Continental has been developing technology solutions for the two-wheeler industry for almost two decades, and with India being the focus for all major OEMs in this segment, it intends to deliver customised solutions at an affordable price point. Auto Tech Review met Torsten Bellon, Vice President, Powertrain, Engine Systems, PL Synerjet, Continental, to discuss the Indian scenario for two-wheeler technology development and the road ahead for this segment.
Continental’s Vehicle Dynamics business division develops and manufactures various safety systems for motorcycles, including ABS, emergency brake assist (EBA), electronic stability control (ESC), electronic air suspension system, sensor box and connectivity box. Continental’s ABS solutions have been on offer since 2006. Until now, the two-channel ABS MK 100 MAB or three-channel MK 3-2 MAB (Motorcycle anti-lock brake system) have been available as a mid-range feature. The MK 100 motorcycle integral brake system (MIB) has been available as the high-end feature, and both MAB and MIB also offer additional optional functions besides their standard functions. In electric parking brake systems, the parking brake is not activated by pulling on a parking brake lever, but by activating an electrical switch. In response, an electronic system controls the electrical actuators that are integrated into the wheel brakes. This system enables a range of automatic assistance functions for enhanced safety and comfort. Continental offers various EPB solutions for different large rear axle brake configurations.
ATR _ What were the key highlights in Continental’s journey, in the two-wheeler industry?
TORSTEN BELLON _ Over the past few years, we have been working within our different verticals, with the aim to create new strategies for the two-wheeler segment. Currently, we are working towards a more integrated business approach and intend to derive newer concepts for two-wheelers using our new modules.
Continental has been instrumental in developing powertrains for two-wheelers in India for a long time and with our entry into the instrument cluster and motorcycle ABS business, we have further expanded our reach in the Indian two-wheeler market. The next big steps in the two-wheeler value chain would be rider safety systems and V2X connectivity, which global markets are involved in.
India is fast becoming an area of interest for technology solution providers due to the various legislations, such as the BS VI norms by 2020 and mandatory ABS on two-wheelers. This brings Continental back into the powertrain domain, where we intend to come up with dedicated solutions for the Indian two-wheeler market by the end of this year or latest by early next year. Our major focus is India and China, as they are the most promising markets globally. As both countries are pushing the boundaries in terms of emission standards, this is an opportune moment for us to explore these markets.
In the Indian context, two-wheelers was the last segment, which adopted mass usage of electronic technology. With Continental’s primary focus being electronics, we could enter this segment only when it was ready for electrified applications. Until recently, and even today, the amount of electronics used in a two-wheeler in India is very limited, so the exposure of Continental in this domain is at its nascent stage, but we expect it to gather momentum in the near future.
For powertrains, Continental was present in the exhaust systems business through its group company Continental Emitec, which provides metal substrate solutions. However, we see heightened activity in the powertrain engine management segment and powertrain control solutions for two-wheelers in India, and we are back in the game. The global community is realising India’s potential as a market and we are keen to leverage our existing expertise in the country.
What are the major evolutions taking place in two-wheeler powertrain technology in India?
The Indian two-wheeler market – currently the largest market for us – is primarily dominated by single-cylinder engines. The challenge does not lie in putting an engine management system on a two-wheeler, but to manage the ramp up in technology being adopted by manufacturers.
We already have the technology ready and are coming up with dedicated solutions for two-wheelers in India. These would not be carried over from our existing technologies from four-wheelers, but we will only use their building blocks. Our customised two-wheeler solutions have dedicated software and hardware combinations, for different job requirements. We are already in the process of installing the first production lines for two-wheeler technology in India and we will go ahead with providing solutions during the ramping up stage for the industry, which requires managing multiple parallel applications. This is a challenge for our R&D division, and we will also need to establish a supply base as we need a local supply setup.
To round off our initiatives, a local production facility will not only help us exploit domestic expertise, but also contribute to the ‘Make in India’ initiative. By April 2020, every two-wheeler in the country would need to be equipped with electronic fuel injection systems. Moving from mechanical carburettors to fuel injection systems will pose a huge challenge for every partner in the value chain. This can surely be termed as the biggest technological revolution witnessed by the Indian two-wheeler industry in decades.
The implications would further extend to the aftermarket, with an opportunity for existing mechanics to get organised and learn the nuances of electronics in two-wheeler engine management and diagnostics. With the number of upgraded two-wheelers being large, we must also ensure that the aftermarket has experts and technicians who are able enough to service these vehicles on time, or else OEMs might lose customer trust.
Please brief us about the safety scenario for two-wheelers in India.
Continental’s portfolio today has all the required technology to meet almost the entire range of safety requirements for two-wheelers. It depends upon our OEM customers what level of technology they want to install in their motorcycles or scooters. This is also derived from the legal requirements existing or expected in the near future. We are already witnessing an increase in the installation rate for ABS in two-wheelers, but this penetration is not happening in the lower end of the spectrum, as cost factors act as a barrier. Yet again, legislation plays a critical role in technology adoption, as there remains very little incentive for OEMs to employ a technology, and the end customer to pay for it.
For a market accustomed to mechanical and hydraulic applications for decades, having multiple electronic systems on board also creates a psychological barrier about the ease of usage, long-term maintenance and costs. However, the transitional thought process has started, and it’s getting easier to convince customers about the advantages of on-board electronics, and the role they play in ensuring safety, controlling emissions, and improving traceability in the future.
It is heartening to see a corollary to the legislations coming up for two-wheelers in India. The safety requirements are leading to the ABS mandate and the BS VI norms leading to electronic fuel injection systems by 2020. A case in point, though, is the amount of space available in low-end two-wheelers for the installation of electronic components. To address this challenge, Continental has a system view approach, which works with the OEM to optimise technology adoption across segments. For example, ABS is standard across most car segments. We would work with our two-wheeler customers to decipher a method to introduce this technology in low-end 100-150cc motorcycles, without significant cost changes.
What opportunities does the two-wheeler instrument cluster present for you?
The instrument cluster of bikes and scooters could be targeted first for further electronics installation. The optics used in instrumentation panels would surely witness an upgrade, if new features are introduced seamlessly over a certain period of time. The challenge is the Indian market is highly cost driven. We have certain technologies for instrument clusters, which can be incorporated within a motorcycle. However, this requires a certain degree of mechanical compatibility with electronics in the existing platforms, which allows us to securely integrate these electronic bits into the mechanism. This will also help us keep the quintessential cost factor low.
If this thought process is opened further, we might look into the possibility of adding microprocessors into smaller capacity engines, without causing major disruptions to the engine architecture. When every operational aspect of a bike gradually gets connected through microprocessors, we can manage the available space better for software integration.
How is sensor technology progressing at Continental?
Today we need more sensors for electronic fuel injection systems than are currently being used. As a part of our drive towards mechatronics, sensors for engine management systems are being integrated with the mechanicals and electronics. This helps us avoid additional costs for wiring harnesses, cables and similar manual connecting devices. We believe we are in a position to install such sensors in vehicles without any additional costs. Having sensors on board allows a vehicle to become a highly robust and integrated machine, while being safer on the road.
For example, a wheel speed sensor can simply be used to gauge the wheel speed of a two-wheeler, or it can be used in combination with ABS, which detects wheel spin and signals the safety device accordingly. This also negates the need to have a second sensor on board. Combining functionalities can lead to reduction in response time during heavy braking. In a market like India, sensors are traded as a commodity, which puts further pressure on the cost of integration and localisation.
With the fast adoption of disc brakes across two-wheeler segments, what future do drum brakes have?
There is no arguing that a disc brake mechanism is more efficient than a drum brake setup, but in India, buying decisions are made purely based on affordability. While on one end we have disc brakes equipped with ABS on many motorcycles in the 150cc segment and above, majority of the bikes and scooters below the 125cc category come with drums on both wheels. It does not mean drum brakes are ineffective; that’s the reason they have survived till date in many markets including India.
It is the value proposition presented by the disc brake which customers need to be made more aware of. Like many other emerging markets, drum brakes have been meeting the basic braking requirements at a lower price. Thus, there is not incentive for the final customer to invest in a two-wheeler equipped with a disc brake, and simultaneously, the OEM refrains from proving this feature in the wake of increased product price. This is similar to the case for carburettors and fuel injection technology. India is the only market in the world, where the carburettor has been taken to its limit in terms of application, and only when legislations mandated skipping BS V, the question of having electronic carburettors was completely negated.
How viable is two-wheeler electrification in South Asian markets?
We were initially investigating the Chinese market for our technologies, as it was already well-established, with 25 million electric two-wheelers being sold every year. However, we refrained from entering this market, as cost demands were highly prohibitive and technology levels were significantly lower compared to what we had to offer. Predominantly the EVs used Lead-acid batteries and no significant electronic modules were used to power and run these vehicles.
India presents an almost similar case, where the technology adoption for electric two-wheelers is not at par with international standards. What’s encouraging is many OEMs trying to revamp this segment by offering products with higher levels of technology and Lithium-ion batteries. Also, from the electronics perspective, there is a positive change happening in this emerging segment, which allows Continental to showcase its capabilities. We are in a better position now to get significant traction in this market because electric vehicles in India are being looked as genuine competitors to low-end motorcycles.
This will require further optimisation of the electric motor and of the electronic components attached to it. The path towards full electrification should begin with two-wheelers, simply because it allows easier mechatronic integration, wider scope for improvisation in terms of design and structure, and all this at a highly affordable price point.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley
PHOTO: Vasu Anantha