Honda Cars globally has gained considerable experience in the electric mobility space
The company, in fact, has announced it will sell only electric and hybrid vehicles in Europe starting 2022, three years earlier than previously planned. In a freewheeling chat with Rajesh Goel, Senior Vice President & Director, Marketing and Sales, Honda Cars India, Auto Tech Review tries to understand the prospects around alternate fuel technologies that can be rolled out in the Indian market.
Rajesh Goel is currently serving as Senior Vice President & Director, Sales & Marketing, Honda Cars India – a position he had assumed in April 2018. He has been associated with Honda Cars India since 1996 and has headed several critical functions in the company, including purchase and quality. Goel comes with over 22 years of working experience in Honda’s automobile business and possesses a wealth of knowledge in the global automotive industry. He had served in two international long-term assignments in Japan in 2001 and then again in 2015. In his last assignment, Rajesh served as General Manager, in charge of Purchasing Division 2, Worldwide, at Honda Motor Company with responsibility for powertrain and electric/electronic components.
ATR _ What’s your take on hybrid vehicles and what kind of option can be explored for the Indian market?
Rajesh Goel _ The automotive industry has been witnessing the evolution of technology used in mobility solutions. However, it must be understood that irrespective of any OEM or technology, feature, value or price, success is determined by consumer acceptance. All car manufacturers, not just in India but the world over, are grappling with issues over cost, price, range and charging infrastructure. As far as range anxiety and charging infrastructure are concerned, the time to charge vehicles and the availability of charging infrastructure are quite significant. Till the time such issues are addressed and electric vehicles (EVs) are a viable alternative, hybrid vehicles will have a significant role to play. It is not to say that either hybrid or EVs are the right way forward. The short and simple answer is that both are necessary, but eventually it has to be EVs. But hybrid technologies are very practical and logical step for moving towards EVs.
There are a few reasons for this – firstly, issues of range anxiety and charging infrastructure prevalent in EVs is not there in an IC engine; so customers need not worry about the charging rate or the car getting stranded on the road. Secondly, in terms of pricing, hybrid vehicles are still slightly beyond customer expectations, although the price is much less as compared to EVs. With a little help, hybrid vehicles could possibly be priced within the expected price range of a customer.
Thirdly, to ultimately move to complete electrification, there will be two or three components for which you need to develop a manufacturing base. This could be the motor, battery and electronics such as the ECM, etc. Interestingly, all three are used in hybrid vehicles as well. The very detailed and specific technology may be different. But if manufacturers can develop a manufacturing base, it can always be used to make way for eventual electrification.
Finally, if you look at the overall carbon footprint reduction, it also depends on the sources of energy generation. For example, in India, the dependence on sources such as thermal power generation is very high. If we compare this with the output of emission from hybrid vehicles, the difference is not much. However, the Prime Minister’s vision and the government’s intent is to bring down the dependence on conventional sources of energy and move towards renewable sources such as solar, etc. At such a time, EVs will start making a lot more carbon sense as compared to hybrid vehicles. Taking into account the entire picture, hybrids are a good step towards the future of mobility and subsequently the industry can progress towards electric mobility at a time, when power generation is from cleaner sources of energy, thus emerging as a win-win situation.
Do you foresee hybrid vehicles having a better penetration in the Indian market going forward?
In my opinion, hybrid vehicles have a slightly higher technology utilisation than EVs as you need to package an IC engine, one or two motors as well as other systems for energy generation and conversion. However, in EVs, you only need to package half of the components that would be added to a hybrid. Further, the control units in EVs only need to manage the speed and start/stop of the motor, while hybrids require more computing power. The control unit in a hybrid vehicle needs to manage the logic of turning on the motor, turning on/off the engine, depending on cruising speed and battery charge level, so on and so forth. In that sense, hybrids are high technology products.
With numerous parts and systems on hybrid vehicles it is much more expensive than conventional forms of mobility. The main benefit the hybrid vehicle offers over conventional IC-powered vehicles is the mileage. It ultimately boils down to whether customers are willing to pay the additional cost for mileage in a slightly more eco-friendly vehicle.
How are you placed with the transition to BS 6 norms?
We have taken it like any other regulation change, and diligently adhered to a roadmap. It was not as if we started thinking on these lines this year. Last year, we were intimated that the registrations and all other activities have to be completed in March 2020 and there would be no relaxation till June 2020. So we had to rework our plans and are sticking to them. The BS 6 variant of the Honda City for the petrol variant is now being sent to dealerships and will be available for retail soon. We are working as per schedule for the roll-out of all other models to comply with BS 6 regulations for both petrol and diesel engines.
There are no concerns as such from a manufacturing standpoint as we are more than capable of developing products that will meet the regulatory norms. The only worry is that there is some level of confusion from consumers’ standpoint. With the kind of deals that are being offered for BS IV products, and considering the resale and cost of value, BS IV will be better for customers. The Civic and CR-V petrol were compliant right from their launch. Additionally, City petrol is BS 6 compliant and will be launched soon.
How do you assess the viability for diesel powertrains considering future regulations such as RDE and CAFE?
In India, customers are extremely price sensitive and with future emission regulations poised to come in, the cost of diesel-powered models is likely to go up. Further, the difference between the cost of diesel- and petrol-powered models will also increase. And with increase in cost to meet CAFÉ norms and RDE norms, it may be difficult even for fleet operators to justify purchase of diesel-powered vehicles.
Global megatrends such as connected, autonomous, shared and electric are influencing mobility transformation. How are these trends influencing Honda Cars in India?
These trends are there to stay. In terms of timelines, Honda was the first to introduce connected solutions with the Honda Connect that came in three years back. Depending on the usage, these services need to be of an additional usage for consumers. Assuming that everything is operated on mobile, these are trends that are here to stay. A good example of our commitment to the future is the Honda e, which is an electric car that comes with some level of basic autonomous functionality and also has various connectivity capabilities. While technologies are available, it depends on the market and the readiness of consumers to accept these technologies.
What is Honda’s take on the different vehicle segments in India? Which segments hold strong potential for growth in the coming years?
Most of the launches this year have been in the SUV space & therefore it looks like the growth is only coming in the SUV segment. However, it does not mean that the demand in other segments will go away. For instance, the executive sedan segment is one of the few segments, which have grown despite the current market slowdown. The comeback of the Honda Civic this year has given a much-needed boost to the segment and this reaffirms our confidence in the sedan category for the Indian market as well.
Honda has considerable experience in electric mobility globally. What is required in the ecosystem to make EVs a viable alternative in India?
As far as battery EVs are concerned, it is surely the way forward for mobility transition. It is our knowledge that diffusion of battery EVs requires significant infrastructure development and overcoming other challenges such as cruising range of batteries and affordability. We would like the auto industry and government to engage in more dialogue on various aspects of electrification as well as development of a specific roadmap for infrastructure development, which will be the key to the programme’s success. While transformation to electric cars is inevitable and will also provide a huge opportunity to the automotive industry, we feel that the transition to EVs can be made smoother.
Once EVs are sold to the customers, they need charging infrastructure and reliability, as consumers suffer from range anxiety. And to overcome these challenges, hybrid vehicles can serve as a good intermediate alternative towards electrification. There are many countries, including Japan that have adopted hybrid vehicles in large numbers, even outselling pure gasoline powertrain vehicles and are now gearing up for EVs on a larger scale.
What is Honda’s line of thought on the present market condition?
The year 2019 has been exceedingly tough for the Indian automotive sector owing to the slowdown and downbeat customer sentiments. Of course, there was some uptick during the festive season. Having said that, it will be difficult for the auto industry to recover from consecutive de-growth of past several months.
TEXT: Joshua David Luther
PHOTO: Honda Cars India