Auto sector bets on motorsports to win back engineers to its fold

Auto sector bets on motorsports to win back engineers to its fold

New Delhi: The automotive industry fears it is losing engineering graduates to sectors such as information technology. And so, to stem the flow, some players have decided to spend Rs74 lakh to attract students—on a project that will have them design, fabricate and build 9hp race cars and then, compete on a circuit specially built for them.

Later this week, they will also send a Delhi engineering undergraduate to Japan to study the next level of motor race for students: the globally popular Formula SAE, conceived by the US-based Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International. This race involves larger 600cc four-wheelers, also designed and built by students.

“We have to bring engineers back to engineering," says the key force behind the initiative, Pawan Goenka, automotive division president at auto major Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M). “We have to expose them?to?the?automotive sector."

Adds Kamal Vora, senior assistant director at the Automotive Research Association of India, a body promoted by the industry and the Union government: “The industry has to be made interesting, this is a human resources initiative."

In Vora’s reckoning, the industry would need a huge pool of engineers if India wished to become an automobile hub in a decade, as envisaged under the Automotive Mission Plan (2006-16), released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this year.

Currently, an estimated 2,000 engineering graduates move to the auto sector in a year, which he says is “too low". The mission plan notes that despite the Indian auto sector’s 17% growth in recent years that has taken its turnover to Rs1.65 trillion, it accounted for only 2.37% of global production.

The plan has targeted a turnover of Rs5.9 trillion, and doubling the industry’s contribution to the gross domestic product to 10% by 2016. The plan has also laid great emphasis on research and development (R&D).

But the industry needed engineers for R&D, says Vora, author of a paper, Out of Classroom: Education for Engineering Students, which advocates hands-on experience for students in designing, building, fabricating and selling cars to create a pool of automobile engineers.

M&M’s Goenka concedes the automotive sector’s experiment won’t fill the demand on its own, but it’s a beginning. Currently, about 400 students from 27 selected colleges out of the 52 that had applied are working at their college labs, developing the 9hp cars that will be raced on a circuit at the National Automotive Test Tracks at Pithampura, near Indore, on 21-23 December.

The event, christened Baja SAE India 2007, has been modelled on the lines of Mini-Baja race, popularized in countries such as Germany and South Africa by SAE International. Goenka hopes engineering students would master Baja—pronounced “baha"— and would move forward to the next level, the Formula SAE in a few years.

Delhi undergraduate Aseem Gulati of the Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology will visit Japan this week to study Formula SAE, to be held on 11-16 September. On his return, Gulati will be involved in planning a similar event for India.

But for now, it’s the “safer" Baja race that the automotive industry is looking at to fan interest among the 10,000 student members of SAE India. It has earmarked Rs2 lakh for each prototype, with another Rs20 lakh allocated for the awards for the winners and various categories such as costing, speed, design and even marketing skills.

“The students will learn how to work in a team, it’s a replica of what will happen when they join the industry," says Vora.