Company Description: International
Centre for Automotive Technology (iCAT), Manesar is an automotive testing and
R&D centre strategically located at Manesar, Gurgaon –one of the
flourishing business hubs in North India. iCAT is the part of NATRiP
Implementation Society (NATIS), an independent registered society and an apex
body for implementation of National Automotive Testing and R&D
Infrastructure Project (NATRiP), Govt. of India in the Northern region. iCAT is
a notified testing agency and is working towards the development of automobile
industry in the country. Its mission is to assist industry in adopting cutting
edge technology in component and vehicle development, adopt world class work
practices in technology services and innovation, build technical expertise
driven by teamwork and commitment, strive to deliver quality services for total
customer satisfaction and be a front runner in establishing global standards in
the field of automotive testing and R&D. Inside its campus, following
facilities are being provided- Active & Passive Safety, Component
Evaluation & Fatigue Materials, EMI / EMC, Noise Vibration Harshness,
Powertrain Vehicle Evaluation Facilities & Homologation Test Track.
You have been a 30-year veteran in
the Indian automotive industry, having worked with numerous organisations like
DCM Toyota, Daewoo Motors, Piaggio 2W, Rico Auto and General Motors India in
the past. What really motivated you to be part of iCAT? And how do you really
gauge things that have unfolded under your directorship?
My past experiences in this industry
have been in the capacity of the Head of Product Engineering department. So
this is more like a head of a function. I was looking for a bigger role and I
got this opportunity with iCAT to head the whole organisation. That was a big
motivator. Besides that, another reason which was personal was that I wanted to
move to the northern part of India. My last stint was in Gujarat (Western part
of India). So it was a combination of two different motivators. I believe there
is a big transformation at iCAT ever since I joined this organisation in 2009.
A lot of credit goes to the kind of vision I had for this centre and I was also
fortunate to have a good team which supported my vision very efficiently to
translate into reality. Since I was roped in by iCAT, the revenues jumped
fourfold to nearly
42 crore and the employee strength
was augmented two and a half times to 175. More infrastructure has been set up
inside this campus and I am also been additionally given the post of Director
(Technical) for the NATRiP project. That project is also taking shape, albeit
slowly. This year we are very hopeful that these new facilities come up under the
NATRiP. Our facilities are designed to cater to multiple products like LCVs,
HCV, MCVs, SUVs, MPVs, construction equipment, tractors, two-wheelers et al.
When are the Centres of Excellence
(COE) on component development and NVH getting established? And what are your
expectations from such centres?
Let’s take them one by one. COE on
component development will involve facilities like CAD, CAE, prototyping,
validation, testing, and releasing newly-validated designs to the customers.
The facility aims to provide end-to-end solutions for components and systems.
We are now in the process of establishing CAD and CAE facilities and I expect
them to be ready by September’13. Even though we will be installing equipment
and software, we have to factor in human capabilities as another angle. To
develop a hands-on experience is really time-consuming for the whole process.
Infact, it’s a never-ending process as we have to develop the whole
capabilities in terms of accuracy. On the component development front, we have many
facilities for validation even today. Moreover, we will be establishing a
fatigue lab under the NATRiP project. So the validation part can be augmented
further. Another aspect is prototyping for which we have established a Rapid
Prototyping Facility (RPF) and will be establishing many more machines by this
year which can facilitate metalworking. By next year, we should be in a
position to take up some turnkey projects. NVH is a separate COE which is a bit
delayed. We have awarded the contract to ICE, UK to set up the facility for us
and we are in the process of awarding the civil contract for the same. By
2014-end, the NVH lab should be up and running. Having said that, it takes
another two-three years to actually build capabilities (for a particular centre)
before we can actually render value-added services to our clients.
It’s a known fact that iCAT has been
awarded a handful of new projects like compressed air engine development and
dynamic headlamp system. When will you be executing them and what kind of
benefits does the automotive industry accrue out of them?
The new projects that you have
talked about are under execution. It’s a two-year project and we will be able
to deliver it by the end of 2014. Compressed air engine development as a prime
mover power is an old concept. But somehow it has not been put into extensive
usage due to limitations on the sizes of the cylinders and the kind of
pressures it can carry. There are some technologies developed in France but
will have not seen such air-powered products on the Indian roads. So the
projects that we are trying to do are aiming at indigenous technology. I
believe that Tata has earmarked US$ 300 million to bring such technology (for
the air-powered cars) to India. We are trying to develop a similar technology
which is simple, indigenous, and unique and will increase the energy efficiency
of the products. We should be finishing
this project by 2014-end. As far as dynamic headlamp system is concerned, it is
aimed at dynamically shifting the focus thus avoiding glare to the oncoming
vehicle. It helps in reducing accidents at night time. This system should be
taking shape by 2014.
A committee headed by you submitted
its report to the Ministry Of Road Transport and highways for forming a policy
on quadricycles. Can you please share your viewpoints on the same?
A report was submitted on 30th of
April. As you know, there has been a lot of talk about quadricycles. The subject is not new as the idea for such
products has been mooted way back in early 2002. There have been a lot of
discussions and debates during that time. TVS and Tata Motors were a few
companies that wanted to bring in a product under such a policy. The idea was
to have a product which is not a regular four-wheeler, but superior to a
three-wheeler. The idea was to have a product on four wheels which is safer
than a three-wheeler and is meant for affordable mass transportation. At the
same time, it should not be having the similar standards of a four-wheeler.
During the early part of the previous decade, there wasn’t any consensus as
people saw this product as a back-door entry into the four-wheeler segment. So
the proposal was opposed by many quarters and subsequently dropped in 2005. The
proposal was re-opened in 2012 and the government decided to bring in
quadricycles once again. I was assigned to form a committee and frame rules and
regulations for the same. I am of the view that it is a good concept as there
is an improvement in the safety aspect over and above what three-wheelers
offer. At the same time, the concerns of four-wheeler manufacturers are also
valid. No quadric manufacturer should get a backdoor entry to personal movement
segment (with cars). Therefore, adequate measures have been taken to ensure
that products like Bajaj RE60 serves only that purpose for which it is
conceptualised. That’s why we have recommended that the product should be
notified as a commercial transport and not for any personal usage.
You have been now focussing on new
areas like Resonances Fatigue Testing (RFT) machine, Electro Magnetic
Compatibility (EMC), climatic test cells and prototyping centre for auto
components. Will they all come under the non-certification process?
Many of the facilities that you have
mentioned are being established under the NATRiP project. For example, a
passive safety lab is a certification facility is also coming under the
aforesaid project. Any certification facility has the scope for developmental
work too. Fatigue testing, prototyping centre and Climatic Chambers are
essentially a developmental facility and are under the non-certification
process. But like passive safety facility, EMC come under the purview of
certification process. Under NATRiP we are getting close to 700-crore
investment and it would be evenly split between both the processes. Out of the
areas that you have mentioned, RFT has already been installed and we are
rendering our services to the industry. EMC lab is under installation and
commissioning and should commence operations by the end of this year. Climatic test
cells would be completed by July next year. We are enhancing the facilities of
our powertrain lab to cater to the incremental demand in the market.
You have inked quite a few MOUs with
overseas counterparts like CCIC, Korea and VCA, UK etc? So how is iCAT
benefitting out of it? And are you targeting global automakers too?
With the CCIC MOU, we are able to
get overseas business. We are also able to facilitate certification for Indian
suppliers who wish to export their products to Korea or China. We can do the same for Korean or Chinese
suppliers at Indian standards. We have done quite a few projects under this
MOU. As far as our association with VCA, UK is concerned, it’s not an MOU but
an accreditation. They are a certification agency for European homologations.
What we are doing under this association is we are supporting Indian vehicle
manufacturers and parts suppliers who wish to export their products to Europe.
While we will test their products, VCA will certify them.
So going forward, are you planning
to cater to overseas automakers?
We are definitely catering to both
homegrown and international OEMs who are running their operations here. We have
got quite a few queries from international OEMs related primarily to the
developmental work. Since a lot of facilities like NVH, EMC, crash-testing are
not ready, we have not done any services for offshore clients. But in the
future, we will definitely be serving them once we build our capabilities.
The government has also initiated a
national mission on e-vehicles. So would you also be interested in forging
alliances with overseas research firms to collaboratively work on hybrids,
electric vehicles and also Atkinson cycle internal combustion engines? If yes,
can you shed some light on that?
We are already working on Atkinson
Cycle and HEV projects. These are in advanced stages of execution. However, we
are not working on electric vehicles. The degree of electrification of
powertrain will change with time due to the depletion of fossil fuels, global
warming and rising costs of petroleum products.
Initially, it will start with a micro-hybrid system with start-stop
features. We organise international
seminars on EVs and HEVs. For developing such vehicles in India, we have allied
with Argon National Laboratory, Chicago, who is a big pioneer in EVS and HEV
segments. We have been talking to them to have a project on battery
technologies. So far the project has not been concretised.
iCAT has recently demonstrated an
anti-glare headlighting system as part of a government research and development
initiative to improve road safety. Do you really think such a technology will
gain mass acceptance in India?
This system is the need of the hour
and this country needs it after looking at 150 thousand deaths every year. But
this will come more as legislation rather than somebody paying for this cost
voluntarily. The other part of this system is that if a system is installed in
my vehicle, it doesn’t help me. But if others will install it, it will
definitely help me. So there is a bit of dichotomy in this system which can
happen only through legislation. Unless it is mandated on a large scale, it
will not give you any benefits.
As many global and domestic OEMs are
setting up their in-house R&D centres in India, is it impacting your
business? If yes, how are you then de-risking your business model?
No, it is not really impacting our
business as you know the automobile business in this country is slated for a
huge growth. And not many companies are setting up their R&D centres here.
Even if some companies are setting up their facilities, the market will grow at
a much bigger pace. There will be enough gaps for such requirements. For
instance, even if Maruti Suzuki sets up a huge laboratory it will still be depending
on us for the kind of testing requirements it may have. Moreover, a company may
not have enough facilities for testing and are still developing multiple
models. So I don’t see a big challenge for our facilities and hopefully we
shall remain engaged with all the automakers.
iCAT had launched its Online
Certification System (OCS) to speed up certification and homologation, related
processes. What has been its response?
The response has been very
good. There are some bottom-rung
customers who do not have the requisite infrastructure like internet
connectivity, etc. For them, it’s a bit of a challenge to go for an OCS. But
otherwise, the majority of our customers are happy with our online
certification system as it has brought in a lot of efficiency and transparency
than the offline system.
Lastly, what is your short-term,
mid-term and long-term agenda for this centre? Where do you want to see it in
the next few years in terms of revenues, employee strength, size, scale and
We have our vision and mission and
have a rolling 5-year plan. This 5-year plan is floated every year. In the next
five years, we should be looking at revenue of close to 150 crore. By that
time, we will be able to ramp up our headcount to over 400. Within a distance of 7km from iCAT, we will
be establishing another such facility on 46 acres. The greenfield facility will
be housing four major facilities test tracks, crash and NVH labs and EMC. In India only three such centers will be equipped
with such infrastructure will be there, the other two being GARC and ARAI. By
2018, iCAT will definitely be a very prominent centre globally.