Incoming Magna International CEO Swamy Kotagiri expects strong growth for driver assistance systems and believes that fully autonomous cars will become a reality if controlled settings by 2025. Kotagiri, Magna’s current chief technology officer who starts his new job January 1, also discussed the supplier’s growing lidar business and its fuel cell plans with Automobilwoche, a German language sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
How well prepared is Magna to capitalize on megatrends such as autonomous driving, electrification and connectivity?
In the powertrain area, we cover the entire portfolio right through to all-wheel and electric drives. In terms of transmissions, we are currently taking the step toward hybridized dual-clutch transmissions. Production is already running. So, we have a solid foundation and we are consistently pursuing our roadmap. In the area of driver assistance systems, we expect significant growth beyond 2023. A good example of this is our Clearview mirror technology. Here we have won an order from a global vehicle manufacturer that will be launching the system in several vehicle models in 2022. The camera and mirror technology is combined with intelligent image processing systems, electronics and software.
When will full-autonomous driving become a reality?
First of all, it should be noted that the acceptance of autonomous driving continues to increase, as it ensures more safety and comfort in many situations. In a geographically limited area, I think it is realistic by 2025. But fully automated driving in any location and under any circumstances will certainly take some time.
What is Magna’s lidar strategy?
Together with our Israeli startup partner, Innoviz Technologies, we have developed lidar sensors on the solid state basis and we have won BMW as a customer. There is also interest in this technology from several other vehicle manufacturers. We are currently concentrating on making our sensors usable for other fields of application.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to offer full-autonomous driving without including lidar. Is that the wrong decision?
With lidar we can guarantee protection under all circumstances, even under adverse weather conditions. But developments are also progressing with cameras and radar. We do not know if there will be several solutions in the future as to how the detection of the car’s surroundings can be secured during autonomous driving. But at the moment, we don’t seem to be able to do without lidar, especially with regard to Level 5 autonomous driving.
Your contract manufacturing arm, Magna Steyr, builds vehicles in the Graz, Austria. Do you need vehicle production plants elsewhere?
In addition to the Graz, we are also represented in China. There we founded a joint venture with the BAIC Group in 2019 to develop electric vehicles for the Chinese market. We are also open to a plant in North America, if it makes economic sense.
Many suppliers have announced job cuts in the past few months. Will Magna also have to do this?
We have realigned our product groups in the individual regions since the beginning of the year. Therefore, we were able to react quickly to changes in the market. But who knows exactly when the market will return to its old momentum and how strong the second coronavirus wave will be? At the moment it looks good, but it all depends on the dynamics of the markets.
How important is hydrogen to Magna?
With a view to our product portfolio, we are well positioned and able to technically implement fuel cells. We are closely monitoring developments in the field of hydrogen and are very excited to see what changes will result there. But there are still some challenges to be overcome, for example, with the infrastructure. I see the first applications for the fuel cell in the field of heavy commercial vehicles.