Challenges don’t seem to dampen the Daimler India growth story in India.

 

Story by Deepti Thore

 

The maker of BharatBenz commercial vehicles, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) is perhaps the only commercial vehicle manufacturer in India at the moment who has started a third shift at its Oragadam plant at Chennai. It is also expanding its network in newer regions of the country. Having chalked out a plan to grow its BharatBenz truck and bus dealer network by 10 per cent along the Golden Quadrilateral, DICV is poised to exceed the count of 250 outlets by the end of 2020. At the core of the strategy is to cut down the distance between two BharatBenz dealers by a distance of 120 km from the current 160 km. Adding over 1300 vehicle bays, the expansion of the dealer network will support the servicing of 40,000 vehicles per month. This would be in-line with the company reaching the milestone of selling one lakh CVs in India early this year. Ensuring that all its customers have easy access to its products and services, according to Rajaram Krishnamurthy, Vice President Marketing & Sales and Customer Services, DICV, the BharatBenz growth story, it is clear from the turn of events, has remained more or less intact.

Announcing that the company achieved double digit growth in August 2020 on a year-on-year basis, Krishnamurthy expressed that the number of BharatBenz owners continue to grow every day. “We are proud to grow with them,” he added. Witnessing a significant growth in the domestic Indian market post the introduction of BSVI CVs, DICV is confident about good growth in the Indian market. Of the opinion that India is turning out to be an ideal manufacturing hub for global exports, Krishnamurthy averred that they are witnessing good traction in the used CV market. With the year 2020 showing a CV market de-growth of 45 per cent over 2019, it is unlikely to witness recovery for another three quarters at least. Hopeful of recovery starting to show from the second quarter of 2021, Krishnamurthy said that they are experiencing a good amount of changes in customer behaviour. This includes the impact on the industry of a few major negative influences, he added. Facing many downturns in the past few months, the CV industry in India is being influenced by a GDP that is expected to remain subdued for some time at least. Unemployment has been rising, and the diesel prices have gone up a good Rs.10 almost in the last few months. On the contrary, the freight rates have remained low.

Customer behavioural changes

Drawing attention to the consolidation of the customer base, which includes the bigger and organised players too, Krishnamurthy informed that they are witnessing significant customer behavioural changes off late. He pointed at the optimisation of logistics costs in terms of the demand shocks, hardly any willingness to expand capacity, and a rise in expectations in terms of the ownership experience. Stating that customers are becoming more demanding, Krishnamurthy said that DICV is in response to it, focusing on product superiority. It is connecting with its customers and stakeholders in regards to sales and service, and leveraging its digital marketing tools to ensure an enriching experience overall, he added. In India for eight years, DICV launched its BSVI truck and bus portfolio in January 2020. It announced then that it has leveraged its position as the top CV maker in the world to develop BSVI technology that would ensure lower TCO and superior reliability.

The company also announced at this juncture that it would at the end of this year reveal its alternate fuel strategy for this market. Driven by the commitment to go cleaner and greener, Krishnamurthy emphasised on ensuring that its customers are able to earn more profit from their operations. Stressing on the subject of expanding its touchpoints, he added that his company is focusing on product development. “We have prioritised factors like low maintenance, high savings, unmatched reliability and value,” said Krishnamurthy. Putting drivers at the core of their activities as the most important link, DICV is continuing to also focus on safety and comfort. It is of the opinion that safety and comfort are the two factors that would most affect the ability of the driver to drive more, and to ensure lower TCO as well as an ability to turnaround faster. Upgrading its CVs inside-out rather than just replete them with BSVI technology, the company has been witnessing good conversions since April 2020, according to Krishnamurthy. The announcement of the used CV business in August 2020 has ensured that there are a lot of inquiries for used trucks, he said.

Fuel efficiency, comfort and productivity

Of the opinion that the performance of BharatBenz CVs are well accepted, Krishnamurthy explained that their trucks have already covered 82,000 kilometres and customer feedback has been highly positive as far as fuel efficiency, comfort and productivity is concerned. Referring to his company’s many product offerings, he said that their offering of ‘fleet-consulting’ to big fleet customers through BharatBenz Excellenz has added significant value. Truckonnect is another, he added. Providing connectivity and consulting solutions for fleet optimisation and route optimisation, DICV has been working with its customers to ensure that they achieve better profitability. It is in this endeavour of its  partnership with HPCL, it has developed the ‘Dieselaabh’ programme, according to Krishnamurthy. This programme offers a flat discount to BharatBenz customers on every litre of diesel they purchase for their BharatBenz CV. Claiming that this particular programme proved to be quite helpful to its customers during the pandemic as they could also ensure that their drivers were not stranded without food and accommodation, Krishnamurthy stated that they have been getting good response for their online initiatives for parts. The ProServ app., he said, is a one-stop solution enabling customers to schedule services, see the maintenance of the trucks, order parts along with many other features.

Customer first

Announcing that the BharatBenz financial and insurance program are contributing to the smooth running of customers’ business and BharatBenz CVs, Krishnamurthy averred that the company would soon launch a campaign that would focus on resale value. Mentioned Reetvik Marwaha, Business Head – West, DICV, that they are getting good traction in the western region, which on an average contributes about 27 per cent of the total CV industry volume in India. He informed that the company has 54 touchpoints in the region. With a strong customer base in the region with the likes of FedEx, Marwaha said that the company has been successful in convincing its customers in terms of technology, efficiency and faster turnaround. Stating that they are hopeful of demand reviving in the tipper segments, Krishnamurthy said that their health and safety campaign across the last few months has been very successful. In the western region, we serviced and checked over 4500 vehicles, said Marwaha. Reaching close to 1000 customers and drivers virtually to educate them about the use of BSVI technology, DICV, averred Krishnamurthy, is concentrating on service as a way to reach pre-Covid levels quickly.

Deriving around 19 per cent of the total industry volume in India from the eastern region, the company, according to Arghadip Roy, General Manager, DICV, said that they are witnessing traction in tippers in the respective region as operations in mines and at other construction sites are re-starting. He revealed that most buyers in the east are first time users, and either individual or small fleet operators. They are thus vulnerable to financing difficulties and some other challenges. Serving its customers in the eastern region through 51 touchpoints, DICV is also leveraging its ability to reach its customers and drivers virtually. Especially in areas that can at times be hard to access. Having engaged with over 700 customers virtually during the last six months in the eastern region and having serviced over 2500 CVs, including their sanitisation, DICV is witnessing growth in the organised end of the used vehicle market in the country. Acknowledging the fact that many transporters are exiting their businesses, Krishnamurthy said that a significant change in the road transport industry is underway. “The good part,” he said, “was that many transporters were turning to them for used vehicles.” “Compared to 2019, we are actually doubling our used vehicle business. Many big fleet operators want a cleaner and greener truck and are approaching us for our BSVI truck in exchange for their BSII and BSIII trucks,” he added.

Fleet utilisation

Witnessing an improvement in fleet utilisation, Krishnamurthy mentioned that over 30,000 trucks visit their workshops every month for service, which is not much far from the levels in the pre-Covid times. Offering good support during the lockdown, including ‘Claims Settlement’ relief by fast-tracking the process from four weeks to few days, DICV, said Krishnamurthy, has added four more touchpoints across India recently. He claimed that his company is working with its customers to train drivers and help them tide over the challenge of driver shortage. “With the consent of the drivers, we have shared driver details with our customers,” informed Krishnamurthy. Of the opinion that ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is one of the few indicators that are helping the return of the growth to the CV industry, he said that e-commerce growth and the return of road building speeds to near pre-Covid levels would ensure good demand. Stressing on their focus on localisation since the very beginning, Krishnamurthy averred that our tag line is  ‘Made in India, Made for the world’.

Revealing that they have developed the first Covid mobile clinic on a 1015 BharatBenz truck, the first of which was handed over to the Ministry of Health recently, Krishnamurthy said that scrappage policy has the potential to revive demand in the CV industry. It is also good for the environment, he added. Informing that the company has been preparing for the day when the policy would be announced so that it can chalk out a suitable growth strategy, Krishnamurthy said that his company has already begun engaging with transporters, dealers and various other stakeholders to ensure a front runner advantage. Stating that most trucks that will be scrapped once the policy is announced would be non-BharatBenz as these trucks would be no more than eight years old, Krishnamurthy said that they are committed to their customers in India. Stressing that India is the only market where Daimler has a dedicated brand for the respective market, he averred that their growth story is intact and moving in the right direction. Apart from moving in the domestic market with the BharatBenz brand, DICV has been exporting CVs (under the Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner and Fuso brand) to various regions of the world. It is also exporting components to its sites around the world by hand holding its suppliers to reach the expected quality and efficiency levels.

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