Current growth is pegged around 15 pc per annum

Ambar Singh Roy

Jamshedpur, Nov. 13

It would be imperative for the Indian steel industry to upgrade its production capabilities and product offerings for the Indian automobile sector if it wishes to play an important role in the growing automobile industry.

The country's automobile industry is currently growing at around 15 per cent per annum, ahead of China's nine per cent and the global average of five per cent per annum.

This was the consensus among speakers at an International Symposium on `Steels for Automotives' that was held here on Monday under the aegis of the 44th National Metallurgists Day and 60th annual meeting of The Indian Institute of Metals.

Presentations

A total of 12 technical presentations were made by representatives of three Indian and nine foreign companies. The Indian companies that made presentations were Maruti Udyog Ltd, Tata Steel and SAIL while the foreign companies included Toyota Motor Corporation, SMS Demag, Pirelli Tyre, Nippon Steel, Bao Steel and Arcelor-Mittal, among others.

Some of the speakers felt that Indian steel companies have "relatively less experience with auto grade steel" and, hence, automobile makers in India perforce have to depend upon imports. As such, Indian companies should accelerate their efforts to set up capabilities for the manufacture of high tensile steels and galvanised steels, for example, for automotive applications.

This would be imperative with regard to safety considerations, increased stiffness, reduction of thickness with a view to reducing weight and for compliance with environmental regulations. Mr Ravi Kant, Managing Director of Tata Motors, who chaired the pre-lunch session of the symposium, said the automobile industry was faced with major challenges such as increasing competitiveness even as it was on a high growth path.

"The Indian steel industry must play an increasingly important role as the automobile industry moves forward," he said, adding that the next three years would be a major challenge for the Indian steel sector in this regard. In his presentation, Mr Shinichi Takeuchi, Joint Managing Director of Maruti Udyog Ltd, asked Indian steel makers to focus on the production of high-grade steel for automotive applications. This was especially important in view of India's potential to emerge as an export hub for such products.

"We are working with Tata Steel for enhanced usage of their CR products as inner panels of our cars," he said, and added that the surface quality of products made for the Indian automotive sector must match international standards. Steel companies such as Tata Steel have begun to scale up its offerings for the Indian automotive sector. From 2001, the company has been a supplier of products for the automobile industry and currently accounts for 45 per cent of the Indian market for automotive steels, according to Dr T. Venugopalan, Chief Technology Officer of Tata Steel. In his presentation, Dr Venugopalan said Tata Steel was making investments to improve the surface quality of products for the automobile sector in view of the "stringent surface acceptance norms for exposed panels".

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 14, 2006)
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