Back in India after being laid off by
* You have been called ‘the man who changed the automobile history’. How do you see yourself?
I never thought I would be considered as such. I was part of a team and just did my work. Now when you look back and see the scale of what happened – and that Volkswagen had been lying for over 10 years while marketing their product as clean technology – you realise that it is a huge find. Because it happened in the US, which works on an honour style, if you breach trust, they enforce regulations no matter who you are and where you’re from. That gave us the validation that a finding of this nature did not go unnoticed. When we were doing it, we didn’t see it, but from an outside point of view, you see that history changed. In the big picture, people still trust big corporations. Corporates have a mindset of pushing for a compeitive product or cutting down the cost to improve the profit margin, so they often compromise on ethics and credibility. I often say integrity is also capitalised these days. You think you pay the fine and you’re eligible or a pardon.
* India will enforce the Bharat Stage VI (BS VI) emission norms in 2020: how might that contribute to a reduction of PM2.5 – of which Bengaluru has one of the highest levels?
PM2.5 is one of the benchmarks to look at air quality. PM2.5 emissions from automobiles are considered a carcinogen under the UN and WHO norms. It’s so dangerous because it’s microscopic and easily breathable. I have read that BS VI is a derivative of the Euro 6 norms and will apply to light utility vehicles – gasoline and diesel, both – and heavy vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) greater than 3,500kg. If that happens, PM2.5 from vehicles should reduce considerably and significantly over time, provided more such vehicles are added to the fleet. There will also be a significant reduction in NOx (Nitrogen Oxides) after BS VI compliance – 25%.
* What are the challenges before the auto industry to make vehicles compliant with the new standards?
Depending on what technology auto manufacturers are using, they may have to use selective catalytic reduction as an after-treatment in vehicles to reduce emissions. Petrol vehicles can look at the Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). GDI offers some advantages in reducing NOx, but it will increase PM. For petrol vehicles, the way forward is a three-way catalyst, which reduces Carbon Monoxide, Hydrocarbons and NOx, plus Gasoline Particulate Filters for PM. Euro 6 also has mandates for fuel economy. That could be challenging for manufacturers. There are on-board diagnostics that India could bring in with BS VI. It involves monitoring critical components that are reducing emissions. If your car has a malfunction, the emission reducing technologies will take a decision to reduce the emissions. And if they cannot they will alert the operator that they have to take action. It might even stop the vehicle from running. Considering India still uses rudimentary emission testing technology, these new monitoring devices can help check the health of the system much more efficiently. Diesel vehicles will need a Diesel Particulate Filter. I do not know what technology they are currently using to reduce NOx, and if they can eke out that 25% without using an additional after- treatment device. If not, they will have to use a catalyst. So the engineering resources to develop those and the warranty expenses will be high. You can add more parts, but if it’s not developed well, you will damage them. Smaller engine vehicles may not have diesel versions at all, for this reason.
* This will eventually lead to diesel vehicles being done away with entirely (Maruti has already announced that it will phase out diesel cars by 2020). Diesel has been seen as a major polluter in India/
Diesel has its own advantages – it is more fuel efficient compared to petrol, gallon for gallon, and offers higher torque at low engine speed. Diesel vehicles are also long lasting, as they are built like that. In rural India, I think diesel does have a place. That said, if not tuned properly, it will be a big polluter. Pound per pound, diesel vehicles emit less Co2. But they also emit more NOx and PM now. Whereas, petrol engines inherently emit less PM.
* What is the basis of selecting emission norms? Does BS VI seem logical or is just a copy paste job from the Euro VI norms?
North America and Europe are the two major regions which promulgate emissions standards and the rest of world follows suit with their versions of the above two standards. Since India always followed in the footsteps of EU emissions standards it is logical to continue in that direction.
* Do you see yourself taking on a role connected with the enforcement of BS VI norms if you stay on in India?
I come from a place where they know the seriousness and importance of meeting compliance standards. In the Euro 6 standards there is something called a conformity test, where manufacturers have to prove with data that has been gathered after testing in road conditions using a portable emission measurement system. Since I’ve worked on the development of that whole system in 2002, I can bring my own experience to it. A role in data analytics is also calling me. I’m interested in that because Bengaluru is a tech hub. We can look at big data and see the big picture. An emissions inventory is one way of looking at the total emissions being produced on a daily basis.
* Bengaluru is startup city. Are you looking at entrepreneurship?
I’ve done a PhD and research. I’m not a salesperson who will go and pitch. I could be a consultant— with my experience and background.
* What role can Bengaluru play in clean technology?
That would be electric vehicles and retrofitting existing diesel vehicles, at least goods carriers, with DPF. All other modes offer marginal, step-by-step improvements. But while you can eliminate petrol and diesel vehicles from a city, until you use renewable energy sources to power electric vehicles, you’re just displacing the problem, not resolving it. Bengaluru is seen as the trendsetter in technology, but I keep reading that it is playing catch up. You say you want to make this like Singapore – in Singapore you levy heavy taxes on people who want to drive, but you provide smooth public transportation. We need to do that here – more people will use the Metro if you offer last-mile connectivity. Ride sharing is another option. It’s a three-legged stool: the government, manufacturers and public have to come together.
* There has been an interest in GPS-enabled bicycles and e-bikes in Bengaluru. Is that an option?
This morning, my mother was appalled when she saw a man riding a bike, ‘walking’ his dog. I really don’t think people like this are interested in cycles as a means of last-mile connectivity. I want to ride a bicycle to get to the metro station, but I’m worried I’ll come down with a respiratory illness or something and that discourages from doing so. There needs to be a carrot and stick approach and we all need to come together to resolve the matter.