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Priority is to improve fuel efficiency in petrol engines: Maruti Suzuki's CV Raman

S Ronendra Singh | Updated on August 30, 2019 Published on August 30, 2019

CV Raman, Senior ED, Maruti Suzuki

Maruti will stop producing diesel vehicles in the BS VI era but will keep an eye on customer reaction to rivals’ offerings: Senior ED, CV Raman

As Maruti Suzuki gears up for a diesel-free BS VI era from its product portfolio next year, CV Raman, Senior Executive Director, Engineering, and his team are busy working on alternative fuel engines. A whole lot of new technologies are being tested at the Rohtak and Gurugram R&D centres. Raman discusses the fuel roadmap in an interview. Excerpts:

 

Do give us an idea of what is happening right now at Maruti Suzuki’s R&D.

All the focus by R&D is on BS VI engines right now. By the end of this year or early 2020 (before March), we will have all our models BS VI-compliant. We have more than 50 variants in terms of petrol, CNG, manual/automatic transmission or AMT.

We have now carried out work for 50 per cent of the models and are now focussing on the balance. There are around 200 engineers entrusted with this responsibly from the overall pool of 1,800-odd we have in R&D. Since our centres in Rohtak and Gurugram cannot handle this on their own, we are using our suppliers’ outfits as well as test facilities of agencies like ICAT and ARAI.

As I just said, this is imperative because we just do not have enough time and space to upgrade all our models from a few centres. Hopefully we are able to meet all the requirements much before the new emission norms kick in from April 1, next year.

With diesel not likely to be a priority any longer, what kind of fuel options will Maruti look at?

Our stance is that BS VI cost (for diesel) will be higher by ₹1-1.5 lakh vis-a-vis each petrol-driven car (industry standards). We will get to know more over the next six to eight months on the acceptance of diesel.

The point I am trying to drive home is whether there will be acceptability at that price level. Equally, it is important to see at what prices competitors will retail their diesel offerings. If certain segments require (diesel), we can certainly work on it.

However, the priority right now is to improve fuel efficiency in petrol engines. We will continue to work in this space where you will also see different levels of technologies emerging. We have smart hybrid and with our alliance with Toyota, we will work on strong hybrids too.

There is also CNG and this will gain momentum as the number of fuelling stations expand across the country. While we will do more localisation on CNG, we are also working with the Centre on methanol blends... R&D work is happening and we are evaluating engines.

Is methanol a viable option for India’s automobile industry?

It will require different dispensers. This is the main concern and we have to make sure that consumers are careful with its use. After all, the fuel is cheaper but it could end up damaging vehicles. To that extent, methanol is a different proposition.

Ethanol is easier in comparison. We have already made 10 per cent ethanol compliant (E10) and are now working with the Centre to explore the option of increasing this to 20 per cent. However, ethanol is not available across India. The blending levels are barely three to five per cent even though vehicles can meet up to 10 per cent. That is why we have requested the Centre to make it available across India and going beyond the regional-specific model at present.

Are you also looking at LPG given that this is not unfamiliar territory to Maruti?

We stopped auto LPG (in WagonR) because the price was pretty much at par with petrol. We are talking to companies like IndianOil for LPG dispensers. If that works out successfully and if there is also a fall in auto LPG costs, we could perhaps consider this for our vehicles.

Let’s shift gears to electric. What is the update on tests that have been on for sometime now?

The electric vehicle (EV) testing is happening and the key is to see if there is a business case economically. People in India can afford upwards of ₹1 lakh for petrol and diesel options but in the case of an EV, would anybody buy a ₹12 lakh car? If I were to ask anyone at what price they would like to buy an EV, the typical answer would be that it should ideally be ₹1 lakh more than a petrol car. And for an EV to operate and recoup the investments made, only a fleet model can work. This explains why the Centre has also realised this and is kicking off the electric journey with the fleet segment.

Of course, battery technology is an important aspect as well as creation of the right ecosystem for parts and charging infrastructure/grid management. It will be a new business model altogether, which means a mindset change is required.

What kind of innovations are happening with battery technologies?

Battery manufacturers are doing a whole lot of things the world over. The future may be solid state batteries and the challenge is that (battery) capacity is also limited. Let’s see how everything pans out.

Will swapping of batteries be possible in Maruti’s business plan?

It will be very difficult. This option is possible in buses and some of them are already operational on roads. However, it will be difficult when it comes to (private) ownership.

Will Maruti consider teaming up with other players for charging infrastructure?

No, we will not look at such things. We are vehicle-makers and there are providers for battery charging who can offer the solutions. We are looking at this space only from a vehicle perspective.

The writer was in Jaipur at the invitation of Maruti Suzuki India

Published on August 30, 2019
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