A joint venture between Kalyani Group and Meritor, Automotive Axles is now one of the largest manufacturers of rear-drive axles in India. Where there are wheels, the company provides axles to keep them in motion, including drive, non-drive, front steer and specialty axles.

The company’s strong reputation has led to a high-profile client list, including Ashok Leyland, Tata, Mahindra, Volvo, Daimler Chrysler and CAT, which are used in the manufacture of trucks, buses, military and heavy commercial vehicles.

Dr N Muthukumar has been with the company since 2008, having previously headed up International Business for the TTK Group, where he oversaw its certification by the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance.

He also ran business process re-engineering for TVS Group and was Head of Manufacturing Systems and Head of Operations at its tyre and rubber subsidiaries.

It's the people who make the difference

Despite his considerable experience in manufacturing and knowledge of business management side of the business (he holds master’s degrees in applied sciences and
a doctorate in operational management), Dr N sees axle manufacturing as primarily people-oriented. “The company is 35 years old and we went through a restoration to move into an innovation phase focusing on customers’ delight,” he says.

Automotive Axles Limited
Automotive Axles Limited

“Once we launch an axle, anybody can copy the technology » and make a similar axle. An axle is not like an iPhone where there is no backdoor, so you can’t open it up and see how it’s made. In our business, however, it’s the people who make the difference and make it successful.”

Dr N adds that while Automotive Axles boasts a range of high-quality axles, success in this industry is not primarily dependent only on the product and technology. “What’s more important is delivery time and reliability,” he explains.

We are blessed with excellent employees and a very good set of suppliers. They are definitely the keys to our success.

“Today, even with all the volatility in the market, we can give our customers quality and a good delivery time. This is purely because of our supply chain. The product is actually made in the supplier base and we convert it here. We have seen a good amount of transformation in our organisation on reliability and we credit the supplier base for this as well.”

He says that without strong relationships with suppliers, an axle company has little chance of achieving any market penetration. Fortunately for Automotive Axles, it has succeeded in this regard, so even when the business declined by 70% in an economic downturn, its suppliers stayed loyal. “Most of our suppliers say our organisational culture is one of the best and our human engagement is at the peak,” Dr N explains.

Automotive Axels never compromises on profitability

“We are blessed with excellent employees and a very good set of suppliers. They are definitely the keys to our success. One of the things we promise in Automotive Axles is that we never compromise on their profitability. We may ensure that their costs are brought down, but not their profitability. That is one of the key differentiators and why suppliers continue to work with us.”

With the support of the company’s suppliers firmly in place, Dr N is targeting exponential growth and says they have plans to significantly upgrade capacity at its Mysore plant and its green field location. “We are building extensions that are going to allow us to be much more efficient. This will allow us to produce new, more complex axles, and offer better technological solutions and more value to our customers.”

This last point is crucial to Dr N, who says the end goal is to provide his company’s customers with a sharp advantage over their competition. “Our products will always be technologically good, but what we want to shoot for is continuously improving products while reducing cost. There are always challenges in doing this, but we are confident that with our internal improvements and the support from our supplier base we can mitigate the obstacles.”

Dr N says another ongoing challenge in the industry is to keep the team engaged. “They need to believe only we can deliver the best product to customers. There are other technological challenges, but those are easier to manage. Our biggest strength is our people who believe ‘Yes, we can do this!’ That is going to be the key differentiator, now and into the competitive future.”