Automakers have been forced to run their research departments non-stop to meet strict deadlines, as resources are limited and priorities often change midway through a new product development cycle.
The government has set regulatory targets, like those on vehicle safety, new fuel mix and emission norms. Besides, there are challenges like new product or technology development visions, including hybrids, electric vehicles, new fuel development and upgrade of existing models to help them remain competitive.
India’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, has the biggest model line-up with 15 products, thereby making it that much more challenging for its 1,900 engineers from the research and development (R&D) unit to accommodate every change in regulations, even to the extent of upsetting the new product development schedules.
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CV Raman, chief technical officer, Maruti Suzuki India, said, “There are challenges of new regulations that are coming in where adequate lead time is not there. Existing product development schedules begin to take a hit. It’s all about scheduling and trying to optimise the resources because we have to really work 24X7 in order to meet the deadline.”
Among the objectives defined by the government is a directive to accommodate six airbags, three-point seatbelts and under-seat sensors, which will require reengineering of interiors and testing, validation and homologation. “Many times, the industry has to redo the product planning and rework their priorities,” Raman added.
Automakers will have to tune their engines to run on 20% ethanol (E20) blending in fuel from April 1, 2023. Real Driving Emissions (RDE) norms, where automakers will have to achieve emissions goals in the real world rather than in laboratories, will also kick in from next year. Work on newer fuels like bio-CNG and hydrogen also needs to run simultaneously.
Shailesh Chandra, managing director, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles and Tata Passenger Electric Mobility, said, “There are too many things we are dealing with, such as phase 2 of BS-VI and E20 implementation. The only thing for us is to see how fast we are able to meet that timeline. It is about the resource and bandwidth within the organisation and not just us, but testing agencies also.”
The typical cycle for a new car or SUV is 36-40 months. Each product has a lifecycle within which it undergoes timely upgrades and facelifts. Auto companies have to run such projects parallelly. For many such projects, automakers have to take help from external agencies since their resources are getting stretched, giving rise to a human resource issue within the R&D unit.
“We have tried working in three shifts. We are working on holidays. People are not able to get out and have leisure time for themselves. The issue of burnout among employees is also there. We have an attrition rate of 5-6%,” Raman said.
Typically, just 40% of a vehicle is built by the automaker in-house and the rest is supplied by component suppliers. Therefore, suppliers also need to align themselves with the strategies of the automakers for timely implementation of projects.