By: Shashwathi Sandeep
Continental is generally associated with world-class tyres and technology. Continental Automotive India is much more than that. Spread across India, it innovative and cutting edge products and technologies in all aspects of auto components. Continental Global is a 44-billion euros company, and Continental India plays a major role in its success..
Continental Automotive India was established in 2008 with headquarters in Bengaluru, but the company has been here years before. Taking us through the journey of company, Prashant Doreswamy, Country Head of the Continental Croup in India and Managing Director of Continental Automotive Components (India) Private Ltd., told Automotive Script that “We entered India as a part of the global acquisition with the Siemens Group.The initial company was started in India in 1958 by an entrepreneur, N Krishnan. Then the company was known as International Instruments. In 2000 it was renamed as Siemens VDO Automotive. In 2008, Continental acquired Siemens VDO and we became Continental Automotive India.”
In the past 10 years,Continental Automotive India has seen good growth and is also part of many joint ventures- “In 2011 we acquired Modi Tyres, earlier it was Modi Continental and then we acquired 100 percent and became Continental Tyres. In the following year we bought the shares of the joint venture with Rico and formed Continental Automotive Brake Systems, which makes hydraulic brake Systems. Earlier, in 2009 we had acquired the Kolkata-based phoenix Conveyer Belt India, which is more into mining and industrial handling,” he said.
Today, Continental India has manufacturing locations in Bengaluru, Gurgaon, Manesar, Pune, and presence in Chennai, located strategically in the automotive hubs of the country, with around 4500 employees. With three automotive divisions, Interior, Powertrain and Chassis & Safety, represented by several strong business units, each with an extensive product portfolio. Continental Automotive Components India develops and manufactures a wide range of electronic products, including engine management, and power steering ÉCUs, immobilizers, modules and instrument clusters for all the vehicle segments, in its Bengaluru plant. It manufactures actuation ABS, airbags electronics, drum brakes, calipers, powertrain and chassis sensors, fuel supply modules and rail assemblies in its Other locations in India. The list is pretty long.
“We also have a Rubber Group, which is basically Tyres under Continental Tyres. We also have ContiTech, under which we make products like artificial leather and some treatment for the pockets, belts and power transmission belts for the engines, fluid transfer instruments and the likes,” Doreswamy said.
The company has also invested in an in-house test and validation for its engine systems and fuel Supply business units in India. The company established in 2009 the highly-advanced engineering center, Tech Center India (TCI), in Bengaluru. TCI delivers high quality and cost effective support to Continental globally. It works on a hybrid concept, combining the strengths of an in-house development centre, with offshore development centers operated by partners.
Continental has been focusing on its entire value chain in the country, starting from localising its entire value chain in the country, starting from local business development to engineering, from local purchasing to manufacturing. “Our approach for localisation has been for the market, to the market. We always keep that in mind. It should make economic sense for the customer along with good quality. For Some Of the electronic components, for example there is not a single source in India and everyone has to import from China, Japan or from Hong Kong. So, where we look at localisation, we look at the infrastructure that we have in India and also from the cost perspective and then we take a position on what can be localized. But, when it comes to the manufacturing process and the assembly, we have localised everything. We only depend on the components and supplies,” he said.
An example of that is perhaps the successful Fuel Supply Business Unit in Pune. It was set up in a small team, but since then, the plant has seen steady growth in product portfolio as well as headcount. In March 2009, Fuel Supply Business Unit started its first local development and production project. In 2012, FS inaugurated product lines for fuel assemblies and fuel pumps at the Pune facility. FS also localised the pump for the compact passenger car segment. Today the plant plays a vital role in Continental’s Powertrain strategy in India, manufacturing fuel delivery module, fuel level sensors, fuel assemblies and fuel pumps.
The year 2017 “was a fantastic year both for India and for Continental. Our manufacturing footprints increased. India mandated the use of ABS. New cars must be fitted with ABS from April 1 , 2019. This has given us a big demand as a part of chassis and safety. ABS and ESC are our main product lines. Two-wheelers also must have ABS from April 2019. These two are the growth areas,” Doreswamy said.
The BSVI mandate also has a positive impact on Continental. “AS part of the powertrain business, we have the engine management systems (EMS). Today, all two-wheelers run on the carburetor system, so it has to get migrated to the new EFI system. That is one area where we are very good. We
have very good product line for two-wheelers and three-wheelers. As far as passenger cars are concerned,you need to have after-treatment products like particulate filters, catalytic filters,SCR, and we have these products too. Then, there are sensors and actuators; we have very innovative products in sensors and actuators .To name one, the KNOX sensors. By using it, carbon emission is reduced by two percent and we are world leaders in KNOX Sensors,” he said.
Continental’s vision and mission on safety has been ‘Zero’, where there are zero causalities. With an array of product lines that the company has, it is constantly coming up with innovations towards this vision. One such product is the Cyber Security Solution. The company believes that today cars are potential targets for hacker attacks, Hence the security of data and safety of relevant components is a burning issue throughout the automotive industry. The aim is to protect vehicles against hacker attacks. Of importance, for example, is the protection of safety-critical components such as the brake system. To achieve the vision of accident-free driving(Vision Zero), cars and the infrastructure must be able to communicate with each other through digital connectivity. This, however, potentially opens doors for hackers, meaning that digital systems must not only be functionally reliable but also to external attacks.
“As the electronic content is increasing in the vehicle, so is the risk. It is like mobile phones, where you receive updating from time to time. So, when you are doing this on the mobile phone, it is okay since it is stationary. But when it comes to vehicles it could be very dangerous; from that perspective, cyber security plays a very important role. As the electronic content is increasing, at one point of time, I am sure, car is going to be an electronic port, where it can talk, give instructions, that’s what you do in phones today. that’s what we see is happening in cars also. We have acquired a company called Argus, which specialises in cyber security. Currently, this is not available in India, but we hope to bring it here soon,” Doreswamy said.
The Vision Zero plan is much more than these products. The company has also attached itself with a global imitative called ‘Stop The Crash’. “We have a ‘Sense Plan Act’ plan as part of the Vision Zero. First, if is going to happen, a car must sense. Having sensed it has to plan what needs to be done, and the third is to act. If have to give a practical example of this from the chassis and the safety aspect of the product, we have radars and cameras, which will be sensing what they do. Then we are planning a high-end computer, having captured those situations, that does its own algorithms and it plans what needs to be done and accordingly gives command to the system what needs to be done. The third is Act; how do you make that information to act on to the system; maybe brakes need to be applied. If you assume, say, there is going to be a crash, and radar senses that and uses the inputs and high- end computer does its calculations and uses the system to apply brake and avoid the crash. This is part of the Sense Plan Act. We are a key player in this global initiative and this is our commitment to the initiative,” he said.
Yet another interesting product is what they call predictive connectivity. This technology predicts the future to determine network availability and reception quality along the road ahead so that it can take appropriate action. “The intelligent mobility of the future depends on connectivity that is gap-free as possible. To allow drivers to get the best out of the existing network coverage, we have developed a predictive data and connectivity management solution. This enables us to identify reception white-spots in advance, and take action for a better user experience,”Johann Hiebl, head of Continental’s Infotainment and Connectivity business unit, said
To calculate the quality of reception along the road ahead, the manager collects data on the availability and quality Of the communication channels from vehicles traveling along the same route, based on their Current GPS position as well as what time and day Of the week it is. This data are then processed and analysed in the backend, eg. Continental cloud. The resulting database contains a range Of data, including information on Signal Strength, bandwidth, cellular standard and latency, as well as the cost of establishing a network connection at a specific position and the availability of different networks and providers. In order that a vehicle’s data and channel management system can respond predictively using this data, the connectivity manager must also be able to predict the route that the driver take. To determine this “most probable path,” the software analyses the vehicle’s pre-calculated route continuously and accesses the navigation data.
As interesting as this may sound, this technology too has not yet made its mark in India. Doreswamy said why: “Again, it’s linked to some of the other systems which you need to have first. so, gateways and satellites, that’s what we are waiting for; we predict the next growth will be through satellite. Vehicles today do not have satellite. In case of an accident or even tracking, from the safety perspective, there is a regulation draft issued. Maybe next year, we should have the mandate for the satellites to come in; that requires connectivity.”
As part Of this initiative, Continental has entered a MoU with IIT, Madras, and has joined hands for Advanced Research in Machine Learning. IIT Madras, with its known capability in machine learning and bio-inspired neural networks, will contribute to Continental’s ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) business that provides drivers and passengers with additional safety and an increase in comfort. The collaboration, code-named Project NeuroMotive. aid Continental’s ‘Vision Zero’.
The biggest challenge facing the automotive industry now is the shift from BS IV to BS It is a very big change. Doreswamy feels that it is a big technological step but sees growth opportunities in this too. “With Bharat Stage VI, we have a lot of opportunities from the power-train perspective, from EMS to the after-treatment,” he said.
After BS VI, the next buzz word in the industry is the electrification of vehicles. “The question is whether there will be a 100 percent shift by 2030; I seriously doubt that. The reason is, though we make about 4.2 million cars in India, more than 60 percent of them are basic hatchbacks. If you are trying to electrify the basic hatchback car, it’s going to cost a I don’t think our market is ready for the prices. So, you are not going to have customer preference for electrification. By 2030, it could be 20 to 30 percent. But, not 100 percent shift”,Doreswamy said.
That does not mean that the company is not ready for this shift. It is ready for the change. “Already we have a separate business unit for EV under powertrain and we are globally strong in terms of the products for electrification including a battery management system or what we call VCUs, Vehicle Control units, DCDC converters, then the complete motors and the charging systems and the batteries per se. So, we are present across all these product lines and we a JV with a battery company in China; that’s also part of a bigger plan. It is another JV for lithium batteries and battery management systems. In China. we already have a plant which manufactures DCDC converters and the motors,” he said.
The research and development (R&D) of the company is quite strong in India and it contributes mostly to the global market. TCI, today has more than 3000 employees and it continued to grow. “We take care of the local, regional and global requirements. We have three global centers: one each in Romania, Mexico and India. Many of the engineers who are working here are contributing to global platforms. So, they are not only working for local and regional needs, but also for the global platforms,” Doreswamy informed.
On the manufacturing part, the Company has eight plants spread across the country. The plant in Pune focuses on 2 and 3-wheelers, passenger cars, LCV and HCV applications for the current BS IV and future BS VI after-treatment needs. Yet another plant caters to fuel delivery modules.
There are two plants in Manesar as well. While one helps produce calipers, boosters and drum brakes, and houses an enhanced R&D test lab, the other plant caters to producing powertrain sensors, wheel speed sensors and instrumentation clusters for passenger and commercial vehicles. There is also a plant located in Bengaluru and presence in Chennai.
Continental also has some interesting products in the pipeline. “We had displayed a couple of innovations for which we Won the Best Innovation award in the latest Consumer Fair held in Las Vegas. One is the 3D tester, the other is the light-controlled glasses. So, today, glasses are plain. Through this new technology, you can increase the colour and it can become fully opaque, after a while we can make it transparent. Some of the high-end cars, apart from glass, you have sliding sheet also to prevent the Sun. Instead of that, you can have this electronically controlled glass shade. We keep exploring these innovations and take a call depending on market acceptance. We are looking at these innovations; we have not taken a call yet,” said.
Since the company is based in it was imperative that we ask how conducive South India is to do business, especially for the automotive industry. “I think, in India there are four hubs. One is the Northern part,the Gurgaon region. The second is Pune; The third one is certainly Chennai; the fourth one, which is emerging, is Ahmedabad. In terms of South and North, don’t think we have much difference in terms of availability of resources or the infrastructure or the Government. Maybe South India hag a bit of advantage when it comes to the availability of STEM engineers or the engineering skill force.There are more than 900 MNCs having R&D in India with more than 1200 centers, 35 to 40 percent in Bengaluru, also in terms of the number of headcounts. That is a big advantage in terms Of R&D,” he said.
About the future of the automotive industry in India, Doreswamy said: “We have about 4.2 billion vehicles. By 2030 this could be about 10 billion. Thus India will be globally the third biggest industry; today it is the fourth. In India,60 percent of cars are still hatchbacks, there is a big opportunity for the growth of bigger cars and their content, especially the electronics content, which will be a big boon for us.”