Swamy Kotagiri

Swamy Kotagiri

Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with global automotive component manufacturers, Matthew Beecham spoke to Swamy Kotagiri, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Magna International about the company's capabilities, including seats, convertible roof design and the use of new processes and materials in vehicle manufacture.

Although the MILA Blue is a concept car, could we see certain parts on the road sooner than others?

Some of the materials are already available in premium vehicles. Other processes and materials are not fully optimised for high volume production. The object of the exercise is to challenge ourselves to find ways to optimise materials and processes for future use.

Generally-speaking, is there a premium that OEMs will pay for weight reduction? Maybe there is a bifurcation to this question: (a) what premium have OEMs been willing to pay up until today, and (b) what future premium is expected as 2020 CO2 regulations draw near?

There is a trade-off between powertrain investment (cost) and lightweight materials investment (cost) as enablers to meet the fuel economy and CO2 target that are being legislated for the future. As costs are generally passed on to the consumer, automakers are carefully considering the most optimised solution for their vehicle fleet.

Although weight reduction is crucial if the auto industry is to meet the CAFE standards, is there a negative perception of thin seats amongst consumers? How can you make seats thinner yet maintain seat integrity?

We believe consumers will likely accept thin seats as long as safety and comfort are not jeopardised. Regardless of vehicle segment, upscale look, feel and additional functionality will become the norm for seats. Tomorrows' seats will have more feature content, but be as much as 30 percent lighter. As vehicles become smaller, we'll also see a trend towards thinner seats, the kind you see in concept cars at auto shows. Not just because they look sleeker, but because they add interior space to the cabin.

Magna's Futureform thin seat technology tests high in comfort, yet it is 75mm thinner than a traditional seat. Smaller mechanisms, efficient seat structure design and our Bio-Sciences expertise are enablers to meeting performance requirements while providing a comfortable seat.

In terms of the seat structure, to what extent is there a greater use of aluminium (or steel and aluminium combined) in manufacturing either the front or rear seats?

In extreme cases where we have a customer with an aggressive mass requirement, we will employ more exotic materials (i.e. aluminium, magnesium, etc.). However, for most applications, we have found that efficient designs coupled with the strategic use of advanced high strength steels can yield mass effective seats without a premium price. We are creating hybrid material solutions to further reduce mass within the seat structure. Multi-material joining technologies are paramount in realising the mass savings opportunities.

Future sunroof development is under the same cost pressure as the rest of the industry. I guess the time for sophisticated and costly developments for niche products is over. Modularity on all levels seems to be the answer. How do you see it?

With the advent of global platforms increased volumes offers opportunities for better pricing and saving through process improvements. If you can reuse parts in your portfolio for multiple applications and influence the design early you can avoid some of the niche pricing challenges.

How do you see the further development of convertible design?

Roof systems have to follow the modularity approach. Sliding folding roofs for example are expected to be designed for more than one vehicle with little to no changes. Therefore, Magna has implemented the modular design principle for soft-tops and sliding folding roofs.

Additionally, lightweight design is still becoming more important and is linked to reducing the product complexity of roof systems. Emotional trends, such as improved acoustic and optics as well as comfort features are also becoming more important.

Driver assistance technologies are evolving rapidly. While we can see multi-function cameras on the high-end and medium segment cars, do you see this technology permeating down to the low-end at all in Europe?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE Global vehicle lightweighting - technology, trends and the future