Companies

Ford pays a lot of attention to local needs of each market: Kumar Galhotra

N. Ramakrishnan New Delhi | Updated on March 13, 2018 Published on February 05, 2014

In this global role, Kumar Galhotra, Vice-President – Engineering, Ford Motor Co, is responsible for the engineering of all cars, trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles for Ford and Lincoln brands. Since joining Ford in 1988, he has held various positions in product development and product strategy. He grew up in India and obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. In Delhi for the auto expo, where Ford unveiled the sub-four metre compact sedan Ford Figo concept, Galhotra spoke to Business Line on the engineering behind the concept compact sedan. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the mandate when you started on the design of this car?

The B-segment is important in India. Over the years, customers have had to make some compromises in order to get the cost of ownership that they are looking for. Our proposition is that we can serve that market better so that the customers wouldn’t have to make those compromises. We looked at the customer needs in the segment. Roominess is a big need. Cost of ownership is a big need, which then translates into fuel economy. Need for well-crafted interior. Need for clever storage. Need for connectivity so that they can bring their digital lifestyle into the car. That was the mandate. The mandate we gave the team was to create a vehicle where the customer can now expect the unexpected. That is the vision of the Ford Figo concept.

Obviously the concept has been designed for the Indian market. Do you see opportunities for cars of this size in other markets?

Yeah. All the products we are designing now are global products. The reason they are global is they give us great synergies. We as human beings understand design quite intuitively. So, good design resonates everywhere. Good design is good design in Brazil, it is good design in India and it is good design in China. That enables us to design global cars that resonate with our customers in terms of styling. But then there are local needs that are quite unique to certain cultures and road conditions and driving styles. We take all of those seriously and we incorporate those into the basic design of the car. All the products we are designing now are part of the One Ford plan, our global portfolio. The reason we picked the Delhi show and India for this is because this particular segment is so big and so critical for this particular market.

You mentioned that the compact sedan segment is a third of the passenger car market. What are your projections for this?

We expect this segment to grow to about two million units by the end of the decade, which is a large segment. That is why we are focused on it. Our first volume car there was the Figo. It does quite well. Then we launched a niche product, the Fiesta. For the enthusiast it is a driver-oriented car, it has got a lot of technology in it. Then we introduced the next volume model, the EcoSport, which has done phenomenally well. Now this concept.

This is built on an existing platform, right?

That is correct. We are moving our entire portfolio to nine core platforms globally. One of those platforms is the B-car platform that we have today. And, that platform underpins the EcoSport as well as the current Fiesta. And this concept is based on the same platform.

With this coming in, do we see the Fiesta Classic (the old Fiesta) being phased out, in India at least?

We continuously evaluate the business plan and the cycle plan for our markets. We look at it, every year we look at where the market is going. We look at where our portfolio is. We look at what the best use of our investments is. We look at what the best use of our footprint is. As a part of that process, we will decide what the portfolio in India will be in future. But none of those decisions have been made yet.

From concept to production, what are the stages? Typically, how long will it take to produce it in case the company decides to go ahead and produce the car?

The car, as you can tell, the design is quite mature. From concept, the day somebody draws the very first lines for a car, and we start talking to customers about their needs to designing the car, testing it, building all the facilities, can take three to four years. It depends on the size of the project.

How much of this engineering has been done in India and how much has been done in Ford’s facilities overseas?

The lead team for EcoSport as well as for this project is in Brazil. But they take inputs from all the market. We have Indian engineers who are part of the team there, physically located in Brazil. We have eight product development centres all over the world. We also have a group of engineers, almost 600 engineers now in Chennai who are part of that global PD (product development) and assist all of those centres.

Would there be sharing of parts of would they be sourced in different markets?

Our goal is to localise as much as possible. The part design is the same, for the most part because we do take into account certain local requirements. For most part, parts designs are the same for the platform and for the top hats that are global. EcoSport, for instance, is a global top hat. Most of the part designs are the same. But, it is best to localise as much of the parts as we can, for macro-economic reasons, for protecting ourselves against exchange fluctuations, for multiple reasons. That is what our strategy has been – common design and localise as much as possible where we build. And, our supplier partners have been cooperative with us on that journey.

There has been this concern about the safety of Indian cars. You would have seen newspaper reports about the NCAP reports on Indian cars. What do you have to say to that? Are there different standards that Indian manufacturers adopt for safety in India and safety elsewhere?

We rigorously adhere to all safety regulations in every market wherever we participate. Safety is one our key pillars. Whenever there is a review like this we work actively with the local authorities and the agency which is leading the review and monitor it carefully. That is what we will do in this case as well.

Apart from just meeting the regulations, would you as a manufacturer go beyond the requirements and provide certain safety features like ABS as a standard fitment in your vehicles?

I can’t comment on specific features, but since safety is one of our key pillars and we meet all the regulations as well as our own internal safety standards, which are quite strict and rigid and in many cases are safer than the local requirements, we adhere to those standards quite rigorously.

Going back to the Figo concept, you mentioned roominess as one of the requirements. How have you achieved that roominess that people want?

Package efficiency is important. How cleverly you can design the entire interiors – the instrument panel, the seats, the door trims – to both provide a real, actual roominess besides a sense of roominess, because customers will want to feel that they are in a roomy car. And that package efficiency within that sub-four metre package is key to deliver that roominess. You can do several clever things on how you position the occupants, how they interact with the seats, where their feet are, where their hip point is, to provide them a comfortable environment and a sense of space inside the car. And that is what this vehicle does extremely well.

You would know that most Indian customers prefer to sit at the back rather than drive the car. So, has that roominess translated into more space at the rear?

Absolutely. I won’t say more space in the rear. But rear seat comfort was one of the key attributes that we paid attention to. And, rear seat roominess is important in lot of markets. It is important for different reasons. In India, rear seat roominess is important because lots of customers have chauffeurs and they sit in the back. In China, rear seat roominess is important because lot of families travel together. And the rear seat is used more often than in would be in other cultures. So, we do pay lot of attention to rear seat roominess and rear seat comfort.

What are the challenges in designing and producing cars for the Indian market? You have been here for more than a decade. What unique challenges does the Indian market pose for you?

We always start with the customer, what the customer needs. Understanding the customer is incredibly important. As I said the design overall is converging. The design sensitivity and the taste and everything. But there are unique things that we must pay attention to. It is the road conditions. So the suspension may be the same but it is tuned differently to Indian road conditions, because Indian drivers drive different and the road conditions are different. The fuels are different. Petrol is not petrol everywhere. The composition of petrol is different in different countries. When we calibrate our engines and transmissions and driveability, we do the development with Indian fuel samples or Chinese fuel samples to make sure that our powertrains are robust to many different compositions. Colours and taste are different. Indian people are much more adventurous with colour. Other countries can be conservative. We had this instrument panel that we launched in the Figo that was coral coloured. And when we showed it in other markets, people were almost shocked saying you cannot have an instrument panel that colour. But there is an Indian customer who loved that colour because Indians are tuned into bolder colours. The graining of the surfaces is different. The fundamental part is the same, the door trim or the instrument panel, the structure is the same. But the grain on it that you see, that you feel tested different between India and China. Some markets like very soft grain, very harmonious. Others like it very technical. What some might consider harsh is not harsh to others. We research and create the environment that is specific to be pleasant for that customer. A lot of thought goes into the local needs and wants. Sometimes people misunderstand the One Ford plan thinking we are trying to sell the same car for everybody. That is not the case. We are paying a lot of attention to local needs of each market. You can still do that and have a large percentage of the design, the underpinnings of the car the same, so that you can do both. You can have the synergy and the efficiency of a global design, but have that very targeted and meet all the needs of the local customers. What that requires is basically a lot of attention to detail.

Published on February 05, 2014
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