Friday, 26 July 2013

Micro Level Trends – Military Vehicles – The US Army Hums a New Tune For Detroit and the World

Since the financial crisis, the sovereign debt crisis and political recognition of over-extended state budgets in even less problematic nations, the news headlines have perpetually publicised the need for, and the social effects of, necessary fiscal controls to reduced government spending.

All under the banner of 'austerity measures'.

The tight fiscal policy plus loose monetary stance has sought to slow public expenditure whilst simultaneous QE continues to pump-prime financial markets. Primarily to buoy the depleted banking sector, yet also strengthening investor friendly large cap companies. The companies themselves using those hefty but declining reserves through the global slow-down.

A worldwide slow-down which consequentially limits previous concerns of western 'stagflation', containing inflation of vital input costs such as labour and commodities. In the meantime business leaders seek to construct the foundations of a new era, typically initially via acquisition to provide scale and latterly organic growth.

So the promise an improved tomorrow, first seen by the green shoots of today

However, today is vastly different to the economic re-births of yesterday.

Past Precedence Nullified -

At any other time throughout the 20th century today's circumstances would have almost automatically induced a full or partial Keynesian reaction, the flexibility of the public purse able to provide sufficient 'economic stabilisers' and provide the long-term funding behind central government's immediate instigation of 'shovel ready' infrastructure projects.

Conversely, for the west the 21st century denies such a simple panacea.

The triple blow of empty Treasury coffers, ageing demographics and increasing loss of the historical knowledge-advantage, all creates shifting economic sands as never really seen before.

[NB Here in the UK, the OBR relays the future need well. The long term boost effects of combined QE and ongoing immigration, with its flexible 1st generation workforce and an 'educationally hungry' 2nd generation, will be able to provide long-term local economic boost].

To state the obvious, the after-effects of 2008-12 have indeed been structural, to a degree never seen before. So through this decade, and perhaps into the next, western mindsets will have, indeed be forced, to fundamentally shift so as to create those new foundations.

Austerity's New Thinking -

Here in the UK, a now well-worn phrase since 2008, itself recycled from WW2, has been “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Whilst seeping such attitudes through societies has helped people to recognise that they face very different times, the adjustment must be followed meeting the challenge pro-actively.

From 2012 onwards then the rally-cry must be that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”...ideally followed by...”Ingenuity the Father”.

This then translates as seeking solutions which are affordable yet effective. The creation of affordable, zero-budgeted ground-up solutions, as well as rationally evolved solutions, all of which equal or better the status quo.

So, affordable re-hashed old and completely new solutions across industry (in products and services), society (in group activities) and government (in policy-setting and especially so in public procurement).

Tightened Western Military Budgets -

Along with Health, Education and other public-facing service cut-backs, the question of Defense / Defence expenditure has gained ever greater profile Western military budgets under renewed scrutiny regards basic affordability and ultimate cost effectiveness.

Here in the UK discussions have been about downsizing the compliment of full-time personal vis a vis the expansion of reservists, the notion of a shared air-craft carrier with France, and the Treasury's desire to see Britain's 4 nuclear submarines shrunken to either 3 or 2 – the latter figure no doubt tabled to achieve the former.

Obviously, similar budget debates continue with even greater emphasis across Europe, given the level of massive cost savings needed. Ironically during a period when some thought the EU would collapse, the very need to maximise efficiencies will lead to a more militarily integrated, so politically integrated, Europe.

American Defence Expenditure -

The USA sees a similar, though less frenetic process. The opposing forces of national budget sequestration and extended QE ultimately causing less inherent tension than might seem the case.
Nevertheless, in the short and medium term costs are being reduced and the remaining expenditure scrutinized so as to operate in a lean manner, upon central requirements.

As understood, the overall budget remains spread as 33.3% for each of the Army, Air Force and Navy, though the Navy's Marine Corps tends to undertake a disproportionately high level of activity for its size.

Where funding has been heavily cut or stopped, this has arguably caused a vacuum-effect, where recipients and dependants have felt the results. Into this vacuum have stepped an increasing number of NGOs, primarily charities, now assisting serving and ex-service military personnel. One such being Operation Troop Aid with connections to the Army, Airforce, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. This organisation raises funds via events, charity collections and corporate sponsorship. These initiatives then provide in-direct, though more emotionally tied, publicly and commercially originated funding.

The commercial-military relationship then is most interesting, though it is seen that for the most part commercial charitable funding derives from local and national consumer-facing businesses to gain PR gains, so public affinity and so improved custom, whilst those firms whose prime operations lays with working with the military tends to be rather more removed from the public glare.

Though the USA will experience lesser military budget cuts than European counterparts, savings are still required. Required across much of the value-chain so capital expenditure and variable expenditure regards: strategy and consulting, sponsorship of pure and applied academic research, a rationalisation of internal research and development work, and external development work, delays in full series production for qualified and so ratified projects, in general procurement programmes, as well as massaging the schedule of 'through life' costs for machinery currently in use.

All of these challenges then offer potential opportunities to private enterprise.

The American Context -

Unlike the UK or its European partners, as NATO's figurehead, the United States will undoubtedly seek to maintain its strong military standing.

Since the Soviet 'Cold War' ended in 1989, NATO troops often wore the UN's light-blue helmets to act as peace-keepers as in the Balkans, though obviously participating as nation specific forces in the 1990-1 Gulf War (Iraq War 1) and to a far lesser extent Iraq War 2.

Thus under the auspices of the “War on Terror”, but without a UN mandate, the USA along with closest allies such as Britain had to draw for the most part upon their own resources to try and secure regional regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan. With depleted capabilities and over-spent defence budgets, some political analysts suspect that the multimedia fuelled and chain-reactive 'Arab Spring' since Gaddafi's toppling, was instead designed not to strengthen and democratise the Middle East but to once again divide and disrupt the region; doing so without the high financial and reputational cost of 'boots on the ground' intervention. This conjecture supported by the Egyptian military coup which made a mockery of what had been a democratically elected outcome.

So with Iraq and Afghanistan much settled, and exit time-lines established, and with the Middle East veritably unsettled, and EM leaders concerned with re-orientating domestic economies as opposed to building military capability, US attention is increasingly drawn to broad Asia.

Today, under Shinzo Abe's leadership a more forthright Japan could be viewed as the USA's Asian proxy; as it seeks an 'extended arm' in its own right with soft and hard powers, but also with American interaction. Soft power enabled by the Yen's substantial depreciation so as to enhance its exporting capability and enhance cross-Asian trade, and hard power via the recent Japan-US joint force military exercises which underpin the island nation's rhetoric of moving away from post WW2 demilitarisation.

Indeed, America's regional influence will be seen to grow further if S.Korean troops and Japanese troops are similarly unified, as a counter the notional N.Korean threat, then latterly bolstered by US troops.

Those troops often drawn from the Southern US states (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee etc) whose own 'country' cultures of self-reliance, practicalness and gun ownership – primarily for hunting, though also last resort self-defence – gives a ready-made 'militia' for US forces.

At home, the US seeks greater North American integration as tries to once again unify its multi-racial 'melting pot', obviously so with a Black President, intending to lessen the previous hostility towards Mexicans, other Hispanics, and of course those of African descent. Understanding that to maintain economic strength, it will once again open its doors to further immigration in the future. A powerful example being Mexican actress Salma Heyek's rendition of the American national anthem recently on the prime time David Letterman Show (10.07.2013). However, frictions still obviously exist, the Trayvon Martin judgement once again upsetting African Americans, with echoes of Rodney King in 1992, leading to the Watts district riots.

[NB Unfortunately though, racism is pervasive and is the direct result of a range of social conflics. from the invisibly subtle to the obvious, and derives as ever from self-interests. Examples exist across the board, typically amongst those who feel themselves marginalised by 'the system' groups and left powerless; these typically low paid blue-collar whites who feel themselves impacted by 'under-cutting' immigration, those poorer african-americans and hispanics yet to reach the middle classes given the historical context of 'socio-economic traps', the last decade's focus on 'islamic terrorism' essentially segregating many muslims. But perhaps most disturbing when amongst supposedly educated people; especially when codified in likewise company, such as the yiddish use of term “schwarzers" ie "niggers" and similar].

Nevertheless, even with ever present 'tribal differences' the natural administrative intent is that of much better homeland integration.

Integration to improve as the economy grows and so opportunities for the disenfranchised appear. Such civil peace then lessens the need for a large National-Guard capacity and expenditure, and so allows the US to deploy a stronger military reach in foreign affairs. Generic national practice, and so little change for the US in this regard.

Yet likewise, it too must make defence budget savings, and seen to do so as part of the 'Federal Debt Ceiling' debate and Budget Sequestration demands.

Though in doing so, proportionately less compared to other nations, given the US's self-reliant posture, its external leadership role and monetary (ie the Fed's 'money printing') autonomy.

Thus the Defence Agenda has a relatively high corollary with the overall health of the US economy. Army, Air Force and Navy spending; plus an secondary trickle-down relationship with public law enforcement agencies and private security firms, indicates that whilst marginal savings will be made, in the long-term QE will ultimately allow the medium-term military budget (as % of GDP) to remain either static or indeed increase.

Yet even with this probability, in the cash restricted short and medium terms (and likely over the long-term) the “Bang for the Buck” quotient will need to be maintained or bettered. And since public accounting appears to be less rigorous than strictly governed commercial accounting, such efficiencies will inevitably be gained through the deployment of private firms undertaking a multitude of tasks.

Expanded Privatisation -

Such a 'new era substitution' previously explored with PMC's (Private Military Company)and PSC's (Private Security Company) as enforcement agencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The likes of America's Blackwater and Triple Canopy amongst foreign others such as Britain's Aegis plc.

Given the nature of the 'work', and the argument that profit-driven privatisation core to the 'US political- military-industry complex' would in fact seek to escalate conflict and peace-keeping tasks in strategically important and high value areas, this is indeed a highly sensitive topic.

Yet, given the increasing restriction of directly public funded forces, privatisation is set to continue at an even greater speed across an ever wider plain, from the upstream activities of leading-edge research and development in highly confidential locations, through downstream activities such as conflict supply logistics, and as seen, in post-war security within hostile environs, and throughout the security and government 'hand-over' process set for infrastructure renewal general economic development.

Amongst these arenas, the migration of unmanned ariel 'drones' from military to civilian applications is well under-way, just as the realm of cyber-security offers an expanding harvest for various private firms.

Within what might be classed as high-value industry, the best known share listed examples are...
of American origin: Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and General Dynamics, General Electric and Oshkosh ;
of British origin: BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce (Aero) and the UK government's spin-out of Qinetiq ;
of French origin: Thales and Safran ;
of Italian origin: Finmeccanica; and merged European interest: EADS.

It is notable, that of the top 22 global defence firms, 14 are American

Ultimately, quite obviously, the business rationale of private industry's participation in military projects was and is to enhance value; typically via one, two or all three of the usual triple criteria:

1. Cost
2. Quality
3. Time

All three project issues inherent in the design of a next generation of general ground service vehicles, presently known as 'FED Alpha'.

Before taking a basic view of the new vehicle, it is perhaps useful to better appreciate the background to new hardware programmes.

Scenario Planning -

The start-point for an all new military vehicle design evolves from the 'scenario planning' process. Its basic methodology born partially from ever expanded political science and partly from what was once referred to (especially in the cold-war period) as 'war games'. But in essence it is a conceptualised refinement process which plots the level of likelihood versus the level of impact of important mid-term and long-term themes.

Of vital importance is the time-line being assessed, and the notion of 'origins of threat', or as counter-imperialists would argue, 'strategic theatres', for the single remaining super-power that is the USA.

The primary issue here is that with no matched oppositional super-power since the collapse of the Soviet Union – China and other EMs still militarily much smaller – political science moulds the notion of an anti-super-power threat that is both global yet evasive: ie a changing Islamic Fundamentalism which without conventional central control structures and forces operates in a 'guerilla-like' manner.

[NB See Post Script for investment-auto-motives' interpretation].

The FED Project -

Given that the world is increasingly urbanised, such notional evolution of the anti-US threat means that the combat environment is opposite to that which which the present US vehicle fleet was created in the late 1980s: the open terrain desert-lands of Iraq.

In general utility vehicle terms, that 'open, long distance theatre' called for a massive shift from the similar small vehicles that had been before. These being the iconic Willys/Ford Jeep of WW2 (1940-1945) and its archetype descendants, the M38 (US-Korea War) and Ford M151 'MUTT' (US-Vietnam War). Those replaced in 1984 by the now renowned 'Humvee'.

The Humvee (HMMWV – High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle) essentially took on an intermediate role that sits between the agile light small Jeep and medium sized trucks. Its name ironically belies the fact that because of its size and weight its actual off-road capability is more restricted than its predecessors. At the time this made little sense to specialist off-road development engineers, especially amongst military equipment providers such as Land Rover Defender and the then Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzguar.

However, its specifically designed competence was latterly understood and came to the fore during the 1990s and 2000s Gulf Wars.

A New Era:
Today however, as seen, with threats from a different intra-urban environment the overly-large, unwieldy and fuel thirsty Humvee (marketed in civilian guise as the original H1 Hummer) is now viewed as less suited to tomorrow's needs.

Thus it seems US Forces seek to return to the use of both a smaller 'tactical vehicles', a type off-road able multi-task vehicle (LTV) and increased use of medium-size (MTV) trucks.

[NB The Army operates approximately 300,000 tactical (dark green and light green) vehicles and about 200,000 non-tactical (white); though a necessary flexible-use policy means that many can be 'de-contented' (down-graded) for non-combat theatre roles, or retro-fitted (up-graded) for combat theatre roles].

Hence initiation of the formal FED project (FED = Fuel Efficient Demonstrator) relating to the former 'LTV' which ran through 2009/10 and offered its concept hardware results in July 2011.

Although now two years later, the project is well-worth review given that it sought to be a marked step forward in its reduced-mass ethos. Whether the recommended solutions are able to remain under near to mid term budget pressures remains to be seen.

'Internalising' the Idea:
To promote a new FED vehicle project and outcome, Army seniors instigated the idea that the troops 'on the ground' should become involved. To this end, the 'home-grown' ELSORV initiative was born, in which a select band of 4x4 enthusiast soldiers designed and self-fabricated four high mobility vehicles with the notional intent of front-line logistics support. These used the far-corner wheel locations and long suspension travel seen on 'rock-crawler' and 'mudding' buggys. But beyond their back—yard capability, their real intent is to prepare the path for a productionised FED related truck.

Overall responsibility for inception and delivery of the FED prototyping project was held by the US Army Material Command, specifically via its 'TARDEC' section (Tank and Automotive Research and Development Engineering Centre) located in Warren Michigan. TARDEC in turn communicates with external organisations via NAC (National Automotive Centre), which marries the efforts of other government agencies, academia and the commercial entities within automotive sphere.

The Brief:
The project's general engineering brief objectives were to:

1. Improve upon Humvee fuel efficiency by 30% (7 mpg)
2. Improve over Humvee general capability
3. Improve over Humvee safety and survivability

Its specification accords to what the US Army refers to as MRUV-1, (Mine Resistant Utility Vehicle – Class 1) of 3 'MRAP' (Mine Resistant Ambush Protection) categories.

Competing Teams:
Two competing teams were established 'Alpha' and 'Beta', so as to create a motivational dynamic, but more so to evaluate different technology, cost and delivery paths.

To reach beyond the innate limitations of conventional US Army vehicle development procedure and practice external assistance and leadership was contracted, so as to gain a level of knowledge transfer between outside engineers experienced in wide-ranging arenas, and the arguably closed in-house environment of the US Forces. To this end TARDEC allowed for its engineers to become 'embedded' externally.

The engineering solution and vehicle demonstrator offered by the 'FED Alpha' team eventually won the contest; as led by Ricardo Engineering.

Ricardo plc:
This listed British company highlights itself as a high-value, multi-technology adept, engineering thought-leader to the world; in this instance boosting US-UK relations. Its roots lay in vehicle design and development, however re-imagined for the 21st century it sought to hold a broad portfolio of capability, with leaning to eco-tech applied across various fields including 'new-energy' such as wind-power generation and electric and hybrid vehicles. Though as previous governmental green-funding diminished it has partially re-set its income ambitions toward providing high-value content in more stable sectors, such as revived automotive, marine, civil engineering projects and and the military. It has facilities in Detroit.

Leading the FED Alpha team, it operated as lead solutions provider, supplier 'conductor' and overall systems integrator on the final demonstrator; which included mixed material applications across structural and skin parts, consisting of steel, aluminium and composites

The Demonstrator:

[NB The details below gained from various sources, including 'RQ', Ricardo's PR magazine]

The 4-seater, 75 mph, 30 gallon short-range, 'role-adaptive' vehicle concept centred around as lightweight and fuel-saving philosophy as possible, with an approximate mass of 15,000 lbs / 7 US tons versus a current average beyond 20,000 lbs

Advanced Tech:
1. Aluminium frame with 'clap-hand doors' (access-egress) and integrated 'V-Hull' (blast deflection)
2. Carbon-fibre body panels
3. Aluminium components (radiators, suspension parts, brake callipers)
4. Titanium components (suspension coil struts)
5. Electrically powered ancillaries (fans, pumps etc) avoid mechanical 'parasitic loss'
6. Conventional wheel hubs – not Portal 'Geared' Hubs
7. Aluminium wheels
8. 'Low-drag' brakes

Intermediate Tech:
9. Goodyear low resistance tyres
10. 'Super-finished' differential gears (extends life-time)
11. Kollmorgan starter-generator (28V)
12. Constant levelling suspension system
13. Solar panel (trickle charge) rear mounted

Matured Tech:
14. Supercharged and turbo-charged Cummins 4-cylinder diesel engine (200hp, 568 lbs/ft torque)
15. Aisin 6-speed transmission
16. Part-time 4WD
17. Brake system operated ABS and TC

This 'set-up' chosen to achieve best possible performance figures across various 'drive-cycles':

A. Highway/Convoy
B. Off-Road Assault Mission
C. At Idle for Equipment Powering

These modelled parameters allowed for general understanding of what may be required to achieve the set fuel-efficiency target. Whilst a basic aluminium vehicle architecture was determined, it was presented to TARDEC with varying 'up-grade' routes on core systems such as engine-type configurations.

Given the weight-loss advantage of the aluminium structure, even the most conventional engine choice, using mature or in-market items, gave a very healthy efficiency improvement, more than doubling the original 30% improvement, and with the 'Rankine Cycle' system introduced to capture and re-use heat losses it reach over 100% improvement.

Given that the simplest and most cost effective propulsion technologies had beaten the target by a wide margin, they were elected for detailed development.
Test Regime:
The vehicle was twice tested for fuel-economy against a similarly specification Humvee, with roof-mounted weapons system, and given additional ballast to 'top-up' its payload weight to equal the mass of the Humvee. Drivers switched vehicles between the first and second tests to minimize human input variation, traversing paved and gravel roads and across the load range from long-idle to full-load acceleration.

FED Alpha surpassed the Humvee with a 72% improved fuel-economy, equating to a 42% reduction in the amount of fuel used when running at a GVW of 15,200 lbs / 6.9 tonnes, aswell as notably improved all-round performance.

Ricardo states that this outcome reflected the generally expected result as predicted by its computer simulation work previously – within 2% - a methodology many engineering consultancies are marketing so as to reduce the physical prototyping process.

TARDEC seemingly enthusiastic about the increased reliance upon software simulation.

The project undoubtedly allowed TARDEC what appears a much improved view into the contemporary world of automotive concept engineering, that capability made available from the varied mix of mass-volume and niche-volume systems solutions that have emerged over many decades.

And undoubtedly the FED Alpha vehicle reached and possibly surpassed TARDEC expectation.

Ongoing Doubts:
However, ultimately the vehicle's structural DNA may prove too unconventional for what appears a very deep but narrow band of US Army technical knowledge and capability.

Whilst one Army officer states that front-line 'structural repairability' is no longer an issue, given that a mine-blasted vehicle whether aluminium or steel is essentially operationally defunct and would need too be replaced like for like, the fact is – as any commander will atest – that in hostile operational situations, with invariably limited manpower and hardware resources, an innate flexibility to scavenge all available components, hold a store and repair the vehicle fleet as soon as possible invariably using standard processes and equipment is invaluable.

And as seen by the home-grown ELSORV project, many of the US Army's front-line soldiers have impressive design and build capabilities in traditional mechanics, that practical knowledge very much engrained within TARDEC, given its Michigan presence and across the motor-pools of all the US forces.

FED Alpha: A “Catwalk Vehicle” ? -

It cannot be argued otherwise, but TARDEC's decision to develop FED Alpha over FED beta is to be congratulated. The process allowed for invaluable learning for the engineering managers and staff to appreciate the speed and variation regards vehicle development beyond its own walls.
That said, the ability to directly transfer FED Alpha into “field conditions” looks unlikely.

Without innate detailed knowledge of the project investment-auto-motives will highlight some of the vehicle disadvantages which would prove problematic in situ.

Body System: the aluminium structure massively assists in weight-saving but even with the V-Hull to deflect blasts, given that even hardened aluminium as a material has far less density than plate steel any substantial blast would send a larger shock-wave through the vehicle cabin so increasing the potential for external and internal organ damage of the occupants.

Furthermore, as explained, any damaged and base-returned vehicle, if unrepairable must offer at best spare parts and at worst material re-use. Steel offers this high potential for 'recycling'.

Suspension System: the fitted electro-mechanical self-levelling suspension system creates an occupant environment problem. Whilst maintaining impressive ride and poise it also appears unfortunately noisy and by its very nature audibly irregular. If it was a low volume, low pitched regularly-time noise it would be less irritable to driver and passengers. Better still obviously no noise.
This has been the case for decades with standard torsion bar, or coil and damper or even leaf-springs. Self levelling systems are advantageous, especially when towing trailers, but need to be as simple as possible.

Aluminium Components: Items such as radiators, suspension parts, brake callipers etc could indeed be produced in aluminium, so adding to mass reduction, but such items should also be re-produced and so made replaceable in cheaper steel equals.

Reduced Rolling Resistance: the 'low drag' brakes and 'reduced resistance' tyres offer much for test conditions, but less so in service. The low-drag aspect of brake callipers which constantly keeps brake shoes off the disc-face is typically reliant upon small tensioner clips etc which wear-out on all but smooth surfaces. The 'low roll' tyres likewise may prove less than adaptable given that their compound material may be overtly hard so as to reduce friction and the side walls may be overtly strengthened likewise, so reducing the usefulness of intentionally lowered tyre pressures over very soft terrain

Standard Wheel Hubs: these give the greatest indicated clue as to FED's future as reverting to a conventional / traditional truck engineering package

[NB The Portal style geared hub is effective but costly, heavy and can give high-speed overheating problems. It is seen on the Humvee, as well as previously on the VW Kubalwagen, Steyr Hafliger and Pinzguar, Mercedes Unimog, various Tatra and UAZ vehicles and specially adapted others. The Portal axle effectively puts an additional gearing set into the wheel hub so enabling even greater reduction gearing for greater torque, and as importantly raises the axle height to give better under-body clearance. Hence its favoured use by Eastern European and German forces often in mountainous and boggy terrain].

Importantly, as seen standard vehicles can be adapted with bolt-on' portal gearing as required, so providing a cost vs performance flexibility.

Quite obviously TARDEC well appreciates the finite disadvantageous details which FED Alpha proffers as a natural consequence of its engineered advantages. And investment-auto-motives and this web-log is not the natural forum for deep critique.

One Army officer leading the project foresaw that some of the emergent ideas would be retro fitted into current fleet. This makes sense regards the trickle-charge solar panel, which given its low cost could well become a standard feature to all vehicles.

Yet other design elements will very probably be carried forward, including the 'clap-hands doors which provide easier access and egress and in combat would provide front and rear ballistic barriers above knee-height when exiting the vehicle.

This feature has been seen on previous standard versions of the 'short-door' Chevy Silverado, and is an easily engineered fix for its larger GMC cousin and similar from Ford.

Logical Conjecture:
To this end, although not obviously stated by the Army, investment-auto-motives suspects that Army chiefs and procurement functions deliberately elected this simpler vehicle package, recognising that it has the option of utilising less sophisticated materials and allow for the ability to devise a 'combinational parts' strategy which, as with any prosaically intelligent platform strategy, allows for a myriad of 'mix and match' performance dedicated versions.

So although similar basic dimensional layout and similar drive-train, but instead comprised of mostly steel. Plus steel-related manufacturing such as 'super-finishing' on moving parts to reduce parasitic losses and so aid MPG whilst extend the life-time durability of the drive-train.

Most likely specific aluminium parts for items such as hood, suspension parts and other 'blast sacrificial' items could be used to assist in mass-reduction, expensive carbon-fibre not being used for skin panels unless those same panels can provide an ingenious high-value dual use such as removable ballistic personal shields.

Moreover, critically production vehicles will probably integrate greater eco-tech on a needs-must and cost-advantage basis, very probably in a 'bolt-on' manner. As such as the solar panel, the starter generator etc which then add-up to a value-additive sum that is greater than the cost-amortised parts.

Such solutions though would need to be planned into a schema that begins with the massive cost savings provided by procuring a conventional, ideally off-the-shelf yet highly adaptable vehicle platform.

The obvious candidates are the Ford F-350 to 550 chassis, GMC Sierra 3500HD to Kodiak chassis and Dodge Ram 3500 to 5500 chassis.

Looking to the Past -
In the early 1980s the US Army procured a sizeable amount of off-the-shelf vehicles to work in 'white' and 'light green' guises, then most notably Dodge pick-ups.

More recently in the early 2000s the Canadian forces procured the 'militarized' Chevy Silverado, an adapted version of the standard vehicle nicknamed 'Milverado'.

The US military uses a land vehicle classification system know as the “G-series” which is based upon families of vehicles which utilise the same engine, transmission and drive-line.

Hence the procurement and deployment of a standardised vehicle base would therefore reduce the mechanics of fleet variation, and so simplify inventory complexity and enable greater volume order savings.

It is an ethos seen before during fiscally constrained periods, so a case of re-learning much of what is possibly forgotten.

“Wheels to the World” -

If the conjecture of investment-auto-motives is correct, and because of budget pressures and the findings of other projects (such as ELSORV), FED Alpha actually morphs into a “Standard+” type of vehicle, then investment-auto-motive's idea that the US is actually seeking to develop an 'exportable' Light Tactical Vehicle to the forces of the world, would be ratified.

In this case the FED Alpha could be considered the “Military Model T” (from whichever supplier, Ford, GM or Dodge...even all 3).

Itself seeking to gain orders from global forces. Generally allied armies which must accept the new product given the discontinuation of the Humvee, and additionally those other typically EM forces which have to date used out-dated vehicles, some of which stem from the Soviet era. Whilst some mid-tier EM nations are indeed developing their LTV type vehicles, these are often themselves based upon now ageing western vehicle platforms and so cannot compete on performance criteria. Whilst other nations such as Nigeria have utilised previous Malaysian tooling to create its basic Pf1 LTV. Lastly such an American Model T would also compete against the specialist developments of necessarily geographically self-reliant countries such as Australia, which has created the design dedicated Hawkei to replace its now antiquated Perentie vehicle.

Critically the Australian government is also open to 'market available' product, of which a Militarised Model T

[NB Full examination of the competitive field requires review of “Jane's Military Land Platforms”]

Sales Prospecting -

An off-the-cuff estimation highlights that such a conventionally engineered, up-gradeable 'Son of FED' could be attractive to the following forces:

- NATO Forces

Allied Defence Forces:
- US Host Nations (ie Saudi Arabia, UAE)
- Israel
- South Africa
- Japan

Combat Situations:
- Iraq ('Hand-Over' Forces)
- Afghanistan ('Hand-Over' Forces)
- Syria (Oppositional Pro-Western Forces)
- Egypt (New Pro-Western Leadership)
- North African and Sub-Saharan Countries

EM Nations -
- Brazil
- India

The attraction herein is obvious with either allied nations seeking , 'new-friend' nations after regime change, or transitional nations seeking regime change. And whilst suffering their own economic slowing certain EM countries now have an overtly strong FX value versus a depleted US Dollar, so making modern foreign military equipment appear more affordable (though it must be said that such procurement would be mainly directed at high-advantage missiles, tanks, aircraft and drones as opposed to infantry vehicles who's success tends to be more of a in combat 'numbers game'.

Military Stimulus for Bankrupt Detroit -

Such an outcome would indeed become a key piece of the “renaissance jigsaw” for the city of Detroit.

The city is now in an $18.2 billion deficit hole, with a long-time value-destroying civic business model, that saw its interest charges grow without the ability to repay the capital borrowed from various sources. Bankruptcy was always just around the corner, and now finally here.

Its city administrators, emergency manager Mr Orr, Michigan’s State Senators and Judge Rhodes presiding over the Chapter 9, all understandably seemingly at a loss as how to fairly execute the bankruptcy and, as importantly exactly how to revive the city's fortunes.

The resurgence of the broad US economy across all industrial sectors will, as now seen, generate new demand for full-size pick-up trucks, aswell as of course mid-size and large 'semi' trucks and passenger cars.

The northern states, and perhaps Michigan specifically has been the production home of the pick-up, with the Chevy Silverado manufactured in Flint MI (and Indiana and Mexico), the Ford F-series in Dearborne MI (and Kansas, Mexico and Venezuela) and the Dodge Ram in Warren MI.

The large production volumes, the impressive per unit margins and the importance of such trucks to the vibrancy of the local supplier-base and so state economy cannot be over-estimated. So the additional value that could be gained from these 'base platform' replacement military vehicles for the US forces and overseas forces is impressive. It could potentially run to near one million units.

Importantly, unlike the foreign manufacturing plants used for standard pick-ups, the fact that each vehicle would need a modicum of 'militarization' (communications packs, water fording, armouring etc) means that this specialist work would be done in Michigan.

This in turn could call for a dedicated 'Militarisation Engineering Centre' within each plant, but more likely GM, Ford and Dodge conjoining forces in a specialist singular location.

Given the re-emphasised importance and value of agricultural land – as per Jim Rogers' outlook – it is the regeneration of brownfield sites that state policies must continue to be directed toward; particularly so Detroit in Michigan's case.
Thus, there could be an argument that amongst the municipality’s inevitable asset divestment programme (art treasures to derelict property lots) that the City of Detroit effectively offer 'gratis' a large location within its boundaries to a newly created SVO company set-up by the Big 3.

[NB Iveco, the truck unit held under FIAT Industrial SpA, though similarly run by Marchionne, would also probably tender for full production. Iveco no doubt integrating with Dodge to re-offer its historical offering of building military vehicles].

Doing so would re-energise that and broader reaches of the City and very probably attract domestic and foreign firms and investors.

To Conclude -

Though the FED was built in advanced materials, the basic mechanical package is actually relatively conventional.

So much so in fact that investment-auto-motives believes that the US armed forces will replace portions of the Humvee fleet with modified versions of standard 'off the shelf vehicles' for basic 'white' and 'light-green' and possibly even 'dark-green' uses.

The inclusion of standard OEM systems such as driver interface, ABS and Traction Control on FED, as available on Ford, GM and Chrysler (Dodge) trucks adds to the likelihood.

Furthermore, some systems on-board FED appear overtly problematic, one such example offered being the bothersome noise of the (possibly expensive) constant levelling system, suggesting that standard coils and shock absorbers would reduce cost and improve the cabin experience.

The US Army would most probably maintain a shrunken fleet of 'dark green' Humvee's for dedicated roles, able to mechanically strip-down those take out of service for use as spare parts reserve to enable the life-extension of motor pool vehicles. 

Importantly, unsurprisingly the US has a good number of specialist vehicle constructors, including the likes if LENCO which builds adapted and specialist armoured vehicles for the military, enforcement agencies, police, and security services.

Thus it would be rational to suggest that ultimately a much pressurised Army Procurement division will insist that the progeny of the FED project befit the necessary cost savings available from the volume purchase of standard heavy duty chassis from the Detroit 3.

To have those vehicles initially adapted by various SVO (Specialist Vehicle Operations) 'Outfitters', whilst developing a dedicated 'Big 3' site; then possibly acquiring the 'Outfitters' companies in due course to build up sizable core capabilities.

[NB Such firms have innate knowledge in this sector and have previously given solutions transfers between sectors, for example the use of baffled radiator grills to stop small arms fire from damaging the radiator].

This then accords with the previous investment-auto-motives' web-log which by virtue of macro-technical trends deduced that the US would indeed maintain its mid-tier technology focus. Not climbing to high up the specialisation ladder, so that it could continue to benefit from EM regions' previous adoption and steady uptake of evolutionary improved conventional technologies.

The Take-Away Picture -
But perhaps fittingly, the best mental image which sums up the present – indeed ever present - US Army technical perspective can be gained from the film 'Forrest Gump'.

In one scene whilst serving in Vietnam the simple southern boy is stood surrounded by Army tents, a truck, goods buggy and fuel trailer. A nearby board reads 'Alpha Company'...'Old Reliables'.

And in reply to others' criticism of his overtly simple manner, Forrest says “Stupid is as stupid does”

The US Army, the Big 3 Auto-Companies and the City of Detroit could do worse than follow Forrest's example.

Post Script -

The modern US viewpoint – whether truly plausible or the product of national security paranoia – is that whereas once the apparent threat was nation-based, and leadership-based as seen historically up to the near end of the 20th century, the apparent threat since “9-11 2001” (11th Sept 2001) has been supposedly ideological.

So very unfortunately returning to the overtly simplistic, highly tribal, aspect of religion – which ironically itself sought to unify warring local tribes over natural resources and population size - in turn superseded by the notion of nationhood.

The religious aspect, so turning back the clock, is very unfortunate since there are far fewer major religions than nations, which therefore encapsulates an ever greater number of people, even if they 'non-practising'.

It is for this reason that Soviet Russia previously sought to raise national identity over religious identity, as China does so today, recognising that its re-rise in power could fragment national unity.

Thus rather like George Orwell's 1984, one sad outcome of globalisation, and specifically 9-11, has been to possibly create the 3 great supra-powers: Western Christianity (Oceana), Middle-Eastern Islamism (Eurasia) and Eastern Hindu-Buddhism (Eastasian).

Friday, 12 July 2013

Micro Level Trends – India's Auto Culture – Creating Indigenous Roots Whilst Avoiding The Disingenuous Lessons.

Although recent weeks have seen a momentary sell-off and rebound in certain 'big cap' indigenous companies, the obvious fact is that India's late 20th and early 21st century growth story has been phenomenal.

However, as a member of the previously seemingly all powerful' BRICS, like its counterparts, the last year or so has seen a notable slowing of what was 'warp growth speed'. This the outcome of BRICS policy-makers seeking to cool respective economies having seen modern industry and service sectors develop for the benefit of top-tier entrepreneurs and their middle-tier employees. The wealth creation of the last 15 years or so directly transforming the lives of millions, whether from improved employment standing, or indeed from the filter-effect as personal income is spread amongst families, either directly in the urban home, or from remittances sent back to rural areas.

Given its massive population of 1.22 billion India, second only to China but with far greater population density (>1000 per sq km) and so sociological issues – especially so infrastructure vs population expansion. It means that the size of the country's development challenge is viewed as more problematic by a plethora of influential bodies, from world health agencies to philanthropic funds to investment banks.

Moreover, whilst other countries have distinct internal regions and identities, perhaps none are as differentiated as that of India given its splintered histories of: caste, religion, colonial influence, political ideology (free markets vs mixed markets vs communism) and the interests of various powerful families.

Nevertheless, since the early 1990s and market deregulation, portions of yesteryear India have been transformed, even if other sections of old India have hardly changed. The nation has undoubtedly created a new role for itself with global information technology and service provision, creeping ever further up that sector's value chain. Though not as high profile, many if its automotive firms have served their own capabilities through foreign interest joint ventures, and though not without endemic friction, have managed to drastically improve internal operations and end of line product quality.

To the point now where Chennai has become known as “India's Detroit”,

The National Car Parc -

The 'economic miracle' seen over the last 20 years has of course been most prevalent on India's roads as sections of the country's car parc, especially so in large conurbations, have both swelled in numbers and reduced in age, transforming the appearance of cities and in doing so adding to the aspirational economic buzz of all India.

Today over 40 million cars exist countrywide, this number excluding the enormous level of scooters, motorcycles, 3-wheelers and light and heavy commercial vehicles.

Statistics from SIAM (Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers) indicate that in the year leading to April 2014 passenger car related production will increase by about 6% and commercial vehicles by about 8%.

The New Displaces the Old -

As with any speedily growing economy, even in today's slowed period, spread wealth engenders new consumptional desire, itself satiated by a plethora of new products from domestic manufacturers and increasingly foreign producers, often with Indian CKD facilities for local assembly and supplier development.

Hence the new ultimately displaces the old.

But also a natural part of globalisation and outcome of 'international integration' is that India's young and middle-aged (and some older) begin to better appreciate internationalist influence vis a vis local traditions, and as such new mixed ideologies emerge, whether that be in food, film, music, or indeed cars.

The domestic and the foreign merge in new combinations, as does the yesteryear and tomorrow; this perhaps the central theme of the 21st century as newly advancing nations inter-marry what has been powerful western iconography with the indigenously engrained.

This is now under-way with India's old cars, from the more rarefied atmosphere of high priced vintage to the world of classics restoration and increasingly 'home-grown' and 'body-shop' customisation.

Yet within the latter arena, there is an undoubted a 'feast and famine' reality for wannabe Harley Earls, Bill Mitchells and Boyd Coddingtons.

[NB investment-auto-motives previously highlighted the latent creative automotive potential of India's youth, citing the now famous Peugeot 206 advert in which a young guy converts an old car into something approximating the latest incarnation of the compact car].

The 'Feast and Famine' of Yesteryear Cars -

The 'boom and bust' economic history of the country has meant that during strong growth periods the country was able to adopt external vehicle tooling via technical transfer agreements, such as Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini, respectively from Austin and FIAT during the 1960s,with prominent use in the taxi sector, and the Mahindra 540 Jeep, a near clone of the WW2 Willys Jeep.

And of course from Suzuki for the Maruti 800 in the 1980s. However, the stalling of the national economy during the intervening years meant that no continuous and so cohesive business and consumer bases were created for a notionally natural evolutionary flow of incrementally improved vehicles.

This, until recently with the rise of the new middle class, has meant that new vehicle market progression and so national car parc progression was effectively stepped in nature; new vehicles a leap forward from the incumbent old. This seen when the Suzuki-Maruti 800 and the Hindustan Contessa were introduced for two-tier private use, and two-tier governmental use.

Today both cars are viewed as the old incumbents now that foreign brand small cars such as Hyundai, Ford and Toyota and that BMW, Mercedes, Audi have become within reach for some.

The consequence of this economic history then has been to positively develop India's internal automotive supply chain, and so create levels of internal basic competence, a competence which itself underpinned what at the leading edge has become a strong and very much modernised sector thanks to Indian-Foreign joint ventures and M and As.

However, perhaps less positively that economic history also meant that the country's available range of 'national' vehicles was very narrow if plentiful (Jeep, Ambassador, Padmini, 800); which in turn means that India's own historic auto-culture is likewise today relatively narrow.

Yet given the societal impact of these vehicles, the massive economic web of upstream and downstream activities generated, (manufacturing component parts to assembly to sales to maintenance to repair to end-of-life parts cannibalisation), and reliable (once wholly captive) business models, it is little wonder that for industrialists and policy-makers the active lives of these icons were not so easily ended, but in the interest of India's development necessarily had to be.

Hence Padmini sales ended in 2000. Contessa sales similarly in 2002. The slow but ongoing technical evolution of the Ambassador (now called 'Classic' and with the Veer pick-up variant), fights a tide of declining sales figures and so only a matter of time before production ceases. Maruti's 800 production for India has at last been ended, though the factory still produces for export markets until 2015/6.

Only the Mahindra 540 Jeep appears to have been credibly reborn as Thar in 2010, both to serve military clients, civilian forces, enthusiast off-roaders and to act as the brand cornerstone for the M&M 4x4 range (so following the actions of JEEP (USA) and Land Rover by economically retaining 'living history' in specialist fields).

Hence, in popular auto-culture there has been both “feast yet famine” of supposedly yesteryear vehicles by way of volume versus choice. Though those very vehicles are for the most part still in daily service to a host of user types

Exceptions to the Rule -

The departures from this consist of the few remaining 'Maharaja Collections' of pre-WW2 luxury British, European and American cars (Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Hispano Suiza, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Packard, Cadillac, Lincoln), 'Old Colonial' vehicles, 'Emergent Classics' which tend to be lesser but still respected marques during the pre and post 'Independence' era, and of course any remaining imported foreign cars since 1947.

Of these, the 'Maharaja Collection' cars tend to stay within the family holding, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lagonda etc, many of which have been neglected as family fortunes dwindled. However, given modern rarity value of specific vintage vehicles, some highly 'Indian' custom-bodied Rolls-Royce's with 'processional' or 'hunting expedition' status have been restored to their near their former glory, effectively as value-enhancing antiques.

The 'Old Colonials' were obviously ostensibly British vehicles, brought-out by the central governmental and military agencies for various duties, aswell as personal cars brought out by the higher ranked officials; some of which entered the next catergory.

The 'Emergent Classics' are cars that include some of the forementioned, but also the likes of Mercedes, Buick, Studebaker, Ford (T and A), Chevrolet, MG (TA-F), Austin-Morris (large and small), Lea-Francis, Standard, Rover, Vanguard, Riley, Hillman, Citroen, Peugeot, Opel, and now encompass later models such as VW Beetles, FIAT 500/600/Spyder, various Jaguars, Mercedes sedans and US 'Muscle Cars' from the '60s and '70s. Where criteria related some owners belong to the VCCI (Vintage and Classic Car Club of India). What is of note is how it seems many of these cars appear to have been hidden-away during the independence era, so as not to be status symbols during the 'all as one' era.

[NB some of the cars have been over-adorned, such as snake-head horns on roadster fenders so as to mimic famous Maharaja cars – who used the snake to instil fear/respect into their people].

As for foreign imports between 1947 to the 1990s, perhaps only the regional vehicle licensing authorities will have a true idea, but wealthy business families and government – the two often closely connected – imported various upmarket cars for business, official and personal use, especially so from the 1960s onward.

A Rising National Auto-Culture -

Of course from the earliest times of 1920s machines the public's appreciation of the car has snowballed, but especially so since the motorisation of the country between the 1940s and 1970s

As the original Willys Jeep became a classic in the US, so the structurally derived M&M Jeep gained traction so to speak in India, especially so in the Punjab where 'seeing a good thing' Sikh businessmen sought to leverage the fascination by recreating a Willys type US Military-esque aesthetic on M&M vehicles, this trend later growing into a broader customisation trend with various (at least by western standards) gaudy paint-schemes and bolt-on additions made to the vehicles..

But, given their ubiquity and broad used market prices, it has been largely the amateur based modification of Ambassadors, Padminis and Maruti 800s that have been the kingpin of Indian auto-culture to date.

In this regard, the personalisation / customisation manner has unsurprisingly been very reminiscent of US trends in the 1950s, Northern European trends in the 1960s, Southern European trends in the 1970s and early 1980s, Eastern European trends in the mid to late 1980s, and likewise Brazilian trends in the 1990s.

In as much as those who could afford to buy an aesthetically aged car would seek to differentiate it by adding what were modern yet generic cosmetic and basic performance accessories – from wheels to rear spoilers to sun-strips to sports seats to sports exhausts to inlet vents - plus seeking to mimic famous motor-sport paint-schemes, or create their own (these often referring to the vehicle brand) whilst painting over often rusted chrome bumpers and bright-work with black or body-coloured paint.

This essentially the standard option given the limited financial resources available to young men and sometimes women, and their limited customisation facilities. It seems that only a minority of enthusiasts prefer to retain true vehicle originality, given the usual desire for a stand-out statements that gain kudos from other guys and attention from the opposite sex.

Hence, in India, like many other developing places previously, it has been a case of “new twist on an old theme”

Engineering Education -

Since the formation of the mining industry, textile industry, the railway system and other industries, the role of the engineer has been revered by the masses, an engineering education seen as a passport into the middle classes and to gain roles of local influence and so status. In the early days of the 'British Raj' such opportunities were restricted to the Anglo-Indian community, generally the sons of mixed marriages conveyed into engineering management and local station and track management roles.

But as the fruits of Independence took hold, and to a greater degree merit overtook nepotism, so more opportunities opened up for the broader masses, from apprenticeships to post graduate roles. Though it must be stated that often simply a new form of inter-generational nepotism emerged given familial connections to and reliance upon the railway.

Nevertheless, like general medicine, pharmacology and the bar, engineering became an esteemed profession. And unlike in the west (except for Germany) where in a “post-industrial age” it offered little reward (monetary, career or otherwise), and so rightly witnessed depleted numbers, the fact that India still has yet to mature economically means that for the most part professional engineering has maintained its attraction to the masses.

Hence, for the national and individual good, successive Indian governments and industry leaders have long recognised the need to mould its youth: by creating ever more subject attuned engineering educational paths in both private and state-run establishments.

Yet, in reality, typical of an EM country (and indeed many so called developed nations) the fact is that middle and higher professional learning is only realistically available to a relative minority – the fortunate few. Whilst national statistics indicate that 83% of 15/16 year old people are in education, there is a dramatic fall-off in numbers thereafter given the cost of education to both state and private purse and the pressures (though easing) to conform with making a living, getting married and having children – these obvious limiting factors to higher learning.

However, scant research in this topic – via a reported E&Y report - gives reason for hope It now appears that 20% of teenagers enrol in tertiary courses (ie post mandatory school), though drop-out figures were not provided. And since 2001 the female engineering graduate intake has doubled.
A separate nationally published report from the AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education) highlights that in 2012 there was an intake of 3.4 million for technical diplomas, and as of 2013 there are 3495 degree level engineering institutions with an annual enrolment of over 1.2 million students.

Educational Fakery -

The spiritual / religious fakir, sadhu, yogi, swami has long been viewed as a person of learning and distinction, hence Ghandi's influence with his university learning and ascetic, humble manner. Someone who typically lived as a beggar existence was based upon charitable alms, or as often money/food/shelter swapped for spiritual learning.

Unsurprisingly, such a way of life also offered possibilities for confidence tricksters, those who could 'spin a yarn', gain trust and exploit open hearted (gullible) others.

[NB Rudyard Kipling's novel 'Kim' highlighting both the 'pure' path of the guru and the hustling path of his young 'follower' Kim].

As prevalent in China and other EM nations, the very existence of an educationally aspirational populace, albeit with only a small income, itself offers income opportunities to the 'fakers'.

The empty promise of a good education as springboard to a better life used as leverage when 'fronted' by slick marketing. In this respect the creation of the internet has been a godsend to such exploiters, with little more than an impressive website, often illustrated by pictures of supposed (ie false) students, staff and facilities, using convincing face to face sales-people, with their obligatory impressive laptop, projector and screen.

As such 'educational fakery' has become rife.

Whether it be the creation of false institutions claiming public funds, using contrived syllabuses and non-existent student enrolment, or whether they be privately run places which heavily advertise and gain first term or initial annual fee, but in reality offer little in the way of facilities and qualified teaching faculty, either imminently but often gradually, dissolving once monies received and any (if indeed any) initial official supervision satisfied.

Circumstances appear to have improved with some scams caught and many 'skeleton' colleges closed down, but it will remain a crucial issue given the innate, ever ongoing, lack of professional supervision within the state system, the fundamentally poor achievements of state education (for many reasons) and the large grey area between the public-private educational realm that enables such scams to operate.

Auto-Engineering Mania -

However, the appetite, indeed 'hunger', from India's youth is enormous, perhaps especially so when such educational and professional ambitions can be connected the widespread adoration of vehicles.

Of course, the majority of young males, whether from urban, rural, wealthy, 'middling', lower or indeed bottom-tier backgrounds tend to (stereotypically) have four prime interests: cricket, the opposite sex, music and cars. Whilst cricket proffers the idea of competitiveness and teamwork, girls proffer social interaction and increasing equality and music as a social glue, whether from an ipod or at festive gathering, it is vehicles which offer directly accessible engineering learning.

This is typically self-taught for millions, whether from maintenance and repair of a family tractor and pick-up in rural areas, the father's HGV truck for independent hauliers, a used scooter or motorcycle, or for a minority the 'hand-me-down' family vehicle.

So where needs must, many Indians have necessarily had to become adept at vehicle mechanics and general amateur engineering.

Back Street Creativity -

The internet is abound with Indian youth redesigning the HM Contessa as a new national musclecar, this idea no doubt born from the many personal Contessa projects which have spawned over the preceding 15 years or so, some well executed, some less so.

In tandem with owners clubs such as the Contessa Club, this then points to a possibly emergent sub-culture, and thus possible commercial basis, for the development of so called iconic Indian cars.

View youtube and various older vehicles and personal 'classic' projects can be seen.

[NB One titled “Contessa India's Only Muscle Car by Tarun mp4”. Whilst similar in name, this has no connection whatsoever to myself Mr Turan Ahmed, investment-auto-motives, of London, England].

There are various actors, individuals and groups, perhaps the most prominent being Team-BHP, itself trying to grow a tribal following via the internet and meets, and the lesser known but academically connected TMW-Craftsmen.

Academia Meets Commercialism -

It has been known that for industry and students alike the transition between the college/university and the workplace can be less than smooth given the typically very different environments. Though it should be noted that given the structures and strictures of colonially created bureaucratic systems spanning across education, state and industry, India has historically had less transitional friction. However, as supra-national and state centralisation is de-constructed and newer sectors and entrepreneurial efforts emerge such transitional friction has surfaced.

Hence the importance of 'sandwich learning' which as the name suggests involves a set period working within industry to bolster real world learning, contextualise academic learning and acclimatise students to the workplace.

Whilst such initiatives and relationships have been well entrenched between universities and conglomerate industry, in order to create the managers and leaders of tomorrow, it now appears that the industrial sandwich or at least parallel industrial exposure amongst local colleges and local firms , so as to help create a similar capability a local level.

The following initiative, noted for its pros and cons, has the hallmarks of such an initiative:
Team Motor Works / Craftsmen -

'Team Motor Works' is advertised as based opposite the Raheja College, SantaCruz (West), in Mumbai 53.

Thus located in a Mexo-Californian sounding area, seemingly seeking to emulate a US West Coast perception, and is self announced as “Craftsmen”. It seeks to create a name with overtones relating to 'West Coast Customs' and 'MetalCrafters'.

These name used by a well known American custom body-shop, which undertakes one-off and small series specials such as performance cars and concept cars such as the 'Iacocca Mustang'. And also by an precision fabricating firm in Massachusetts. As well as overtones of yesteryear hand-made quality.

TMW/Craftsmen touts itself as offering :

“India's First Muscle Car Prototype” (The Contessa Project)...”Handcrafted car made in a Workshop in Mumbai”...”With a team of young engineers”...”and Suraj Bhalla ('the Mustang Man / Daytona Man')”...”The Daytona HM Contessa”.

However, it must be stated that the end result does not actually qualify as a true “muscle-car” in the American or worldwide sense, given its small engine size within a large (if shortened) body. Its 0-60km/h time of 7 seconds is slow by modern and historic standards, given that 7 seconds has been an acceptable 0-100km/h (or 0-62mp/h) time for the last 45 years or so.

Historical Snapshot -

The original and ascribed definition has always been a 'big block (ie powerful) engine in a small body”. The trend originated from installing large car's large engines into medium-body and small-body cars (by American standards) a customisation trend which had been seen from even before WW2 with Southern 'Moonshiners' even supposed 'Stock Car' racers.Then taken-up by returning servicemen across the USA, and by young men during the 1950s economic boom. Thereafter put into formal production by Detroit's Big 3 by the early 1960s, especially so under Pontiac, Dodge/Plymouth and Ford (Ford-Shelby) monikers. Creating renowned model names such as GTO (itself mimicking Ferrari's 'Grand Turismo Omologato'), Charger / Challenger/ 'Cuda (Barracuda), RoadRunner, Falcon Cobra and Shelby-Mustang (aswell as others).

The Indian Project -

Base Car and Modifications:
The Hindustan Motors Contessa – itself a version of the 1972 Vauxhall FE VX 4/90 – has been given a 'muscle car cloaking' (overtones of Pontiac GTO to Buick Rivieria MkIII). An obvious inspiration given the Contessa's own late '60s/70s GM international styling themes as a badge engineered Vauxhall Victor/VX; itself a stylistically muted interpretation of the GM full-size car range of the time; the Riviera perhaps the most flamboyant.

So the bodyside is heavily altered: the wheelbase shortened by cutting the car into two sections, removing a portions and welding together, the rear door removed, the front door extended, the B-pillar moved back, new front quarter light window, and a new 'Riviera' curved rear quarter-light window shape added. The rear sill-panel exhaust outlets reflecting hot-rod side-pipes and various renowned nameplates. The front sees new pointed bumper, new grill and deep wrapped chin spoiler with integrated side-lamps, trunk area retained with new lip, a centre mounted 'Shelby petrol filler cap, and the rear panel given what appear the tail-lights of a similar period Japanese large sedan. Various internal cabin enhancements added, though retaining OEM dashboard items “for driver function”.

The original Isuzu 1800cc engine and standard gearbox and differential remains.

[NB Though slightly lightened in overall mass, it is this low performance (pick-up truck) engine with unaltered transmission ratios prohibits actual muscle-car performance].

Thus giving a standard 2-door 'American coupe' (ie not fastback) appearance; though without the Riviera's true pilarless DLO, nor its echoing lower swage-line, though using slightly 'top rolled' rear-quarter panel and no pseudo 'boat-tail' rear-end. Instead given 1970 GTO-like 'blisters' across front and rear fenders, though they uncomfortably cross the round wheel arch, thus neither stylistically referential nor fully functional as a motorsport style 'blister' to widen the wheel well.

The choice of wheel type however has been good, though not exacting, aesthetically in keeping with the period and general visual cues. And almost obligatory, the ride height has been lowered to remove the tyre to wheel arch gap and visually lengthen the vehicle.

Also added are custom interior trim fittings such as centre console. Though with apparent period detailing, it is disengenuous – as has been stated - to say the car is “1966” given that it did not appear until 1972. “Inspired by '66” would be better.

[NB the Riviera was far more personal (luxury) car of the time than muscle car. The prestige aspect seen by the boat-tail parody, the 'boat-tail' itself a parody even in the 1920s when the shape was for was for more 'show than go', more so reflecting upmarket 'lake-land' lifestyles than the aerodynamics of speed record cars].

[NB Ironically, with the short roof-line and perceptionally extended bonnet, in proportion the end result steers toward a smaller, visually softer incarnation of a 1970s Bristol Brigand/, 1980s Blenheim].

Through the later part of its gestation, at first the vehicle was painted in yellow with few trim fittings, but presently in a Shelby-esque blue with obligatory white centre stripe.

Procurement Issues:
Whilst standard Contessa parts and trim are available, the choice of increasingly rare 'new old stock' for any such project inclusion is becoming rarer. Items such as the rear tail clusters re-appropriated may incur future sourcing problems, unless there is direct strong contact with a supplier that has tens or hundreds of such items. And even so pricing pressure for such rare parts are increasing with the global trend for older Japanese vehicles, especially so with JDM (japanese domestic market attributes).

This specific item can of course be altered to another similar rear lamp bezel and lens, but the scarcity, sourcing and pricing issue may still remain

Given the nature of the initiative, the target customer group and the undoubted low budget for advertising, the use of youtube video posts to reach a broad domestic and international audience is the natural option.

The posts intend to not only show the build progression, but also the knowledge of the participants in a staged conversional context.

From a European perspective there is a lot of PR chatter, which (with all respect) has very much become the modern Indian manner when speaking English, what can be called the “Ameri-Indian” way (the way Indians of all ages have adopted American-English fast-paced speech patterns, itself from NY and LA influence).

Also within TMW-Craftsmen advertising is the role of the enthusiastic 'client', even when driving a partially finished product with no installed dashboard etc. The fact that he urges others to do the same, ie selling the product's and group's virtues, so early in the process likewise suggests a less than simple (ie involved) client-firm relationship.

The Outcome -

Whilst the project can be all too easily criticised in execution, depending upon one's aesthetic, technical and commercial knowledge, the fact is that the very creation and appearance of the car and its similar “muscle-car” and “hot-rod” counterparts from locations across India must be congratulated.

Such efforts crystallise and solidify the dreams of millions of boys and girls and indeed men and women. And crucially demonstrates that a vision to reality 'recipe' consisting of great enthusiasm though few resources can come to fruition with patience and effort.

[NB Unless you have personally stripped and rebuilt a car, from a bare-bones shell, there is little understanding of the amount of work involved].

By various Western, Asian and indeed Indian standards the facilities are crude, but similar to what Americans would have called a 1950s 'Back Yard Chop-Shop' - before that name became associated with criminal car-parts dealings. 'Chopping' the A/B/C pillars was required to reduce height of roof and window apertures, and 'chop' the body section to reduce or lengthen wheelbase and track.

As such the initiative should be highly commended for trying to further the 'twist on an old theme' of Indian auto-enthusiasm, and seeking to do so with increasingly insightful engineering and styling prowess, so seeking the ideal of true design (where science and art effectively meets harmoniously)

“But, But, But” -

However, the venture also unfortunately raises other concerns, specifically the organisational, funding and overall commercial set-up, but most critically a question regards the issue of student education.

As seen previously with 'Educational Fakery', across the world, but seemingly especially so in an economically emerging Asia, the issue of non-existent and sub-standard education has raised an ugly spectre.

Possible Exploitation of Automotive Education -

The TMW / Craftsmen initiative may have been originally established with high-minded goal and within the Mumbai context wholly accordant to the rules and regulations pertaining to student placements working in industry or indeed external student project-work.

[NB investment-auto-motives admits to having no insight whatsoever regards India's national or regional work placement policies and standards].

Thus TMW / Craftsmen may be completely 'on the level'.

However, from an independent, external perspective, it also unfortunately has the veneer – by way of specific elements - of something questionable: as viewed from the video postings provided.

“The Shop-Front” -

Any well planned underhand activity will seek to obviously appear credible so as to draw enthusiastic attention from the required 'targets', whether in this case they be educational bodies and students themselves.

And the notion of an “Indian Muscle Car” well accords to both student interest, Indian auto-industry evolution in the high margin 'specialist' and 'after-market' fields, and befitting those two criteria, is thus seen as a prime engineering educational platform by national policy-formers and local colleges. Thus seemingly a “win, win, win” for student, industry, educationalists and politicians.
But such a formula could be exploited by much hype and little substance; so to creation of the 'shop front'.

The TMW / Craftsmen videos likewise highlight automotive 'eye-candy' by way of a BMW sedan, a newer Audi sedan, and various 1960s Ford Mustangs (seemingly an original car, a recent modern Mustang and a 'hybridised' original car with modern model front bumper.

So providing the commercial and educational initiative with apparent authenticity and gravitas.

Personnel :
As for the initiative, is led by a Suraj Bhalla (Principal Craftsman) a man who from his various youtube posts endeavours to become the 'Boyd Coddington of India'. His name is also variously written as Suraay (?) He undoubtedly has a passion for cars, the original Ford Mustangs in particular, and has a good working knowledge of vehicle systems.
More so, appears to have what for many youngsters is a glamorous 'Bollywood' lifestyle with expensive cars, foreign travel and an aura of being 'cool'.

One of his video's reflects on the apparent massive amount of work needed to rid a 5 year old Maruti of its rust. Though quite why any client should seek to rationally spend so much money on a 5 year old car appears illogical, especially since in a vehicle of that age the rust problem will inevitably have been limited to skin panels so not requiring a full strip-down of the shell. However, some owners are prepared to spend fortunes on modifying vehicles, which though hard on the pocket does allow body-builders and technicians to further their work.

Such a extensive works however might raise concerns by Indian authorities about money laundering. Thus TMW (Bhalla) should maintain scrupulous project accounts and verify that project funds are from legal sources

Bhalla also suggests that his students/apprentices, should not go and work for their family firm, but instead earn respect for themselves externally, ie under him. This then suggests that only wealthy and middle-class people are able to come into the Craftsmen fold. This in turn indicates that at some later stage the family wealth of these people will be tapped into, either by injecting funds into the business or by more probably opening a similar TWM-Craftsmen operation elsewhere under their control, but as a 'paid-in' franchise. It also obviously also undermines that particular family's succession planning and intrinsic managerial capabilities.

Of the Craftsmen R&D team, two full names given, the aforementioned and a Harssch Agrawaal, thereafter various nicknames and common abbreviations such 'Deep', 'Bobs', Gabz and Mridol. Thus highlighting the leaders and his #2 enjoy full name-checks (credits) whilst other contributors – presumably the students - are virtually anonymous.
The main concern herein is the apparent absence of basic safety equipment at TMW / Craftsmen.

Yes, the innate working culture in much of India is lax, haphazard and dangerous (see ship-breaking as an example), because of the 'life is cheap' attitude and willingness of bottom-tier people to work as told in sparse conditions.

However, whilst TMW Craftsmen propagates supposed knowledge and professionalism, the absence of even basic welding/brazing eye-goggles and gloves, as well as spray mask and again) eye-goggles is astonishing. Even with goggles and gloves injuries can occur, but they greatly add to the safety margin.

There is a workshop sign that reads “On Daily Wages” which indicates that TMW operates a flexible staff policy, very possibly necessary depending on order book levels and of course reduces fixed and variable staffing overheads, which provides budgetary advantage. Yet given the premium cars sat outside – whether self owned or client's – the fact is that basic safety equipment is obviously affordable. Any concerns of its theft, which is well justified. Means that it should be demanded to be purchased by workers, though obviously its cost amortised over averaged daily rates.

Likewise, the tendency to wear trendy open-toed flip-flops/thongs, whilst staying cool in both senses, affords another potential problem.

Without such safeguards it appears that TMW is willing to forsake safety for profit, and this becomes reputation damaging.

[NB India's healthcare bill might well be reduced dramatically with the proper formulation and adherence to healthcare rules, but such efforts would also impact the profitability of private doctors; little wonder the masses wish to become doctors!].

Project Timetable:
It was stated that the project took 9 months to complete.

The video-diary first shows the gearbox removal/servicing as of January 2012, followed by an excerpt of the body-shell being cut as stated in September 2011. Also there appears little logical continuity of the build process regards the removed and painted-red suspension components vs the engine and transmission work.

Obviously the video-diary should be chronological, with if possible a time-lapse, showing the full deconstruction and re-build process


TMW-Craftsmen offers its students theoretical and practical vehicle systems learning, yet that was only conveyed by a few highly unprofessional pages of paper attached to a back wall, with very limited information regards the syllabus, simply vehicle sub-system area (Body, Chassis, Engine, Transmission etc) with what appeared an accordant 250-300 teaching hours per section.

To depict a complete vehicle design and engineering course in such a manner is sadly not convincing.

Formal Design Brief:
No obvious design brief shown
No general description
No detailed design file
No concept drawings

Formal Engineering Scope:
No specific engineering brief
No original specification data and datum points (standard car GA etc)
No orthographic projections of final prototype vehicle (finished car GA etc)
No statement of works
No fabrication drawings for adaptation of the body-shell
No fabrication drawings for newly made parts

Formal Cost Analysis:
It seems all undertaken in an unprofessional 'suck-it and see' manner, not worthy of best practice even in India (academia and industry) , let alone elsewhere within core and after-market auto-industry sectors of advanced countries.

Whilst this approach allows for adaptive flexibility through the build process, does not identify basic design engineering principles, nor production engineering principles, which themselves underpin true commercial parameters such as man-hours, bill of build materials costs, bill of sundries costs, apportioned facilities overhead and variable costs etc

The Commercial Agenda ? -

Having undertaken a basic review investment-auto-motives believes that TMW-Craftsmen's actual intent, and ultimate business model, is in fact seven-fold?

1. Educational Income from Students
2. Restoration of Original US Muscle Cars
3. Creation of 'Indian Muscle Cars'.
4. Restoration of Original US Chopper Motorcycles.
5. Creation of 'Indian Chopper' Motorcycles.
6. Create Core Brand for Commercial Expansion (eg aftermarket)
7. Creation of Franchised network of customisation shops across India

To do this TMW and similar operations must identify and nurture a new generation of, low cost, classic car restorers, who themselves are from monied backgrounds so that they can carry the mantle onward elsewhere.

Simultaneously, creating a web-effect of income generation for TMW-Craftsmen's singular or major shareholder(s).

Initially, having the pupils pay for the what would effectively be an apprenticeship of American muscle car restoration whilst also going through the problematic development process of re-creating a singular or series of 'Indian muscle-car(s)' from the plethora of Contessa's still available in the country.

To then sell these cars to a new auto-tribe of professional, mid income earning enthusiasts as Indian interpretations of iconic Fords, GMs and Chryslers. The business model giving strong per unit profit margins over what could potentially be many hundreds (possibly even thousands) of Contessa adapted vehicles.

Meshing Education and Commerce -

The auto-sector has a vital history between academia and commerce, with the likes of 'naked' Ariel Atom road and track car born from the academic vision of Coventry University's ex Lecturer Simon Saunders and a few students; a team that bore the bones of the original concept and prototype.

Such publicity spawned similar efforts such as the futuristic Super 7 in the form of the “Toniq R” from ex-Huddersfield students Baxter and Williams, with the massively important assistance of Stuart Taylor Motorsport and Hemlock Engineering; even if today in road legal form much of the original R visual cleanliness has disappeared.

The Ariel Atom and Toniq R examples demonstrate that academia and commerce can mesh together to create new product variations, these similarly “new twists on classic themes”. However as Saunders and Williams will attest, the route to final development and then to market can be tortuous.

And in these two instances, the founders had the assistance of very skilled supplier cooperation to make it happen, including the ability to create one-off 'prototyped' items that allowed bespoke fitments.

Unlike these extreme examples the Craftsmen Contessa project starts from a complete car, so the obvious commercial imperative is to utilise as much maintained carry-over and off-the-shelf pre-engineered content as possible.

However, where as Atom and Toniq R where effectively fully formed concepts, the former of high unique engineering content whilst the latter relying much on proprietary content from specific kit cars, the fact is that the concept was fully formed before being released from academia.

From this viewpoint, it can be simplistically seen that the western approach is that of a heavy bias to academic concept origination thereafter matured externally, whilst the Indian approach is that of little or no academic origination but workshop technical adaptation of the previously fully formed.

Thus, because of historical difference and core competencies, western and eastern perspectives regards bespoke and custom-car development is necessarily different.

The very fact that India has such a large hand-crafting population, across many disciplines, from metal-work to textiles to clothing to gold and silver personal adornments, and that it has had to be inventively pragmatic, means that there is a natural political and industrial imperative to put this capability to use.

Building a National Reputation for Automotive Hand-Crafting -

The Indian IT revolution during the 1990s and 2000s which served the world, from call centres, to programmers to now apparently specialist service consultants, helped to form the bedrock of the modern middle-class. Up until 2008 ever increasing demand and a large but ultimately limited capable labour supply drawn from graduates saw wage and salary rates rise, so creating that aspirant consumer class which desires the best of Indian but also the new and western.

That new middle-class, itself now partially suffering, is however a world away from the plethora of uneducated unskilled and semi-skilled people which make up the majority of the workforce. The mass of low cost labour, and the need to create jobs for them, has thereby impeded the industrial reforms required in various sectors, from ship-dismantling to the railways.

Whilst automation has taken place in various sectors, in automotive assembly perhaps most notably (though not for all models), the low skilled and low cost mass labour force can offer its services to what could be a newly developing and potentially thriving sector – vintage and classic vehicle restoration, aswell as of course using similar skills to underpin a new world of customised cars.

To Conclude -

This being web-log #351, given this number's overtones, it was deemed appropriate to review emergent auto-culture within the powerful economic engine that is India.

(Perhaps revisiting the subject again at web-log #427).

Whilst far from a complete inspection of the true detail of the matter, it is hoped that investment-auto-motives has been able to provide a broad overview of how the discipline of automotive engineering may be spread yet wider by the renewed interest in older vehicles, so providing new avenues of impetus and value creation for academia and industry alike.

Both the efforts of those leading the way, and those less visible, should be appreciated.

Vitally, the manner in which such activities are undertaken – especially regards college sandwich courses and post graduate employment – deserves far greater attention by supra-national and local authorities.

Lastly, the business models 'invisibly perceived' by investment-auto-motives, whilst ambitious, well integrated, and able to construct new light industrial and service possibilities, should now offer greater financial and physical safety to a still necessarily flexible workforce..

If such a legacy could be achieved through auto-heritage in the emergent giant that is India, then the Shelby Cobra will have positively superceded the demon that was the Maharaja's Python.