M&M to start SDV journey next year, ramps up software team – ET Auto

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An SDV may be still another vehicle, but its technical character is very different from conventional vehicle projects.

The largely mechanical automobile we have known so far, is swiftly transforming itself to be more software-driven and be a software-defined vehicle (SDV).

Home-grown OEM Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) wants to tap this trend in a major way from next year. Its first ‘Born Electric’ model BE 05 will be the first SDV in the SUV specialist’s portfolio, R Velusamy, President – Technology and Product Development, Automotive Sector, M&M, confirms.

The BE 05 is scheduled to hit the market in 2025. It is one of the 5 EV models under M&M fresh charge in the emerging industry with which it will attempt to make up for being late to the EV party. The first of these, XUV.e8, an electrified version of the XUV 700, is scheduled for launch by December this year.

An SDV may be still another vehicle, but its technical character is very different from conventional vehicle projects. And, that’s leading to OEMs building new teams to have the necessary competence.In M&M’s case, a team of 200 engineers is working on “big software” at Mahindra Research Valley (MRV), the OEM’s central R&D and engineering hub on the outskirts of Chennai. The building up of the team was started during the first half of 2022.

Because it’s a totally new field for the automotive industry, the talent also has to be brought from elsewhere. Velusamy is hiring engineers from the smartphone industry to help M&M’s SDVs offer customers a similar experience as smartphones in terms of technology and UX. As consumers increasingly look for a seamless experience of operating their gadgets, and vehicles that are now becoming a part of that ecosystem. Any not-so-good experience can hamper the brand too. “Therefore these engineers that we employ have to be top notch,” says Velusamy.

As part of its efforts to build new competencies, M&M has also set up a satellite technical centre in Coimbatore, which focuses mainly on electronics engineering. This is also required as the electronics content in the vehicle is on the rise, more so in EVs. They also are presented as carriers of advanced features, and not mere vehicles with electric powertrains.

Picking the right option

The automobile’s electronics architecture, especially of passenger vehicles, has changed a lot over the years. From distributed controllers earlier, the increased number of electronic functions demands domain controllers. Now the trend is to move to a centralised architecture using HPC (High Performance Computing).

<p>R Velusamy, President – Technology and Product Development, Automotive Sector, M&amp;M</p>
R Velusamy, President – Technology and Product Development, Automotive Sector, M&M

With the fast increasing load on electrical communication among different parts of the vehicle, Velusamy and team have to pick the right tech-mix in terms of performance and cost. “Now we don’t want to use ethernet and increase the cost everywhere. Wherever the traffic flow is less, we have a CAN. wherever the traffic flow is more we put CAN-FD, and where the traffic flow is really heavy then you put ethernet,” says Velusamy.

Quite typical of a technologist’s effort to drive home a point better, Velusamy said CAN can be seen as a two-lane road, CAN-FD as a two-and-a-half lane road, and ethernet as a six-lane road. Each option can be chosen according to the communication load in a vehicle.

OEM-Tier 1 partnership, and competition

The automotive softwarisation trend is also adding a new dimension to the OEM-Tier 1 supplier relationship. It’s no longer a case of an OEM presenting specs for the Tier 1 to develop, and supply. As OEMs get into the SDV technology space, “a lot of applications” have to be written on the top of the codes, which the OEMs are writing, “and then giving to the Tier 1 units to integrate”.

Along with the typical QCD (Quality, Cost, Delivery) requirements from Tier-ones to bag orders for components, and systems, they now have to meet some more. To meet them they may also have to compete with OEMs in hunting for the requisite talent. “The requirements are changing drastically, and they have to really gear up. Now, the OEM also has similar manpower (for software engineering). it’s not mutually exclusive. We are fighting for the same pool of talent,” says Velusamy.

No more diesel powertrain development?

A mechanical engineer, Velusamy has led major ICE powertrain development projects over the years at M&M. So, with M&M’s upcoming charge in the EV industry, powered by a USD1 billion investment plan, will the OEM ever develop a new ICE engine platform, including a diesel? Velusamy says M&M current MHawk engine platform is “good for another 10-12 years”.

The MHawk engine platform was introduced in 2007, and its upgraded version debuted in 2020.In the segments M&M operates in, diesel will have space, especially in models like Bolero and Scorpio Classic, which have a significant customer base in rural and semi-urban markets.

As for ICE vehicle development, efforts will have to continue at MRV. Even with the expected 30% EV penetration in the Indian passenger vehicle market by 2030, there’ll be a sizeable organisational bandwidth required to sustain ICE vehicle development. The optimal approach is to have phased out the cyclical investments for EV and ICE projects. “There are common resources for (vehicle) build, validation, testing, aggregation. Even if we want to do beyond a certain number of projects (of ICE and EV), we cannot do it together,” says Velusamy.

M&M has earlier stated that it expected EVs to contribute 20%-30% to its overall sales volume by FY27 And, as the SDV trend gains momentum, M&M’s engineering team will also have to step up its software development capabilities at a swift pace to deliver products that matches the UX of a premium smartphone.

The world-class goal

Set up to be a ‘temple of creativity and innovation’, MRV has a lot of responsibilities to deliver and help the home-grown OEM grow within India, and globally. As the landscape gets more disruptive and innovation-oriented, Velusamy’s calendar may also be getting busier, allowing him only his lunch time to meet this author.

So, 12 years after MRV was set up, can M&M claim itself to be among the world’s best? Velusamy says there’s a “threshold” of what global standards are, and after that there are the “north stars” of premium brands. “I think we have crossed this threshold. Now, we have to take it to the next level,” he says. Building technology prowess in EVs, and in software, would be crucial to sustain the growth story..

  • Published On Apr 16, 2024 at 08:01 AM IST

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