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Indian and foreign car makers sold 1,551,880 cars, and utility and multi-purpose vehicles in India last year, but none of these was made for Indians.
Car makers design their vehicles using data on physical attributes of users. Such information, called anthropometric data, includes details such as height, weight and key physical specifications of people who are likely to drive or be driven around in the car.
Interestingly, such data has never been available for India. Until now.
The Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India, or Arai, an industrial research organization established by auto companies and the government, has started work on a study to come up with India-specific anthropometric data. The results of the study are expected to be in by March 2010.
In the absence of this data, which has to be collected on the basis of a study of the Indian population, car makers such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and Tata Motors Ltd rely on mannequins (dummies) based on US, Japanese, European or Korean specifications.
And, based on their own understanding of the Indian body, they mix and match these dimensions till they come up with a dummy that looks Indian in terms of size and shape. Raman, the chief general manager for engineering, research, design, and development at Maruti Suzuki, India's largest car maker, said his company uses a combination of US and Japanese data to design dummies.
Mahindra and Mahindra extrapolated standards from SAE International, a global association of engineers from the auto, aerospace and truck industries, according to the company's senior vice-president for product development, Bidyabijay Bhaumik.
The importance of anthropometric data can't be underplayed, said one expert. For instance, it could determine the height of the brake pedal or the height of the seat. Many of the newer cars do allow users to adjust these, but within a band.
Anthropometric data is a scientific way of determining dimensions for the height of the seat, legroom, headroom, foot room and pedal size, and can be pivotal in reducing fatigue and enhancing efficiency, said Pradyumna Vyas, director at Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design. He added that the use of an "American dimension of 6ft and 75kg will not befit the Indian requirement".
Then there's safety, which Vyas said the Indian data would enhance. Anthropometric data, after all, decides the dimensions of crash test dummies.
Even the Indian study won't throw up dimensions that fit all Indians, but it will make sure around 90% of Indians can "operate" the car "comfortably", according to Vyas.
Arai director Shrikant R. Marathe said his organization will measure around 5,000 people from across India for the study, titled "Anthropometric Data Measurement for Indian Driving Population".
Car makers are looking forward to the completion of the study. "With the help of such data, one can pay more attention to very simple things such as the positioning of a gear shift lever," said Maruti's Raman.
"While companies operating in India have done a fine job thus far, the extensive India-specific Arai study will now provide greater exactitude," added Tata Motors spokesperson Debasis Ray.
Part of that exactitude will come from the way Arai plans to capture data—using 3-D body scanners that can gather information on around 150 parameters in a few seconds. Arai plans to collate and analyse the data with the assistance of statistics specialists in India and elsewhere.
Car makers can integrate the data with their own computer-aided design software, said Marathe. He added that the entire study will cost around Rs3 crore. Arai is yet to work out the pricing of the study, but the amount car makers pay will depend on the details they seek, added Marathe., especially those that sell their cars in overseas markets, would do well to use the data as a starting point, said Mahindra and Mahindra's Bhaumik. He wrote in an email that his company validates designs through user surveys and added that for companies that, like Mahindra and Mahindra, have "a multi-market strategy", it was important to take care of ergonomic requirements in all markets.
While the study seeks to find India-specific anthropometric data, it should focus on gathering data that is traditionally ignored in some other countries, said an automobile expert.
According to Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India, most car makers overlook the comfort of passengers because a lot of people in Europe and the US prefer to do their own driving. The study could focus on this, he added.


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