By : RACHNA TYAGI
Chunky Vazirani’s hypercar, Shul, has been work in progress ever since it debuted in 2018, but now his latest car, E-Konk, which derives its name from the word, Ek Onkar, and means “One Energy,” is in the News again. We caught up with Chunky Vazirani, at his design studio, in one of Andheri’s bustling industrial estates, where he and his team were busy burning the midnight oil, readying the new electric cars, and boy, did he have the most electrifying things to say.
Vazirani who went to school in Mumbai’s posh suburb, Juhu, chose Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, USA, after Class XII to study Design. His interest in design took him to various OEMs around the world which included Yamaha, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Rolls Royce. “At Yamaha I was sketching more objects on two wheels as opposed to four wheels,” says Vazirani, after which he went to work with Volvo for a bit when “things at Volvo were on the cusp of change” in terms of their brand language. “There was lots of ideating, a lot of figuring out and rebranding, so it was a really fun time,” he says.
Next, Vazirani headed to Land Rover in the UK. “When I walked in, the old Range Rover was still not out and the Range Rover Sport and the Discovery Sport were parked there. It is funny when you enter a design studio, you see the next five years of the company in the next five minutes,” says Vazirani, who recalls his time there as interesting because it was also the time when Tata Motors was involved very heavily. “Internally we used to call Ratan Tata – “Rats.” People were like “Rats is coming sometime,” reveals Vazirani smiling. However, Vazirani is all praises for Ratan Tata’s inputs. “His inputs were really good, design wise. I used to see some of the reviews they had… I was not part of any review… only upper management [was] and [they would say] “he asked to move this line here, he asked to reduce the belt line here” and stuff like that and I was like wow, he (Ratan Tata) has a pretty good eye for someone who is running businesses, but I guess that’s where the passion inside of him lies,” says Vazirani.
After Land Rover, Vazirani, worked at Jaguar since he was “already there,” and he thought “might as well pursue it and see what that’s like,” he says. At Jaguar, Vazirani worked on the F-Type facelift, which was his first project. “Taking the lines horizontal was my idea but I can’t take any credit for it because it took almost five years after that to get it done, so the F-Type is kind of close to my heart,” says Vazirani. While there, he also worked on another project and all the sketches that he did for that project “were supposed to be the next XK, but they finally decided to kill the XK and just do a new facelift for the F-Type,” he says. “Then with the sportscar they were like okay, maybe we’ll do an electric sportscar or something. So, maybe they have already decided and maybe it is ready to go,” muses Vazirani.
From Jaguar, Vazirani, went to work with Rolls Royce, in Germany, with the BMW group. “Their R&D Center was an amazing place. You didn’t just get to experience BMW but you got to experience BMW, MINI and Rolls Royce, and how the synergies come together. At Rolls Royce it was literally like five people in a room designing Rolls Royces smaller than this whole office. That time the Phantom and the Cullinan were getting over. I was doing detail work for those two cars and I also was working on one next project which hasn’t come out yet, I don’t know if it will come out also but yeah, that was supposed to be like the far-off project,” says Vazirani.
After Rolls Royce, Vazirani, had the idea of working in another company “that was more connected to cars like these, as opposed to the fatter, bigger cars,” and so he met with Mr. Pagani in Italy and while that offer did work out, his visa took forever to arrive and the months of waiting just got to him. That is when he started Vazirani and since then he has just been working and his team has been growing. Not one to have problems with the work from home culture, Vazirani is quick to add… “you can’t build stuff from home.” He and his team have worked through the lockdowns and while a lot of Vazirani’s work happens in his Andheri studio, the “messy work” happens in Kandivali. “All the battery pack testing and building doesn’t happen here (Andheri studio) because this place is too nice,” he says.
For Vazirani, his daily job at Vazirani Auto, is not just about being the chief problem solver, laying out the vision for the next few months, and ensuring that the team has the resources, but it is also about designing cool stuff, technology bits, as well as designing the engineering behind it. About building Shul and E-Konk, Vazirani says “The challenge for us was really to figure out the battery technology because the battery is the heart of the electric car and a lot of companies do the liquid cooling methods, somewhere our approach was different – to simplify the electric car and that’s what we achieved in some sense so, at this stage we figured that this technology enables us to build the lightest possible electric car, and that’s what we set about doing.”
According to Vazirani, the E-Konk, (designed to be a stepping stone for Shul and built in less than a year), in some sense is not a standalone project. “It is all the learnings that we’ve had towards building Shul,” he says. Designed, made, painted and assembled in Bombay (Andheri, Kandivali and New Bombay), the car’s body is made mostly of carbon fiber and fiberglass. Having not invested in CNC machinery, Vazirani says that it is easier to get the parts done from other people as there are enough suppliers. 3D printing has also eased things further and they’ve used quite a few 3D printed parts on both the cars. “The intake nozzle that goes straight to the batteries in the E-Konk is fully 3D printed – one piece. On Shul there are a lot of 3D printed parts, the taillights, the fins, the exhaust, the side view mirrors and some internal bits,” says Vazirani.
DiCo is the operative word at Vazirani Auto. “DiCo technology is the whole battery arrangement plus the material innovation, that is what we call DiCo. The way we have designed it is kind of a material innovation but it is also the way we design our packs internally… so its multiple patents, two patents are material innovation and one patent is the way that it is arranged that makes air cooling actually work properly. The main point is if it is more than enough for high performance cars, it is more than enough for regular cars, so our pitch is also to other OEMs to utilize this technology because it is more sustainable than liquid cooling. In liquid cooling, the pumps use energy from the batteries and so the range goes down and weight increases because of several litres of coolant, besides there is also the plumbing which can get complex in terms of leaks and also noise, not to mention multiple moving parts where there is a chance of things going wrong which means bringing it in to service that part and so, it is these disadvantages that we have tried to turn into an advantage with the DiCo technology. It’s the air going in and it’s the way the material behaves… it kind of emulates in some sense the way we take in air and out so it’s a philosophical way of saying the car breathes….DiCo breathing,” explains Vazirani.
“The battery pack – airtight and watertight – is concealed and sits between the driver and the motors. The weight distribution for it is 61 (Back):39, and so the front consists of just the seat and the driver and the 12V system. There is also the radiator in the front because besides being the optimum place to put it, that is the first point where clean air gets into the car so, we get the coolest and the best efficiency and then our plumbing goes straight to the two motors at the back and also through the inverters that are basically the electronics that run the motor. That needs a crazy amount of cooling because the whole motor is like 260 Kw and it just needs tons of cooling,” says Vazirani.
Without glass and the luxury features for a test car, which was done by taking off one seat, making it a single seater, taking out the roof, covering the rear wheels to balance out the aero and the fluidity, to avoid chaos, Vazirani and his team concentrated on the main thing – testing the electric powertrain, (which has been designed by them inhouse), the software and the torque vectoring, besides a lot of electrical stuff. “All that is the tough stuff. The AC and all that is the top layer stuff which we can buy from other companies also. The crux of the major chunk that we wanted to finish off was kind of done and of course, we wanted to put it to the test, so, that’s why we built E-Konk, to the lightest possible version that we could, using a chromoly spacium chassis without any assisted steering, electronic aids, simplest of suspension, and so in some sense, it is the most mechanical electric car possible. It’s two big motors bolted to the rear. The range is only about 180km an hour but that’s more than enough for a car like this when it is just a track car,” says Vazirani.
The E-Konk was taken to the Natrax testing facility (Madhya Pradesh) to see what it could do on the track. “When I drove there for the first time in this car, I was shit scared because I have driven fast before… more than 310 kmph, multiple times, this was different because as soon as you get on the bank it is so banked and you’re literally like… “am I supposed to be sitting normal to gravity or sitting normal to the road” and the first time I went on the bank, I got off it because it was scary. Of course, we’ve built the car to the safest possible standards but at that point I was thinking has this guy tied in the bolts, but luckily Touchwood, nothing happened, it was all smooth sailing. We got some good results, we did some good testing and more than anything we just learnt a lot because when you’re testing the stuff, it’s a whole reiterative process,” he says.
That’s also true when you’re designing a car, explains Vazirani. “You say that looks off, this looks off, so it is really the back and forth of the reiterative process and now, there is literally a long list of things that we have to fix, redesign, reconfigure and replan,” he says. With the learnings that Vazirani and his team have had on E-Konk, their plan now is to put it back on the computers, on CAD, improve on it, do yet another round of testing, probably sometime next year, and then move to Shul. “I think it would be one year of development on Shul. In terms of design and interiors, everything is done. I’d say sometime in mid-2023, we’ll have atleast the first car that we can show customers,” says Vazirani. With the tech and the exterior body completed, all that they really have left now is the interior body. “However, the process now, is also going to involve where we’re going to build it, who we’re going to build it with, what our final supply is going to be so, of course all that stuff has to be decided before we showcase the final thing,” says Vazirani while revealing that they are already in talks for it. “It is tricky in the electric car space because the tech is evolving pretty fast so the motor company that we were talking to three years ago, well, there’s another motor company out there that has a much better motor now, so, then we have to move on to a better motor company because we’re not making the motors ourselves, we’re making the battery pack and the software ourselves, so we have to be agile enough to integrate the coolest, the newest motor that gives us the best performance for the battery pack. If some motor is giving us 12,000rpm and some other company’s motor is giving us 15000rpm for the same price, obviously, we’re going to jump ship,” says an unflinching Vazirani.
One thing Vazirani is very clear about and that is when Shul is delivered, it should feel refined, safe and solid while driving. “Somewhere in my head the whole reason we started this thing is to build quality and we’re learning everything from scratch. I don’t care about the time, I’m patient even if it takes two more years, we’re willing to put in the hours, we’re willing to put in the work, it’ll take its time, but at least, the end result should be really good. More importantly, we have something from India and we want to be proud of it,” says Vazirani. #VLike.