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BW Businessworld

'Indian Engineering Adds Value To Manufacturing'

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Nissan Motor India Pvt Ltd is a dark horse of the Indian automobile industry. It is second only to Hyundai because it exports well over 100,000 cars from its Chennai facility and employs over 13,000 people. Over the last three years, its domestic fortunes haves been changing and it has witnessed a 10 per cent growth this year and has sold close to 44,000 cars. It also launched the Datsun brand, which falls under the affordable category and is priced under Rs 5 lakh, 18 months ago and hopes to usher in a change in the Indian habit of buying entry level cars while upgrading from bikes. BW|Businessworld  caught up with Krishnan Sundarajan, chief vehicle engineering,  Nissan Motor India. He feels that Indians want cars that are beyond functional and want more features to fuel their aspiration. Here are the excerpts:
Is there a rethink to to brand the Datsun?
The Datsun brand has been gaining traction. But yes the intended reason for consumers to buy cars can be looked at differently. It is no longer about cost. The customers are ready to pay more features even at the income bracket of Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000. There is no cause to reposition the brand. The core ethos is space, roominess and a best in class engine. Sales will increase further if we can induce customers with new features such as mirroring mobile content to the telematics unit. The trend is changing. But Datsun will sell a lot more vehicles in the years to come. The customers will evolve like they have in China.
Is there a conundrum in the industry today that you either reduce cost or add more features?
Features should be made available at a defined cost. One cannot just add features. Ten years ago there were cars which did not have features like AC, power steering and power windows. These are common features today. The core is you do compromise on design and add features on the base range plus model and upwards. Macro economic factors do matter for car purchases. But a car sold at a defined cost will be focused on its target segment.
Nissan is working on home grown CVT technology, will it really take off in India?
Yes, we are manufacturing 5 speed and 7 speed CVT (continuously variable technology) transmissions for the European market in Chennai. The group uses CVT in many of its vehicles. CVT transmission uses a pulley system rather than a electric motor or electronic system to change gears. There is a lot of potential in India for such automatic transmissions to make an impact in crowded cities. We have it in the Micra and the Sunny. CVT is also fuel efficient and it is a myth that automatic transmissions are not fuel efficient.
Is Nissan betting on the R&D to really crack the Indian market?
The Renault Nissan Technology and Business Centre India Limited (RNTBCI) is focused on combining the best of technology research with market research. This team of 4,800 people is part of a global push to make the alliance achieve 8 percent profitability, globally, and 8 percent market share. So from polymer and membrane research, for battery technology, we are studying this in Chennai. Remember that cracking a market like India takes time and our engineering centre adds value to our manufacturing in terms of designing products specific to key markets. The Datsun, which was relaunched globally a couple of years ago, is testimony to our research.