Sona Comstar eyes both global and local electric vehicle markets

Gurgaon based automotive component manufacturer Sona Comstar is focussed on developing integrated EV powertrain solutions for both international and Indian market. We caught up with CTO, Kiran Deshmukh to find out more.

What are Sona Comstar’s offerings for EV OEMs in different segments?

We started our EV journey in 2016 with the supply of Differential Bevel Gears for battery-electric cars. By 2019, we had developed and started supplying the Final Drive Differential Assembly for the same segment, and it continues to be one of our core products for EVs. Since 2019, our product development efforts have picked momentum.

We added several new products in our product lines, such as Traction Motors (both BLDC and PMSM), Motor Controllers for electric two- and three-wheelers, and Belt Starter Generators for hybrid cars.

In our product portfolio, we also have e-Axles for electric three-wheelers.

We are currently working on several R&D projects, especially for the high voltage and integrated applications for electric four-wheelers. In the future, we also hope to develop and offer reduction drive units and high voltage motors and controllers for these applications. Our eventual goal is to provide integrated Electric Drive Units (EDUs), the heart of electric vehicles, to our customers.

What is the overall footprint or scale of operations at Sona Comstar with respect to the Indian EV market?

Generally, our operations are global as more than 75% of our revenues come from outside India. Still, we also have a dominating market share in the differential bevel gear market for all vehicle segments in India.

For the EV segment, we currently have most of the revenues only from outside India as the Indian EV market today is at a nascent stage. We recognized the growth potential of the EV market in India, especially in two- and three-wheeler segments, back in 2019 when we started the development of drive motors for these applications. At present, only around 1% of our EV revenues are from these markets. However, we are seeing the market grow at an accelerated pace. We will also grow with it and see more and more revenues coming in from the Indian EV market.

What is the current R&D focus at Sona Comstar?

R&D is our core strength with which we always try to differentiate ourselves. Since the beginning, it has been in our DNA when we started making differential bevel gears through the precision forming process and not through the traditional cutting method. We are doing the same in the EV segment. Instead of the individual components, we focus more on developing integrated systems.

We believe that EV OEMs are focusing more on the software and service aspects of the vehicle, resulting in them outsourcing more and more system-level components. With this in mind, we are developing and acquiring new capabilities to offer system-level integrated solutions to the customers.

Sona Comstar’s EV component revenues primarily come from the personal vehicle segment outside of India. The EV evolution and market dynamics are very different at home compared to the west. What are Sona Comstar’s electrification plans, specifically, for the Indian market?

Yes, our primary source of EV revenues is electric cars from outside India. The global market is focussed more on the PV segment, whereas in India, government subsidies and customers’ value consciousness are driving the two- and three-wheeler markets to electrify faster. Our focus for the Indian market is the same. We supply traction motors of both hub-wheel and the mid-mount type and e-Axles for these segments.

Being one of the first movers, we currently have a decent market share in these markets, and we are also in discussions with several OEMs for their future products. We are mindful of the increasing competition in this area and preparing ourselves to offer differentiating products by exploring several new motor technologies.

In July 2021, you tied-up with IRP Nexus to develop magnet-less traction motors for electric 2Ws and 3Ws. Where you are with the development and how soon can such powertrains be expected to be in the market?

We tied up with IRP Nexus of Israel to develop magnet-less traction motors and matching controllers to have a differentiated product offering free of rare earth element dependencies and can help OEMs make more affordable electric vehicles.

So far, the joint development efforts are going as per our expectations. However, it would be difficult to comment on any timelines at this time. The realisation of R&D projects is generally binary, as such innovative ideas may or may not be successful. We believe that we have a good chance of succeeding, and if it does turn out well, this could be a game-changer for the EV industry.

How has Sona Comstar handled the recent supply chain issues, chip shortages and inflationary pressures? What kind of impact has these issues made to your overall medium to long term strategy?

The issues related to chip shortages, material price increases for almost every raw material, freight costs increase, etc., have persisted for quite some time, and we are unsure when this would end.

Last quarter was the third-worst quarter for the industry in the previous seven years or maybe since the global financial crisis. These issues have impacted the entire international auto and auto component industry vastly. Though these issues have created strong headwinds for the industry in the short term, we feel that since there is a robust end-consumer demand, the industry will come back on track once these issues are resolved. Similarly, we do not believe these issues impact our medium to long term strategy.

This interview was first published in EVreporter Jan 2022 magazine that can be accessed here.

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