Vehicles are Becoming Smart Devices & Connectivity/Autonomy the Norm

Telematics Wire got an opportunity to interview Warren Harris, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, Tata Technologies. Warren has been with Tata Technologies and its predecessor companies for more than 25 years. His roles have evolved from engineer to a number of technical management positions worldwide. He is an authority on global manufacturing. He also has contributed his insights to the book, “Globality – Competing With Everyone From Everywhere For Everything.”

The excerpts of the conversation are as follows:

TW: With Warburg Pincus on board of Tata Technologies, do you see any major developments in engineering and design (E&D) services of Tata Technologies in context of automotive industry?

Warren Harris: You must’ve recently learnt; Tata Motors decided to call-off the stake-sale transaction with Warburg Pincus. However, as this was never meant to be a capital infusion exercise for the company, our future plans for all the lines of services remain intact including E&D services, Engineering, Research and Development (ER&D), as we call it internally has been our biggest line of business and is at the core of what we do. Over the years, we’ve evolved from being a strategic staffing business into an organization that can take on complex work packages (system / sub-systems), and full-vehicle programs, and deliver them successfully within technical parameters and defined budgets. Quite a few established and emerging OEMs are leveraging this capability of ours. Our automotive manufacturing DNA, and the excellent pool of talented engineers spread across the globe is what lends us that strategic advantage. While already excelling in their respective domains, our engineers are now embracing new challenges which the ACES (autonomous, connected, electric and sharing) trend in automotive is presenting. We currently have several strategic initiatives underway, which will determine the future course of the company in this direction.

TW: India seems to be moving closer to a world of electric and autonomous vehicles. How TTL will orient its E&D services to address changing strategies in manufacturing, which may emerge, for these future vehicles?

Warren Harris: During the opening of our new European Innovation and Development Center in June last year, Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar & Land Rover highlighted that the rate of change that the automotive industry will see in the next 5 years is going to be faster than what it has seen in the last 50. You are correct in pointing out that this is true even in India’s case. The Indian government’s push to electrify all vehicles by 2030 is going to be a major factor in this direction. Cars are slowly becoming like giant smart devices, and connectivity and autonomy are slowly becoming the norm. Any OEM that does not embrace it is staring at extinction.

Tata Technologies too is gearing up as an engineering service provider to address the needs of our customers in these spaces. On the electric front, we are experts in the field of lightweighting, or ‘rightweighting’ as we call it. We have internally developed a methodology based on which we have successfully designed and engineering electric vehicles for OEMs. We also have an electric vehicle platform about which we are in discussions with a few emerging OEMs. Our teams have also done some great work on electrification, and battery-swapping techniques. On the autonomous and connectivity side, we have several internal projects going on, the benefits of which, we are taking to our customers. We are also currently formulating our digital strategy roadmap, where our ER&D line of business forms a critical piece.

TW: How the company is developing its capabilities to tap the electric mobility wave in India?

Warren Harris: Capabilities-wise, we are already able to tap into the electric mobility wave. Currently we are in discussions with several established and emerging OEMs about their electrification needs. As mentioned earlier our electric vehicle platform, coupled with our lightweighting and prior experience with developing electric vehicles is a game-changer. Throw-in our frugal engineering, and strong VAVE, tear-down benchmarking capabilities; we have it in us to be able to roll-out a complete electric vehicle by ourselves in a country like India. We are practically a one-stop shop for our electric vehicle customers

TW: How do you see Indian automotive telematics market in terms of investments, growth opportunities, R & D capabilities, resources, and challenges, among others?

Warren Harris: The potential is huge! With Tata Technologies having a strong presence in the U.S. and Western Europe, we are in a vantage position to be able to see the pace at which different technologies are converging into automotive. The influence that telematics is having on connectivity and related features is immense. So far, I would say India has been a ‘fast-follower’ of the trends in automotive industry and still has a lot to catch-up on. If anything, this only means a tremendous opportunity either by adapting technologies already been embraced in the west, like telematics for car insurance, or by investing to solve local issues, like parents tracking the school bus in which their kids are traveling.

TW: TTL at present has only one centre in India for advanced engineering design, dedicated to the automotive and aerospace sectors. As both of these are growing sectors in India, do you plan to open more centres in near future. If so will they be combined as is the present case or will there be specific ones for both the sectors?

Warren Harris: While our main engineering and design centers are in Pune, we serve our clients across India and have satellite sites in the east, north and south of the country as well. Through these centers, we are not just satisfying the needs of automotive and aerospace customers, but also industrial and heavy machinery customers. We recently collaborated with Tata Hitachi to launch its new backhoe loader Shinrai at Excon 2017. For this, besides the engineering capabilities of our India-based engineers, we also brought in specialist heavy machinery engineering capabilities from our delivery centers in Romania. This was a unique case of reverse outsourcing, where we brought in specialist skills independent of the location. That’s what makes us unique. On the question on expansion – we are looking to make a stronger presence in other cities in India. A couple of proposals are under evaluation, and it would be announced at an appropriate time.

TW: Crash-test centre in Pune, established by TTL & Tata Motors is known to be the only installation of its kind in the country. Are there any other major initiatives in the offing at TTL towards technology adaptation and innovation in increasing road safety with crash analysis, especially in context of adequate technology infrastructure need for handling issues related to cyber security?

Warren Harris: As the industry moves towards ACES the need for cyber security is only going to increase. Recognizing this, as I mentioned earlier, we are creating our own digital strategy roadmap which will address this area.

TW: With Government’s push for startups and innovations, are there any initiatives being taken by TTL in the autonomous vehicles segment?

Warren Harris: Most definitely! Our teams are currently engaged with quite a few companies that offer autonomous platforms. Tata Technologies is uniquely positioned to excel in this space, because of its capabilities spread across both the spaces; software, through its enterprise IT, electronics, and PLM practices and mechanical through its ER&D capabilities. We believe we are a company of system integrators, and as applications evolve, we will have a greater role to play in integrating them into a vehicle by working on its underlying platform.

TW: How Indian workforce can serve as a major asset to support the company’s global operations, especially in area of research and development?

Warren Harris: The Indian workforce is already a major asset to the organization. Firstly, it’s a near-shore center to support operations in China, and other countries far east, where we are enjoying tremendous success. Besides, it is also proving to be of significant benefit to some of our other customers in Europe and North America. In December last year, we announced our strategic partnership agreement with Zodiac Seats UK, a part of Zodiac Aerospace, under which we have opened a new Offshore Dedicated Engineering Centre (ODEC) in Pune. Over the years, we have seen a shift in the industry, whereby now our customers are depending on our India centers for increasingly strategic and value-added work rather than the repetitive ENVA (essential non-value added). Going forward, I believe this trend is only going to increase

TW: As an industry stalwart, what is your perspective about the future of connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles in India?

Warren Harris: There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that as these technologies start to get proven, they will become the norm in India. As I said earlier, this space is evolving very rapidly, and unlike the times when airbags took over 40 years to become the norm since it was first invented, new technology will very quickly become the norm.

The penetration of international brands in the Indian market is changing the dynamics completely. These next generation technologies are going to be a way for these brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded marketplace. Additionally, with changing demographics, an average well educated Indian is spending a considerable amount of time in developed and fast developing markets, where technologies like these are already in use to various levels of maturity. This will bring about a shift in their mentality. This coupled with more disposable income will make connectivity and autonomy soon from being a luxury to being a basic need of these consumers. Smart phone penetration, and the whole IoT wave is another aspect which would have a huge bearing on this whole journey. Over the next few years, mobile apps, and features like remote-start, ability to monitor tire pressure, check fuel and engine oil levels etc. are going to become a basic expectation just as it is becoming in the developed markets today. GPS tracking today has already become a common feature, especially in ride-hailing. Similarly, connectivity and lower levels of automation too would soon catch up.

But all of this cannot happen without proper government intervention. This will be required in the form of infrastructure development for electrification, and proper regulations around autonomous vehicles. Currently in the U.S., certain state governments are already working around regulating this space, because with the onset of autonomy, drivers will no longer have to be assessed and licensed, rather it will be the car itself. And all of it won’t happen at the same time, it’ll have to be in a phased manner. So, till the time all vehicles are fully autonomous, with zero human dependence there’s going to be a strong need for regulation and governance to minimize fatalities. There also discussion around the need to come out with industry standards around which these developments are to be done. This is mainly because every company today has its own definition of autonomous, and calls its features by different names, which can be a little confusing for the consumers. Such interventions would be necessary to enable this change.

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