With an enviable 43 percent share in the domestic tractor market Mahindra has taken the lead in the next generation farming methods with the showcase of a fully autonomous tractor. The company is confident of commercially launching the range in the next one year but hopes there are no ugly surprises from the government. Speaking to Moneycontrol’s Swaraj Bagonkar, Pawan Goenka, managing director, Mahindra Mahindra, said he believes that India is at the cusp of major disruptions in the traditional farming methods.
Will all of the three technologies — driver assist, quasi-driverless and fully autonomous tractors — come next year?
Right now we are hoping that we can launch all of it in 2018 but some of it may slip into 2019. A lot will also depend on what feedback we get from the market. it is one thing to look at a thing and get excited, it is another thing to pay for it and get excited. Even if we get a 5 percent interest from customers then that’s a good start.What kind of approvals do you require?
We are working on that. One of the reasons we are launching Level 1 only to begin with is that Level 1 regulation changes are easier because there’s still a driver sitting in the tractor and is in control. In Level 2, the driver is not in the tractor and that requires regulatory approvals. We cannot launch it until the regulatory approvals are in place.The government’s stand on driver-less vehicles is negative. It does not want to allow this technology to come to India.
We have to be ready for all scenarios. In India, today we don’t know what will happen (tomorrow). What kind of policy direction the government will take and we need to be ready. While there is a view that driver-less cars means less jobs but then there are benefits of that also. What Mr. Gadkari had mentioned about driver-less cars was more pertaining to taxi drivers. So, new technologies will remove one kind of jobs but it will add another kind of jobs.
How do you see India’s farming methods changing in the years to come?There are large companies in farming in the US which only do data analytics from farming. India is way behind. There are a lot of startups which have got into data analytics. Farming in India by and large has remained the same for the last 30-40 years. But I believe, in the next 5-7 years, you will see a lot of disruption happening in farming practices. These would be driver-less tractors, connected tractors, precision farming, soil testing.
What is the biggest challenge for such a technological jump?
We have to be still sure that the regulatory changes happen in time. So we want to launch it in February 2018 and we have to get the approval before that. The bigger challenge will be to launch it at a price that the farmer is willing to pay. We will have to see how do we bring down the cost and increase volumes. In the beginning, only a few farmers who want to make a statement will buy this and later with lower costs probably more people will buy it.
If I look at the cost currently based on all the imported content then it is high and over the next 4-5 months our core effort will be on how to bring it down to an affordable level. My guess is that something less than a lakh (price premium) would be found to be attractive.