A critical safety element, automotive horns serves the function of alerting other vehicles and pedestrians of a vehicle’s approach.
Although they add to the noise on our roads, horns go a long way in minimising or reducing road accidents. Coimbatore-based Roots Industries India, the Rs 600 cr flagship division of the Roots Group, has grown in stature over the decades to emerge as the world’s fifth-largest automotive horn manufacturer.
Roots Industries forayed into the automotive horn space in 1970 with just three people through the initiatives of K Ramaswamy, Chairman, Roots Group of Companies. Ramaswamy was overly focussed on making high-quality automotive horns like Bosch, since he used to see his father during his school days fit a Bosch horn, whenever the latter purchased a new car and often his curiosity was stoked by the thought of how an India-made horn can be made for vehicles in the country. That’s how Roots Industries’ automotive horn journey took off.
Auto Tech Review recently caught up with K Saravanasundaram, Deputy Managing Director, Roots Industries India, to understand how it has been able to build a robust reputation in the automotive horn market.
After years of sustained R&D work, Roots Industries India rolled out the electro-mechanical horn in 1982 and within a span of three years – in 1985 – the company emerged as the market leader notwithstanding the intense competition from automotive horn manufacturers from the USA, Japan, the UK and Germany. “Initially, we thought it will take two years to develop this electrical horn, but it took 12 years to develop it to our satisfaction because in those days (in the 70s and 80s), having access to good material and communication was difficult,” observed Saravanasundaram.
Roots Industries India offers automotive horns across various segments – two- & three-wheelers (70-90 mm diameter), passenger cars (80-100 mm diameter), trucks, buses, off-road vehicles and construction equipment (100-120 mm diameter). The company supplies its horns to OEMs such as BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen Group and Harley-Davidson globally.
The company has one standard product for OEMs, aftermarket and exports market. All of Roots Industries’ products manufactured for the Indian market are approved by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), while its products catering to its export market are approved by the European homologation agencies. The company has consistently focussed on raising the bar for automotive horn standards and claims that its horns offer two to three times more life than existing Indian and European standard horns.
HORN USAGE PATTERNS
The usage patterns of automotive horns in India are quite different from rest of the world. In fact, the honking usage in India and China is very high compared to the US and European markets and that explains why OEMs keep a different honking standard, while developing a standard for India and China.
However, there is a widely-held perception that automotive horn usage in the Indian context must come down and Roots Industries believes building more awareness holds the key. “Honking is an essential product for maintaining vehicle safety, but the focus must be on ensuring it is not overused since it can create unwanted noise pollution. Limited usage of horn is the way forward and for that to happen in a country like India, a lot of things has to change like improved infrastructure and driver awareness,” said Saravanasundaram.
With the automotive industry getting increasingly sophisticated, horns are increasingly becoming electronic as against electro-mechanical horns of the past. Electronic horns offer more value to the customers. For instance, the company’s electro-mechanical horns offer a life of 250-350 thousand cycles, while electronic horns offer a life of one million cycles.
On the exterior, the appearance and sound quality of electro-mechanical and electronic horns are same, but the internal construction is different. Electro-mechanical horns will have contacts that will wear and tear over a period of time, which effectively means that once the contacts completely wear out it is the end of the product life. Electronic horns won’t have any contacts, and all the frequencies are mated to the electronic corn, which oscillates the membrane and does not have wear and tear parts. That’s why it offers a life of one million cycles, explained Saravanasundaram.
Electronic horns are gaining momentum in global markets but as far as the Indian market is concerned, such horns are only used in high-end premium car segment (luxury cars). In fact, 90-95 % of the Indian automotive horn market deploys electro-mechanical horns for its obvious low-cost. In a price-sensitive market like India, electronic horns, which are three times more expensive that electro-mechanical horns, can be prohibitively expensive for most.
However, Roots Industries, even before foraying into the domestic market for electronic horns, started offering this product for the export market, especially for the forklift industry, wherein honking is needed to ensure nobody is crossing during real-time operations. The company has set a standard of one million cycles for these electronic horns, which were subsequently offered to passenger car OEMs.
The company enjoys 65-70 % market share for automotive horns in the aftermarket. The Coimbatore plant houses a large chunk of its 1,400-strong workforce. It has formed joint ventures with two players in Malaysia and Russia, wherein Roots Industries India offers technological expertise, while their overseas partners take care of the manufacturing and marketing.
Roots Industries is not solely banking on its horn business for growth and has taken the diversification path well – it has started manufacturing DC converters and smart USB chargers, back-up alarms, battery disconnect switch and electronic battery disconnect switch, among others.
In keeping with the market need to keep evolving on the product side, Roots Industries has also entered the space of manufacturing buggies and offers a wide range of buggies catering to resorts, hospitals, hotels, universities, colleges and schools. The company offers buggies that are converted into passenger and cargo buggies with capacities of two, four, six, eight, 14 and 23 seats. Interestingly, some of these buggies can be converted into mobile ambulances – these are not full-fledged ambulances but serve the purpose of ferrying patients from one point to another building, while serving hospitals. Roots Industries has sold 250 buggies over the last two years.
Like other automotive component suppliers, Roots Industries had to grapple with the prevailing industry slowdown – it had reported 25-30 % dip in sales during the June-November 2019 period, but is witnessing improved market sentiments since then.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua
PHOTO: Roots Industries