Scania Metrolink: Adding a new dimension to luxury travel

Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar, Photos : Bhargav TS

The ‘Made in India’ Scania Metrolink HD is a modern and comfortable inter-city coach that utilises technology to make a sustainable business case.

It feels weird at first; the seating position is low. A large windscreen puts it in perspective. It rises to meet the roof like a façade of a modern building, almost vertically. Elephant ear-like protrusions contain the rear-view mirrors as they extend further than the windscreen, at the top, on either sides. While they grant a good view of the sides, a sprawling dashboard seems to declare that this automobile is bigger than the biggest American car money could buy. Costing over a crore Indian rupees, this one’s big. Really big. Measuring a whopping 14.5 m in length, a section of the dash seems to envelope the driver; provide him his space as well as the room to feel comfortable, and in command. The seat is air-suspended, and the steering is adjustable for reach. A small switch on the left column flank operates with a ‘whoosh’ before the column can be moved ahead or pulled back towards the driver. This is made necessary not just to arrive at a good driving position, but also to ensure that the driver can easily exit or enter.

The large diameter multi-function steering wheel matches in scale with the dash, visually speaking that is. Both reflect a high quality of build. Even the bits like the large and easy-to-read instrument panel (with two large and small dials, and an LCD readout at the centre). They form the nerve centre of this modern luxury, inter-city coach from Scania. Arguably the most modern that an operator can lay his hands on, this coach – the Scania Metrolink HD, was introduced at the 2013 Busworld (India) in three variants – a 12 m two-axle coach, and a 13.7 m and 14.5 m multi-axle coach. Until April this year, it was sourced from Scania’s captive coach builder in Malaysia. After the Greenfield facility at Narsapura, Bangalore, went on stream in April (adjacent to Scania’s truck plant), the bus is made in India. The coach body, according to Scania India sources, is 100 per cent localised. The chassis is assembled at the truck plant from components and aggregates sourced from Sweden. An amount of localisation is also finding its way into the chassis. Currently it is at a level where the tyres, batteries, wheels, etc., are sourced locally.

If the high quality of build and fit-finish impresses, sources are quick to state that quality here is guarded like a Swedish fortress. That, robust processes are followed even if it would mean spending some more time to get it right. Hard to fault, the Metrolink HD indeed impresses with its build quality and finish standards. Inside as well as outside. If the coach looks smart and distinct, bringing the front up to speed are the sleek headlamps and a black ‘surround’ that seems to envelope the large screen and the portion at the bottom. The one surrounding the screen has Scania inscribed on it along with the monogram. Capable of seating 53 people in superior comfort levels (seats are from Harita), the sides are made up of bolted or glued aluminium panels that are easy to replace in case of damage. They also contribute to keep the weight down. The bus weighs close to 19,000 kg (GVW). Surrounding the engine area at the rear is a distinctly designed grille. Dominating the rear is a vertical lamp bank, and a stylish window enclosure at the top.

The High-Deck (HD) body is built on a semi-integral chassis. The 410 bhp, 13-litre, six-cylinder, in-line, unit injector, turbo-diesel engine is longitudinally located at the rear. Generating a torque of 2000 Nm @ 1000-1350 rpm, the flow goes to the rear axle (the other axle is a steerable, tag axle) through an 8-speed GRS 875 (Opticruise) automated manual transmission (with retarder). Suspension at either axle is pneumatic, and enables a certain increase in ride height when negotiating unruly speed humps and bad patches. One of the switches that forms the bank to the left of the instrument panel is to activate this function, and is supported by an indication on the dash. Ride height automatically comes back to normal once the obstacle is tackled. To tackle the Indian operating conditions, the suspension, according to Scania sources, has been beefed up. Even certain changes were carried out to the chassis and body to ensure that they can endure the Indian operating conditions.

The two fuel tanks, worth 465-litres, have been relocated to in-front of the rear-axle for safety. Similarly, the battery is placed in an enclosure behind the front-axle. Besides my seat, on the right, is a fire extinguisher. Drivers are trained to use the fire extinguisher before they are allowed to drive the bus. Apart from the use of fire-extinguishers, drivers at the Scania driver training academy, undergo a four-day programme. They are taught to drive efficiently and scientifically; carry out minor repairs like belt change, tyre change, etc., and learn to read the error codes so that they can communicate easily with Scania service in case of a breakdown.

The optional fire suppression system, which sprays foam in nanoseconds after detecting fire, and which usually originates in the engine chamber, has not yet been bought by any Scania client. The company sources are hoping that the government makes it mandatory. Each pillar has bright red-coloured hammer fixed on it to facilitate the breaking of glass in case of an emergency. Some competitors are known to mark one of the many window glasses as an emergency exit. On this buses either glass can be broken. An emergency exit door, like in an aircraft, is also provided. Made aware of the nitty-gritties, it is now time to step on the gas. This is facilitated by turning the knob on the multi-function stalk to the right of the steering column into ‘D’. ‘D’ engages power. There are only two pedals – brake and accelerator pedal. The knob also has ‘N’ (for neutral), and ‘R’ (for reverse) written on it. A far-cry from the manual transmission found on some of the other luxury, inter-city coaches, a press button at the edge of this stalk enables to choose ‘Auto’ or ‘Manual’ mode, and is marked as A/M. In manual mode, every uplift of the stalk gets the transmission into a higher cog. Alternatively, the transmission will shift at redline.

Push the stalk down, and the transmission downshifts. Release the parking brake, situated to the right of the instrument panel, and press the accelerator. Like a gentle giant, the coach silently takes off. With hardly any engine noise reaching thus far, the only medium to know what’s going on is the instrument panel. If this marks the difference between buses built on truck chassis with the engine at front, and modern ones with the engine at the rear, the tacho needle moves up and even before one is aware, the transmission has shifted from 2nd to 4th. No jerk, or any sign of trepidation whatsoever.

The only reminder for what otherwise feels like driving a car, is the size and the mass of this bus. It’s big. It is, in fact, one of the longest buses currently available in India. I am seated ahead of the front axle. The position is in-line with the fact that a bus should dedicate maximum amount of space to its occupants. The seats on this bus are the most comfortable one could buy. There’s however a choice for the buyer on which seats he could opt for. Going down a slope the need for the exhaust brake arises; it is one of the buttons on the switch bank to the left of the instrument panel. A tiny flip switch on the gearshift stalk has already been turned to ‘1’. The retarder will engage every time brakes are applied. I don’t need to pull the stalk towards me every time I have to engage the retarder.

It does not take much to reach speeds in the region of 100 kmph on the highway. Speed, on this bus, is limited to 100 kmph. A sticker clearly mentions it on the dash. Laced with an understanding of ergonomics, driver comfort and much of what would make the driver drive safe, this bus, no doubt, marks an amalgamation of modern technology and a promising business proposition. Seeming to wrap around the driver, though not quite like a sports car, the Metrolink HD feels equally at home on a narrow stretch of road. Perhaps an outcome of the fact that this coach provides a pliant ride over a variety of surfaces, and the driver a good view of the surrounding. The steerable tag axle at the rear aids manoeuvring. Use of manual mode also enables better control over narrow, and congested roads. Auto mode is not bad either, and it finally is about what makes the driver feel in command, state Scania sources.

Every manoeuvre is reminding me of how comfortable, and manageable this bus is, to drive, and on a variety of roads – wide or narrow; straight or fairly twisty. Given its length (turning radius is close to 12,000 mm), this luxury coach will not make a suitable productivity tool for an operator in the hilly regions of the north, or over the twisty back roads of Konkan. It is a long-legged highway animal, and will be at home on a modern, four-lane highway rather than a single-lane highway like the one that goes to Shimla. For highways like the one that goes to Shimla, the 12 m two-axle luxury variant would be suitable. Back to the 13.7 m and 14.5 m multi-axle design, and it is clear that the Metrolink HD facilitates the carriage of people in superior comfort.

At the end of the drive, Scania sources mention that one bus per day is currently made at the Greenfield site. Perhaps, in-line with the fact that the market amounts to less than 1,000 units per annum. As demand picks up, the number will be hiked to two per day. As of now, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation orders are being catered to. The next dispatches are expected to be to Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC). The bus that I just drove is set to leave for Kerala. It will undergo trials at the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. It came back a couple of days ago from Kerala after conducting trails with a private operator there. Aiming at public as well as private operators, it is clear that Scania is here for a long-haul. It is here to work closely with the CV market and address its need for a sustainable and profitable solution. An effort in this direction would also include the Ethanol-powered city bus plying at Nagpur. With an aim to introduce bio-gas propelled city bus, Scania got Swedfund to invest in India for local production of bio-gas from urban waste. In view of such developments, the Metrolink HD luxury inter-city coach reflects the abilities of its manufacturer. It also reflects the desire to provide a modern coach; a coach that is comfortable and safe. What counts most is that the Metrolink HD is made in India.

Shapoorji Pallonji Group floats Rs 2,610 long tenor bonds

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Through its subsidiary, SP Jammu Udhampur Highway Limited, a division of SP Infra, Shapoorji Pallonji Group, successfully placed and priced non-convertible debentures of Rs. 2,610 crores. By doing so, outstanding foreign currency and rupee borrowings were retired. Marking many firsts according to S. Mukundan, Managing Director, Shapoorji Pallonji Infrastructure Capital Co Pvt. Limited, the Group has achieved yet another landmark in the infrastructure space. Apart from being the longest tenor (15 years) infrastructure asset backed bond, it is also the first project backed bond to have a call option on part of the issue size.

It is among the tightest pricing achieved by a project bond, said S. Mukundan. Rated AAA (SO) by ICRA, at Rs 2,610 crores, this is among the largest private sector infrastructure bonds issued in India. Largest bond in the roads sector, and backed by annuity payments from National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the proceeds of the bond will help SP Jammu Udhampur Highway Limited to lower its cost of debt and importantly eliminate exchange rate risk of the existing foreign currency debt. A special purpose vehicle of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, SP Jammu Udhampur Highway Limited was set up for the design, construction, development, finance, operation and maintenance of a 64.58 km highway stretch between Jammu and Udhampur awarded on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Annuity basis by the NHAI.

Smart NOx sensors from Continental facilitate on-board diagnostics

Continental has launched smart NOx sensors for commercial vehicles in India. These sensors will find use on the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) exhaust aftertreatment system fitted on BSIV emission norm compliant commercial vehicles. BS IV emission norms are expected to be rolled out by 2017.
As an important part of the SCR technology with on-board diagnostics (OBD II), the NOx sensors from Continental would be twofold – to measure NOx emissions and provide feedback to the SCR Control Unit to inject urea in proportion to the required reduction of NOx, and to help monitor emissions in the field as a key component of the OBD closed loop control system. Viswanath Nagaraja, Head of Business Unit Sensors & Actuators, Powertrain Division, Continental Automotive Components India said, “With the phased implementation of stricter BS IV & OBD II norms, we anticipate that nearly 50 percent of the heavy commercial Vehicle (HCV) market will adopt SCR technology after 2017. Almost all leading HCV manufacturers are currently developing their SCR systems with Continental NOx sensors. We will continue to serve our customers in India with our energy-saving and emission reduction technologies to help them meet regulatory requirements and support their environmental protection objectives.”37731c95-7980-429c-bf3c-ea6576f83f00_TempSmall

Shell Lubricants hosts the 4th edition of global lecture series in association with IIM Bangalore

 

16355c22-9817-4875-9abb-3043f85442dd_TempSmallFollowing the success of the first three editions of Shell Lubricants Global Lecture Series at Imperial College, London; Tsinghua University, Beijing and IIT Madras, Shell Lubricants, the global market share leader in finished lubricants organised the 4th edition of the lecture series today at IIM Bangalore to envision and deliberate on “Preparing you for the Future Energy shifts in Industry & Transport”. The discussions emphasized on the importance of technological collaboration while chalking out solutions for the energy challenges and adapting a cohesive approach towards the development of new grade technologies and equipment.

Addressing the 4th edition of the Shell Lubricants Global Lecture series, Nitin Prasad, Managing Director, Shell Lubricants India, said, “The Shell Lubricants Global Lecture Series is a unique platform to collaborate across industry and academia; it is an initiative driven by our core philosophy of innovation and collaboration. With this edition of the global lecture series we have established it as an annual property of Shell Lubricants India. This year the focus has been on highlighting the connect between global energy efficiency and adoption of fuel-efficient practices on a daily basis. We believe that the right set of lubricants, can not only bring efficiency to an industrial unit but in due course of time, to an entire industry. We are very happy to see the positive response from the industry professionals as well as the academia on the initiative.”

The event was attended by leading experts from automotive, power, construction, mining and manufacturing industry in India along with IIM Bangalore faculty and students.Distinguished speakers present at the event discussed across sectors’ specific energy challenges and solutions. These included Mr P. Panda, Sr. Vice President (Product Development), Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., Mr. K.K.  Gandhi, Executive Director (Technical), Society of Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), Dr. S Gomathinayagam, Director General, National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) and Mr. Rajendra Petkar Head- Power Systems Engineering, Tata Motors, to name a few.

Dr. Cameron Watson, General Manager of Shell’s OEM and Direct Sector Technology, while commenting on Shell’s technical partnerships in India and abroad, said, “The scale of our energy challenges is such that a run-of-mill approach cannot make a difference. At Shell, we aspire for continuous improvement in efficiency; by taking an innovative and collaborative approach towards our products. We actively invest in R&D and creating collaborative platforms and avenues for our leading OEMs and academic institutions. Such initiatives help keep us abreast with the trends specific to various sectors, their consumers and to the global energy scenario.”

“The global energy landscape today is marked with numerous challenges. Depleting resources, increased energy demand and wasteful use of fuel are some of the key concerns that tend to lower the output of our industries, equipment and machinery. The need for judicious use of energy resources and maximisation of fuel economy across application streams is the need of the hour. Lubricants are an important element in the larger picture of energy efficiency. Keeping this in mind, at Shell, we give complete consideration to the energy scenarios and carefully design our lubricants”, said Dr. Felix Guerzoni, Global Product Application Specialist, Shell Global Solutions.

On the technological aspect, Mr. Akhil Jha, Vice President – Technical, Shell Lubricants India said,The global energy scenario today is influenced by multiple factors, both technological and non-technological. Some of these issues are product & hardware technologies, application & process engineering, rapidly increasing demand & shrinking supply base of conventional sources of energy. Political, economic, social and environmental factors also cast an influence on these. A comprehensive thought leadership forum such as Shell Lubricants Global Lecture Series, provides the best of the minds from diverse sections of the industry to come together and debate future possibilities to address these challenges.”

Professor Padmini Srinivasan of IIM Bangalore said, “We are happy to host an important event like the Shell Lubricants Global Lecture Series.  Events such as these provide students a great platforms where they get a chance to interact closely with industry experts. The agenda of this year’s lecture series has been of great interest to students and faculty and will enable them to look at the future energy scenario from a fresh and well-rounded perspective.”

Ground breaking ceremony of Sandvik’s new manufacturing and R&D facility plant in Chakan, Pune.

As part of its continued growth in the country and to leverage India’s position as one of the best cost countries in its operations, Sandvik had recently announced a commitment to set-up a world-class manufacturing facility at Chakan, which is part of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) Industrial Park near Pune.
Development of the site commenced today with the ground-breaking ceremony held at the site. The facility will be operational by end of 2016.
The company has made an initial investment of $45 million (approx. 275 crore) towards the 53 acre plant. To develop the facility, the company will make strategic investments in a phased manner over the next 5 years. In the first tranche, it has announced a USD 45 Million commitment to commence development of the site by mid-2015. The new world-class manufacturing facility will help the company further innovate and create solutions for India’s emerging needs under the visionary ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Sandvik is a global industrial group with advanced products and world-leading positions in selected areas – tools for metal cutting, equipment and tools for the mining and construction industries, stainless materials, special alloys, metallic and ceramic resistance materials as well as process systems. In 2014 the Group had about 47,000 employees and representation in 130 countries.
Sandvik Asia is the Indian subsidiary of the Sandvik Group and a strategic growth engine in its emerging markets footprint.

RBI’s firm stand fails to dilute auto industry’s optimism

 

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RBI’s firm stand on repo rates in its announcement in August 2015 has failed to damped the spirit of the Indian auto industry. While industry leaders see growth coming from passenger vehicles (cars and utility vehicles) and commercial vehicles (M&HCVs), the rate of growth is estimated to be in single digits. A slump in rural demand hitting two-wheeler growth, CV sales growth is expected to be based on replacement demand at the cargo end for some more time yet. The improvement in efficiency and quality the industry has been working upon will bear fruits, claim industry sources. They adds that maintaining global standards will help to expand export opportunities. With the next wave of CV sector growth expected to come from infra and mining projects getting back on track, industry leaders have also stressed on the need for agriculture to pickup.

With the likelihood of RBI cutting repo rates ahead of the festive season, and on the emergence of actionable data prints, programmes like FAME are also expected to attract investment in the area of hybrid and alternate fuel commercial vehicles in the form of a PPP model. Said V S Parthasarathy, Group CFO, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, “The absence of RBI rate action was on expected and understandable lines.

That inflation is estimated to be on track, the supply side is still constrained, the exports are vulnerable and the banks are suffering from low credit off take, offered an alternate scenario for an ‘unexpected’ rate cut action. In the event, we are content in deriving comfort that RBI is poised for accommodative action as soon as actionable data prints emerge.” 

Mercedes-Benz unveils Concept V-ision e plug-in hybrid

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Launched at the 2015 Geneva show, the plug-in hybrid concept van, Concept V-ision is aimed at luxury travel. It is also aimed at business travellers. Flaunting designo titanium alubeam paint and a sporty-aerodynamic styling, the van concept is based on the V-Class, and features executive seats in the rear that can recline to a lying position inclination of up to 49 degrees at a push of a button. They include integrated calf supports, separate footrests, additional pillows, a three-stage heating and ventilation system apart from a massage feature. The executive seats can be combined with standard individual seats or optional seat benches as well. Two foldable 35 x 35 cm tables and two iPad holders are integrated into the driver and front-passenger seat backrests. These may bring the concept van up to speed in areas of comfort and convenience, it is the plug-in hybrid tech that makes it stand out. Promising powerful propulsion, the plug-in hybrid system, consisting of a 210 hp four-cylinder gasoline engine that develops a maximum torque of 350 Nm, and an electric motor that does 90 kW and 340 Nm of torque, has a total power output of 333 hp and a torque of 600 Nm. Guaranteeing a power packed performance, the concept van has a rated fuel consumption of less than 3.0 litres per 100 km, and can travel up to 50 km in an all-electric mode.

Demonstrating the potential a Mercedes-Benz van will offer in the future when it comes to accommodating the customers wishes and market demands according to Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, the Concept V-ision sprints from 0 to 100 kmph in 6.1 seconds. This makes this hybrid quicker than the current V 250 BlueTEC top engine variant. With a top speed of 206 kmph, the NEDC fuel consumption of 3.0 litres per 100 km corresponds to CO2 emissions of 71 g per km. Capable of travelling up to 50 km in an all-electric mode if driven at a maximum speed of 80 kmph, offering short emission free trips, the energy for the electric motor is stored in a high-voltage lithium-ion battery with a total capacity of 13.5 kWh. The battery can be recharged using an external power source. An intelligent drive-system management program automatically selects the ideal combination of combustion engine and an electric motor. The range of options includes a nearly silent electrical start (silent start), use of the electric motor to support the gasoline engine during acceleration (boost), and energy recovery (recuperation) during braking and when the vehicle is coasting. All recovered energy is stored in the battery which can be used for electric driving or the boost function. Drivers can also manage hybrid interaction manually and choose from different modes like hybrid, e-mode, e-save and charge. “Our pioneering Mercedes-Benz plug-in hybrid technology has enabled us to increase the output of the most powerful V-Class at the moment by 105 kW. And, while we have lowered fuel consumption to the level of a compact,” concludes Mornhinweg.