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AUTOMOTIVE We want to set an example for other industries

Aug 22, 2019

….says Farrokh Cooper, Chairman & Managing Director, Cooper Corporation, in this conversation with Juili Eklahare. He explains how to address one of the biggest challenges faced by the auto component industry that is demand recession, how awareness and consciousness need to come into the industry, and how India has the potential to become the R&D hub for global auto component manufacturers. Excerpts…

You started and have been with Cooper Corporation for 51 years, which has been developing a wide range of automotive parts and distributing them around the world. How do you perceive the auto components industry changing through these years?

The auto components industry has changed radically and for the better – people are more aware, appreciate quality, and give you a fair deal. The change has been dramatic in terms of quality, volume, technology and more. There are higher expectations from customers for accuracy. At the same time, standards need to be met in the industry by introducing consistency in process and upgrading technology with latest machinery. When it comes to the auto components industry changing down the line, we must know that change is the order of the day; we cannot suddenly change an existing order so as to create a new one. In this context, if we say that everything has to be electric three years down the line, it won’t work. Instead, we should look into selective areas and have a gradual transformation. Also, if we bring in electric vehicles into the picture, a huge number of products in the auto components industry will not be required at all.

Speaking of electric vehicles, with the government's sights set on vehicles turning electric by 2030, how do we expect the Indian auto component industry to reshape its strategies to develop parts for zero-emission and hybrid vehicles?

Again, it is about transformation, which should take place gradually and in stages. For instance, take a highly polluted city, like Delhi, into consideration. The auto component industry can introduce its new strategy there and see the level of success and problems that stand in the way. Furthermore, it can analyse the drop in emission levels. Based on this, the same experiment can be made (with some changes) to another place/city. And, step-by-step, over a period of time, the strategy can help with the transformation.

What are the challenges in general that auto component industry is currently facing? How can these challenges be overcome?

One of the biggest challenges faced by the auto component industry is demand recession. Demand recession slows down the whole system, which has a lot of spin-offs and the company does not make much profit. In order to deal with demand recession, the whole economy has to pick up. One of the ways that we have succeeded in offsetting local demand recession is by exporting our products; we export worldwide to Europe, America, England, Japan and China. We export 50% of what we make. However, in order to be an exporter of such a size, one must have that capability to export and have the right infrastructure abroad, quality, technology, and management at one’s disposal.

What technology trends will we see in the auto component sector?

Different metals, technologies and processes have come in. Besides, electronics is transforming everything. There is also a lot of R&D being done. So, these happen to be the latest trends that are changing the auto components industry. And these trends are here to stay. If you take each large corporate house into consideration today, then we see that one generation that has started & built it. Then after a period of time, the growth comes in and stays. So, the first 30 years or so are involved in building the foundation and establishing the company. Eventually, once speed picks up, the growth space is huge, a process which continues. So, these trends are an opportunity for new products and a new change, which people take and help the industry grow.

What are the key technological trends in terms of light weighting?

With the stringent environmental regulations for low CO2 and reduction in fuel consumption, motor vehicles are looking at reducing weights. The component industry plays a major role in meeting the demands of motor vehicle light-weighting needs. Future trends will see the usage of composite plastics in vehicle body parts. Powertrain parts also will look at using lightweight materials, like aluminium alloys & compacted graphite iron.

Do you think India could become the R&D hub for global auto component manufacturers? If yes, what could be the possible reasons?

It most certainly can and nothing is stopping it from becoming so. We have tremendous technology and the talent required for it. However, for that to happen, we need clear government policies which will create confidence in the industry about certain changes. For this, we need more interaction between the industry and the government.

Also, a lot of awareness and consciousness need to come into the industry in order to change the way we think, work, deal with people, build the team, work with integrity and benchmark others on how they are succeeding, which will certainly create the stepping stones for India to go in the direction that it wants to go in. At the end of the day, it’s all about leadership – there needs to be the right mindset about how to run or upgrade the factory or lead the people. When I say there needs to be awareness, it’s about discipline and there should be absolutely no casual attitude towards work. This all can be overcome & achieved by team work – just the way one elects a government to run a country, likewise, a company has to elect a team to run its business; a company needs like-minded people to do something. The company has to inspire people and keep its feet on the ground in order to thrive.

What is your vision for Cooper Corporation? Do you have any targets in mind?

The sky is the limit for us. We are into several businesses from agriculture-based business to power generation to exports. We have so much work that we are not able to meet the demands of our businesses. We have other problems on how to produce more. We are tackling these problems by getting new people on board and expanding new technologies. Eventually, the long-term goal for our company is to set an example for other industries to follow – an example of technology, profits and reputation.

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  • Farrokh Cooper was schooled in London and returned to India to graduate from the College of Agriculture, Pune in 1967. In 1968, he took over Cooper Corporation and under his guidance the company grew over 500% just in the last ten years. His success is also measured by the fact that Cooper’s employees have stayed loyal to the company for years; in some cases, there are three generations of the same family working at Cooper and there are more than 270 people who have been around for more than 25 years.

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