Taking the safety car to an automated future

Taking the safety car to an automated future

As India looks at a connected and digital future, with highly efficient automobiles powered by alternate fuels, electrification, and advanced hybrid technologies whizzing over roads and highways leading to smart cities, all guided by automated traffic management systems; there is one automotive and vehicular technology giant which is gearing itself to help drive the country towards its coveted destination, and that entity is Continental of Germany.

An efficient, experienced and enthusiastic engineering major, Continental has been at the forefront of offering almost every modern automotive technology, observing demand from the automobile industry, which is undergoing drastic transformation on varied fronts overnight such as in safety, automation, driverless cars, fuel efficiency, and so on.

Accordingly, the company has been successfully catering to India's unique requirements, making optimum use of the latter's engineering talent. In this regard, Continental recently appointed Alexander Klotz as the Head of its Technical Center India (TCI).

Global, yet local

As a global provider of automotive excellence, TCI actively works with engineering teams around the world, towards realising global projects, as well as local needs.

Established in 2009, the centre began with software development, which has today evolved into supporting end-to-end product development.

In 2015, Continental opened a new 13,000-sq metre TCI in Bengaluru, beginning with a headcount of around 1,000 engineers. Currently, it employs over 3,000 engineers, and is among around eight such massive engineering hubs for the company worldwide. Globally, it spends around 4 billion in R&D, employing over 40,000 engineers.

DH met Klotz at TCI, and learnt about how the centre is aiding Continental in getting its global-local bridge right.

"There are two perspectives one is the complete systems vehicle approach that we have as Continental. We take into account the diversity and market requirements, and integrate them into a project," Klotz responded.

"Then you have to look at product competencies. In some areas, India is quite advanced, where we take full responsibility for project or product, and then in other areas, we take a part of the responsibility such as software and testing, and not for the complete system. But I don't see any reason why TCI mustn't be contributor to larger activities," he added.

As an engineering centre, TCI's teams sometimes develop solutions in-house for global projects, or find ways to utilise or apply globally-developed solutions for India's needs. For instance, India is an important base for the development of advanced driver assistance systems, popularly known as ADAS.

In 2015, Continental President (Chassis and Safety Division) and Executive Board Member Frank Jourdan had revealed that the company was planning to achieve 1.5 billion through ADAS sales by this year.

The company's R&D team based in Bengaluru is constantly working on technologies and software going into ADAS. "We have some features that have begun development from India such as from the ADAS side. A team comes up with a prototype, which then gets rolled out globally. We have some examples in ADAS and the two-wheeler space, among others, where the country is contributing, and these functions are not only relevant for India, but also for customers around the world," Klotz said.

New technologies

Globally, Continental is active in developing technologies for a host of automotive requirements. Its Chassis & Safety division develops integrated active and passive driving safety technologies, as well as products that support vehicle dynamics; the Powertrain division develops efficient system solutions for vehicle engines to optimise fuel consumption; the Interior division works towards information management in and beyond the vehicle; the Tyres division offers passenger and light truck tyres in Europe, and is the world's fourth largest passenger tyre manufacturer in the original equipment and replacement market The ContiTech division is a leading industrial specialist, whose customers can be found in areas as diverse as machine and plant engineering, mining, and agriculture, besides automotive. And it is towards this massive diversification that TCI lends more than a hand in adding and deriving value.

"With two-wheelers, we offer fuel injection and ABS systems to OEMs, with different requirements for different applications. Also, brake systems for both two-wheelers and cars, along with building platforms on the hardware side, and solutions for engine systems and instrument clusters,"
Klotz said.

Market evolution

Is India ready to play catch-up with the world in the latest auto tech? The answer lies in the evolution and uniqueness of this market.

India is at a nascent stage to deploy the highest levels of automotive functions such as ADAS that Continental can provide. However, the market seeks more relevant features for now, especially on the safety front.

"Coming to the local Indian market, it is slower than most other global markets in adopting newer technologies. India's driving doesn't call for self-driving cars over the next couple of years, due to the complexity and rule system being different from many other markets. But I see huge potential for safety, and related assistance functions, coming to the fore over the said period," Klotz said.

Today, ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) is being mandated. Similarly, ESC (Electronic Speed Control), automated braking, emergency brake assist, and pedestrian detection, among others, will support the driving and traffic situations in India, before aiming for full automation. The driving habits and expectations of Indians, however, are changing.

"India is a potential market, which demands increased safety, improved efficiencies, motorisation, and as it moves to electrification and hybridisation, we are ready to support it. But, it's not a matter of when we are ready, but a matter of when India is ready," concluded Kurt Lehmann, Corporate Technology Officer at Continental.

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