Automotive systems major Varroc Group’s lighting division has been aggressive in the Indian market with special focus given to latest technologies. Varroc Lighting Systems India (VLS) is gearing up to support the OEMs emerging requirements by developing and adapting technologies to local needs. Todd Morgan, Senior Vice President – Global Product Development, Varroc Group, spoke to Anirudh Raheja on the company’s plans and establishing a technical centre in India. Edited excerpts:

Todd Morgan, Senior Vice President – Global Product Development, Varroc Group

Todd Morgan, Senior Vice President – Global Product Development, Varroc Group

Q: How do you see the demand for LEDs specially in automotive segment in India?
Morgan: Cost of LEDs has dropped drastically. It is all about styling and develop a nice signature. Yes, it is power saving and cost saving, but in the end it is more about styling. LED headlamps are cheaper than xenon today. The only issue right now is the leveling requirement which is in India, which may still have 25W HID bulbs. 35W requires leveling, 25W does not, but LEDs always require leveling. You can have a low performing LED headlamp, same as halogen, and you still need leveling which does not make any sense. Regulations need to be rewritten and addressed to remove those barriers that allow us to have cheaper technology with better performance and great styling. There is an effort to reduce traffic fatalities by 50% and the only way to change this is by changing regulations. Day time running lamp is also very important aspect of lighting. It is not a requirement in India, however it is a signature item and a safety improvement. It must be made mandatory. Mahindra has already embraced the signature item with its new XUV500. In commercial vehicles, we have customers in Volvo Eicher and Tata for Prima world truck. CVs have different requirements without any question. It is a big market in India and is very interesting too. As this market moves towards more styling with plastic lenses, that is what is our strength. We understand special vibration and heat requirements. Serviceability is big deal for commercial vehicles and different kind of voltage is needed for them.

Q: How important is India for you as a market in terms of new product development and sustainability?
Morgan: My philosophy is to have full development responsibility. I want engineers touch parts and feel their responsibility especially in India. Therefore, we will be soon opening a technical centre in Pune very soon. On the flip side, I also want to take the Indian approach of cutting cost and apply the logical approach in Europe. So, an optical guy in North America and an electronics guy here in India working on another program should feel their global responsibility. Having those guys involved on real design responsibility on global programs, that approach will accelerate our ability to have better technology in India. This will provide better balance to our approach and will be our strength going forward. It is very easy to have matrix and laser program and having that leading edge technology is fantastic. The majority of the automotive business is on the main stream. Lets be realistic. We can put laser headlamps on every car but we can start moving LED technology into the main stream. And having that ability to have better knowledge of the technology, using the Indian mentality to drive out cost while respecting the country’s regulations. Moving forward, we need to remove barriers for technology and implement safety feature programs here in India.

Q: Give us a brief about R&D at VLS?
Morgan: We have one R&D centre each in Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, Michigan, China. The one in India will take the total number to 6. We have a manufacturing facility in Pune where we have already exhausted the space. We need heavy equipments like vibration tables in labs that we will develop and we can’t just put it into any office building. We have to find the right facility which will be our phase 2. We plan to take 100 engineers for lighting only and will also host Varroc Group’s people in the same building. We continue to invest in Czech Republic which by far has been our biggest facility and nearly 1.28 billion Czech rounds which will be completed by 2019. We have significant expansion plans for the facility which primarily are on the production side as well as on our engineering side. We aim to add 100 new engineers in Czech Republic. In India also, we are expanding rapidly and we already have 53 engineers here in India across mechanical engineering and optical. Electronics is becoming a very important part of our overall business and we will continue to expand in those areas.

Q: Do you see any kind of resistance from OEMs in terms of acceptance for LEDs?
Morgan: India is a very cost conscious market. So, the challenge here is for us to find ways to bring in innovation at a lowest possible cost for the Indian market. It is much easier to do technology if there is no cost barrier. Having our proprietary engineering tools, train our people on how to use it in more efficient manner, strong simulations since life cycle is short. Having the same tools here in India that we have in Czech Republic will drive up the cost. We started off with Ford Motor Company and it is still our biggest customer. They are followed by Jaguar and Land Rover. However by next year, we expect JLR to take over the top spot. Since they have just launched the new Jaguar XF model, we have supplied them with full LED headlamps and also for the new Evoque convertible. We have given a new design signature for Discovery sport which has also been launched this year. JLR has been focusing a lot on developing their lighting signature, their brand image with it. For last 3 years, we have been able to invest in new technologies, expand our engineering and technical capabilities and we are happy to be the part of Varroc Group.

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Q: How different are NVH testing conditions in India from European counterparts?
Morgan: Undoubtedly, the vibration tests in India are tough but we need to ensure that we do not compromise on quality. Vibration and condensation is a big issue in lighting because of the monsoons. We have special design guidelines for these types of markets. the goal here is not to add cost, but still stay competitive. We specifically have beam patterns for India because of the traffic situations, here foreground driving rather than distant driving holds importance.

Q: What upcoming trends do you foresee in India?
Morgan: You will be seeing more of signature styling in the times to come. Mahindra has been quite smart about it. There will be more trends in terms of weight savings, which are gradually becoming more important and we will also see some kind of activity in terms of pedestrian impact and design the headlamps to crush when they hit a pedestrian. We will be joining hands with Tata Elxi which will combine our efforts with theirs. We could have easily put it in Ukraine, Romania, China or in Czech Republic. What we found was here in India we had a huge pool of technical talent, which want to do real development and not just back office, strong english language acceptance which i feel is a big factor. Of course the cost is always attractive, for me it was more about engineering capacity which can support our growth plan. Revenues from India for VLS is just 5% for Varroc’s four-wheeler lighting systems. However, customers here are gradually showing interest in newer technology.

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