For Saint-Gobain Glass India, it is the construction industry that is more open to using innovative glass products than the other sector it supplies to – automobiles.

So much so, the Indian subsidiary of the French multinational has started pitching some of its glass products as a substitute for marble or granite, and not just other types of glass. For instance, at the Tril Infopark’s IT special economic zone in Chennai, Saint-Gobain has sold a new advanced, lacquered glass, as a replacement for granite or marble.

“This is lacquered glass, which is easy to install, easy to clean and with a glossy finish, comes in 16 different colours,” says B. Santhanam, Managing Director, Saint-Gobain Glass India.

Glass vs Marble

Tril, according to him, is not comparing this glass with other types of glass, but with marble. “When you go there, you will find yellow, orange and all the bright colours which are preferred now,” he adds.

Just to get an idea of the price: a 6-mm thick clear glass, not tempered, will cost Rs 40-50 a sq ft; lacquered glass with a five- or 10-year warranty, with anti-fade qualities and that is UV resistant will cost seven to eight times more. “You don’t position it as glass. You position it against marble, where you are paying Rs 200-300 a sq ft,” says Santhanam.

The automobile industry – which Santhanam calls the country’s flagship industry – caught as it is in the low-priced cars, is not prepared to use some of the advanced glasses – such as those with rain sensors, or thermal-controlled or sound-absorbing glass – that Saint-Gobain makes.

Saint-Gobain is supplying electrochromic glass to a buyer in India for use in a residential building. This glass, imported from its plant in the US, adapts its light and heat transmission as also its tint to the level of sunlight and the building’s ambient temperature, without affecting external visibility. It significantly reduces the amount of energy consumed for air-conditioning, heating and lighting. It costs Rs 8,000-10,000 a sq ft to install, against Rs 800-1,000 a sq ft of advanced glass that Saint-Gobain sold to one of Infosys’ buildings for use in the façade.

“Just imagine a (glass) roof over you. It is like having a cooling glass over you,” remarks Santhanam.

“The construction industry is slowing down, but their appetite for advanced products is quite good. It is an interesting shift. There is a value shift, not a volume shift,” says Santhanam. In comparison, he does not see a similar value shift in the domestic automobile industry. For instance, Saint-Gobain has a product called a thermo-controlled windshield. Most of the heat in a parked car is transmitted through the windshield. The thermo-controlled glass prevents heating without affecting transparency. “We have a special coating. We can make it here. But no one is willing to pay for that,” he adds. An individual customer will spend money on getting sun-control film for the windshields and windows, which is not as effective as thermo-controlled glass, but the vehicle manufacturers are not willing to spend that money.

Rajasthan plant

Saint-Gobain, which has an installed capacity of 1,350 tonnes a day at its Chennai plant, has fully integrated the nearly 600 tonnes a day float line in Gujarat that it acquired from Sezal Glass in 2011. The 1,000 tonnes a day float glass plant at Bhiwadi in Rajasthan, set up at an investment of Rs 950 crore, has been ready for about six months now, but the company has not fired the furnace yet. “We are waiting for the market (to improve),” says Santhanam.

Saint-Gobain has delayed starting the Rajasthan plant also because of imports from Pakistan and West Asia, that are coming in a much lower price that glass made within the country.

The company plans to increase exports, particularly of advanced glass to Africa. The growth markets for exports will be the Asean region, MENA (Middle East and North Africa), sub-Saharan Africa.

balaji.ar@thehindu.co.in

ramakrishnan.n@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 15, 2013)
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