February 10, 2014
Kumar Galhotra learnt to drive in a Premier Padmini in Chandigarh. Now, as Ford Motor Co.'s vice president for engineering, he owns a Mustang. But he rarely uses Ford's best-selling sports car for his daily commute. That's because he's test driving either Ford cars or those of the competition all the time.
One of the key people at Ford after global CEO Alan Mulally and head of global product development Raj Nair, Galhotra fought jetlag on Monday to speak to ET in New Delhi about the company and the industry in general, ahead of the Auto Expo. Since joining Ford in 1988, Galhotra has held various positions in product development and product strategy before moving into his latest role in August last year, reporting to Nair.
Galhotra is responsible for the engineering of all cars, trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles for the Ford and Lincoln brands. Galhotra and Nair have to deliver on the One Ford strategy, which is to develop one product for the global market. Meanwhile, the company seems to have consciously hired talent from around the world - Egypt-born Ehab Kaoud is chief designer for Ford North America and chief procurement officer is Hau Thai-Tang, who's of Vietnamese origin.
In India, Ford is building two new factories for engines and cars in Sanand, Gujarat, in addition to the Chennai plant. Galhotra, making his third to India within a year, sees more trips in the offing given Ford's belief that India by 2020, will be an annual market of 7 million cars, up from 2.5 million last year. Excerpts:
Oh yes. I learnt to drive in a Premier Padmini. We used to call it Fiat back then. The markets have come a long way since then. And it's got a long way to go. We think India can touch 7 million units by 2020. Tastes have changed. Consumers are very savvy. They are very worldly. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to be here. We started with Figo, which is a big volume car and then we launched the Fiesta, which is in the niche segment for the enthusiaist and the EcoSport, a big success. We want to just build on this momentum. We showed the Figo Concept today.
The EcoSport is a sub-four metre car and so is the Figo Concept, which is going to be a sub-four metre. So we design our products based on customer needs. It's clearly that simple.
We do that (driverless cars) for parallel parking now and now we are working on a technology that can do perpendicular parking. Lots of low velocity collisions happen in traffic jams, where people are following stop and go traffic. At some point, drivers lose concentration and run into each other. The active city stop feature won't allow that, the car will stop automatically even if the customer is not putting his foot on the peddle.
We have smart cruise control. In this case, you don't set a particular speed, you acquire the target vehicle, and then maintain the speed. We intend to keep building on semi-autonomous features as more and more technologies become available, so we are assessing, more and more technology options. A lot of legal issues, technological issues, infrastructure issues need to be resolved, before we get to truly autonomous driving.
We made a very conscious decision to continue to invest in our future, and you see the results of that in our product portfolio. Even through the crisis, we continued to invest in our future, which is fundamentally our future product plans.
We don't discuss our engineering budget. I can tell you we have committed to invest $2 billion in India and about a billion of that is in Sanand in the two plants that we are building, the engine plant and the assembly plant, and we will create thousands of jobs and that plant is going to be a key part of our future growth in India and as well as our exports strategy. That is a very big commitment in terms of dollars and we have made similar commitments in China, Asean, so we are focussed on our future.
Ford has a fantastic culture in that sense, rewards merit. It is a merit-based system, if you perform, if you deliver you will be rewarded. It is a very diverse company, Raj is obviously in a very senior position, I am very fortunate to have a cool job in the company, our global head of our purchasing is a Vietnamese American, so there are people from all over. Alan Mulally himself has come from a completely different industry (Boeing) and he has been a great leader. So the Ford culture itself is a very collaborative and very much based on meritocracy.