FCA India: The hawk takes wing

Kevin Flynn, president & MD, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) India, has got his priorities right. He’s ready to take on the Indian market more eagerly than ever before

Kevin Flynn, president & MD, FCA India.
Kevin Flynn, president & MD, FCA India.

When you are heading a company that makes SUVs or off-roaders known for their rugged and unique style, comes with a history and has impacted the automotive industry globally, you’ve won half the battle. The other half is what Kevin Flynn, president & MD, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) India, is gearing up for.

The last four years since Flynn has been in India has been an extremely busy time. There were decisions to be made — tough and forward looking. A difficult conclusion that Flynn had to come to was holding back the storied Fiat brand in India after a run of more than a century. This included Punto, Abarth, Linea, Avventura, Urban Cross and the performance versions of the Punto and Avventura. Considering that the company would have to make substantial investments to make these cars BS-VI ready and also comply with emissions regulations, the company thought it best to phase them out.
What Flynn is most excited about is the new sharp focus on the Jeep brand of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) to grow its fortunes in the world’s fourth-largest passenger vehicle market.

And Flynn is not flinching.

Not a curve out of place
Over the years, Flynn has earned a reputation as a turnaround expert. He’s had successful stints heading Lexus and Jaguar Land Rover in South Africa where he helped set up operations and bring it to fruition. Says he, “It helped that I trained as an apprentice on the shop floor, moved to retail, and worked with a number of variants through years of launches and several brands before ending up here. What helped me understand the premium and sports car market is only my experience with them.”

Exciting for Flynn is to do everything on a large scale. So when the first-made-in-India Jeep, Compass, rolled out of FCA India’s joint venture plant in Ranjangaon, Pune, in 2017, he knew that it had to be a part of a global programme. “Right at the outset, I knew that this car has been made to global standards. The consistency followed by our manufacturing plants only compelled us to cater to the right-hand-drive markets. It means that Indian consumers are getting a car that is engineered for India, but actually, what they are getting is a global car and part of a global programme,” he adds.
Today, FCA India exports the Compass to 14 countries around the world that follow right-hand-drive, including the UK, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Even more interesting is that Jeep is manufactured in only four countries in the world – Mexico, Brazil, China and India.

Flynn was not content with offering only the Compass in India. “There’s a huge time gap between planning a product and launching it. Too much of the architecture can change in the interim. In order that Indians too get a flavour of the overall brand, we brought in the Grand Cherokee and the iconic Wrangler. We knew that duties and other impositions would pose a challenge, but we needed the market to know that we have these too for India,” he adds.
In April, FCA India introduced the Sport Plus trim of Jeep Compass at Rs 15.99 lakhs (all India).

Around the world, for more than 75 years, Jeep evolved with the constant changes of modern eras without deviating from their roots, subsequently developing one of the most loyal “cult followings” of any other vehicle today. Jeep’s legendary off-road capabilities and performance are unmatched making it popular as the consumer’s choice as an all-terrain, all-weather and all-season vehicle.

And the way FCA India has been able to do that is through its strong manufacturing base. Though the company operates only one plant in India, it has a capacity of 160,000 per annum thus enabling it to export to 14 countries.

Last year, the company tweaked its Indian business model to give exports equal importance, so that the Ranjangaon plant would be able to utilise its maximum annual capacity of 160,000 cars and 350,000 engines. Larger volumes also help control costs and offer better pricing. Flynn says the company has also been focusing on local sourcing of components in India.

Making it right
Typically, the manufacturing process has a clockwork precision. The underbody and the side body converge at the main body line where the vehicles is then assembled. Much of the manufacturing is automated and the company has patented a few processes. About 75% of the components in the Compass have been localised. Global partners having a local supply base form a large part of the supply chain, but there are also local suppliers as well. Over the years, FCA India has invested in modifying the vehicle assembly line, as well as in setting up assembly lines for engines. The company has also invested in the engineering and validation of localised components.

Initially, the company’s challenge was designing a vehicle that would suit various markets around the world. It peeked closely into the numerous aspects of internal space and external styling so as to make them acceptable for all markets and consumers. Importantly, FCA India was keen that from the design perspective, it maintains the Jeep design DNA, which includes the signature seven-slat grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.
Flynn states the Compass is offered with over 50 safety and security features. Standard safety features include ABS, EBD, ESC, Hill-Start Assist, six airbags and all-wheel disc brakes. Other features are all-aluminium front and rear crumple zones, electronic rollover mitigation, traction control, windshield glass with anti-fog coating and cornering fog lamps. About 70% of the Compass' body is made up of high tensile strength steel—formed by hot stamping process.

There are a number of industry-first technologies and production process. One of these is hot stamping, which involves a process where ultra-high strength steel is formed into complex shapes and more efficiently than with traditional cold stamping. Hot stamping reinforces the frame, while being able to deliver a complex shape, to balance lightweight and strength. The Jeep Compass has 27 hot stamped parts, which is claimed to be the highest in the industry.

What FCA India is especially proud of in its manufacturing facility is the metrology department, which houses the master body of the Jeep Compass that is used before the production and assembly of the vehicle. The metrology department carries out stringent quality audit processes. The body frame and parts are placed on the Meisterbock, which is an aluminium frame shouldering the master body. This master body is used to measure every gap and flush-line, after which the components are verified. All this information that is collected is provided to suppliers, so they can provide components in the exact dimensions required to maintain proper fit and finish.

Besides this, other industry-first processes include plasma cutting that is used to ensure precise hood and front bumper placement, as well as laser welding process that stitches the inner and outer door frames by remote lasers. The Compass features laser welding for the doors, at the rate of two stitches per second, making it a fast and accurate process that improves aesthetics, reduces weight and enhances durability.

FCA India ensures that parts produced are high quality. It has created Vision Cell System, which is again an industry-first, where high-quality cameras monitor the parts produced in real-time, and also enables the precise application of 85m of 2K sealant on the body. The sealant makes the Compass highly-resistance to corrosion. It carries out Inline Diagnostics with precision cameras verifying the underbody geometry, which is also a first for a Made in India vehicle. A total of 34 cameras are present across the inline diagnostic rig to check consistency and screen imperfections. The company said the body shop of the Compass is a highly-automated one, with over 90 robots leading to 65% automation.

Plasma cutting is used for alignment of the front bumper and bonnet.

With regards to quality, the company has achieved a first shot quality success rate of 97%, which is said to be the highest in the industry.
Before being pushed out to the customers, the vehicles go through a track test. Waterproofness is tested in water chambers. The ABS brakes are tested on multifunction rolling roads. The automobile receives a seal of approval that certifies product quality at each phase of the final testing process.
Incidentally, FCA's JV plant at Ranjangaon also manufactures the Tata Nexon considering that it is a joint venture with company between Fiat and Tata Motors.

Closing the gap
On the anvil from FCA India is the Trailhawk. Expected to be launched in July, the Trailhawk will be FCA India’s first offering of an automatic gearbox with a diesel engine. Paired with a BS-VI engine, the new vehicle with come with a 9-speed automatic, which might be also offered with the existing diesel variants of the Compass.

Meanwhile, the company has expanded its dealership network in the country. The brand now has a presence in 70 towns and cities with 82 dealerships, which include their all-brand and Jeep Connect showrooms. The Jeep Connect showrooms are retail outlets that cover the customer base in satellite towns and cities.

“The bottom line is that we have built a product of global standards in India, for Indian consumers. It is the same vehicle that also goes to all right-hand drive international markets around the world. With this, we proved that the vehicles are acceptable in those markets because the standard is global and consistent," says Flynn.

In February, FCA India announced additional warranty of two years or 150,000km on the Jeep Compass. The new extension in warranty is provided under company's Mopar Extended Warranty Programme that can be availed by all existing and new Jeep Compass owners. The coverage offered by this new programme is identical to the comprehensive coverage that current Jeep Compass owners are enjoying as part of the 3 years or 100,000 km manufacturer’s warranty.

Flynn says that he is aware of the generational shift that the government is pushing as a priority, which is electric vehicles. The company expects to launches the next generation of vehicles in 2021. "We have the technology. The question is when to bring EVs to India because the infrastructure has to be ready first," he adds.

Looks like the auto veteran is ready to face the battlefield.


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June 2019
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