Anand Kulkarni, Vice President, Passenger Electric Vehicles, Tata Motors posing at the sidelines of the Tata Avinya concept unveil
Anand Kulkarni, Vice President, Passenger Electric Vehicles, Tata Motors posing at the sidelines of the Tata Avinya concept unveilTeam evo India

“You could use the entire space that is available within the car and use better ranges, or you could make choices about not using up the entire space and still being able to give a decent amount of range”, says Anand Kulkarni, Vice President, Passenger Electric Vehicles, Tata Motors

We speak to Tata Motors’ VP, Passenger Electric Vehicles about the underpinnings of the Avinya and the challenges of creating an EV skateboard

After the Curvv concept, Tata Motors has unveiled another new electric concept car — the Avinya, which is underpinned by an all-new modular platform that will make its way onto future electric offerings from the car maker. The Avinya is expected to enter production by 2025, and Anand Kulkarni, Vice President, Passenger Electric Vehicles, Tata Motors, tells us about the development of this platform and the challenges that go into creating an EV skateboard.

It gives you a battery size of roughly 150-160, depending upon what kind of chemistry you're using, what kind of cells or formats you're using

The Avinya is a concept today. What we have essentially tried to do is spread the battery orthogonally as I told you. Orthogonally means that it is a very standard, uniform format. It gives you a battery size of roughly 150-160, depending upon what kind of chemistry you're using, what kind of cells or formats you're using. You spread that the longest possible between the wheels, and the widest possible between the two cells. That gives you a flat, uniform structure of the battery. That allows you the possibilities to do a modular structure within them. You could use the entire space that is available within the car and use better ranges, or you could make choices about not using up the entire space and still being able to give a decent amount of range. Then what happens is you look at the front-end, and you can have a one-drive arrangement which is a front-wheel drive, you could also have a rear-wheel drive, and even an all-wheel drive as well. The motors will be placed in the front, and the rear, but depending upon whether you want a FWD or RWD, you could make those choices. It gives you the options of range, power, performance — all put together in a similar kind of a vehicle.

This is not a carryover platform

We don't have a skateboard, this is not a carryover platform, and if you remember, we are using heavily from what was available ; this is not even as much. We can't use anything within our existing availabilities, therefore this is all ground-up.

The challenge is going to be when you spread your battery as much, and when you push your wheels to the outermost levels, then you're looking at short overhangs in the front as well as the rear

The engineering challenge, there are two-three things, let me start with the underpinnings. The challenge is going to be when you spread your battery as much, and when you push your wheels to the outermost levels, then you're looking at short overhangs in the front as well as the rear. When you have short overhangs, then you also have to see how you're going to meet the safety requirements, and also how you're going to package the entire traction drives, because when you take this entire thing as forward as possible, you're looking at utilizing all the space from the front-most edge of the vehicle to where the powertrain comes in, you have to look at that. The second thing is if you look at the design, while it is a concept, we would want to bring in the same design language into the real car. You have the cowl point which is fairly ahead, and at that time you need to look at what kind of suspension travel are you going to be able to manage to meet the expectations of the market that you hold, that's another area that you need to look at. You definitely have to look at what kind of ground clearances you do, and when you are spreading it as wide as possible, there will be expectations from a ramp-over perspective. It has to be the right balance — you could have spread it very wide, but in order to have the same rampover, you'll need to go significantly up in height and you cannot have the proportionality of the model that we have showcased today. All of these things have to go in meeting the safety standards, range and power expectations, and the performance of some hygiene factors like dynamics, suspension, ride comfort etc. These are the set of challenges you have to work around in order to create a skateboard. The final thing is that whatever you design as a skateboard, you are looking at the limits of the farthest or the largest vehicle. When you try and bring that into a vehicle that's smaller, how do you bring that and how much scale do you have in terms of either expanding or shrinking, so all of these factors have to go in.

This is not the biggest, the platform can expand. It can also become smaller

This is not the biggest, the platform can expand. It can also become smaller, but as I was speaking to someone else also, how much smaller will you get is something that you will have to determine because typically you can do a couple of hundred mm lower or higher. Whether you would need to go into something which is ultra small in format is something we'll have to check.

If you looked at the concept today, and the proportionality, you'll see it is going to be significantly good on aerodynamics

When you have the ability to spread the battery in the orthagonal manner that I said, you can use significantly efficient means to package the battery, and also go to formats which can give you higher energy density cells which are available right now, but with a Gen 1 or Gen 2 approach you may not have all the flexibility to do this. It allows us the significant packaging efficiency as well as the cell density effects to come in. Because of this, you can have an enhancement of range. The second one, is if you looked at the concept today, and the proportionality, you'll see it is going to be significantly good on aerodynamics, therefore what we say is we have to maximize the usage of electricity, minimize the losses, and optimize the waste energy systems out of it. Maximize, minimize, and optimize — that's how we would like to treat this and then you get superior ranges.

The problem is not about the wheels so much as it is about the cushion height and profile

Yes, because from a design viewpoint we would want to give Martin (Uhlarik) the highest complement of the wheel size possible, as it completely changes the look of the car. This is also something we spoke about with the Curvv, that we will give Martin what he needs. There are challenges, particularly because in India, the problem is not about the wheels so much as it is about the cushion height and profile. You could probably think of doing shorter wheel rims, but still larger sized tyres. You could do a 19, but the overall diameter could still remain like what you would have on a 20 that was shown now.

When you move the wheels to the farthest extremities, you want to see how you are going to manage the crash performance

One is the tyre size. Second point is if you look at where Martin has landed the windscreen, that was a significant challenge. Not only in terms of crash safety, but how you would want to design the structure beneath it, there are challenges which we have to solve. The third thing is when you move the wheels to the farthest extremities, you want to see how you are going to manage the crash performance. Those are the things we have to work out and that's probably how the engineering balance will come back when the final car happens.

There will be software-related or software-enabled functionality to a very large extent

It's not out-of-the-world difficult. In fact, in a lot of ways it is easier because you go to standardized formats and sections. In any case, Tata Motors already has parts of the traction drive which we could utilize in these vehicles. While I said we cannot utilize any library parts for the platform, you could still do a lot of electronic componentry and the software algorithms which are a part of our system. When you have all of these loose cases known, then it's a matter of detailing it out and getting to that point. There will be challenges, we are doing this for the first time, there will be challenges around manufacturing if we use new-age materials in order to reduce weight, so how do you get into making sure that the structure is completely robust and how do you integrate that are also aspects that we'll have to look at. There will be software-related or software-enabled functionality to a very large extent, and therefore we will have to do a significant amount of tests and validation to debug all those possible, error-proofing, all of that has to happen. Apart from this, when you design a vehicle you solve a lot of problems, you keep solving in a way. It's a similar thing that would happen.

It's not something that you don't define saying that I can do a car in four years and therefore we will take four years

I would like to say we are still three and a half years away, and by the way, that is a target, karna toh padega (it has to be done). It's not something that you don't define saying that I can do a car in four years and therefore we will take four years. If the market needs the product, that's when the company needs the product, we'll have to do it.

If you see the pace at which we are introducing projects, that wouldn't have happened without the strength of the team

From an engineering resource perspective, Tata Motors and its group of companies, for example TACO today who do our batteries, and also do motors for us. Similarly within the group we have Tata Elxsi, TCS, Tata Technologies, and then we have Tata Motors which integrates and builds everything together, so we already have the expertise in different companies which is available, but you still need good integration engineers. While we have one of the strongest teams today because if you see the pace at which we are introducing projects, that wouldn't have happened without the strength of the team. We will put in place the team comprising of some of the old hands that have already done a couple of programs, and we will also recruit additional people who will work laterally as well as within the company to make sure we are staffed absolutely properly. Then we have the strength of software teams, the integration teams from Technologies, Elxsi, and TCS.

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