Everyone’s looking for the magic half-price EV battery but nobody’s found it!

Bosch is the world's leading automotive supplier and is betting big on the growth in the Indian market. This is partly on the back of upcoming safety and emission regulations. In this exclusive interview, we discuss the suitable technologies for Indian two-wheelers and the shift to electric vehicles.

By: | Updated: March 25, 2019 4:22 PM
Geoff Liersch, Head of Two-Wheeler & Powersports Business Unit, Bosch Geoff Liersch, Head of Two-Wheeler & Powersports Business Unit, Bosch

Legislation is undergoing a big change in terms of automobiles in India, thereby affecting all OEMs and suppliers significantly. With ABS getting mandatory for all motorcycles above 125 cc, suppliers such as Bosch are looking at a big increment of ABS sales. In addition, newer safety and emission regulations are providing a great opportunity to global technology leaders such as Bosch as they can help OEMs meet the regulations quickly and efficiently. We recently caught up with Geoff Liersch, Head of Two-Wheeler & Powersports Business Unit, Bosch. He gave us an insight into the changes we can see in two-wheeler technology in India and how the market will adapt to Electric Vehicles.

Geoff Liersch joined Robert Bosch Australia in 2005, starting as Project Manager in Automotive Body Electronics. Since 2005, he has held various management positions in Australia, Germany and China. Geoff started his career with Siemens VDO Automotive in Melbourne Australia, and over a 10-year period held various engineering positions before moving into general management. Born in 1969 in Australia, he got his first motorcycle at the age of just four years. Geoff Liersch is married and has four children. He graduated from La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, in 1992 with a double degree and Honors’ in Computer Science and Communication Engineering.

Express Drives - Approximately how much of the revenue does the two-wheeler business account for in India?

Geoff Liersch - Today, not much but the market is growing. I cannot forecast where the market is going to head in the next few years but with the current view, I would expect that by 2022, we could have a third of our turnover coming from the Indian market. India is moving faster in than other markets and therefore it will become a large portion of our turnover for a period of time but the rest of the Asian countries will also come and then it will flatten itself back again. So in terms of percentage, I expect to see a pick and a decline again not because the Indian market is going to get slower but because the other markets are also going to move into the technologies that we are talking about.

With ABS getting mandatory, this is a big push for suppliers like you so what percentage of the ABS market are you expecting to capture?

This is also very very difficult for me to judge because it depends on what segmentation exists in what markets. We are clearly the number one globally today and I expect that we will stay the number one in the future as well. But how stronger will be the market share it is too difficult for me to judge right now. Our job is to bring good technology at the right price. If we bring good technology at the right price, I expect to have a good market share. That’s where we are and so far in the ABS technology, we have been able to continue to innovate and bring technologies and we have been successful for the last twenty years.

Bosch Generation 10 ABSBosch Generation 10 ABS

The ABS system today is one-tenth of the weight of the first-gen system. Tell us more about the tenth-generation ABS system.

The generation ten we only bought to the market in early last year and it was specifically created for the emerging markets. We deliberately reduced the performance of it so you cannot use a generation ten on a supersport motorcycle as it just doesn’t have the performance that can handle such a bike. People say that a 125cc or a 250cc motorcycle has actually nothing to do with the size of the motor, it has to do with how fast does it go and what is the weight distribution on the bike. And I can tell you that for most bikes over 125cc and under 200cc, the ABS generation ten is the perfect one. So the generation ten was specifically designed for the widescale market and most motorcycles up to 200cc are suitable for this system.

Typically, how much time interval is there between one generation of ABS and when can we expect the 11th?

Well, the other generations haven’t disappeared. For the ninth generation, we have 3 to 4 programs running at the moment with updates of other generations just refreshing. We have a group in Japan that is continually re-evaluating what is needed next and if it is the highest priority, it gets built. Sometimes we need more capacity than we have got and therefore, you can’t afford to get everything. At the moment, I think generation ten is a very well placed product and of course, if we get to find ways to make it cheaper, we will. From the performance perspective, I think it is in exactly the right spot and I don’t think there is any need to make it smaller or anything like that. Previously, there was a need to make it smaller as the 125cc class is a small bike and we had a massive ABS which did not fit. However, now we don’t have OEMs saying that it’s too big therefore the focus now is purely on lowering the cost wherever possible.

Bosch believes in maximum localisationBosch believes in maximum localisation

You did talk about cost and various other parameters during your presentation, so in India specifically, what is your approach in terms of lowering the costs further?

Volume is always the best thing for reducing costs that is 100 percent clear. So with the new regulations coming, we will have a decent volume increase. The second topic is obviously localisation. Here in India, even before the legislation was completely decided, we decided to localise products as it adds to the value bringing the logistics and similar costs down. My wish is to have an ABS on every single motorcycle in the world. But I have to be realistic. If I don't get the price at a reasonable position, it won’t be on 100 percent of the bikes. So that challenge is to try to get the cost out of it. Further, we get the cost down, the more market we build. So this is just the practical reality.

In India, what is the percentage of localisation?

To be honest, I can’t tell any such stuff at the moment but to explain, inside the ABS, we have PCB units. The PCB has electronic components that come from different locations. There are some things that we cannot localise but anything that can be localised, we pretty much localise.

In terms of electric vehicles what are the technologies that you see suitable in Indian two-wheelers?

In India, many people use bikes as a tool for commuting from point A to point B and don't care what it is as long as they go from point A to point B with minimum running costs. And then there are other guys who are for the riding experience like those who want to go out for a ride on a weekend and have some fun. So for the balance between the two sides, the electrification fits very very well but from a cost perspective, the purchase price of an electric vehicle today is definitely higher than that of an internal combustion engine vehicle because the battery technology is expensive. If we could deliver an electric scooter at the same price as an internal combustion engine scooter, I believe there will be a reasonable transition in the market for the segment that is just going from point A to point B. A range of 20 km will not be enough so we need something that has a range of 130 to 140 km so that it makes 70 km each way and that would be enough for a lot of people. That is the balance that we need to have and it's going to be a combination of technology and price.

In terms of safety for two-wheelers, what is the best combination of technologies you see for India over the next three to four years?

High penetration of ABS is the best thing that you can do. The MSC technology I think is something that has a huge benefit specifically for the Indian market. It is very very difficult to crash with an MSC by braking but you can crash for other reasons. You can be leaning down and you go hard on the brakes and it will not give enough pressure on to the front wheel which means people will start using the front brake and reduce the stopping distances which is the key to these type of problems that we see in the market as avoiding accidents is always better than anything else.

What do you think about the possibility wherein some manufacturers tweak down the engines under 125 cc bring down the cost?

Most of the 125ccs are already 124.9 or similar already so they don't need to change. It is actually the 150cc and 200cc and everything else that will adopt the ABS. Also, it is a choice as to what the company wants to do. At the end of the day, for everything more than 40 km per hour, ABS has a significant benefit so it doesn't matter with the size of the engine is. So I don't think personally that cubic capacity is the correct parameter as it should be speed and not just CCs.

In terms of electrification for two-wheelers, how much time you think India needs before there could be a considerable amount of electric two-wheeler penetration?

Electrification can come in two ways. One is that the legislation becomes big enough that they make it comparable to the internal combustion (IC) engine. Second is battery technology. If the price comes down to a point where the cost would be at par with IC vehicles then the conversion will definitely happen. That said, I can't predict changes related to legislation or battery pricing but down to 2025, I would say that if there is no legislation, the tax rates are not going to be huge because the prices will be too high. Post-2025, I can't guess because if you come up with new battery technology, it would take three to four years to industrialize so 2025 onwards, it could change completely. We don’t look further than that because we just don't know what is going to happen but we always look for different technologies and what we can do with them. But what I can see on the table today is the magic, the half price battery, the technology that exists today. Everyone’s looking for it but we haven’t found it yet!

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