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Guest Column

Published on: Nov. 3, 2020, 1:16 a.m.
Automotive industry invents to re-imagine growth
  • JK Tyre has implemented latest technologies to make inroads in business excellence

By Anshuman Singhania. The author is Managing Director, JK Tyre & Industries

The Indian automotive industry has been a strong pillar of the ‘Make in India’ initiative and a key driver of India’s economic engine, claiming a 22 per cent share of its manufacturing GDP. Being one of the largest employers in the nation and a key contributor to its exports, the sector has grown to become the fourth-largest in the world.

With the outbreak of the pandemic this year, the sector has witnessed unprecedented recessionary conditions and volatility. Despite a series of setbacks and turbulence, the automotive industry, already having braced several headwinds, is now showing signs of recovery – with the pandemic proving that opportunity lies beneath the veil of every crisis. What has arisen out of the changed normal is the strategic need to shift gears for reinventing and reimagining growth.

The country’s economic resurgence emanated from rural areas and Tier I and Tier II cities. Government reforms and incentives coupled with healthy monsoon season, resulted in an increase in purchasing power. Robust demand from rural and semi-urban areas is a silver lining that has had a significant impact on the automotive segment and allied industries.

Navigating through challenges

The month of May saw domestic sales in the sector plummeting by 80-90 per cent. To begin with, the double-digit decline left manufacturers saddled with sizeable inventory and a host of other challenges to deal with. The disruption of the supply chain, with its cross-border dependence, delineated a grim scenario with OEMs facing material shortages, coupled with financial and labour distress. 

With manufacturing hitting the pause button in late March, the sector and its allied partners were left dealing with the predicament of constricted liquidity and the mounting pressures of managing working capital and cash flows. The pandemic, also orchestrated productivity losses and delay in new product launches. The industry, while having to shield its workforce from the ongoing threat, also worked towards rationalizing roles and resources in a largely remote-working structure.

Staying afloat and rebounding

As restrictions eased, the slope leading towards re-establishing the production facilities proved to be significantly steeper than the one that led to the shutdown. Notwithstanding that, concerted efforts have put the industry back on its wheels. Plugging in supply chain gaps, embracing digitisation, deploying automation, and innovating solutions in connected mobility have together provided the ignition to kick-start growth and rev up demand sooner than anticipated. 

The IHS Markit findings, which reveal that India’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 52 in August, indicate for the first time in six months that the sector is motoring along the path of recovery. For some leaders, consumer-side inquiries and bookings have reached 80-85 per cent of pre-Covid levels, with potential buyers choosing private over public transport. The small car and two wheeler segments are already showing growth potential, with rural regions registering faster recovery.

Accelerating the adoption of technologies

The uncertainties surrounding the macro-economic situation have pushed the sector into staying agile, innovative and customer-centric. With technology taking the front seat, the industry has adopted several measures, not just to remain buoyant, but to also make new inroads in business excellence. 

 

Automation: Manufacturers have turned to automation to overcome the challenges of non-availability of labour and health and safety management on the shop-floor. With new digital capabilities, manufacturers have been able to automate the capturing of data and its visualization for monitoring real-time performance. The industry has witnessed a rise in the use of physical robots, automated guided vehicles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive maintenance. At JK Tyre, we have already implemented some of the latest technologies including RPA (Robotic Process Automation), ML (Machine Learning), AI (Artificial Intelligence) & Analytics.

Digitisation: Under the scenario of suspended offline sales, automotive players began offering contactless customer touch-points, test drives and doorstep deliveries of vehicles, creating end-to-end digital sales journeys for customers, while initiating technology adoption across the value chain. Internally, they also empowered the workforce with digital tools for working remotely, while engaging with them through virtual town halls and other channels for ensuring motivation and well-being. JK Tyre has recently tied-up with a leading e-commerce portal where customers can avail doorstep delivery of JK Tyre’s entire range of premium tyres.

Connected mobility: The passenger car is gradually transforming into a personal space for people with specific digital requirements. This is giving rise to a new stream of mobility trends that allow owners to run diagnostic tests of their vehicles without having to step out of them. Users can now gain insights into the vehicle’s status by knowing about the condition of the air and fuel filters, tyre pressures, etc. – right on their smart phones. Through this, manufacturers have struck the right chord with customers – taking into account not just the customer’s need for taking preventive measures for their vehicles, but also for maintaining social distancing. We at JK Tyre also introduced the revolutionary Smart Tyre Technology that comes fitted with Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) that pre-empts issues and suggest timely preventive measures.

 

Self-reliance through support 

The market optimism also pivots around favourable policy frameworks. Through curbs already placed on certain imports, and the likely announcement of a short-term reduction in the GST rate, the scrappage incentive scheme and the inclusion of auto components under the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, manufacturers are hopeful these will cushion revenue shortfalls and help revive the sector. The possible postponement of certain regulatory norms and availability of working capital at concessional rates will further build resilience. 

Looking ahead

The future reveals a silver lining behind the cloud of the pandemic – with the workforce getting back to the shopfloor and consumers considering personal vehicles to be safer than public transport. The automotive industry has overcome the synchronisation challenges associated with recommencement of operations and is ready for the recovery from the downturn. Wholesale auto sales have already made a comeback in July and the two-wheeler and compact car segment has registered an uptick in deliveries. Manufacturers anticipate this rebound trend to remain strong. With the nation coming forth as a favoured destination for global manufacturing, the Indian automotive sector is at the cusp of a new era in revival that will regain its capability in building the nation.

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