Satoshi Matsutomi, vice-president of product planning at Nissan Motors India, was confronted with a question at a conference. An individual asked why Nissan’s engines couldn’t run 100 km on a litre of petrol or diesel. For Matsutomi, whose company has launched five cars in two years and is preparing to launch 10 more over the next four years, this was the toughest question yet. But he had little time to mull over it. His mind was occupied with making the most-efficient diesel engine ever.
“That is our biggest question. The Renault Nissan Alliance (RNA) is planning to make investments for a new engine plant in India as there is demand for diesel cars here,” says Matsutomi. He and Takayuki Ishida, MD of Nissan Motors India, are getting ready to put together their next line up of cars and the engines that will power these vehicles. RNA plans to sell over 200,000 cars by 2015. If it is able to do so, it will be the fastest ramp up in the history of Indian automobile manufacturing.
In the race to make the most-efficient diesel engine are Fiat, RNA, Ford and Toyota. RNA’s K9K diesel engine is able to achieve greater fuel efficiency with recirculation of exhaust gas, which reduces the level of nitrogen oxide. The new engine, which is part of the family that was developed by Renault in 2000-01, has a special spray system to introduce fuel.
|IN THE RACE: New launches such as the Duster (left) will increase the number of cars with K9K engines on the road. But the Fiat engine, which runs the Maruti Suzuki Swift, remains the leader|
The K9K engine is fast catching up with the legendary Fiat 1.3 multijet diesel engine. At present, the Fiat 1.3 multijet powers 10 car models in India, and K9K seven. In terms of volumes, though, the Fiat engine runs 321,980 cars compared to 41,384 by the K9K. Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and General Motors are Fiat’s biggest customers. In fact, about 71 per cent of Fiat engines are sold to Maruti Suzuki. Toyota’s D4D engines also sell more than the K9K series, and run about 75,000 cars. In terms of exports, the K9K engine is fitted in nearly 90 per cent of the 35,900 vehicles that RNA exports to Europe. However, if all goes according to plan, by 2016 K9K will power close to 18 cars models by RNA, which would make it the most used diesel engine in India.
The main reason behind the push for diesel engines is the peculiar Indian market. “India has became a huge diesel market over the past 18-20 months. That has turned the tide in favour of those with diesel technology and early investments in powertrain facilities,” says Shrawan Raja, managing editor of Indianautosblog.com.
The Story So Far
That RNA was in the right place at the right time is a big factor in K9K’s success. “Its (K9K engine) genesis can be traced back 12 years when the alliance decided to jointly work on engine families,” says Matsutomi. While Nissan focused on petrol engines, Renault focused on the diesel family. “You must remember that traditionally Europe is a diesel market and with our alliance partner it was easier to work on these diesel engines,” he says. The K9K engine has been part of the turnaround story for the Renault-Nissan Alliance whose combined revenues are close to $165 billion.
The 1.5-lt K9K engine launched in 2001 is the best-selling Renault engine, having sold more than 10 million units worldwide so far. This makes it the most used engine in Renault’s range. “These engines provide best-in-class fuel economy along with superior refinement and drivability,” says an engineer from Renault, adding that reliability and low maintenance costs make it very attractive for the customer.
The Renault Nissan plant near Chennai has a capacity of 400,000 vehicles and a flexi-engine assembly line. While the engine is assembled in India, its parts come from Europe. Renault Nissan boasts of 85 per cent localisation of its products, and it is the engine line that has to be localised next. It is for this reason, say sources, that the company plans to invest in a Rs 4,000-crore vendor park. RNA has already invested Rs 4,500 crore in India for its plant that integrates with 130 vendors.