December 2015

'The car of the future will be what you want it to be'

Sukhdeep Matharu joined TMETC in 2006 and became head of operations in July 2015. A mechanical engineer from the University of Birmingham, he speaks here about the centre and its importance to Tata Motors, about driverless cars and about the choices that customers will soon have to individualise their vehicles.

TMETC has committed itself to long-term R&D, especially through its association with the National Automotive Innovation Centre. How is this progressing?
The magnitude of the investment epitomises the commitment of Tata Motors, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the University of Warwick to TMETC and the progress of design and engineering in this industry. TMETC can focus on design and engineering, and benefit from being in a state-of-the-art facility. Working closely with JLR means group efforts can be optimally allocated and knowledge and experience can be shared in areas of specialisation and on technologies.

This will be a catalyst for local suppliers and partners. With the changes in the United Kingdom tax structure regarding R&D, it is expected that the country will, in the long-term, become a hub for automobile design and engineering.

How has TMETC helped Tata Motors with design and technological innovation? Could you dwell on the synergies of TMETC and the Pune and Turin design facilities?
Tata Motors is uniquely placed. Its footprint in Europe and India gives it a window to the European automobile sector and a manufacturing base and infrastructure in India. These are ingredients in a recipe for success.

Certain skills, fundamental in vehicle development, are not easily available in India. For example, clay modelling is an integral part of the design process. Sites in the United Kingdom and India allow Tata Motors to, instead of outsourcing, access skills from and retain knowledge and learning in the group.

TMETC partners external companies, as well. Could you give us examples of such partnerships?
The Coventry and Birmingham Low Emissions Demonstration is such an example. This is a £5-million programme, with 50 percent of the funding coming from the Technology Strategy Board (now called Innovate UK). It was the West Midlands’ bid, back in 2009, to compete for ultra-low carbon demonstrator vehicles. A consortium of 12 organisations was formed, including five vehicle manufacturers (two of which were Land Rover and TMETC), Birmingham City Council and Coventry City Council. About 110 vehicles — among them full electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles — from six manufacturers participated in the project.

Significantly, the partnerships went beyond the automobile sector, building bridges across industries. For instance, charge stations had to be put up in the homes of electric vehicle customers, requiring us to work with utility providers. The charge points had to conform to the vehicle’s requirements as well as be compatible with the set up of the homes.

Driverless cars developed by the UK Autodrive Consortium project are scheduled for trials by the end of this year. What are the challenges and implications of the project?
Autonomous driving introduces new challenges for the automobile sector to overcome, and not just from a technological perspective. Several questions will arise in the near future about the infrastructure and how markets will cope with such vehicles: which geographical regions will be early adopters of the technology and how the vehicles will need to adapt to local conditions.

Due to the cutting-edge nature of such technology, it will be imperative to ensure that these vehicles can at a later date be adapted to alternative markets. Some markets are more legislative than others. In the event of an accident, the question of accountability will arise. To tackle this we are working with insurance companies and legal firms to set up new parameters that govern what is likely to be a new era in automobile history.

What, in your opinion, will the car of the future look like?
The car of the future will be whatever you want it to be. This will be achieved by offering the customer more choice, from aesthetics based on tastes or fashions to the powertrains used to propel the car. The sector has come a long way from the extensive black colour palette. We have more options than ever to customise and personalise a car at the point of purchase and the options will increase.

In a world of standardisation and in an effort to cut costs, it is our job at TMETC to ensure that customers always have choices to individualise their cars. The centre’s role, therefore, is to understand customer needs. TMETC will play a crucial role in working with marketing departments to ensure the needs of tomorrow’s customer are captured in today’s design and engineered into a product that will be launched in the years to come.