With steady investments and a relentless pursuit of technology, Claude d’Gama Rose, MD, Continental Automotive Components India, and country head, Continental Group in India, is betting big on the domestic market.
by Mitalee Kurdekar
They have barely completed a decade in the country, but Continental India gives the impression of being a player well beyond its years. Having commenced its Indian operations in 2008, the German conglomerate has established a strong presence in the domestic market, owing largely to its intrinsic ethos of quality & technology, but also due to its focussed approach to the Indian business.
As a testament of its commitment to the country, the organisation has, during its short journey, made a bold move by expanding operations across India, with nine plants, five of which are dedicated to its automotive components business, with the other four being for rubber.
“We have made a substantial investment in the country, with the presence of both automotive and rubber groups, and service almost all automotive OEMs. As an organisation, it’s great to be part of this growing economy,” states Claude d’Gama Rose, MD, Continental Automotive Components India, and country head, Continental Group in India.
Technology as the Driving Force
The availability of a large, young engineering talent pool and the cost competitiveness that India offers are significant strengths for Continental in India, he points out. “We have always recognised the potential of the Indian automotive market as well as India’s USP (unique selling proposition) of being a hub for high quality engineering talent. We believe that clean, intelligent, and connected vehicles are the future, and our technology is fully equipped to support the growth of the automotive industry,” he proclaims.
Continental’s Indian arm draws on the global experience and expertise of the group, while maintaining autonomy when it comes to expanding the business in India. As part of this understanding, they are also able to leverage the technological advancements in other markets. For instance, in the context of the Bharat Stage-VI (BS-VI) norms for India, the technology required to support BS-VI is already developed on Continental’s existing core components, and only needs to be adapted to give it the appropriate application to meet the Indian driving cycle.
Of course, there is no doubt that technology is at the heart of everything Continental does, something that is evident from their series of innovations, over the years. For instance, Anti-Lock Brake Systems (ABS) for two-wheelers have figured among Continental’s solutions since 2006. They now offer a one-channel ABS for smaller motorcycles and scooters, something that was developed especially for cost-sensitive markets such as Asia, where two-wheelers are equipped only with a hydraulic brake on the front wheel. Furthermore, Continental’s MK 100 ABS Entry for passenger cars has been designed for the vehicle segments A, B and C in the growing markets. The packaging is compact and extremely light, at less than 1,200 gms and is produced locally in the China and India markets.
Given the rapid growth in India’s two-wheeler market and the implementation of BS-VI, Continental also expects Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) and Engine Management System (EMS) technology adoption to pick up. The benefit for the consumer will include improved starting, drivability, and lower emissions. This will contribute towards a cleaner environment, while opening the path for future connectivity.
“India has signed the climate change treaty in Paris and has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions significantly, in the years to come. This will create opportunities for more hybrid electric vehicles. With our 48-volt technology, Continental is in a strong position to partner with OEMs,” d’Gama Rose suggests.
Fast-growing Manufacturing Footprint
With this intention in mind, Continental has their plants strategically placed at the automotive hubs of the country. The automotive group offers solutions for three divisions: Chassis & Safety, Powertrain and Interior, each with an extensive product portfolio.
They develop and manufacture a wide range of electronic products at their Bengaluru plant, which is their largest Central Electronics Plant (CEP) in India, and makes a diverse assortment of products, including engine management and power steering Engine Control Units (ECUs), immobilisers, body control modules and instrument clusters for all vehicle segments.
In addition, the company manufactures actuation ABS, airbags electronics, drum brakes, calipers, powertrain and chassis sensors, fuel supply modules and fuel rail assemblies in its other locations in India. These include two automotive plants in Manesar; one meant to produce central electronics like the Bengaluru facility, and another dedicated to brake systems. The second facility was established in 2008, as a joint venture with Rico Auto, which became a fully-owned subsidiary of Continental AG in 2012. On the western side of the country, two powertrain factories are based in Pune. In addition, the company supplies pumps, injectors and sensors to its customers in India from its global plants.
Continental has also made substantial and calculated acquisitions. In 2015, it obtained a 100% stake in its joint venture with Emitec, leading to the formation of the Fuel and Exhaust Management business unit, globally. In the same year, Continental also acquired 100% ownership of Synerject, its joint venture that specialises in Powertrain EMS solutions for two- and three-wheelers and non-automotive applications. This was followed, in 2016, by the inauguration of a new assembly line for ABS and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) for passenger cars, located in the existing Continental Automotive Brake Systems plant in Manesar, Gurugram. The local production of the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) is planned to commence in the year 2018, in Bengaluru.
Bringing Value through R&D
Besides its sophisticated production facilities, Continental India also contributes to the corporation’s global R&D footprint, with active R&D carried out by both the business units present in India and at its state-of-the-art Technical Centre India (TCI), set up in 2009. It is worth noting that unlike the case with a lot of international organisations, TCI’s work profile is not confined to product development or tweaking of solutions for the Indian market. TCI develops advanced automotive technology and provides product development support to Continental’s Automotive Group globally – including India – and caters to all three automotive divisions, providing high quality, engineering solutions to Chassis & Safety, Powertrain and Interior products. TCI is also one of Continental’s three Automotive Systems & Technology (S&T) hubs worldwide, the other two being Romania and Mexico.
“Over the past five years, TCI has advanced in the value chain, supporting end-to-end product development from requirement engineering to vehicle build-up and testing in specific areas encompassing software, electronics and mechanics,” confirms d’Gama Rose. An example of their level of engineering depth is the one channel ABS solution for two-wheelers. As a matter of fact, TCI contributes heavily to the development of products tailored specifically for emerging markets. This is in keeping with Continental’s aim to be a key contributor to the development of innovative technologies that react quickly and reliably in difficult traffic situations and reduce accidents and fatalities.
Overall, Continental’s exhaustive product portfolio caters to vehicles across the board. “We are consistently working on achieving the goal of safe, clean, connected and affordable mobility for everyone. We believe that a sustainable growth strategy requires the backing of a high level of investment in R&D and in capacities for future technologies – this definitely helps us stay ahead,” d’Gama Rose confesses.
Speaking of sustainability, their sustainability objectives include using resources sparingly, promoting climate protection, and addressing responsibility to employees and to society. There are specific sustainability initiatives too. To name a few, Continental in India began their Green Plant journey in 2015, and is focused on adding solar power with a target of achieving 5% of their connected load for the Bengaluru CEP. Besides this, there is a strategic change in their paper-based packaging, more focus on conserving water and a gradual movement towards Industry 4.0.
With an Eye to the Future
In fact, Continental is always looking to get better, whether it is in terms of improving its operations, developing avant-garde products or discovering progressive technologies to suit changing needs. The company’s pioneering innovations are a reflection of this forward-thinking nature. One such introduction is Continental’s Human Machine Interface (HMI). Given that human error is said to be the sole cause of more than 80% of traffic accidents, with HMI, Continental is taking a holistic approach to things. The interface works across systems, connects hardware and software components with the Interior Integration Platform, and makes information accessible, quickly and clearly. It gives reliable feedback on all the driver’s actions and actively adapts to their preferences and requirements, as well as to their situation and environment.
“The objective is to introduce an intuitive dialogue between driver and vehicle,” states d’Gama Rose. Since all car drivers are different, multimodality in display and operation is a central component of HMI. In addition, Continental’s investment in DigiLens is accelerating the evolution of head-up displays (HUDs) and augmented reality for safer driving. A holographic HUD enables the ‘democratisation’ of the technology further, making it possible to incorporate it in higher as well as lower segments. Also, traditionally, mirror-based systems need a lot of space in the dashboard, but with the DigiLens technology, Continental is boosting the image size while decreasing the space that the technology requires in the cabin.
Similarly, as part of its ongoing efforts to create safe, clean and comfortable mobility, Continental has developed Holistic Connectivity. “Connected vehicles are involved in fewer accidents, consume less energy, are rarely stuck in traffic jams and connect drivers & passengers with their digital life. Holistically connected vehicles see more. Using the electronic horizon from Continental, they can adjust to traffic situations or react to hazards that are outside the driver’s field of vision or the range of the vehicle sensors,” d’Gama Rose says.
Despite its focus on future trends and disruptive technologies, Continental is not losing sight of what matters today. Quality remains their strong suit, and every employee is trained to emulate and adhere to the globally-established Continental Business Systems, at their plants. Standardisation of global process is strategic to each plant, and they work strictly on improving quality in order to achieve top market position, something that has helped them face shifting market tides.
“With the volatility in the Indian automotive market, our key challenge has been to keep our costs optimal despite fluctuating sales. However, we have witnessed a surge in demand for some platforms, which required us to boost our capacities in a very short time,” says d’Gama Rose. Having done so, Continental proposes to persist in making investments in India at the right time. After all, the increasing electronic content in vehicles, modernisation, and catching up with advanced market trends, will all act as a multiplier to the vehicle production volume, and are indicators of business growth.
“Eventually, there are three market drivers shaping technological development: one, the legislator; two, the demands of the motorist – that driving be enjoyable in the future while simultaneously remaining affordable; and three, our customers’ requirements – they require technological solutions with an attractive cost-benefit ratio. All our technological innovations keep these as guiding principles,” states d’Gama Rose.
“We believe in the potential of the India market, have grown along with the market, and will continue to do so,” he finishes on a high note.