India-based KPIT Cummins, an automotive software and electronics specialist, has high hopes for a low-cost hybrid powertrain system it is making available for both original-equipment and aftermarket installation.

The plug-in system, under development for about two years, is similar to General Motors’ eAssist mild-hybrid system in concept, says KPIT Chairman Ravi Pandit, but can be used with a variety of battery types – from lead-acid to lithium-ion – and powertrains, ranging from 0.8L to 3.0L in displacement.

Fuel-economy improves 30% or more with the system, he tells WardsAuto, and add-on cost is minimal, “more like $2,000 as opposed to the $6,000 that we would typically see in the U.S. right now. We believe there will be a good market for it.”

In India, the KPIT powertrain, dubbed Revolo, will be priced in the aftermarket at about Rs65,000-Rs150,000 ($1,225-$2,800), depending on the type of batteries, size of motor and power electronics necessary for the intended application.

KPIT initially showed the system in June 2010 and this January made it available in a Suzuki Alto for test driving at the Auto Expo in New Delhi.

Revolo is a parallel-hybrid system in which the electric motor is used to provide additional power, but never drive the wheels on its own. Specifications depend on the application, but in the Alto, KPIT uses a 48V lead-acid battery pack with a 2-kW (3-hp) AC induction motor. In a diesel-fueled pickup, also shown in January, a larger, 7-kW (9-hp) motor was employed.

Driving range will depend on the application, KPIT says. In India, commutes average 19-28 miles (30-45 km) per day, the developer says. So range in personal-use applications will be limited to no more than 37 miles (60 km). Commercial vehicles would get systems capable of greater distances between charges.

Batteries can be recharged from a standard power outlet (230V in India) in four to six hours. Regenerative braking can replenish up to 20% of the charge during driving.

Initial test vehicles are equipped with five “valve-regulated” lead-acid batteries, which KPIT says can withstand higher ambient temperatures. They are sealed in a gel, so no topping-up with distilled water is required. Combined output is 60V.

“There’s a lot of action in lead-acid,” Pandit says, adding KPIT is getting good performance using these least-expensive batteries. “The cost is low and the payback is quite attractive.”

The system works without interacting or interfering with the vehicle’s existing engine-management system, KPIT says, which allows it to be retrofitted into current vehicle designs and makes it suitable as an aftermarket add-on item.

Revolo includes stop/start technology, and it can be applied to gasoline, diesel or alternatively fueled models.

KPIT initially is focused on its local market of India, where developmental units have been in testing for the past 18 months. Aftermarket sales are expected to begin there sometime this fiscal year (ending March 31, 2013).

But the company says it also is working with four auto makers, including European and North American OEMs, on potential global vehicle programs, particularly models aimed at emerging markets.

KPIT isn’t interested in manufacturing the system, which currently is made under a joint venture with components supplier Bharat Forge at a plant in Hinjawadi, Pune, India.

Serial production of the hybrid powertrain began in March, and KPIT has begun to fit the system into about 200 vehicles (three different models) for pilot programs in up to four cities in India. Already, Revolo has been road tested for some 50,000 miles (80,000 km), the company says.

KPIT has filed 13 patents related to the system in the last two years.

The in-house powertrain comes as a natural offshoot to the software and system developer’s work writing code for hybrid and battery electronic-management systems.

Pandit says about a quarter of KPIT’s business, some $300 million annually, is in powertrain-development work.

“There’s a lot of action in powertrain, because of CAFE (corporate average fuel economy regulations in the U.S.) and different types of hybrids (under development),” he says.

Pune-based KPIT Cummins, which was formed in a 2002 merger of KPIT Infosystems and engine-builder Cummins’ information-technology operations in India, says it is entering the third phase of its existence.

In the last 10 years, the company has gone from simply designing software and systems to customer specification to providing value-added engineering. Now, it is evolving into a full-fledged technology supplier that is proactively pitching products and ideas to its automotive clients.

“There was a time when the (OE) customer knew what he wanted (and) knew the way it had to be done,” Pandit says. “(Now), we’re saying we can help you find out what the customer wants.”

That’s especially true in the area of infotainment, where KPIT says it has begun conducting its own consumer research.

“We go to the OE and (tell them) we know this is what your customer wants,” Pandit says. “We talk to quite a few customers, do surveys. There’s a fair amount of proactive proposition-making to the customer.”

About 80% of KPIT’s business comes from automotive and discreet-manufacturing companies, with roughly 90% of revenue derived outside of India.

“We work in the U.S., Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, Korea, India, China and just started working in Brazil,” Pandit notes. “Anywhere there’s a significant auto industry, we work there.”

The company employs about 7,000 workers, mostly in its development centers in Pune and Bangalore. It has a staff of about 100 engineers in Detroit and expects that operation to expand 70%-80% this year.

Overall business grew at a 45% clip last year, and Pandit believes that rate will hold in 2012.

“We’ve been a high-growth company – and profitable,” he says.

dzoia@wardsauto.com