Here is an exclusive interview with Brose Group on perspectives of the company’s numerous automotive solutions
Ever since it had kick-started operations in the Indian market in 2008, the Brose Group has carved out a robust presence in the country, with a strong focus on engineering, innovation and manufacturing. In an exclusive interview with Auto Tech Review, Ulrich Schrickel, CEO, Brose Group, shared his perspectives on vehicle interior & exterior solutions, and electric motors, among others.
Ulrich Schrickel is currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Brose Group, a role he took charge of in January 2020. He is responsible for advanced development & innovations, electronics, communications and marketing besides shouldering responsibilities for the China and North American markets. Schrickel had joined the Brose Group in August 2019 and initially served as Executive Vice President – Door Systems, before taking up the CEO role. He is also the head of the Future Brose renewal programme. Prior to joining the Brose Group, he had a lengthy stint with Robert Bosch GmbH, where he served as Senior Vice President, Business Unit Transmission Control. In this role, Schrickel headed the production facilities in Czech Republic and Italy and was also responsible for central quality management. His last position at Bosch was as Co-Director, Automotive Electronics. Schrickel obtained his Mechanical Engineering degree from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
ATR _ How has Brose India’s journey been so far? How significant is the new Pune campus to your growth plans in the country?
Ulrich Schrickel _ Brose India kick-started its journey in 2008 with its first development centre in Pune and three years later, we started production activities, manufacturing window regulators. Subsequently over a period of time, Brose India got into producing manual seat height adjusters, side door latches and door modules. In fact, we are the only supplier of door modules in India. Spread over 10 acres, the floor space at our new Pune facility is three times larger than before.
This facility is not just a commitment to the Indian market, but also a strategic move for the Brose Group. We intend to invest € 17 mn to expand further in India over the next five years. The new campus houses our headquarters, development & IT centre as well as production facility – all concentrated in one location, which gives us a lot of synergy and enables faster decision-making. Previously, we used to have three separate sites. People working in the plant can now offer instant feedback to our engineers, who themselves can easily look at production processes.
Brose believes in a non-bureaucratic working style with a lot of entrepreneurship driving our business. The focus of the Pune campus is to improve competitiveness as well as efficiency, and we are confident that this facility will help to better connect development and manufacturing. Our long-term objective is to deliver Brose Group’s entire product portfolio in the Indian market.
Brose India’s most-talked-about solution has been your integrated compact door module. Can you elaborate?
Usually, cars produced in India feature component solutions rather than system solutions. Our pre-checked modules integrate all door components like window regulators, wire harnesses or loudspeakers on a single carrier plate. This helps our customers simplify their assembly processes because they do not need to install every component individually. Our door modules help substantially reduce vehicle weight. These door modules can help passenger vehicle OEMs knock off 2 kg from each car without compromising on safety, quality or comfort. The system also has a logistical advantage as we can deliver customers just-in-sequence. It will take some time to develop this market in India, but there is a huge opportunity for us, as OEMs see the value of our approach. The ongoing electrification with new vehicle platforms could also speed up the transition to door modules.
Throw us a perspective about Brose Group’s R&D initiatives?
The automotive industry is evolving and our classic mechatronic products meet the highest quality standards. Our strategy is to drive innovations by expanding our mechatronic expertise with the use of sensors and software, making our products more intelligent and connected. As mentioned, we are also working on software to control and steer everything. For example, imagine an animal or a child left behind in a car – we have sensors to detect this dangerous situation and accordingly act on it using the wide range of our product portfolio. For example, the central system might tell our electric climate compressor to cool down the car interior. It might also open the window or door to let in fresh air. Our focus is best expressed by our slogan “Excellence in Mechatronics”.
Brose India offers vehicle comfort solutions. Can you give us an insight into innovations happening in the vehicle comfort space?
For years, Brose has been offering many comfort features like power lift gates, side door drives, and seats equipped with massage function, among others. Now with changing vehicle architectures, it is important to understand how can we adapt and how we must adapt? It is certain that future comfort solutions will be connected and more intelligent because of the sheer number of actuators equipped with sensors.
Imagine this scenario. A simple gesture opens the vehicle door and at the same time, the seat contour adjusts automatically to make entering easier. With the touch of a button, a passenger can decide how he or she wants to enjoy the ride and the interior flexibly adapts to the desired usage – electronically controlled seats, screens and storage areas automatically coordinate their positions. For example, in a transport scenario, the second and third row seats are folded down in order to provide more room. We are harnessing the radar technology in order to make gesture detection, anti-collision protection and interior surveillance possible.
Additionally, these customised solutions need well-controlled and well-tuned software. We are working on software packages for isolated applications, like a plug-and-play ready side door drive. We can also approach customers for various connected solutions. We have already carried out technological sessions with some OEMs and the feedback has been fantastic.
How do you think the area of vehicle seating has evolved over the years?
The vehicle seating area has been witnessing considerable improvements over the years. It has improved in terms of being lighter and better manufactured as well as being cost-effective. With Indian consumers spending more time in vehicles, the demand for higher comfort is becoming more important. We have expanded the use of globally available standard components so that we can have the economies of scale and integrate these into seating structures manufactured locally. This has significant merit as we can cater to parts of the highest quality to the vehicles manufactured and sold in India. Brose India has emerged as a supplier of choice owing to our cost competitiveness and speed-to-market. We plan to develop and manufacture our own seat structures in India in future.
The auto industry is increasingly focussing on vehicle lightweighting. What is Brose India’s take on vehicle lightweighting?
Vehicle lightweighting is always a work in progress. We have adopted two main approaches towards lightweight construction: when we develop systems like our door modules, we look at functionality rather than components. This enables us to see how functions can be integrated and redundant parts or fasteners can be eliminated. For example, we integrate the transmission of a window regulator, its rails or the wire harness directly into the door module’s carrier plate. By expanding the functions that are part of our module, even more weight reduction is possible. There are more ideas on the table that we can work on.
On the other hand, we are working with innovative materials for lightweighting our products. The key is to use the right material at the right place. Take our lightweight front seat structure, for example. The cross tube and side panels are made of various high-strength steels, while the electric seat tilt adjustment is largely made of plastic. These three measures alone have enabled us to reduce weight by around one kilogram per seat. However, this can only be achieved with appropriate knowhow, in terms of individual materials, right joining techniques and the seat system as a whole.
Specific to two-wheelers, can you throw some light on your EV motors?
Motors for electric vehicles are getting smaller and lighter. The Brose Group possesses a good knowhow of EV motors because we make them ourselves. By using our own motors as well as those from our suppliers, we gain a good market overview and the technological competence to better understand motors. One trend that will emerge over the next two to three years will be brushless motors that have integrated electronics – they are very silent, durable and efficient. Of course, these motors will cost more than the currently available motors, but they can offer more functions.
Premium OEMs have already started opting for brushless motors and I think in some time such motors will come into the Indian market more broadly as well. As far as Brose India is concerned, we will locally manufacture electric motors and electronic components that will cater to the needs of electric scooters and motorcycles in India. We are confident about delivering these products over the next two years. These motors will feature standard designs that are customised to two-wheeler space limitations.
Brose India’s EV focus appears to be limited to the two-wheeler segment. Do you intend to foray into the EV passenger car space?
We intend to supply electric two-wheelers with our motors and electric components and want to be aggressive in this area. We do not have plans to manufacture electric vehicle traction motors. We believe that EVs still have a long way to go before they emerge as a mass product.
What is Brose India’s approach towards Industry 4.0?
The most important thing regarding Industry 4.0 is that it has to make sense from a commercial point of view, and I think that this is not yet always the case in India. Brose’s first Industry 4.0 solution – our manufacturing systems – helps monitor production lines. Eventually, more Industry 4.0 elements will be implemented. We are working on a new shared data architecture and once that is in place we can adopt many smart manufacturing practices with a focus on data architecture and storage.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Brose Group