There are different requirements among customers that operate in various segments. Each product has unique lifecycles and the requirements were being fed through re-engineering. Modularity enables fulfilling customer demands at a faster rate and offers combinations suitable to their operating conditions. It also allows the customer to choose the levels of comfort required inside the cabin. So it is mutually beneficial, both for Ashok Leyland as well as the customer.
For example, tomorrow if the customer wants to have a larger fuel tank, only a few changes in the modular chassis will see introduction of newer peripherals, which was impossible without removal of parts placed in the vicinity. The fact that we have packaged a lot of modularity helps customise products to meet future requirements. For the bus platform, the main focus was on the bus body itself. Till now, Ashok Leyland’s bus business has been primarily on chassis sales, including the MDV; however, we will see more customers opting for fully-built buses in coming times.
Taking the iEGR to the next level, give us a perspective about the technological changes involved in making things simpler, yet costlier?
Simple is relative. Given the complexity of SCR, it is impossible to cut down on the number of sensors. We will share more details, when we launch it officially in coming times. It cannot be denied that vehicle prices will go up, but we are working hard to ensure that there isn’t any major change in the total cost of ownership. We are looking to penetrate into Russian markets; however, our major focus is on the domestic market and we will launch BS 6 products in economic, value as well as premium models to suit customer viability.
BS 6 will be closely followed by upcoming regulations like CAFE and RDE. Will you upgrade the same platform for future regulatory norms?
From the Euro 6 perspective, if our data is anything to go by, we are well covered for various regulations. The current technology that we have chosen will enable us to effectively meet the RDE requirements and may require minor tweaking or no major changes at all. From the modularity perspective, of course, it is a journey and it does not start and end here. It is all about continuous improvements in terms of tweaking, re-tweaking and retuning the modularity to the point that it is the best solution for the customer. We believe this platform is here to stay for next 20 years as it is designed to offer multiple options of loading spans, cabins, suspensions and drivetrains. To suit their respective needs, these combinations would be offered to customers through a custom built product configurator. Hopefully over the coming years, you will see Ashok Leyland as a completely different company altogether.
Give us an insight into Ashok Leyland’s product development activities?
Typically, we spend about 2 % of our revenues on R&D activities, which is flexible to reach 3-4 %. We have about 1,500 engineers at our Chennai R&D facility spread across 3.5 acre, working full time across engine, chassis and gearbox development in the premises itself. As vehicle complexity is consistently on the rise, there is a lot of focus on simulation. Given the development times you have, you seriously can’t build prototypes every time and test. We at Ashok Leyland have invested quite a bit on simulation and also have a sister company called Hinduja Tech that focusses on building advanced technologies. Together, we ensure we have the right partnership across engine, powertrain and chassis space from a future perspective like CFT, structural analysis.
If you look at the physical activity, we have a component test lab for individual testing; a system test lab, where you can get together the entire system and test them for robustness; and then of course at the vehicle level, where the vehicle is tested across torture tracks, which are rough roads simulating the scenario. Further, we also have on-road running, simulating real world operations. So it is a blend of everything.
Ashok Leyland has been putting high focus on digitalisation. Your thoughts.
Our focus areas for digitalisation will be diagnostics and prognostics, taking over vehicle management through telematics to send out alerts to service engineers as well as dealers for any possible trouble in the vehicle. Additionally, it will involve tyre management, fuel management among others. It is more about driver skilling and handling such sophisticated technologies as well as customer engagement, and this is where digitalisation will focus on. Other things will include service maintenance, selling spares and getting right mechanics. So the focus is on enhancing all customer touchpoints. We are also looking at meeting various requirements, in terms of infrastructure development across the aftersales network and skilling the workforce across workshops to troubleshoot problems faster. Of course, such initiatives will pose a major challenge for the auto industry.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: Ashok Leyland