Maruti Suzuki India open to forge partnerships with local tech firms

Maruti Suzuki

  With new technologies reshaping the future of automobile industry, Maruti Suzuki India is keeping options open to partner with tech firms locally and play a part in parent Suzuki's future product development, according to its Managing Director and CEO Kenichi Ayukawa.

While the maximum focus of the company, which is slated to launch an electric vehicle (EVs) in 2020 in India, will be EVs in future, efforts will also be accelerated to develop more hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles.

"I think there is such kind of opportunities in the future," Ayukawa told PTI in an interview.

He was responding to a query on whether Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) would consider partnering local new age technology firms for future product development, which could also flow to parent Suzuki Motor Corporation.

Ayukawa said MSI has been depending on parent Suzuki for technology but it has been able to grow its own R&D prowess and has started playing a bigger role in product development.

An example of it is the development of popular compact SUV Vitara Brezza, the development for which was led by Indian engineers.

Going forward, he said, "through us, those kinds of technology development will happen further" and MSI will collaborate group-wise with Suzuki to develop new technology.

Elaborating the importance of such initiatives, Ayukawa said, "We have a market here (in India) and in order to be match market (expectations) we have to develop those kinds of technologies."

While the key technology is there, he said "implementing marketwise technology is a little bit different" and MSI will be responsible for that part.

The emergence of new technologies such as autonomous driving and ride-hailing apps along with a call for electric vehicles and eco-friendly technologies are proving to be disruptive factors for the automobile industry. Increasingly, global automotive firms are going for partnerships.

-- Waiting for EV policy --

Ayukawa said although the company is firm on its target of launching an electric vehicle in India by 2020, MSI is waiting for a clear policy roadmap from the government to accelerate its preparation for the new technology.

"Although the government is providing some sort of support in the form of lower GST, is it enough or not? Those kind of discussions are still going on," he said.

Highlighting the issue of battery charging stations, he said, "At this moment nobody will buy an electric vehicle without battery charging stations. How they are going to implement?"

He said the company will also have to assess the feasibility of rolling out EVs in a big way in the absence of charging infrastructure.

"It is very difficult to have such standalone (charging) facilities in rural areas. Maybe we will start within some big cities. At this moment, there are many unknown factors and is not east to say," Ayukawa said.

MSI's approach will be to address the ecosystem in EVs, starting from lithium ion battery manufacturing, EV manufacturing, charging infrastructure to recycling of the batteries.

"We have to take care of total customer requirement," Ayukawa said, adding at the moment it was too early to talk about what kind of investments would be required for such an overall approach.

When asked if MSI would consider a separate sales network for EVs, he said, "I don't deny that kind of idea but at this moment it is too early to say. We have to study (the market)."

-- Push for hybrids and alternative fuel technology --

While the focus is on EVs, Ayukawa also said MSI would continue to push for hybrids and other alternative fuels such as ethanol or bio-diesel.

"Otherwise we cannot improve the current condition. We have the responsibility to improve fuel efficiency and develop eco-friendly product," he said.

Ayukawa further said, "In future, I don't know when, but almost in all vehicles we will be improving as much possible with those kinds of technologies. Otherwise, we can't improve total vehicle fuel efficiency."

One of the alternatives is hybrid, he said, adding "Of course we will try to improve the existing ICEs further more, that is one more option".