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R&D drive: Indian automobile engineers setting global benchmarks

R&D drive: Indian automobile engineers setting global benchmarks
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First Published: Tue, Mar 11 2008. 11 55 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Mar 11 2008. 11 55 PM IST
Research and development (R&D) executives in Indian auto companies are on a high. The Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car that was unveiled by Tata Motors Ltd in January, showcases low-cost engineering, a concept the world had dismissed as a fad. Across Indian auto makers, engineers are hard at work designing and developing products that could become the global benchmark. ‘Mint’ profiles five R&D executives in the Indian auto industry who are helping write this script.
Head (Tata Nano project team), Tata Motors Ltd
Born: 2 December 1970
Education: BE (mechanical), Pune University, 1992; postgraduate in manufacturing management from SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, 1997
Joined current company: July 1992
First job: Tata Motors. Hired through campus recruitment process
Professional experience: With Tata Motors throughout
Significant achievements: “I have had great satisfaction with all the projects I have been involved (with), among which the Nano is (the) most challenging. Ace has also given immense satisfaction.”
Claim to fame: Design and development of the Tata Ace mini truck and the Tata Nano
Role model/icon: None, but “I learn from everyone I work with”.
Consumer verdict: “I think the Ace is still the best vehicle in its segment. It has good looks, mileage and is stable to drive,” said Rameshchandra B. Vora, 51, proprietor of Jaibajrang Transport, and one of the first two customers to have bought the Ace in 2005. “The only problem with the Ace is that it still does not have enough power to climb on steep roads,” he added.
April 2007-February 2008 Sales: The Tata Ace, nearly 80,000 units
Chief technology officer, Mahindra Group
Born: 29 August 1960
Education: BE (mechanical engineering) , National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, 1982; MTech, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, 1991; PhD, Concordia University, Montreal, 1996
Joined current company: May 2005. Hired by Pawan Goenka, president (automotive sector), and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M) chairman Anand Mahindra
First job: Scientist with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) at Chennai. He worked there for 10 years on design of battle tanks and combat aircraft systems
Professional experience: After DRDO, he joined Ford Motor Co. in 1996 where he worked for almost 10 years. In his last assignment at Ford, Jaura was responsible for vehicle engineering of the Escape hybrid platform in Detroit
Significant achievements: “It would be the hydrogen combustion engines hybrid done in 2003 at Ford. In fact, it was the first one on the planet and I have a patent on that.”
Claim to fame: Has five patents issued in the US, Europe and Japan for different technologies, including hybrid technology. Responsible for new vehicle development at M&M, including the new Scorpio V-series and its mHawk engine as well as hybrid vehicles and hybrid technology for Mahindra’s automotive sector
Role model/icon: BMW 3- and 5-Series
Consumer verdict: “I have been a hard-core Scorpio fan, and driving a Scorpio makes me feel like a man. The styling and features of the new Scorpio are very nice,” said Shabbir Mohamed Plumber, a 35-year-old interior designer. “The biggest negative of the car is its gear system, which is not smooth at all. You feel a certain obstruction when you are shifting the gears,” he added.
April 2007-February 2008 sales: The Scorpio, 35,971 units; new mHawk Scorpio (December 2007-February 2008), 2,798 units
Vice-president (R&D), Bajaj Auto Ltd
Born:25 September 1967
Education: BE (mechanical engineering), National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, 1989
Joined current company: July 1989. Hired through Bajaj Auto’s campus recruitment process
First job: Graduate trainee engineer at Bajaj Auto
Professional experience: Completed summer training at Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd in Bhopal before being picked up by Bajaj Auto
Significant achievements: “It would be the development of DTSi, or what we call digital twin spark ignition engine. It took about one-and-a-half years to develop, and (made its) debut in the Pulsar in 2003. From then on, it has percolated down to all our bikes, the latest one being the XCD.”
Claim to fame: Hand-picked by Bajaj Auto managing director Rajiv Bajaj to head a team, which designed and developed the Pulsar. This first team of 10-12 people has now grown into 350 people, which makes up Bajaj Auto’s R&D division. Has received a special award from the FIE (Fuel Instruments and Engineers) Foundation in 2006
Role model/icon: BMW AG for its philosophy of independence and ability to develop technology
Consumer verdict: “The Pulsar 150cc DTSi has the best formula of fuel economy, looks and power in its segment. The bike is also very stable at higher speeds of 80-90kmph,” said 25-year-old engineer Jay Goradia. “The suspension needs further improvement to give a more comfortable ride on bumpy roads,” he added.
April 2007-February 2008 sales: 2,275,127 units, including exports
Senior vice-president (R&D), TVS Motor Co
Born: 17 March 1959
Education: MTech (engine design), Indian Institute Technology, Madras, 1982
Joined current company: 1982
First job: TVS Motor. Hired by M.N. Muralikrishna, head of research and development
Professional experience: With TVS throughout
Significant achievements: “When we first designed and developed a local TVS bike, the Victor. We also worked to make the moped more reliable and also the first fuel injection two-stroke engine in the country. I also worked in racing for four years and TVS has won 85% of road racing and motorcross races in the past many years.”
Claim to fame: Led the team that developed the Victor, Apache, Flame and TVS Scooty, with the first variomatic engine (which does not require changing gears)
Role model/icon: “I haven’t thought about it, but it would not be any individual, but organizations like AVL.” (AVL Austria is an engine research institute)
Consumer verdict: “The bike gives me a decent mileage. However, start and pick-up are problems,” said Ganesh Devarajan of Mumbai, who uses a TVS Victor GLX bike. “It also does not have a good resale value.’’
April 2007-February 2008 sales: 1,171816 units, including exports
Executive director (product development, advanced engineering & design services), Ashok Leyland Ltd
Born:21 April 1942
Education: BE (mechanical engineering), PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, 1964
Joined current company: In 1965 as a graduate trainee
First job: Service engineer with Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M) for 15 months
Professional experience: After M&M, joined the engineering division at Ashok Leyland in 1968 after three years of training. Left to join Amalgamations Repco Ltd in late 1969 and worked in Australia for nine months. Returned to India and worked with Amalgamations Repco again. Was chief engineer when he left in 1977 to join group company Bimetal Bearings Ltd. Worked for a year there, and then returned to Ashok Leyland in 1978 as manager (development). Became executive director at Ashok Leyland in 1995
Significant achievements: “What has made me really proud is the engine development at Ashok Leyland. The H-series engine was originally made through collaboration, but we, along with some consultants, took it from Euro I (compliant) to comply with Euro II and Euro III fuel -efficiency norms.”
Claim to fame: Developing the first Indian heavy-duty common-rail engine—which produces lower engine noise and lower emissions— and the semi-low floor buses running in Mumbai, Chennai, Pune and other cities
Role model/icon: “In my youth, my role model was J.R.D. Tata. I was inspired by how he used to fly and how he made his company. Another role model that I have today is N.R. Narayana Murthy (chief mentor of Infosys Technologies Ltd). This is a person who, with very humble beginnings and by sheer hard work, made technology work.”
Consumer verdict: “It seems to be a very popular truck. I have been using this for about four years and this has not given me much problem. But then a truck is a truck and it depends on how you handle it,” said Radheyshyam (who goes by one name) of New Delhi, who drives a 25X15 Ashok Leyland truck.
April 2007-February 2008 sales: 66,503 trucks sold locally
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First Published: Tue, Mar 11 2008. 11 55 PM IST