We talk about the new mild-hybrid drivetrain in the S-Cross, the market’s acceptance to automatics and localisation of future products
Come the BS6 era, Maruti Suzuki has done away with diesel engines and is focussing on its petrol engines across models. Previously, the S-Cross was only available with a 1.3-litre diesel engine and a manual gearbox, however, today the company launched the S-Cross with a 1.5-petrol engine with a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic, with mild-hybrid technology available across variants. We get talking to CV Raman, Senior Executive Director (Engineering) at Maruti Suzuki about this change in direction when it comes to drivetrain technology, the lack of a turbo-petrol from their portfolio, the acceptance of automatics in various segments and the road going forward.
Sirish Chandran: I want to talk about the S-Cross. Now, this has the 1.5-litre petrol engine which we have seen in the Ciaz. What have you done to the engine for the S-Cross?
CV Raman: In the S-Cross, we have the smart hybrid technology integrated and the calibration has been changed. We have a four-speed AT which has been mated, and a 5-speed manual transmission. These are the changes that have been done and of course, the new infotainment system on the S-Cross is having Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, voice recognition, screening of navigation from the phone, and AHA radio for streaming music. It is also compatible with the Suzuki Connect system. The Suzuki Connect is available in Nexa as an accessory – it is a telematics system that is also integrated if the customer so desires. It gives driving aids, tow-away alerts and emergency calls – those kinds of features.
SC: We know that S-Cross from the earlier 1.6 diesel and the 1.3 diesel. This engine must be lighter than the diesel. What changes have you made to the platform or car itself?
CVR: To the car itself from the exterior changes will be the minor change. Our study showed that has been well accepted and people have started liking the design of the new S-Cross. Because it is well-accepted we have continued with it. We have done the change on the powertrain, making it BS6 compliant and efficient. So it gives 18.5kmpl for the manual transmission and 18.43kmpl for the automatic transmission, so it has very good fuel efficiency. And of course smart hybrid technology with two battery systems.
SC: Is there a version without the smart hybrid or everything is with start/stop?
CVR: No everything is with the start/stop.
SC: What is the acceptance been like for the smart hybrid system, the SHVS I'm talking about now. You've had it on the Baleno also with the 1.2, but I believe that's really not taken off. What is it you see customers saying about the SHVS?
CVR: The SHVS has been well-accepted in the upper segment like the Ciaz, Ertiga and the XL6. It is doing good duty there and all the vehicles are incorporated with the smart hybrid technology, it does give better fuel efficiency. Also, for the automatic transmission, the shift changes get much on easier, so it is well-coupled. Therefore, you get very good fuel efficiency on the automatic transmission so the gap is very little in the manual and the automatic.
SC: The SHVS available on both the manual and automatic, right?
CVR: Yes it is available on both.
SC: And the auto stop/start is available on the manual?
CVR: Yeah, the auto stop/start, regenerative braking and assist functions are available on all the variants.
SC: The S-Cross has been in the market for some time, what are the customer sentiments towards the vehicle? Why is it selling and why is it still in Maruti Suzuki's portfolio?
CVR: It started off as a crossover kind of positioning, because of the initial shape that was there. And then after a minor change, the acceptance has improved because it has got more SUV-ish kind of features. And with the raised hood, with LED DRLs and projector headlamps, that has further improved it and it has become very premium. Of course the interior was always very good, very premium so it goes with the exterior premium SUV-ish look. Something our study showed is that it is well accepted and that has become one of the preference or choices for customers – that exterior styling of the S-Cross. The other thing was when we only had a diesel, I think there were a lot of customers that actually wanted petrol and a lot of customers wanted automatic transmission. Both of which were not there in the previous version, and is now available in this version. We believe that the customers need is there for this kind of a powertrai, both manual as well as automatic and gasoline, so that is something I think the customers are going to appreciate .
SC: I want to talk about the powertrain strategy for Maruti Suzuki. Now the 1.5 is a naturally aspirated powertrain, we are seeing downsized turbo-petrol. Maruti also had that with the Baleno RS in the portfolio. What's your strategy on the downsized engines in the future?
CVR: With downsized engines what we have seen, very limited experience with the Baleno RS, is it has become a very niche segment. It was not really coming into the mass-market. When we were looking at the Vitara Brezza – a 1-litre DITC or a 1.5-litre, we would have definitely got a much better GST benefit if we had 1-litre DITC. But we still chose 1.5-litre in that segment – the sub-4-metre. The reason for that was very clear that people wanted a higher size engine. People associated a 1.5-litre engine as a bigger engine compared to a 1-litre DITC – the general public – that's how people see it. Secondly, the linear delivery of the 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated was much more preferred compared to the turbo. From a user perspective, we know that was more acceptable and also, people wanted that if it was a 1-litre, they wanted the price to be coming down as the smaller size engines should have a lesser cost. That is something that we felt in the research which was shown and and the market study indicated, we should move to a higher level naturally-aspirated. So that's something we have decided and therefore in our premium segment vehicles, we have these 1.5-litre engines. And of course we integrated the smart hybrid technology that gives that additional fuel efficiency, it also gives the torque assist at times when the customer wants it. And people have to get used to start-stop technology or the regeneration or the type of driving they have to do. I think that also helped in the transition going forward in the future.
SC: The other part of the powertrain package I wanted to talk about is the gearbox. Now the 4-speed automatic is the very old gearbox. Your rivals have got 6-speed automatic, twin-clutch automatic gearboxes. Why is Maruti still persisting with the old 4-speed?
CVR: As a package of the 1.5-litre four-speed automatic transmission for the quantity, we believe that it would do good. Especially, it is a fact that even with the four-speed auto we are able to get almost the same level of the fuel efficiency as a manual transmission, which is usually about 10-15 per cent lower than a manual transmission. I think that is the advantage of the technology which we have got on the powertrain and with the smart hybrid technology integrated with the four-speed, it still does good duty for the customer in terms of fuel efficiency. Because ultimately that is what is important and usually these cars are urban vehicles, urban SUVs mostly driven in the city and in that perspective of stop-go traffic or in city drive conditions. The 1.5 naturally-aspirated with the four-speed auto and the hybrid perform well. This is what our test results show.
SC: But isn't it a fact that customers are not so hung up on fuel efficiency as they were in the past?
CVR: Well, I think you have a point there. Fuel efficiency used to be the top-choice at some time but now it is about designing, it is about features – those are taking more precedence compared to fuel-efficiency and fuel efficiency actually has dropped to third or fourth choice. When we look at it, we look at the design of the vehicle, then we look at the comfort, convenience, features, the infotainment system and the safety package which is there and also the fuel efficiency which is the fourth or fifth preference. But as a package, if you look at it we need to make the entire package work. So from that perspective, I think it ticks the boxes.
SC: Is this automatic gearbox made in India?
CVR: No, this is imported.
SC: So it is an imported unit. When do you see volumes growing in India for automatics, to localise an automatic transmission?
CVR: How I see it is, two pedal technology how we look at it. And with two pedal technology, when you see in numbers, we have seen a lot of traction in the lower end. The lower end traction has happened because we had the AGS technology. Our automated-manual transmission system which has been localised to a large extent and local assembly is done. The volumes drive it, and so at the lower end because of the price affordability of having a Rs 40,000 or Rs 45,000 with no impact on the fuel efficiency of the manual transmission with two pedal technology, those are things people appreciate and therefore we see the traction and the volume has gone up. If the volume is gone up, then it helps in the localisation. There is a motivation to do the localisation for us also and the suppliers also and therefore I think you see that happening there. Having said that, the two-pedal strategy in the larger segment or the premium segment is still a niche. It may be in some models of some OEMs, they could be 15-20 per cent, but not more than that. But in most cases, it will be less than 5-7 per cent as a penetration. If you see in Europe, it is more than 15 per cent. In Japan, the CVT in the small segment is almost 99 per cent and automatic transmission in big vehicles is almost 70-80 per cent. India is still a small car market, 70 per cent of the vehicles are small cars, average price is 6.5 lakh or 6 lakh rupees. One lakh for the automatic transmission is an impediment. So it is a chicken and egg, volume vs price that leads to localisation. It is something which we will grapple with, which we will definitely work on.
SC: You have your own example in the Baleno the CVT transmission is a significant chunk of Baleno sale, same with the Glanza which you supply to Toyota and for other manufacturers for instance, the City, significant volume of the petrol is with the automatic transmission. So maybe if you had a more sophisticated automatic transmission and that would make sense to localise for your future products also in the longer run.
CVR: That’s something which you are looking at going forward – how two-pedal has to move to more numbers in the higher segments also, is one challenge is there and definitely we will be working towards it.
SC: The CVT transmission that you have, cannot be mated to your 1.5 petrol engine?
CVR: It can be, it’s not like it cannot be. But from an engine series perspective, we limited the CVT size to the 1.2-litre and for the higher ones we have the four-speed AT.
SC: Is performance becoming a priority for Maruti Suzuki and your customers or not yet?
CVR: I think performance for the product has to be looked in from a product perspective. A a general use perspective is what 70-80 per cent of our customers are looking for. If that is being met then, I think that what we should be looking at and there is some additional thing for the 5,10 or 15 per cent of people, then we need to look at a different kind of product.
SC: The S-Cross will continue to be sold from the Nexa outlets. Are you looking at ramping up production volumes for the S-Cross because now it is also more affordable then what it was in the past and petrol engine which is more acceptable nowadays?
CVR: From a capacity perspective as far as Maruti Suzuki is concerned we have enough capacity. The question is that it is unprecedented times. We are all struggling with our supply chain and production people, and how do we ramp up the production? That's what we are doing and we have gone into the second shift now, and we are slowly ramping our supply chain. They are now coming out of the lockdown situations in several areas and ramping up their own production. So therefore I think, over the next couple of months, we should be back fully on stream. Like you have seen today, we recently announced the July numbers. I think we have come back to the July ‘19 level as far as July ‘20 is concerned. I think those things are looking better but it is very difficult to know how it is going to change because it is very dynamic. And from the retail side also things keep changing, with the lockdowns and similarly for people coming into work – whether it is a supplier end or our production sites, again there is the same challenge but all-in-all we are making that effort so that our customers, whatever is the demand which is there we will be able to deal with that.
SC: And with the demand coming back, is your pace of launches going to get accelerated because of the past four months because you have been very quiet.
CVR: Product development is a long term thing not a short term thing. All the plans that we had in the long-term, we are still working on all those plans. Yes, there will be some tweaking of that based on the various issues which are there in the product development because there are a lot of stakeholders who are still involved in the product development -- suppliers and a lot of other people who also have to work together.It means when you can’t actually work together and it’s all virtual, that is a challenge we are trying to overcome and make sure the product development happens in a better way, efficient way.