Steelbird ventures into making new products for EVs
Steelbird International, a leading automotive components and filter manufacturer, has chalked out a 5-year strategy to meet the demand arising out of the upcoming new regulations and the penetration of electric vehicles. Recently, the company ventured into the tyre and tube segments. The tyre is for twowheelers and electric vehicles. The company has started a new plant in Pantnagar (Uttarakhand) to make wide range of filters.
Steelbird International serves many OEMs in India, including Greaves Cotton Limited, Tata Ficosa Automotive Systems Pvt. Ltd., Lumax Auto Technologies Limited, and Royal Enfield (A Unit of Eicher Motors). From its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Pantnagar spread over 100,000 sq.ft., Steelbird offers the widest range of auto filters in the Indian market.
The New Delhi-headquartered company plans to double profit every year for the next 5 years. “Our new smart and eco-friendly plant in Pantnagar has a capacity to manufacture 40,000 newgeneration filters daily. The new plant commenced operation from January 2018, and 80% of the plant capacity has already been utilised.” Executive Director of Steelbird International, Manav Kapur, told Auto Components India.
E-rickshaws are the main target of the company’s tyre business. “We are components manufacturer and we have been in the industry for more than 50 years. There is also a volume of business that comes from rubber components and we have been in the rubber business for more than 4 decades. Tyre and tube were the only rubber components that we did not make. We make all other rubber components for two-wheelers. These were the only 2 products to complete our basket in the rubber components. We were expecting a lot of turbulence in the industry with respect to the electric vehicles coming in. As a strategy to counter, we need to build something up for the future. The struggle will not happen tomorrow, but it will happen, say in 10 years or so. So, we looked at our core components and that was rubber,” he added.
The e-rickshaws are the only EVs that are selling in good numbers. Therefore, the company sees a good demand from e-rickshaws, which currently use two-wheeler tyres. Before venturing into the tyre segment, Steelbird evaluated the tyres that were being used in e-rickshaws and found that the two-wheeler tyres were designed for a payload of 2 people. Whereas, the e-rickshaws have a payload of probably 6 people. The speed rating of a two-wheeler is 100 km, whereas for the e-rickshaws, it does not cross 35 km. There is a lot of difference required for the product. Therefore, the company totally changed the design and came out with a Type C tyre, which increases the payload and also reduces the speed rating.
With quite a lot of variants for the two-wheeler segment, Steelbird plans to have many tyre types for the e-rickshaws also. Kapur said that
the EV tyre market is slowly evolving and everybody is making their own space. “None of the bigger players have made anything different. And, nobody is very much successful with e-rickshaw designs. I see a lot of scope there as it is new. It is easier to work on a clean slate,” he said.
Steelbird is in contact with some OEMs for the EV market. “From May 2018, we will be supplying to them,” he said. About the tyre manufacturing plant Kapur said, “It is a new plant. Probably the smallest tyre plant you will ever see.”
In the aftermarket, Steelbird has the widest distribution network. More than 5000 distributors are connected in different States. In most of the markets the company is able to deliver in 24 hours and its reach is already there in the twowheeler side. Next, there is a lot of space for another tyre company, because the volume is great. Most of the companies focus on the commercial side. So, Steelbird is going to be a two-wheeler specialist. “We will be in this segment and hopefully we will not be having any difficulty as we have the brand image,” Kapur states.
About the new Pantnagar plant Kapur said that, he does not see a downtrend in the IC engines for the next 5 years. Speaking on the necessity of investing, he said, “Any business house wants to make money. We have commitments from some of the customers and our aftermarket business is up and running. When you look at the sales of the vehicles that are powered by IC engines, they are still growing every year. Even if there are talks regarding EVs, there is a constant growth every year. De-growth has just not happened. Aftermarket is the last part to be getting rid of. If the demand has grown in the last 3 years, impact is going to be there only after 7 years,” he explained.
Kapur is very optimistic about the investments made on the Pantnagar facility. He said “We are in a country where we don’t scrap cars. We have a clear vision. Even if we start today and run the plant for the next 5 years, we will be taking out the investment we made. We mainly manufacture air-filters for twowheelers and most of our business comes from that. We also make a few parts for four-wheelers and commercial vehicle applications. Therefore, I do not see any threat to our business.”
Another area that is flourishing is the cabin filter and Steelbird is eying that segment. “A lot of awareness is there with respect to quality. We have evaluated it and as of now we are sticking to our core components. As for new developments, we are sticking to tyres,” Kapur said.
The new Pantnagar facility manufactures wide range of filters.
The newly launched e-rickshaw tyres.
Manav Kapur, Executive Director, Steelbird International