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IT powers India’s global car ambitions

When the Tata Nano rolled out of its plant amid a cloud- burst at Sanand in Gujarat last week, a major milestone was crossed in India's auto- mobile ambitions. You are reading about this in an infor- mation technology column with a good reason, writes N Madhavan.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2010 23:09 IST
N Madhavan

When the Tata Nano rolled out of its plant amid a cloud- burst at Sanand in Gujarat last week, a major milestone was crossed in India's auto- mobile ambitions. You are reading about this in an infor- mation technology column with a good reason.

Did you know that the Tatas could not have dreamed of the $2,500 car -- still called in shorthand as the Rs 1-lakh car despite its cost escalation -- without the power of IT?

Not many follow Tata Technologies, based in Pune. The firm has 4,000 employees, of whom 800 are based in the US. Since 1995, it has been offering auto-related services to global clients. It helps speed up and cut costs in both manufacture and design, which are now used by its sta- blemate Tata Motors.

The Tatas are not alone. The Mahindras have had Tech Mahindra and now also con- trol Mahindra Satyam after taking over the fraud-mauled Satyam Computer Services Ltd. The Mahindras' multi- utility vehicle Scorpio is set to hit the US market later this year, and the Mahindras have also got a majority now in Reva, the Bangalore-based electric car company, at the expense of General Motors, which has exited Reva.

Between Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Satyam, there are capabilities that will help the Mahindras build competi- tiveness in car-making.

More important than man- ufacture and design is the business of microchips in cars, which are computer-like slices of electronic marvel focused for specific tasks, called “systems on a chip.“

Last week, I met Ganesh Guruswamy, country manag- er of Freescale Semicondu- ctor (spun off from the chip unit of Motorola) that specialises in microchips for the automotive industry the way Intel does for desktop com- puters. As Ganesh explained, everything from brakes to airbags to fuel injection is now controlled and efficiently managed by chips.

Last year, respected tech- nology journal IEEE Spectrum said it takes dozens of microprocessors running 100 million lines of code to get a premium car on the road, and the stuff would only get more complex.

Given such a scenario, and the emergence of new cars with alternative energy in focus, there is an opportunity for India in cars that, if you scratch the surface, only turns out to be an extended chapter of the IT revolution.