The Coronavirus which originated from China has brought the world to its knees and affected daily lives for nearly the entire world’s population and the global economy. With many businesses reporting to be severely impacted and rolling back some of their plans and footprints, we sat down with one of the leading global lubrication companies to find out how the industry that is highly relevant in the operation of nearly every mechanically powered sector has been impacted. Raman Ojha, Country Head, Shell Lubricants India talks us through how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lubricant industry, as well as, how Shell has managed to fight through the crisis to deliver to its customers in the essential service industry during this time. Ojha also highlights the brand’s priorities moving forward and its roadmap for the near future. But as the world looks to eventually move towards cleaner mobility with electric vehicles, he mentions how there will still be room left for the lubricant industry to remain relevant in the world of electric vehicles.
How has COVID-19 impacted the lubricant industry?
These are unprecedented times, with challenges and uncertainty for the lubricants industry. The pace of growth in the Indian lubricant market before COVID-19 was moderate at around 2% to 2.5%. With the reduction in demand due to the pandemic, we anticipate that even in 2021, it may not attain the same levels as we saw last year in 2019. So, you can see the magnitude of the impact.
At the start of COVID-19 as the country went into lockdown due to the pandemic, the use of passenger cars and two-wheelers for personal mobility was one of the first areas of impact. Workshops and general repair garages were also shut resulting in reduced demand. In the initial phase even the manufacturing sector, especially automotive literally paused, reducing the demand for lubricants significantly.
How has Shell India tackled the COVID-19 situation for its customers?
We have put our key focus on ensuring non-disruption of supplies to essential industry customers that allow them to keep their machines running with our products. These were done within the guidelines of the government to ensure the utmost safety.
Additionally, for the end consumers, we have partnered with Pitstop, a Bengaluru-based start-up to offer zero contact doorstep servicing of cars in 20 cities across the country. With Pitstop we are providing a professional and sanitised environment for the customers. We have also tied up with Residents’ Welfare Associations in different cities to take our service right at the doorstep of consumers. This also takes into account the mechanic community whose livelihood has been affected over the past couple of months.
What is the way forward to cope with the lost time, and how is Shell India, in particular, looking to regain from the current scenario?
I think accelerating technological integration will be crucial in making the best of our situation as we emerge from the coronavirus. Adapting to the new normal with new-age digital solutions that enable contactless services for consumers, virtual diagnostics for remote customers, and reinventing the workplace for our employees, will help us evolve and come out stronger.
In the industrial space, currently, our staff is unable to travel and physically provide services in the manner we would wish to. But with the advent of modern digital platforms, it has enabled avenues to deliver similar services remotely. We introduced Realwear headset technology, to enable virtual inspections by our experts, helping our customers optimise operations and prevent equipment breakdown.
We have also made available the application of sensors for seamless monitoring of equipment to ensure that operating conditions are normal and to monitor equipment conditions and idle time among other parameters to provide useful insights to customers to optimise the cost of operations.
How has the transition to the more stringent BS-6 emission norms from April 1, 2020, impacted you and the lubrication industry?
I think the transition to BS-VI has been more significant for automakers and the pandemic compounded the situation ahead of the deadline. For us, our strong R&D lineage and advanced technological know-how meant that we have a strong ready-made blueprint for this transition in India. In fact, this transition was already set in motion in advance. In May 2019, we launched Shell Rimula Rs LE, a BS-VI compliant product based on our CK4 technology, designed to reduce CO2 emissions, and is also backward compatible.
What is in the pipeline for Shell Lubricants India in the near future?
Moving forward, we are taking a customer-centric approach in the coming months or years. Currently, our priority is to ensure that we enable safe mobility for our customers and consumers. We wish to make sure that we continue to run our plant with all the safety norms in place for our staff and work with distributors, enable doorstep servicing for consumers, generate additional employment opportunities for the mechanic community all while ensuring our retailers have access to PPE so that they can continue to work in a safe environment.
As electric vehicles become more and more popular, how will Shell and the lubricant industry need to transform itself to remain relevant in times to come?
The EV market has indeed witnessed rapid evolution with ongoing developments in the automotive sector and favourable government policies. In terms of a larger picture, automotive lubricants are involved in reducing friction in moving parts, not just offer engine lubrication. In June last year, we launched a range of e-transmission fluids, e-thermal fluids, and e-greases that will drive greater efficiency and performance in EVs. We have also been working closely with automotive and component manufacturers to engineer these ‘first fill’ fluids that effectively and efficiently meet a broad range of battery EV performance requirements.
In terms of the larger lubricants industry, as we are in the business of energy efficiency solutions and seamlessly reducing friction, what we offer today via engine lubricants, we may be achieving with data analytics tomorrow. Innovative mobility solutions may soon create a need to get into the business of running data analytics, telematics, and machine learning. Also, for EVs, there is a need for high-performance products like transmission fluids, which provides us with opportunities.
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