Technology of tomorrow, for the life of today on Indian roads

One of the leading automotive lighting suppliers in the world – HELLA, will be talking about the importance of road safety in India and the impact of lighting on improving road safety at CVF 2017. We caught up with the dynamic CEO & MD of HELLA India Lighting, Mr. Ramashankar Pandey, for a sneak peek into some of the key discussion points.

Q: Education and individual behavioral change are key for road safety, however, visibility and lifesaving technologies also play an integral role. How do you envisage the involvement of Hella to support this cause? 

Mr. Pandey: ‘Road safety’ is a cause very dear to us. In fact, it is embedded into how we do business and achieve our success. In 2011, we adopted the company vision of ‘reducing road fatalities’ in India, and have ever since not only developed Lighting Safety Solutions for CV Industry but have also organized various awareness activities in partnership with the government, industry bodies and other stakeholders. Many of our team members are known in the Industry as “Road Safety Activist”, as they are known Technology Solution Providers to save Lives.

Our vision for ‘road safety’ is not limited to advocacy alone. We have offered the industry a lot of frugal innovation in the past few years, and OEMs today look at us for solutions, specifically suitable to arrest the alarming rate of road deaths in our Country. The change in strategy, as I said earlier, happened in 2011, when we proposed the following punch line: “Technology of tomorrow, for the life of today on Indian roads” We focus not just on the product specifications, but also on manufacturing technology, design and development. And all that is based on cost and benefits that are acceptable to our Indian OEM customers.

Our approach is unique in the sense that our product development is not dependent on customer’s current demand alone but mostly depends on their future or latent demand of differentiating their product, mainly on the parameters of ensuring safety as the differentiator. We believe in the future trend and have invested a lot on building capability in-house, and in our R&D, and manufacturing technology. Then, we also needed to ensure there was a business case for this. So, we had to do an enormous amount of value engineering in India to make sure we met the target specs & standards for the product and yet keep the Target Pricing in the center of our Product Development. This approach ensures that we bring “1st time in the country” products, locally developed and produced in India to remain on the forefront of Lighting Technology.

Q: Products in India must fit the nuances of Indian roads (limited lane discipline, lack of proper road markings and signage’s, poorly lit roads etc.). Does this lead to lightning companies working on developing special products to fit Indian needs? 

Mr. Pandey: A lot of consideration goes into the design and manufacturing of our lighting solutions. Road conditions and its associated environment is one of them. Our lighting products undergo continuous quality and performance tests for light distribution and intensity. The result is Lighting Solutions of the highest quality – perfectly matched for any Indian road conditions.

HELLA offers several lighting products to replace or supplement existing lamps. Our solutions cover all lighting applications – headlamps, rear lights, brake lights, parking lights, daytime running lights and auxiliary lamps.

To enhance visibility in extreme conditions such as dense fog, heavy rains and snow, or even off-road driving, HELLA offers a range of auxiliary lamps that feature exceptional performance and durability.

For example, from a Hella India perspective, in 2011 we found that almost 90 % of trucks on the roads either fitted with Hella’s bulb based chamber lamps, or a similar design and with similar old technology Stop/Tail Lamps. This technology being old needs heavy maintenance and has very high rate of failures. While studying India’s Road Accidents in the night time, we found that tailgating was one of the major reasons for road fatalities in India involving trucks, because of dysfunctional or unavailable tail lamps. The filament technology used in the past didn’t last long enough for even a single trip. Even today, you would see 80 % of the trucks without a working tail lamp. We took this as a new strategy to drive the market. The whole DNA of the organization changed when we decided to stop developing and advocating bulb-based tail lamps for Commercial Vehicle in India. It was decided to invest only in the design, development and technology of LEDs, even when the market had no such demand, at that point in time. The Initial Purchase cost was high and this created initial resistance in adoption among fleet owners and OEM’s alike, but as it was a maintenance-free option, fortunately by 2014-15 we started getting some green shoots. We partnered with most of the OEMs in these years, and in the last one year, we have clearly seen the acceptance of LEDs for tail lamps among all CV Manufacturer in the country. On the signal/rear lighting at least, especially in the CV segment, LEDs would become a norm.

We were the first company in India to make a fully-sealed LED stop/tail lamp for CVs with 5 Years warranty, high impact lens material and extremely robust against vibration to withstand tough operating condition. And regulation was not the prime motivation. It was driven by the partnership between us and the OEM’s towards better Road Safety by ensuring visibility. It offers roughly 3-4 meters of extra braking distance as compared to a bulb lamp, which becomes lifesaving distance in an accident situation.

Q: Over the years what has been your experience on how the demand for features in lighting products has changed when CV OEMs are looking for a lighting supplier? 

Mr. Pandey: There is a very high need for differentiation among OEM’s in the current tough market conditions, full of competition, as customers have more and more choices. Technology has been the driving factor in the evolution of lighting products for vehicles. As one of the Leading players in the field of automotive lighting, HELLA can anticipate market demand and provide solutions that meet OEM specifications.

Currently, light emitting diodes or LEDs as light source and Projector Modules in the front Lighting are being used more for automotive application. Firstly, they have simply proven themselves to be the better solution in many ways. Secondly, as a lighting pioneer, HELLA made use of these “better solutions” early on in a broad range of applications.

Today, HELLA offers a wide range of LED lighting solutions for commercial vehicles. Our experience in electronics, thermal engineering and design ensure that these LED headlights and lighting systems provide consistent highlighting performance and increase vehicular safety.

LEDs offer an immense possibility of design and styling options due to its flexibility of application. LEDs indeed are a boon for future mobility, especially electric and hybrid vehicles. The LED product we introduced for trucks reduces almost 80-90 % of energy consumption, as compared to bulbs. In EVs, LEDs can help batteries retain the charge for a lot longer – a pain point for the industry until now. To bring LED application in front lighting is still an expensive proposition. However, signal lighting cost is moderate, and that’s the reason why most of the signal lighting is getting converted to LEDs. That leads to another important point. In front lighting, even if you don’t convert the full headlamp into LED, adoption of add-on features such DRLs or even signatures will pick up speed. Styling and signature is a very strong trend, and we ride that wave as well with our products.

OEMs can change the look and feel of the vehicle by using lights as a signature or differentiator. This is a great opportunity for us to push technology as a differentiator. But in doing this, it is important to understand that we won’t be able to push technology till the time it is affordable. Frugal engineering, cost innovation or reverse innovation will be fundamental, and that’s what we are working on.

Q: India has always been a value and cost conscious market, balancing features with the price point is the key, where do you feel is the Indian CV industry in terms of that evolution particularly keeping lighting products in mind? 

Mr. Pandey: Frugal engineering and cost innovation help us offer future-ready solutions but at the same time balancing the price point. The HELLA brand is synonymous with proven quality and cutting-edge automotive technology. The basis behind HELLA’s success lies in its constant pursuit of innovations and design improvements and constantly adding value to the future of motor vehicles.

HELLA produces millions of products at its own facilities – thanks to the optimized production we have been able to keep our pricing attractive. Large volumes are produced in a fully automated process, while small volumes are produced with semi-automation. This means HELLA can respond quickly to customer needs and create new variants, in addition to its existing range of short-term products.

We have a business model of product development through “MASS CUSTOMISATION” in a “MODULAR APPROACH”, which is unique in the Indian Automotive Lighting Industry, which allows us to reach the price points on a shared investment open innovation core. We are probably the only company in India who build the core of the product ourselves, based on our technology and market forecasts. When customers have a requirement, we can pick from our library of solutions. For instance, we have made different types of projector modules, and depending on the customer need, we can offer the right product. For that, we do need to tap the outcome of our core research at Hella Germany. Today, we already have a roadmap of products ready for the next four to five years. That is where we are unique. We can offer fully homologated headlamp in eight to twelve weeks’ time as these modules are homologated for all light functions beforehand by Hella India Lighting as a standard product and then depending on customer need we mass customize the styling element. Our time-to-market is much faster compared to our competitors. Also, our customers don’t have to always bear the total cost of tooling if they choose one of our standard product. In our frugal approach, we aggregate the investment of many OEM projects into our shared investment open innovation core and then spread the cost across the combined volume. For any single low volume project to bear the tooling cost may be difficult, but this way we can bring down cost for everyone. This leads to technology jumps. This also offers each OEM the flexibility to opt for their own signature styling, but the heart remains the same to achieve cost and time target.

Q: Will Indian truck cabins follow the lighting features that Western world has or are we still far away from the real needs and comforts a driver requires?

Mr. Pandey: Yes, Indian truck cabins will be adopters of developed world’s lighting features including LEDfication, but the pace of it will depend on the success of 1st modifications already launched in the market by all players. With respect to this topic, we just can’t copy the European approach and India needs to have its own frugal approach to reach those levels of functionalities and comfort needs of our Truck Drivers. We need to keep the costing in mind. Also, education of drivers about safety is a must. Although we are far behind the west, we are hopeful that we will improve in the near future.

Q: What are your expectations from your participation at CVF 2017? 

Mr. Pandey: Commercial vehicle is an important business segment for us at HELLA. CVF 2017 will provide a valuable platform for all stakeholders to share their knowledge and experiences in taking this segment forward. We are looking forward to our participation and exploration of emerging trends, business landscape and regulatory changes at the forum. I am personally looking forward to engaging with the leaders of CV Industry to collaborate and co-create the ecosystem to fight the menace of road deaths in our country through education, awareness and application of relevant technologies and not stop till India is free from all avoidable road deaths. We need to take on this project collectively as an industry since CV’s are involved in a very high number of these road accidents.