Maruti Suzuki’s R&D Centre has come a long way from localisation work to design and development of products. The next step for the company is to create the capability to test and validate the products developed in India, in an exclusive interview, CV Raman, Executive Director (Engg), Maruti Suzuki India, the man behind Brezza, the latest product from Maruti Suzuki’s R&D stable, told ShamPrasad of AutoParts Asia. The excerpts:-.
Q: When did the first local development commenced at Maruti Suzuki R & D Centre?
Raman: In the beginning the Maruti Suzuki R&D Centre did only localisation, quality and productivity improvement. In the late 1990s the company decided to augment our R&D capability. As a first step in this direction, the centre began to do minor changes in one of the existing products of the company. For developing talents for this we started sending our engineers to Suzuki for two years training each, instead of for two or three months earlier. The objective was to learn the entire process of product development.
Q: Which were the first products developed in India?
Raman: The core team of 30 to 40 engineers that went to Suzuki during 1995-2000, came back to India and took up the task of product development. Swift was the first global design and development which we started working on. It was for the first time in Maruti Suzuki that design and development were being done simultaneously. Until then, we were getting the drawings from Japan and we were doing the localisation.
In 2005 Swift was launched and then our people worked on subsequent models like Wagon R, which was a star in Japan. Based on that capability, we were given responsibility to work for the full model change of Alto which was launched in 2000. On the given platform and engine we were told to change the entire body, interior and everything. In four years, in 2012, we launched Alto 800 and then Alto K10. For this local work Suzuki gave a lot of support for testing and validation.
Q: How was the development of Brezza?
Raman: In 2012 we started working on Brezza and it was launched in 2016. We had to develop the entire vehicle on a given platform and engine. We had to choose the platform from what was available in Suzuki and then had to do everything. We could use the validation facility of Maruti and Suzuki and they offered whatever support we wanted. Apart from that we were completely on our own.
Q: What are the design and development capabilities garnered by Maruti Suzuki so far? What is its contribution to Suzuki globally?
Raman: Our objective is to reach the level of Suzuki R&D capability. We have to achieve this as quickly as possible and we should be able to support Suzuki in doing global product development. With every model and product development our capability increased. With Alto 800 it reached a certain level, with Brezza it increased to another level. Our intention is to support Suzuki. We have 14 to15 brands in India to be taken care of.
Our focus is to support product development of Suzuki as it has only limited capacity. We want to augment that capacity and help in making models not just for India but for the entire world.
Even now our R&D centre helps in global initiatives and do global product development. On many projects we work with Suzuki and the share of our support will vary from project to project – for some it could be 20 percent, for some others it could be 40 percent. But when a product is to be made for India we do a lot of localisation and product development in India.
Q: What are the challenges in developing vendors for a new model?
Raman: When design and development are done in parallel and the drawing is being developed, we work with the vendors even before it is validated. So the vendors also will be fully equipped to do design changes and to check and ensure quality when the design is validated. Thus the vendors are also part of our ecosystem of doing product development. A lamp maker is involved from the stage the clay model or sketch is being made. In certain cases the vendors may come in later. But they all have to work concurrently with the OEM and match the pace of development.
It is the responsibility of the chief engineer to maintain the schedule of each project. If there is any delay or problem somewhere he has to find ways to counter that and carry the project forward according to the original plan. Therefore project management is very important and challenging.
Capability of the OEM is very important. In our case Suzuki has a lot of capability and Maruti Suzuki is developing similar capability. Vendors also need to have the capability to check and ensure quality. Most of the suppliers are dependent on their collaborators or the parent company. But the local parts suppliers also need to develop their own capability. All these are important and challenging as the deadlines for the projects are very strict. Global quality levels have to be met. Otherwise the customer may not accept the product.
Q: What are the initiatives that you have taken and will be taking to enhance safety, comfort and convenience of the Maruti Suzuki vehicles? How do you differentiate yourself from competition?
Raman: I will give a little background of the technologies that were launched in the last two years. One was the Auto Gear Shift (AGS) technology. Today the customers have changed. They are looking at the kind of design and technology the OEM is offering in the vehicle, the kind of connectivity or infotainment system it has, and the vehicle’s level of comfort and convenience. They want all these as a package. Our effort has been to bring all of them through various products. So you see the exterior and interior designs of our products – Baleno, Brezza and the S Cross – are different from what Maruti Suzuki has been doing traditionally. They are well-accepted designs and people like them.
The second is infotainment. We have smart, linked audio systems, which are Apple car play-complaint, have hands-free, Bluetooth, voice command and will be Android auto-compatible in future. All of these are very important for the customer today. The third is the two pedal technology which we have introduced in Celerio. This is a convenient and affordable feature with better fuel and emission control efficiencies.
As per FAME India scheme we have launched the SHVH technology which is a smart hybrid; we have brought mild hybrids through Ciaz and Ertiga. We are bringing better fuel efficiency, emission control efficiencies to these vehicles. Our penetration in terms of Ciaz and Ertiga has improved quite a lot in the market. And I think all these help us build an image of a company in terms of design and technology and product offerings. We are trying to build our brand through these initiatives and going forward we will be doing more because the customer will be changing and will be demanding more and more.
Q: What are the new capabilities coming up at the centre?
Raman: We have done design and development and also engineering, but not validation of the product. For Alto though we did the full model change, we could not do validation, we were dependent on Suzuki. In 2014-15 we started the R&D centre in Rohtak. We have made test track and crash facility. Other facilities will be made in the next two years. Then we will be able to do validation also and meet fully the local requirements for Indian customers. The total investment on that is about Rs 2,000 crore.
We are gradually improving our ability to test and validate the products which we design and develop. This will also shorten the time of development. We have been sending all vehicles to Suzuki for testing. We want to be able to do that here.