How is Mahindra & Mahindra tweaking its focus on technology, especially in lightweighting?
Our major challenges are in scale and commercial side. We are a delivery organisation. We are in the technology domain and have a person whose key responsibility is technology. We wish to give this a disruptive focus. We are not into technology for the sake of technology. Our goals are to increase functionality and reduce costs. The value that we give is what the buyer is ready to pay for.
That being the guiding principle, we have to focus on buyer requirements. To meet his needs, meet fuel efficiency norms. So if we were to downsize the engine, it is to lower friction and try and get more power from the same bore size. In the engine space, we are looking at technology that reduces the parasitical losses. So we shift the oil pump to run on the battery and not engine.
What are the key technologies that M&M is working on to reduce vehicle weight?
Briefly, we are looking into the increased use of aluminium and magnesium and aluminium-bonded frames and hi-strength steel and stampings to make the products lighter and more fuel efficient.
Can you share some examples on how M&M works in sync with vendors to introduce new lightweighting ideas?
We involve our suppliers early during the project phase. These suppliers then become a part of our team and align with the objectives of the project that is in progress. We also have very close interaction with these suppliers to monitor the weight of components. For example, we worked jointly with the plastic fender supplier for the XUV500. This is unique lightweighting technology where we have challenges of part manufacturing, painting, colour matching, controlling distortions of steel and plastic during paint baking process.
We work with both Indian and multinational companies, in fact mostly the latter as in our experience we find that the Indian players do not have the base or the technology focus. Typically, the gestation period of a project is between 3-5 years and in the case of Indian suppliers, it is a question of accessing the requisite resources and having the right mindspace. Quality levels are there but the need is for new innovations.
The e2o that Mahindra Reva recently launched is a good example of lightweighting. How likely are we to see that going mainstream?
We need the right eco-system and the thing to keep in mind is that the use of composites on bad roads is an issue of concern.
Are high-performance engineering plastics the only cost-effective answer to steel?
As of now, yes. Others like composites and aluminium are not cost-effective.
Approximately, how much of M&M’s R&D spend goes towards lightweighting?
I would say that it is not a significant amount, yet a lot of investment needs to be made for more research in the lightweighting domain.