Chennai: It is well-known that American automotive giant General Motors (GM) stopped its retail business in India in May last year. However, the firm has refrained from being silent and instead has used its base in the country to undertake reforms, making its operations profitable through high exports.
It had also resorted to reduction in workforce through voluntary separation scheme (VSS) and increased production. Above all, the company shifted its focus towards R&D through its Technical Centre India (TCI) in Bengaluru.
As a result, GM launched its first prototype Range Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV) made by TCI engineers at the 37th FISITA World Automotive Congress which began at Chennai Trade Centre yesterday. This was part of the upcoming competition the firm will be undertaking in association with Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) India in the country.
On the occasion, GM TCI, vice-president – Engineering and Operations, Brian McMurray, spoke to News Today about the firm’s future directions. GM Global Propulsion Systems VP, Daniel E Nicholson, was also present during the event.
Q: When will GM re-start its operations in India?
A: As of now, we don’t have any plans of reviving sales in India. But we have invested in the country post halt in sales for technology acquisition through our Technical Centre India (TCI). To give you an example, we recently launched Cadillac XT4 SUV in the US with a brand new two-litre, turbo-charged engine with nine-speed automatic transmission developed mostly in India, including the CAE work. The SUV turned out to be a big hit. So, indeed, we are doing great work here even after stopping sales. There is no change in ‘after sale services’ and our customers will continue to get our support.
Q: How do you rate the involvement of TCI in your overseas businesses?
A: I can very well say that more than 95 per cent of our cars worldwide are touched upon by TCI engineers at one place or another. It may be engine or power-train or design or safety or infotainment and more. In future, all of our models will go on sale only post the fingerprint of TCI engineers. A total of 71 technical papers developed by TCI engineers have been accepted by FISITA, covering various innovation areas which show our expertise.
Q: Post the voluntary separation scheme (VSS), how many employees are working now in your plant? How about exports?
A: I would say over 2,500 employees are with us, working in two shifts. As a matter of fact, we are still among the race when it comes to highest production in the country. Cars like Beat have huge demand overseas, especially Mexico, and we have ramped up its production. Latin America is one of the highest importers of India-made GM cars.
Q: Tell us about the REEV concept vehicle you have showcased.
A: We are organising a competition in association with SAE India for college students from this year in which they have to engineer and develop a Range Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV) that runs on both electric motor as well as an IC engine. The vehicle unveiled today is a prototype for the competition. We have fixed certain requirements like 40 km range on battery, 100 km extended range on engine mode, crash proof up to 25 kmph, etc., So, when students develop such vehicles, we will go closer towards our aim of achieving the tagline, ‘Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion.’
The entire automotive sector will be forced to implement 30 per cent electrification by 2030. So, REEV will explore technologies like hybridisation, making cars lighter, optimisation, range extension, fuel economy improvement, etc. Through this competition, we aim to engage the next generation of engineers making them industry-ready.
Q: How has the reception been so far?
A: It has been nothing short of overwhelming. As of now, nine universities have signed up for the event and five more are in talks. We are planning to conduct the virtual round in November this year while the physical round will be held early next year.
The latest addition to GM TCI is Mitra, an AI-powered, robot helper. The robot was previously showcased at the World Entrepreneurship Summit in 2017 and is designed by Bengaluru-based start-up firm Invento Robotics. Mitra, which runs on a proprietary OS, comes with a touchscreen on its chest and understands multiple languages that enables it to engage in smart conversations with the guest.