HELLA eMobionics, A Speedboat Ready To Sail Far

Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
14 Aug 2023
10:13 AM
4 Min Read

The new entity has been given a lot of freedom and flexibility, and its mandate is to work as a speedboat while still having access to the mother ship, HELLA.

Dr Naveen Gautam

For a company majorly focussed on the four-wheeler passenger business, with some inroads into the commercial segment, HELLA India Automotive (HIA) knew there existed a fairly large white space in the two- and three-wheeler segments – domains it had no presence whatsoever.

Over the years, HELLA’s existing business in India has functioned in a certain manner with stringent processes, strict approvals, standards, and, many a times, “over-engineered” products, which simultaneously led to cost escalations.

While such processes had clear advantages, at times, they became obstacles in adopting new business decisions, “especially in a very cost-conscious, cost competitive two- and three-wheeler market,” said Dr Naveen Gautam, Member of the Executive Board (Business Division – Electronics), HELLA and Managing Director, HIA in a recent interaction with this writer.

HELLA today is part of FORVIA, created in 2022 by combining two automotive technology leaders – Faurecia and HELLA.

Even before FORVIA came into being, Dr Gautam and his team at HIA continued to evaluate the opportunity in the two- and three-wheeler space. They realised the approach had to be different. One thing led to another, and HELLA eMobionics was launched in November 2020 – more like an empowered and enabled startup.

The new entity was given a lot of freedom and flexibility, and its mandate was to work as a speedboat while still having access to the mothership, HELLA. 

HELLA eMobionics could develop its own ecosystem, its own product portfolio, form its own relationships with partners in the ecosystem, create joint ventures and “try whatever it takes to be successful”.

Basically, the empowered entity was given much entrepreneurial freedom, said Dr Gautam, with access at the same time to all the expertise and knowledge sitting at HELLA.

HELLA eMobionics

Sizing Up The Opportunity 

With HELLA eMobionics, the company targeted the newly emerging, fast-developing e-mobility business. “E-mobility was something that was coming into the two- and three-wheeler segments much faster than passenger cars,” Dr Gautam reasoned.

The existing ecosystem wasn’t equipped enough to cater to the needs of the evolving and emerging market needs, “and we were largely still dependent on imported technology and products from China,” he said. That is where HELLA eMobionics decided to focus on developing a market for local needs and for the prevalent hi-temperature considerations in India.

The two- and three-wheeler industry in India produced close to 21 million units in FY23. “I think the EV share in the market will be close to 7-8% by end of this year, combining two- and three-wheelers, and by 2028-30, we anticipate that maybe half of the volume will transfer to EVs. If the market grows to 30 million units organically, we are talking about 15 million vehicles,” said Dr Gautam.

Add to that the global market, and he believes the opportunity is huge. He clarified that all products by HELLA eMobionics will be designed “dedicatedly for the Indian market”, and any global opportunity will be considered later. “Even from a price point of view, products designed for the Indian market will not fit into the needs of a European product, for instance,” he said.

Local Focus 

In May this year, HELLA eMobionics inaugurated its in-house manufacturing facility at Dhankot in Gurgaon, in the presence of Board Members Detlev Bökenkamp, Joerg Koelker, Heiko Berk and Dr Gautam. These board members have been given a lot of independence to drive the company the way they deem right – a one of its kind in the whole HELLA world, said Dr Gautam.

The company has got off to a great start, bagging orders over €250 million, which will be fulfilled over the next few years. Based on the current plans, Dr Gautam anticipates high volume and business growth coming in and expects annual turnover to reach €100 million (approximately INR 800-900 crore) by 2028.

Beyond e-mobility products for two- and three-wheelers, Dr Gautam expects the company to “introduce some additional products” in times to come, primarily in the connectivity domain. One generation of multifunction connectivity ECU is already there, he said, with Piaggio and Yamaha being two of the key customers.

There is also a range of controllers for controlling traction motors, starting with 1 kW, going up to 1.2 kW, 1.5 kW, 3 kW and 5 kW. These controllers come for multiple power and speed range, he informed. Going forward, HELLA eMobionics intends to do onboard chargers as well, although he was quick to admit onboard chargers in two- and three-wheelers aren’t very attractive as a product.

The company has also started working on a technology that will be less dependent on China import-based rare earth materials or rare earth permanent magnets. “Even if you build permanent magnets in India immediately, your next level of the supply chain is 100% sitting in China,” said Dr Gautam.

It’s noteworthy that HELLA eMobionics is not producing the motor but is developing technology that will support Indian suppliers whenever they are ready to bring those to the market. 'The ultimate aim is to significantly reduce our dependence on China imports,' he said.

HELLA eMobionics

Preparing For The Future

Bulk of the work at HELLA eMobionics is being done in-house, but the company is also acquiring some technology from outside. These are details Dr Gautam can’t share at this stage, he said, but suffice to say that capabilities are being developed internally to be self-reliant to the maximum extent possible.

By the end of 2023, the company intends to have a 45-member core team involved in design and development. In addition, it will leverage the HELLA backend know-how in India.

In pursuing future opportunities, Dr Gautam said the company will take a measured, cautious approach. “We will not spread ourselves too thin that we have too many orders that we can’t fulfil,” he said. His concern is justified. In chasing aggressive, explosive growth, there is no point in imploding.

It is important that products mature before they are rolled out in the market, he said. The approach would be to go one customer at a time, fix teething problems, if any, and then roll it out to multiple customers. And fortunately, Dr Gautam said he has a few OEM customers who believe in this mature approach.

In Conclusion

If and when needed, Dr Gautam isn’t averse to the idea of bringing in new partners to grow HELLA eMobionics, through collaborations or other inorganic means. But he is mindful not to bite off more than he can chew. Moreover, there are “certain obligations now” because FORVIA – the new parent company – is evaluated in a different way, he said.

“Our engagement will not be based on the business order. We are working with two or three research institutes where we have some sort of a consortium. We will work in an advanced development environment, where the commitment will be on the relationship and not on the business,” Dr Gautam concluded.

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