Adient to leverage low cost, lightweighting trends in seats production: Murali Rajagopalan
Adient India, the largest global automotive seating supplier, and a front runner in building the ‘seats for tomorrow’ is offering full seating solutions, for the passenger and commercial vehicles. In India, Adient has 9 assembly plants, and over 11 custom
Q: What do you mean by the phrase ‘car seats for tomorrow’. What does it mean both in the global as well as the India context?
Rajagopalan: There is a very good consensus among the stakeholders on how the cars of the future should be. The only point of debate there is when? in case of autonomous cars etc. There is a very clear trend. The cars of the future are definitely going to be electrified, autonomous to various degrees, and will be used by many people and not just by a single owner. When it comes to future gazing, no company can have a clear answer. We as a company are working very closely with our customers who in turn are also trying to gaze the future. It is a joint effort to analyse the trends when it comes to building the ‘car seats for tomorrow’ ahead of the competition.
In India we are lagging as the market is yet to mature. Light-weighting is the immediate need in the Indian market as it has been tackled across the rest of the world. Take for instance, the Hyundai Motors Chennai plant, at the visitor’s lounge, one can find employee posters acknowledging their contribution in reducing weight by a margin of 15 grams. It is because light-weighting directly impacts fuel efficiency.
It is a definite trend in India, and Adient, being part of the heaviest component manufacturing, we are up for the challenge. Secondly, we see customisation as another trend developing in the country. India as a market is less homogenous than Europe and other countries. Lastly, on the type of vehicles, we see people moving from smaller vehicles to bigger SUV-type vehicles. All the 3 trends naturally have a bearing on the market for seats.
Q: Are there any flagship or popular products that have been classified at Adient as key market drivers for India?
Rajagopalan: We are a company which has products that are seen by everybody. Every car seat today looks different. However, there is no signature appearance of seat from across manufacturers to differ one from the other. Go a level below, and the structure of the seat and mechanism is our USP. Our seats are the lightest in the country coupled with world class mechanism sourced from our partners. Apart from that we also boast of material advantages over competition.
Q: What are the various seat mechanisms deployed by Adient?
Rajagopalan: All these mechanisms are driven by consumer needs. Consumers want flexibility inside the car like the ability to fold, bend, half bend, full bend etc. Consumers today are looking for multiple functionalities in the seat and hence mechanisms. Our mechanisms mainly do 3 things: facilitate a forward and a backward movement, vertical movement and a lateral movement. Apart from linear and angular movements, there is an ability to lock for safety in case of a crash. Over and above, there is a need for ease of operation which adds to the variants. Globally, we are reckoned as providers of the best foam technology. We are known for our green foams. Foams that do not evaporate and emit gas during the making process. We especially take care to taper the hardness of the foam such that the sides are harder than the central
portion of the seat. Our foams are vibration- resistant. So we have a very strong capability in this regard.
Q: What are the recent additions to the prototype and testing capability?
Rajagopalan: There are some generic technologies which have been in existence for some time now. They are related to plastics, and fabric. For example, one needs to have the capability of building a very short run fabric. Fabric mills today can’t think of anything lesser than 10,000 metres. In case of prototypes, if a customer wants just 1 seat to be built, a 10,000 metre fabric is of no use. Today technology is available for such small lots of prototypes. There are technologies available that involve a negligible extent of hand-made art. Such artwork is our forte in the country. Going forward, we aim to use technologies like 3D printing, making foams in a laboratory etc.
Q: Have you partnered with Dassault Systemes which is a leading player in 3D printing and technology?
Rajagopalan: Yes, globally we have such partnerships.
Q: Are interiors evolving to do multipurpose functionalities? How does it impact seat components?
Rajagopalan: The safety parts which are outside the seat will come into the seats. The vehicle controls will also come into the seats. So integrating safety features and electronics into the seats are two major trends we expect to change the game.
Q: Did you find any concept at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt that could be commercialised in India?
Rajagopalan: We have a joint venture with the Chinese firm Adient Yanfeng Seating Mechanism Co.Ltd., where we are a minority shareholder. As we are the largest company in seats, they are reckoned as the largest interior firm. As a part of the JV, we have set out to develop world class interiors for the future.
Q: Any joint venture on the lines that you wish to leverage for the Indian market?
Rajagopalan: We have many joint ventures in China with a 45% market share. Chinese are becoming more ambitious now as they are looking to venture in markets outside China. Our biggest partnership leverage, I think, will definitely come from China itself. Not necessarily in the technology perspective, but in terms of relationship and ability to expand. You will see that we
will also have more technologydriven joint ventures with Boeing.
Q: How do you look at the recent JD Power study on seat quality and satisfcation?
Rajagopalan: We did pretty well there. We have a process called craftsmanship index because beauty is subjective and everybody has a different perception. So we have a very standardised process to evaluate a seat. Ours is a package which is run on a seat, which in turn gives a score closer to customer perception. That in turn enables us to gauge better the requirements of our customers.
Q: What is Automobile 4.0 and how does it impact manufacturing at Adient?
Rajagopalan: The age of product improvements is obsolete today. We have to think of something completely out of the box and different. At the manufacturing plant, productivity is being improved with a completely new set of tools and technology. It is on the lines of Information technologypowered manufacturing. We are experimenting at 4 plants in North America with our partner to leverage such technology to improve our overall productivity.
Q: How do you differentiate your seats from passenger vehicle, performance vehicle and commercial vehicle in terms of manufacturing?
Rajagopalan: Unfortunately in India, the commercial vehicle seating is given the least priority. Now things are changing. As per the Government, by 2019, all commercial vehicles need to feature a comfortable cabin including air conditioning. Still, the content is very small. While we are working closely with our partners there it is yet to hit the scale of evolution in passenger vehicles. That apart, the demand of seats in terms of functionality is very high in case of utility vehicles. Everything there depends on structural mechanism over just foam. In designing mechanisms, for instance a requirement to take out the third row and fit it back in a span of 3 minutes needs functionality. Passenger vehicles in contrast are governed by safety regulations.
Q: How does your contribution differ from passenger vehicle segment to commercial vehicle segment?
Rajagopalan: Passenger vehicles constitute 80% of the volume today. We see a much higher growth in commercial vehicles due to higher content, and infrastructural growth. We sense that Indian players are striving to be good if not better than the global original equipment manufacturers.
Q: Out of the 230-odd manufacturing facilities across the globe, which is your flagship plant?
Rajagopalan: We conduct an annual competition to pick up the best plant. Many of our best plants are still in Japan.
Q: What are the overall seat volumes?
Rajagopalan: We are making about half a million seats a year.
Q: What are your inventment plans to enhance capacity?
Rajagopalan: We are investing in Sanand, Gujrat and in Pune.
Q: Apart from Tata Motors who are all your other key clients?
Rajagopalan: Toyota, Honda, Renault, Daimler, Ashok Leyland, Maruti Suzuki, and Hyundai among others.
Q: How do you plan to leverage your China association given that many Chinese OEMs are bidding for State Transport Undertaking tenders in India?
Rajagopalan: All the Chinese OEMs are our customers in China since we have a 45% market share there. They don’t want to relearn and redo the investment. So we are here in India for 20 years and are an obvious choice for the Chinese OEMs looking at India.
Q: To sum it up all, what are your key growth areas and challenging areas?
Rajagopalan: We are going to grow in components like mechanisms, metal and fabrics etc. We are also seriously exploring opportunities in the aftermarket business. Additionally, we are looking at a new customer base where we see a huge potential. Being an independent seat manufacturing company over the last 1 year, one can expect us to be very aggressive in the market to attain growth going forward. We look at light-weighting and low-cost Indian innovations to leverage the two big trends.