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How Maruti Suzuki navigated its BS-VI drive

Murali Gopalan | Updated on April 02, 2020 Published on April 02, 2020

CV Raman, Senior Executive Director (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki

It was a triumph of collaboration and planning

With Covid-19 dominating the headlines day in and day out, it is only natural that an important milestone like Bharat Stage-VI ended up being relegated to the sidelines.

At one level, it is a pity even while there are no two ways about the fact that Covid-19 is quite naturally the newsmaker today, with the kind of havoc it has wreaked across the world. “In today’s context, the whole thing (BS-VI) will be downplayed or underplayed because of other recent events which have more significance,” admits CV Raman, Senior Executive Director (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki.

Yet, he continues, it is important for people to know the effort that went into the exercise. Today, Indian automakers across segments — right from two-wheelers and cars to trucks and buses — can stand tall and proclaim that they are as good as the world’s best when it comes to vehicular emissions.

In the case of Maruti, work kicked off in 2016 when the Centre announced its intent to implement BS-VI norms in 2020. This was a staggering statement of intent given that the whole country had not even moved to BS-IV emission norms at that point in time. It also meant jumping directly to BS-VI, something which had not been attempted in such a tight timeframe anywhere else in the word.

“The auto industry just had three years to move from BS-IV to BS-VI. From that perspective, we can proudly say that we have done it,” says a visibly pleased Raman. There was huge amount of work, planning and constant interventions while ensuring that the exercise was carried out “timely and smoothly for our customers”.

The other challenge from India’s point of view was that while Europe had a ready reckoner of sorts with its Euro 6 ecosystem, BS-VI was a new animal, where the norms had to be actually drawn up. This meant that the effort had to kick off with the Centre, test agencies and the automotive industry working in tandem.

This by itself took over a year in bringing the proposed emission guidelines into some kind of shape. “The Indian driving cycle is different and to identify what parts of Euro 6 should be incorporated in BS-VI norms itself took a lot of time,” recalls Raman.

Once this was done, the next step was to make a plan, which was the biggest challenge for a company like Maruti. After all, this meant taking into account 14 brands powered by petrol and CNG (compressed natural gas), along with manual and automatic transmission as well as auto gear shift technology.

“Each of these becomes one variant and we had over 50 variants for the transition to BS-VI,” says Raman in what he terms as a “most complex” reality when compared to any other automaker in the four-wheeled space. “We also have the largest volumes and from that perspective making the hardware and software-related changes took a lot of time,” he adds.

Scaling up

Over the last couple of years, Maruti has boosted its engineering manpower by over 1.5 times as part of the BS-VI drive. It also had to increase the number of emission labs from four to the present tally of 12. This was not an easy task, considering that each lab takes at least a year to build.

Over the last three years, the company has carried out over 11,000 emission tests for these 14 models. “Our people have been mostly working on Saturdays and Sundays in two-three shifts to make this transition happen,” says Raman.

Additionally, BS-VI involved more in-service conformity and emission durability tests, which meant that these doubled in relation to BS-IV from 80,000 1,60,000. Every model had to therefore undergo “a lot of fleet testing” to the tune of over a million kilometres, which became a “huge effort’.

For Maruti (and other automakers), another challenge came to the fore when the Supreme Court changed the norm from the earlier practice of date-of-sale to date-of-registration. This meant that the three-month window which was there earlier was also removed — which simply meant that companies had to redo their planning more aggressively.

“These were some of the interventions which had to be done for meeting the BS-VI norms. Yes, we have passed the test but when we started off, it was a Herculean task,” says Raman. After all, this meant getting everybody on board right from the suppliers to test facilities.

Maruti stopped production of BS-IV models this January and, till date, has sold more than 7,00,000 BS-VI versions. “Some of these things may look very good now but the hard work done is thanks to the many teams that made this possible,” he adds.

No walk in the park

It was clearly not a walk in the park. The company had to take facilities on loan from test agencies like the Manesar-based ICAT (International Centre for Automotive Technology) and ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) in Pune when it was short of capacity. This was the time it was setting up its own facilities but clearly work could not be interrupted even if there was a shortage.

The effort has clearly paid off, says Raman, with customers not having indicated any kind of apprehensions about the technology switchover. Dealers, likewise, are pleased because there is no residual stock of BS-IV vehicles.

Parent company Suzuki was a big pillar of support through this exercise, which goes in line with the “big work share” ethic between the two entities. The initial development was done at Suzuki while the overall validation and field tests as well as the entire homologation and evaluation were carried out by Maruti.

According to Raman, it was a “great collaborative effort” by the engineering teams of the two companies which pulled out all the stops to meet the stiff deadline. “Suzuki developed new engines for us and also supported much of the work on calibration and emissions,” he says.

The teams from India and Japan were connected 24x7 through teleconferencing or video-conferencing, where results were sent back and forth. Suzuki had benchmark data with it based on its European experience and all of that contributed to “making it a very robust process overall”.

It was equally important for the marketing and engineering teams in India to constantly coordinate with each other while planning for the product upgrade to BS-VI. The domestic market was going through a slowdown, which meant that plans formulated three years ago were constantly evolving.

“The marketing and engineering teams had to constantly communicate and keep changing the plan based on local requirements. We needed to keep shuffling development dates within whatever was possible in our control,” says Raman.

This is never the easiest of tasks and more so when it meant working in a pressure cooker-like deadline. From the marketing department’s point of view, changes in product are often a result of customer needs which need to be complied with.

Consequently, engineers have to make these changes sometimes even at the last moment — precisely what Maruti encountered from time to time during this exercise. “It was a collaborative effort to meet volume requirements while keeping in mind the customer and market,” says Raman.

By the end of the day, Maruti also had to ensure that the BS-VI option had the right value proposition in terms of total cost of ownership, mileage and so on. This meant minimising the cost impact to the extent possible, especially in a price-sensitive market like India, even while ensuring that there was no compromise on quality.

Mileage was another important aspect in the BS-VI transition and this is where the choice of fuel becomes critical. For instance, CNG models represent the lowest cost of operations. “If you look at the total cost of ownership basis, CNG makes a lot more sense than diesel for individual customers,” says Raman.

According to him, the company is quite keen on increasing its share and penetration in line with the Centre’s objective of energy savings as well as making India a gas-based economy. “We would like to participate in this change and introduce more models with CNG to improve the value proposition for buyers,” says Raman.

Likewise, Maruti is also looking at LPG as a potential option for the future. With CNG now emerging as the fuel of choice in the domestic gas segment, there is a lot of freeing up happening for LPG. “We will study LPG as an alternative fuel and are working with oil marketing companies in this direction,” he adds.

The South has a LPG network already in place and the key is to see how this will grow in the future. From Maruti’s point of view, this will also have to fit in with cost of ownership. “If LPG makes sense, we will look at it for sure,” says Raman.

Like other companies, Maruti will be hoping that the lockdown does not last too long since this will take a huge toll on economic growth. The last thing that the auto industry would want is a recession, especially when it has worked relentlessly in meeting the BS-VI deadline. Covid-19 is a challenge for sure but should not end up being the party pooper.

Published on April 02, 2020

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