The penetration of electric vehicle sales globally has achieved a different percentage in the overall volumes depending on the segment and the country. And while the uptick in demand for electric two-, three- and four-wheelers has tasted success, the commercial vehicle industry has the biggest set of challenges in terms of electrification. The reason behind being the heavy-duty performance and range expected from electric CVs is quite difficult to achieve especially without a massive incremental cost.
Express Mobility spoke to Raghavendra Vaidya, MD & CEO, Daimler Truck Innovation Center India to understand more about his thoughts on the global and Indian commercial vehicle industry, the challenges and opportunities, and the potential of the Indian engineering base. Edited excerpts.
What are the key focus areas for Daimler Truck Innovation Centre India?
The focus for Daimler Truck Innovation Centre India is two things – One is product engineering and the second is IT (Information Technology). These are the two focus areas in which we are working and driving innovation.
Furthermore, product engineering can be classified into two parts – one is conventional, mechanical, and electrical engineering, which is very essential for building commercial vehicles, and the second is the one that has the most focus right now is software and electronics.
There is a lot of electronics and software in the automotive industry today and commercial vehicles are no exception that’s a big focus area for us and a large amount of investment is going into that area.
India is known for its software competency talent pool. Does DTICI has a large focus on just software and IT or also conventional engineering?
It is fairly balanced. I think it’s no secret that India is the powerhouse of software and IT. We are the leading pack when it comes to providing digital solutions. But the lesser known fact is that India is also a powerhouse for conventional engineering, whether it is interior, exterior, powertrain, chassis, cabin, whatever it is.
We get phenomenal talent here. All of these are important, but as I said the focus for future investments is in software and electronics because that’s where the disruption is happening. It doesn’t mean that most conventional engineering is not important. It’s a pretty balanced portfolio.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
We don’t set target in terms of numbers but what competencies we want to develop and drive. My targets are in terms of the value we want to add to the product. We focus on product engineering both conventional engineering & software and electronics and IT.
The targets are never in terms of numbers, but which part of the engineering are we going deep? Which part of the engineering are we going to go wide and which product lines we’re going to add what value? Those are the components of the strategy and not numbers.
What are the unique trends that you see in the Indian CV industry? Is it lagging behind or is in par with the global markets?
I don’t think there is anything to catch up to do for the Indian CV industry or is it lagging behind global markets. The EV industry is very different across the world and even people think that it’s all the same in the West, but that’s not true. The realities of commercial vehicles in Europe are very different from that of NAFTA region.
We are competing in different regions with different competitors. And the industry is regulated differently by different regulators. Different regions have different priorities. For example, the US is a massive country the Daimler trucks crisscross from the eastern seaboard to California and beyond. That’s why how we build trucks for that region is different. India is also a very different market.
The way fleet owners look at commercial vehicles is different and hence the way we have set our product strategy is different. But going into a few specifics, you know the entire world is trying to transition from ICE-based fossil fuels to more green energy-based fuels, which could be either battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or hydrogen-based fuel cell electric vehicles.
And I don’t think over a longer period of time the story for India is going to be different, but there are lots of other factors that come in. India is also getting big on creating the charging infrastructure for BEVs. I think we will get there with passenger vehicles before we get there with commercial vehicles and India also has a huge, rail network for freight.
But in my personal opinion, I think we will surprise the world in terms of what we can do in the country from going to greener energy. If you look at the surface, it looks as though we are lagging behind in the generation, distribution, storage, and transmission of energy.
But if you look at the amount of investment we’re making as a country into green energy, whether it is solar or wind or semiconductors, what we’re doing with the battery manufacturing. I think India has a reputation for surprising the world. I personally would think that we will surprise the world, but in terms of the product strategy, there might be an intermediate step between IC-engines and BEVs.
With the massive investment announced by Indian companies in hydrogen, do you see it becoming the preferred fuel choice for the domestic CV sector?
If you look at why CV industry is betting on hydrogen, by the way not all of them, but few of them like Daimler and Volvo are fairly convinced that BEVs are not going to cut it out for heavy-duty trucks. It is because for a 40-60 tonne heavy duty truck that needs a range of 1,000km the battery technology that we have today is not going to be able to support that.
If you put in additional batteries, then it will eat into the tonnage. You have to augment that with hydrogen-based power. But nonetheless, we are investing into both BEVs and hydrogen-based fuel cells and that’s our set strategy. We do believe that both of them will co-exist and will get the CV industry where it needs to be in terms of moving away from IC-engines is a given fact.
It is also true that hydrogen does not make sense for passenger vehicles because they don’t need 1,000km range, and weigh 40 tonnes, so the battery technology that we have today is good enough for passenger vehicles. You need 400-600km range and that’s more than sufficient for most applications.
India is investing heavily into hydrogen. I don’t think the problem for hydrogen is the technology but the generation, storage and distribution. In the mid- to long-term, we believe that hydrogen-based fuel cells will have a strategic place in the commercial vehicles space and India is also investing into that. We are very good as a country at creating distribution systems and might just surprise the world on the hydrogen front.