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Technology on the move

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Automotive technology is rapidly evolving across the globe. India, which is expected to become the world’s third-largest automotive market by the end of this decade, is getting its due share. The good news is that the adoption of high-end technology is also happening in the Indian affordable car segment. We list a few technologies which are mainstream overseas but are expected to rapidly get democratised in India.

Automated Manual Transmission (AMT): Maruti Suzuki has found an ideal solution for price-sensitive yet discerning Indian buyers who also want good fuel efficiency. After a successful start with the Celerio, Maruti is expected to make AMT an integral part of its future product offerings. Not surprisingly, the Japanese carmaker’s Indian rival, Tata Motors, will shortly launch the most affordable automatic car in the country, the Nano GenX. AMT is likely to be further democratised with players like Mahindra and Renault-Nissan adopting it. While AMT is less fun-to-drive than a traditional automatic, it is a very practical solution for the congested city roads in India. AMT can also whet the appetite of Indian customers, many of whom will graduate to more expensive automatic technologies like CVT and DCT.

Engine downsizing: With the world moving towards more stringent emission norms and eminence given to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), downsizing of engines using turbochargers is turning out to be a smart solution for the future. Such engines are small yet pack the power of bigger engines. While turbocharged diesel cars are widely available in India, it is the advent of the turbocharged gasoline engine that is adding to the wave. One of the first companies to enter the space is Ford, which launched the awarded 1-litre EcoBoost engine in India, followed by Fiat and Tata, which introduced the T-Jet and the Revotron engines, respectively. Maruti and Mahindra are also working on similar technologies.

Hybrid and micro-hybrid: With electric vehicles failing to take off and rising fuel prices, efforts are being made to save every drop of fuel and reduce emissions. One such technology is the Start-Stop, introduced by Mahindra in the Scorpio. A controlled system switches off the engine whenever you brake and the vehicle comes to a complete stop; as you release the brake, the engine restarts. Then there are pure hybrid solutions like the parallel/series hybrid, where the internal combustion engine and the electric motor complement each other, and plug-in hybrid, where electric motor utilises rechargeable batteries which can be charged by connecting a plug to an external electric power source. With the government’s FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles) initiative, more affordable solutions are likely to be rolled out in the market shortly. The recent showcase of the Swift range extender and the launch of the Camry Hybrid indicates that carmakers in India are moving ahead on this technology.

Navigation and telematics: With approximately a billion mobile phone users in the country, connectivity has become an integral part for the Indians. Smartphones, especially, are bringing the customer closer to his car, through connectivity. Bluetooth connectivity is expected to take off in a big way. Even the most affordable car in the country, the Nano, has Bluetooth as one of its key features. Further, features like voice command, playing music, answering calls and displaying text messages are becoming popular in many small cars. Ford’s Sync, Tata’s Connectnext and Maruti’s SmartPlay are some of the examples. The increasing importance of telematics and inbuilt navigation systems can be judged from the fact that these are being considered for new vehicles from the concept stage itself.

Safety and regulations: Airbags and antilock braking system (ABS), for long considered as luxury, are making their way into the market as standard features. In fact, Volkswagen has made airbags as a standard fitment in its cars.

With over 1.5 lakh road-accident-related deaths annually, the ministry of road transport & highways, through the new motor vehicle Act, is going to mandate all new cars from October 2017 to undergo a front and side crash test, whereas existing models can meet the criteria by October 2018.

Weight reduction: It is another way to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Carmakers are increasing the use of materials like plastic, fibre and aluminium. In fact, the replacement of cast-iron engines with aluminium alloy is one of the major steps towards weight reduction. The increase in engineering capabilities is actually allowing engineers to lighten the vehicle architecture with more robust and appropriate materials for both vehicle platforms and individual components.




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