Collaborative Innovation
Auto Components India|March 2021
In his new role as Director at Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), Dr Reji Mathai has his task cut out. He shares with Ashish Bhatia, his focus on collaborative research and development with the industry.
Ashish Bhatia

Q. You’ve come at a very critical time with the automotive industry grappling with the broad choices of innovation, sustenance, localisation and compliance. How according to you is ARAI gearing up to play the role of a catalyst?

A. The Union budget 2021-22 has provided ample indication of the Government’s intent to promote innovation and support for the mobility sector. ARAI continues to facilitate collaborative innovation within the ecosystem for cost-effective and indigenous technology development. One such initiative is identifying key components which are currently being imported and indigenising the same. Framing regulatory norms, taking into consideration all the stakeholders has been an enabler in providing a level playing field to all. The next step is to frame a future roadmap for bringing in new norms, especially to address the safety aspects.

Q. How challenging according to you was the calendar year 2020 and the financial year 2021 on a Year-to-Date basis? Starting from the pre-BSVI rollout preparedness to the eventual rollout, and then having to see through the evolving operational dynamics in the pandemic?

A. Leapfrogging of emission standards in India to the BSVI level has clearly shown the resilience of Indian OEMs/suppliers and the agility of test houses like ARAI which had to establish BSVI complied test facilities on a fast track basis. We also had to ensure adequate competency within the testing team to understand the minute implications of BSVI regulations and its flawless compliance. ARAI worked practically 24 by 7 from the second quarter of FY2019-20 until the day when the lockdown was announced in the third week of March 2020. ARAI’s structured planning of services has helped the OEMs to be ready for the launch of BSVI products well within the stipulated time frame of April 01, 2020. After a forced break of about two and a half months due to pandemic, ARAI resumed the operations, reorganising its infrastructure through the digital route, to complete the balance work of BSVI certifications. We are proud to say that it was done to the absolute satisfaction of the industry. It has been a very challenging time for everyone in ARAI, to meet the expectations of our customers, within the restrictions of operable manpower and movements.

Q. Was the lull in the market used to add to efficiencies and more muscle in terms of building infrastructure for the needs of the foreseeable future?

A. This period was very well used to identify the gaps and tap the potential areas picking up in spite of the pandemic impacts such as electrification of small vehicle segments, skill development, push for startups and MSMEs, and the upcoming interests in fuel cell application, etc. We used this period particularly for creating soft competencies.

Q. Kindly elaborate on the changes that took place across Testing & Validation, Certification & Homologation, Design & Development, Standardisation & Harmonisation, Advisory & Consultancy, Education & Training, Audit & Inspection, R&D, India specific studies & data generation, indigenous & cost-effective technology development to name a few fronts.

A. The use of a digital platform and digitalisation has been the key enabler during these times. For ‘Testing & Validation’, remote auditing was carried out, wherever feasible. Along with it, digital certificates were issued to overcome the delay in mailing hard copies. This ensured that OEMs could execute their plans of launching new models and meeting the Conformity Of Production (COP) requirements. Sprucing up our IT infrastructure helped us to reach out customers through webinars and online meetings. Even on the education and training front, our e-learning initiatives were introduced. All the proficiency improvement programs were held through VC. In order to build a start-up eco-system, Department of Heavy Industry (DHI) has enabled ARAI to create an innovation platform ‘Technovuus’ to address the industry pain points in an effective manner.

While most of the new development programs were put on hold by the Industry, ARAI continued its evaluation and research programs in a diversified manner. New areas of e-mobility, full vehicle development program, material characterisation, alternate fuel engine development, etc. continue to progress. Reducing the impact on the environment and import dependency through the introduction of alternative fuels are the thrust areas being pursued by ARAI. Source apportionment studies have also been carried out for various cities to understand the contribution of the automobile sector in ambient air pollution.

Q. How far have the upcoming facilities like Engine Emission Development, Pedestrian facility with FlexiPli Impactor, CoE for tyres and the Hydrogen test facility come?

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