In an upfront interaction, Shekhar Dhole, Scientist – Head Safety & Homologation/Certification spoke about Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) striving for newer highs post 2020.

Q. How has CIRT added to its efficiencies in the calendar year 2020 and FY2020-21, Year-To-Date, in the midst of the pandemic? Are you close to functioning at pre-Covid levels of operation?
A. When we started functioning as per the government guidelines, the operations resumed around the clock manner and not the usual nine to five office hours. We went beyond our comfort zone, stretched ourselves and discussed with employees about how to deal with the respective certifications & testing. However, we knew our limitations. Depending on the real-time turnarounds we prioritised tasks and began completing assignments. That brought some cheer and a sense of achievement within the team. After a gap of nearly three-four months, we were succeeding in our ways and are now gearing up to be fully loaded. Even though we could not achieve last year’s goal but we’ll close upon it. The last quarter has worked well for us. CIRT Director ensured full support to all the employees. We are fortunate to have a safe atmosphere complete with all precautionary measures carried throughout the campus. I am proud to share that there is no fear in the minds of the employees pertaining to the pandemic. Depending on the scope of work, we are confident of landing with more revenue and hope to cross previous benchmarks. At least, we are sure the lost momentum will not result in a big blow for us.

Q. How have you responded to the needs of the automotive component and vehicle OEMs including ancillaries? How have you supported the quick go-to-market strategy and commercialisation needs for products across segments?
A. We have been in constant touch with the component and vehicle manufacturers and OEMs. When there are correct versus good designs to choose from, we fall back on our experience in testing to make accurate decisions. We advise the respective manufacturers on the ideal thing to do and then it is up to the concerned OEM to accept it or not. Many who have taken our guidance positively are getting good outcomes as a result. No design is perfect so we often come across manufacturer designs that have scope for improvement. It’s a continuous improvement process and if approached positively, it stands to benefit every stakeholder.

Q. With the call for localisation, how are you geared for component-level testing and standardisations?
A. In the Indian context, manufacturers often rely on base standards and are found to rely on overseas partners to import it. An alternative approach to taking advice available on home ground. One has to understand that the domestic expertise, coupled with the support from the ministry, can be as effective in tackling India specific issues. We are very positive about government policies coming to the industry’s way. We assure the industry complete support for the shortest lead times and a frugal approach to keep costs low. As the industry explores the use of alternative materials and indigenous ways of testing, sooner than later, it will present a compelling case for the industry to go indigenous.

Q. There has been a lot of talk on balancing price and quality of components? How are you helping the industry turn frugal with a stringent compliance mechanism?
A. Pricing is a tricky subject and best left to OEMs. There is always a possibility to reduce the cost of the vehicles but in India, the cost of labour cost and investments add to overheads significantly. From the commercial angle, it is not an easy one to tackle. From a technical perspective, I feel, even though the product may be costly people will buy it if there is the assurance of durability. It is a matter of changing the mindset.

Q. What advancements have been made at the state-of-art Institute of Driving Training and Research (IDTR)? How many drivers have been trained in the midst of the pandemic here?
A. It’s been an overwhelming response since we resumed operations in June. There are broadly four categories we have defined for our training programmes based on which we make the vehicles available for hands-on training. We are looking at offering exposure to electric buses where knowing the battery State of Charge (SoC) is very crucial for the driver. He needs to be always aware of when and how to utilise the optimum electrical energy at source and optimise acceleration to avoid panic braking. We are in the process of involving such nitty-gritty in the bus training programmes. We could also use the experience with PMPML buses plying in Pune. An estimated 142 plus buses are plying successfully over the last one and a half years, a highest for the country. We want people to be attracted to public transport. Low Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels here are a big boost coupled with efficient HVAC units. We are working in that direction, so very soon we will be coming with some proposals.

Q. Any recent initiatives that you would like to highlight to enhance better vehicle utilisation and on-road safety?
A. As I speak, the second batch is in the process by CIRT where we are training owners of driver training schools who in turn are the pillars of the safety ecosystem. It is quintessential that they are aware of the latest technologies being introduced in modern-day vehicles. It is they who will pass on the knowledge to drivers. For instance, wearing a seat belt is important as unless you wear it the airbags will not inflate. Given the compliance with social distancing norms, we are able to aggregate only 30-40 people batches. We are also offering online training programmes as part of our training calendar complete with the latest CMVR requirements. We are also creating awareness around the new and innovative Transport Bill by factoring in all the different stakeholders.

Q. How mature is the CIRT data bank on STUs? Any key recent findings that you could share with us?
A. We have the latest data from 2018 onwards. In the last year, we could not gather data as there were no operational issues added to the database. We have received last month’s data from eight STUs and by the end of the month, we should get last year’s data. The data spans fuel economy and the tyre economy. In addition to it, we have tabulated best practices to be undertaken in the future. Credit goes to the Association of State Road Transport Undertakings (ASRTU).

Q. How do you ensure OEMs are not required to recall vehicles by integrating checks across the testing, safety and homologation stages?
A. At the time of testing and homologation, all the litmus tests are carried out on the vehicle. It covers 70-75 per cent of the parts. Individual vehicle manufacturers are in control of the parts used and are required to test the vehicle for quality purposes to decide acceptance or rejection. However, a 100 per cent testing is not conducted by any of the OEMs including on the component front where parts typically range from 1000s, 10,000s to 20,000 plus. For vehicles plying, it is often an issue beyond the design and with external factors like bad road conditions, bad driving habits and poor maintenance leading to on-road failures. One has to look at recalls positively where the role of the OEM is to replace/correct the faulty part/mechanism. Beyond the 99 per cent control on performance, there are the few exceptions that have to be dealt with.

Q. Post BSVI rollout, how is the requirement for compliance across fuel types and vehicle segments? Any new engines certified on the lines?
A. In the unlock phases, the availability of BSVI models is at a higher level than in Q1FY2021. CIRT has only recently certified almost eight models for Mahindra & Mahindra alone. By the end of the calendar year 2020 or up to the next financial year, a new stream of BSVI models are expected to hit the market.

Q. Taking the learnings from BSVI how is CIRT gearing for higher emission norms like BSVII?
A. It is a little too early for us to talk about as it might happen in 2027. For now, the resources are being utilised for gathering Real Driving Emissions (RDEs) and making it available from 2023. This will then lay the foundation for the transition to BSVII.

Q. How are you contributing to the call for flex-fuel engines? Do you see it being pursued aggressively by the industry since dual-fuel engines have been around for some time now?
A. The industry is pursuing flex-fuel engines cautiously. They are also not fully aware of the norms being fixed. However, the industry is working on select engines to test the technology and based on the success, a series of engines could well be certified in the near term. We have certified ED95 for use with diesel and are in the midst of running trials with the help of STUs on end-of-life vehicles.

Q. How are you responding to the call for localisation and standardisation of components across ICE and EVs?
A. Many of the component manufacturers are exporting their products to the globe. It’s not that the norms are fixed by MoRTH. These are based on the Economic Commission of Europe norms. The standards are ready, people are aware that the export homologation is to be carried out. Indian OEMs are well prepared for it. Cost is also not an issue as the workforce, and the material cost will be cheaper in India, as compared to Europe. So we are not far behind in that sense.

Q. How far have we come on testing long-haul applications powered by ‘Type-4’ cylinders being used for CNG buses? And on Hydrogen and LNG-based applications?
A. For the composite cylinder testing, there is no authorised agency as yet. ‘Type-4’ cylinders have the potential to reduce the weight of the vehicle which is the biggest advantage. We have been insisting on its use for over a decade now. Today, many cylinders are available. LNG on the other hand uses a cryogenic tank. On an LNG tank, we have operated a Tata Motors bus for 5000 kilometres in Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation & in Pune -Satara region. Both CNG and LNG are safe to operate.

Q. How are you helping OEMs comply for exports as an approved authority in global markets?
A. For the export homologation, one person is assigned as a dedicated resource. The report submitted by us is endorsed by a overseas test agency. It’s high time we try for endorsement as many more Indian test agencies will benefit from carrying export homologation facilities inturn helping ease the process for OEMs.

Q. Any recent new product development initiatives at the component and vehicle level? Including in ADAS?
A. Manufacturers are welcome to visit us for these requirements. We can help them further their development and assess test worthy parameters. On a customer supplied document we are testing the components and helping OEMs on all possible fronts, from development to testing.

Q. What are the key focus areas for the near-medium and long-term? Any budgetary allocations and non-traditional auto revenue streams that may have opened up, and you could share with us?
A. At CIRT we have carried out certification right from two-wheelers, buses to heavy commercial vehicles, even special application vehicles like ambulances, fire tenders etc. We have certified construction equipment and tractors. We are entering in new areas slowly but we are firm. We also have many first certifications to our credit like multi-axles, tarmac coach, diesel conversion, e-rickshaws and multi-axle sleeper coaches. Having grown at 65 per cent growth in 2019, we are positive about 2021-22 matching our past achievements. In third party inspection, we’ve inspected more than 10,000 buses. STUs like Uttarakhand, PMPML, TMT, GSRTC, even JKSRTC also have benefited out of it. ACI

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