Volvo eyes construction segment

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After establishing a strong hold in the premium mining tipper segment, Volvo Trucks has turned its attention to construction trucks.

Story & Photos: Anirudh Raheja

Much water has flown under the bridge after Volvo Trucks entered India in 1996. Continuing to operate in the premium trucking segment in India — claimed to account for three to four per cent of the total market in India, Volvo Trucks has come to enjoy a strong hold in the premium heavy mining tipper segment. With the truck market estimated to be 500,000 units per year, Volvo Trucks, offering innovative solutions like 10×4 dump trucks to help mining contractors to tackle rising pressures on margins, is looking at construction trucks. With almost 90 per cent of its market share coming from the mining segment, Volvo Trucks has majority of its resources in India aimed at the mining segment. With the infra sector in India showing signs of accelerating amid government announcement to invest historically high sums, Volvo Trucks’ attention to construction trucks could not have come at a better time. With India over the next three years expected to spend up to Rs.25 trillion towards power generation and distribution, roads and urban infra projects, the Swedish major is looking at good growth. While 70 per cent of the Rs.25 trillion is expected to drive the above mentioned developments, 20 per cent of the sum will go into the development of 27 industrial clusters. A sum of Rupees-five trillion is earmarked for the development of rail and port connectivity.

Considering such developments, Volvo Trucks could leverage its experience in providing trucking solutions to this segment in numerous other markets the world over. Drawing attention to progressive government economic policies like GST, Dinakar B, Senior Vice President – Sales, Marketing & Aftermarket, Volvo Trucks India, expressed that infra segment players are confident of the segment booming. “We are thus keen to leverage the segment growth to our advantage by offering the players the best solutions,” he mentioned. Commanding a 65 per cent market share in the coal mining truck segment, Volvo Trucks is eyeing a plethora of infra and construction activities to make inroads. From big irrigation projects, airports, metros to road construction, the company has a range of solutions to offer. Based on the FMX and FM range of heavy trucks, the solutions include BSIV Volvo FMX 460 with 22 cu. m. body, BSIV FMX 460 with 33 cu. m. body, BSIV FM 440 prime mover with tip trailer superstructure, and FM 460 6×4 puller. The company is also looking at offering a FM 420 prime mover model once it is homologated. Aimed at infra players that are keen to elevate their efficiency and competitiveness, given the tight time schedules they work with, Volvo Trucks, according to Vinod Aggarwal, MD and CEO, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, will take a systematic approach to gain a strong foot hold in the infra and construction segments. “We have identified the areas that can bring us growth. The way we brought productivity to mining customers, we will bring productivity to the infra customers as well,” he said.

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Enhancing productivity

To operate at the premium end of the infra and construction truck segments, Volvo Trucks will offer higher return on investments. The focus, it looks like, will be to help infra and construction segment contractors to further elevate productivity and efficiency. Informed Dinakar, “We will support our customers to achieve higher operational efficiency, and to execute projects on or before time.” Averred Aggarwal, “Volvo Trucks can play an important role in providing end-to-end solutions to its customers.” He drew attention to good monsoon and initiatives like the linking of rivers. Large irrigation projects, it is clear, are on Volvo Trucks’ radar. Also, projects like smart cities and border road development, which would need much technical support to complete within the stipulated time frame. Projects like these are expected to prove a good ground for the Swedish major. It could flex its muscles; offer solutions that it has been offering in other parts of the world to help contractors and governments execute ambitious projects.

The presence of Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles joint venture in the infra and construction segment, albeit at the mass volume level, should help Volvo Trucks to foray into the infra and construction segments. It could leverage Volvo Eicher’s network and tap into the joint venture company’s customer base, providing them an opportunity to upgrade. By keeping the customer in the family, Volvo Eicher, which distributes Volvo Trucks in India, could find its network acquire more business, support premium trucks and look at higher spare and service margins. In what could prove to be a win:win situation for Volvo Trucks, Volvo Eicher and all those involved, the infra and construction segment customers could leverage Volvo trucks to seek the best TCO. Expressed Aggarwal, “Customer success matters most. It is he who should earn more profits. If he is able to recognise our value, only then will we be able to sell our products.” Volvo Trucks has till date sold over 100 units to 10 customers across key construction segment businesses. These include road, marble and granite mining, and irrigation. Five trucks were recently delivered to Pune-based Satav Stone company, which specialises in stone quarrying.

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Right technology for the job

The government announcement to replenish pubic sector banks could prove to be just the right development for Volvo Trucks as it forays into the infra and construction segments. Opined Aggarwal, “The economy may not touch seven per cent growth mark this year, the next two years will see it bounce back.” Pointing at the 20 per cent growth the CV industry posted in the second quarter of the current fiscal as against a drop of 25 per cent in the first quarter, Aggarwal said, “What we lost in the first quarter has been majorly recovered. If the GDP grows, the CV industry will grow.” With stress on providing the same technology that Volvo offers in other markets, the construction trucks will be powered by the Volvo 13-litre six-cylinder engine that produces between 420 and 540 hp. I-Shift transmission will be offered as standard. As per the nature of application, Volvo will offer the appropriate variant of I-Shift automated manual transmission. The Pullers, for example, will come with crawler gear equipped version of the I-Shift AMT. According to Dinakar, every Volvo vehicle they sell is with an I-Shift gearbox. “With I-Shift, customers experience better productivity, ease of driving, and better efficiency,” opined Dinakar. He hinted at Volvo Trucks looking at an opportunity to re-enter the long-haul segment as well. Quickly stating that there is still time for Volvo long haul trucks to perform at their peak in India, Dinakar said that infrastructure will have to improve manifold. Expressing that trucks will gain a lot of electronics, Dinakar remarked that trucks will travel at higher speeds. Mentioning that the demand for high end trucks will be proportional to high end infrastructure, Dinakar explained that it is only then that the long-haul Volvo trucks will deliver peak performance.

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Building relations

With the selling experience of commercial vehicles far different from that of a passenger vehicle, Volvo Trucks, in association with its joint venture company and distributor Volvo Eicher has come to build a strong rapport with its customers. The company has invested heavily to provide customers on-site workshops and service centers at strategic locations. With a foray into the infra and construction segments, the company is looking to offer similar level of experience and support. Mentioned Aggarwal, “We will continue to engage with our customers.” Underscoring the importance of such a measure, Aggarwal pointed at initiatives like driver training, which will help the customer to get the most value out of his investment. “The driver has to drive the truck well to extract the best efficiency. Volvo trucks are advanced machines, and to get the most out of them, it is necessary to have a skilled driver, and to adhere to maintenance schedules,” remarked Aggarwal. Priced up to four times higher than basic trucks, Volvo Trucks is finding takers because of its ability to contribute to the timely completion of projects. Often in 24 months against the stipulated time period of 36 months. Expected to support infra and construction project contractors to complete their projects on time, Volvo trucks, according to Dinakar, is looking at driving a change. Stressing upon the rapid change taking place in the Indian truck market, including the shift to higher tonnage vehicles, Aggarwal mentioned, “Tractor trailers and multi-axle vehicles will see good numbers. The market for tractor-trailers was 41,000 units last year. This year, it is growing at 45 per cent, and should touch the 55,000 units mark.” Prime mover and puller-based solutions are a part of Volvo’s portfolio for the infra and construction segment. They hold a good chance of creating an industry first when it comes to productivity, efficiency, and the ability to earn.

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Driving the Volvo FM 420

The FM 420 prime mover is one of many solutions Volvo Trucks is offering to the infra and construction segment players in India. It is a 6×4 tractor, and powered by the BSIV Volvo D13 12.8-litre six-cylinder diesel engine that produces 420 hp at 1400-1800 rpm. Peak torque of 2100 Nm is produced at 1050-1400 rpm. Mated to the engine is a 12-speed I-Shift AMT gearbox. Capable of addressing diverse applications like the transportation of earth, stone, granite and marble among others by attaching a trailer, the FM 420 has an impressive 36 per cent grade-ability. Flaunting a solid build and superior fit and finish standards, which reflect upon its premium standing, the clear lens head lamps with daytime running LEDs of the truck contribute towards a premium stance. The large signature grille extends well into the bumper and provides the truck with a distinct identity. Riding on 20-inch dia. wheels, the FM 420 is fitted with a tilt-type four-point suspended sleeper cabin. Capable of long-haul and 24×7 operations, the truck, with a GCW of 49-tonnes, features ABS, Electronically controlled Brake System (EBS), hill start assist, electronic parking brake, auto parking brake release, ESP, hydraulic retarder, cruise control, adjustable driver’s seat, adjustable steering, AC, smart phone integration, and more.

Climb aboard, and a modern cabin draws attention. The standards of build, and fit and finish, are among the best found on a truck. Comparable with that of a luxury car, the cabin has an interior height of 1570 mm. Ergonomically well-engineered, it does not take long to arrive at a comfortable driving position. The suspended seat offers high degree of adjust-ability. The steering is adjustable for reach and rake. The I-Shift lever is besides the driver seat, and within easy reach. In the ‘Auto’ mode, the truck smoothly moves away from stand still. Not much noise or vibrations filter into the cabin. With small increments in speed, the transmission seamlessly shifts ups, indicating a travel through the cogs on the digital readout of the instrument console. The high seating position (though not as high as the FH) provides a good view of the outside. The mirrors help too. The Volvo dynamic steering aids manoeuvrability, and the I-Shift makes easy work of driving the truck. The dynamic steering and the I-Shift reflect upon the technological prowess of the truck, indicating at once the attention that has gone into engineering the truck. Providing car-like driving environment, the FM 420 puts strong impetus on safety, reliability and productivity.

If the suspended seat and the four-point suspended cab compensate for the suspension’s ability to absorb the road shocks, the parabolic S-shaped leaf spring suspension at front and conventional multi-leaf spring heavy-duty bogie suspension at the rear, is configured for duties a car cannot even dream of. Surprisingly, the ride is not as harsh as one would expects. Comfortable enough to not let the driver tire quickly, the FM 420 makes for a premium driving experience indeed. A mere touch of the pedal activates the disc brakes. The action is progressive and highly effective. Impressive in the way it dials comfort, the Volvo FM 420 impresses.

Ashok Leyland Dost+: Bigger and better

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Bigger and better, Ashok Leyland Dost+ promises lower TCO.

Story & Photos:

Bhargav TS

The launch of Dost in 2011 marked Ashok Leyland’s entry into the LCV market in a true sense. Since 2011, more than 1.7 lakh Dosts have been sold. A symbol of Ashok Leyland’s successful foray into the LCV market, the Dost has grown. It has grown in demsions, and in many other areas. It has got itself a new name in the process. Called the Dost+, the new LCV promises Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Tracing its roots to the collaboration between Ashok Leyland and Nissan, the Dost+ offers 18 per cent more load carrying capacity than the Dost. It also offers seven per cent more loading area. Aiming at the two to 3.5-tonne LCV segment, the Dost+, with a GVW of 2.75-tonnes, looks identical almost to that of the Dost when viewed from the front. Walk over however, and the difference is obvious at once. Despite the semi-forward stance of the cabin, which makes it stand out of the crowd of forward-control LCVs, the Dost+ looks bigger. It is bigger than the Dost. Measuring 4630 mm in length, 1650 mm in width, and 1900 mm in height, the Dost+ offers a payload capacity of 1.5-tonnes. Building over the Dost and the Dost Strong, the new LCV is different in more ways than one. The cabin, despite looking identical to that of the Dost, has been modified to accommodate the large, 15-inch dia. wheels. The B-pillar and the portion of the wheel arch, including the portion of the door that is a part of the wheel arch, have been mildly modified. With the bonnet claimed to provide a sense of security to its buyers (this market is typically owner-operator intensive), the new LCV flaunts a 2510 mm wheelbase. It is 160 mm more than that of the Dost. Riding on 15-inch dia. wheels (and 195 R15 tyres) over Dost’s 14-inch dia. wheels (and 185 R14 tyres), the Dost+ has a ground clearance of 190 mm. It is 13 mm higher than that of the Dost. Unlike the Dost, which has four wheel bolts, the Dost+ comes with five wheel bolts. The flat load body of the Dost+ meaures 2645 mm in length, 1620 mm in width, and 380 mm in height.

Marginally taller, higher and wider than the Dost, the Dost+ looks modern. It is aimed at a variety of applications like the transportation of agricultural produce, milk, fish, e-commerce, municipal duties, and more. Flaunting good fit and finish standards, the Dost+ presents a construction such that the body is bolted to the chassis. The engine is located longitudinally under the seat. Apart from providing a sense of security, the bonnet (fitted with a collision bar) serves little functional use as such. Developed over a span of two years, the Dost+ is structured on a robust ladder frame. The engine, gearbox, and driveline components like the propellor shaft and differential have been suitably tweaked to handle more load and more power. Unlike the double wishbone and transverse leaf spring front suspension of the Dost, the Dost+ is equipped with a parabolic leaf spring suspension at front. The front axle is rigid. The live rear axle is anchored to the frame with the help of semi-elliptical leaf springs. The front has three leaf springs, and the rear has six leaf springs.

The dual-tone colour scheme of the new LCV’s cabin draws attention. It is typical of the colour schemes found on many modern cars in India. If it signals an effort to present the LCV with a car-like feel, the design of the dashboard is simple and straight forward. The instrument console has a large speedo at the centre. At the dash centre are the blower and the air-conditioner controls. The Dost was one of the first vehicles in its class to offer an air-con. It is good to see the Dost+.carry the legacy forward.

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In terms of ergonomics, the driver’s seat provides good support. Most controls are within easy reach, and point at good ergonomics. Thanks to the seemingly thin A-pillars, the view oustide is good. Ample glass area also helps. The 63 hp, 1.5-litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine feels refined and energetic. With 170 Nm of peak torque produced at 1600-2400 rpm, the Dost+ displays a good pull from lower revs. This will be appreciated by operators as they endure the challenges in an urban environment. The clutch is light and offers a progressive feel. The five-speed gearbox supports smooth shifts. On an open road, the Dost+ accelerates well. It feels noticeably quicker than the Dost. While a sense of robustness underlines the driving experience (reflecting upon the robust frame and the suspension), the LCV accelerates to speeds in the region of 60 and 80 kmph easily. The power steering provides good feedback. In the city, and when manoeuvring on congested roads, the steering provides good assistance.

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The air-con shows a good ability to cool the cabin. It is a feature that very few buyers will opt for. The number of buyers with air-conditioned cabin is rising, but the pace is slower than expected. A recent government notification is known to have made the provision of a blower unit mandatory as far as CVs are concerned. Providing good ride over a variety of surfaces, the LCV, without load, may feel a bit bouncy at the rear on uneven stretches. Under load, it settles down to provide a pliant feel. Fitted with a load sensing valve to regulate brake force distribution, the booster-assisted braking system works efficiently. It exerts a good bite, and gets the vehicle to shed speed. The pedal action is progressive, and activates the ventilated disc brake at front and drum brakes at the rear quickly to improve confidence.

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Priced at Rs. 5.54 lakh ex-showroom Chennai, the Dost+ marks a distinct change over the Dost and Dost Strong. It is certain to further boost Ashok Leyland’s presence in the LCV segment. Claimed to enjoy a 40 per cent market share in the segment with the Dost and the Partner accounting for 25 per cent of the sales volumes across all the vehicle segments of Ashok Leyland, the Dost+ is set to provide its maker with the right arsenal to further strengthen its position in the domestic market, and find a stronger footing in the export markets. With Ashok Leyland expected to engineer left-hand drive versions of its LCVs, the Dost+ is set to play an important role in India and abroad. With one new LCV slated for launch every six months from Ashok Leyland, the Dost+ offers a glimpse of the future.

Tata Xenon Yodha: The warrior clan

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Building on a long legacy of pick-up trucks starting with the Tatamobile, the Xenon Yodha looks contemporary and robust.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Photos:

Saurabh Botre

Tata Motors announced that they have signed action hero Akshay Kumar as the brand ambassador of its commercial vehicles in January 2017. His announcement was timed with the launch of the Xenon Yodha pick-up trucks. The advertisements that followed the announcement showed him driving the Tata Xenon Yodha pick-up under the Sun, the Moon, in the rain, and in precarious conditions. The last shot is particularly memorable as he pilots a Xenon Yodha across the sand dunes to deliver medicines to an army camp. It does not take long to understand that the advertisement is highlighting the ability of the Xenon Yodha to brave different weather conditions, often not very conducive, and not the most ideal, to accomplish the mission it has been tasked with. Tracing its history to the Tatamobile launched in the early 80s, the Xenon Yodha draws from the long-standing experience of the company to build pick-up trucks. It is in a segment that is typically described as the 3.5-tonne segment. Made up of pick-up trucks from homegrown players and from global players, the segment, according to Anurag Dubey, Head, Sales & Marketing, Small Commercial Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors Ltd., has been clocking 18,000 units per month. Over the next few years the segment is expected to gain momentum.

The looks

Commanding 23 per cent market share, the Xenon Yodha is available in a single cab and a double cab configuration. It could be had with a 4×2 and 4×4 driveline. A robust looking pick-up truck, differentiating the Xenon Yodha from the ‘conventional’ Xenon is the body coloured bumper. Structured across four key model configurations – 1.1-tonne (Yodha Eco), 1.25-tonne (Yodha PS), 1-tonne twin cab (Yodha DC 4×2) and 1.5-tonne (Yodha+) according to Vinay Pathak, Head – Product Line, SCVs, the possesses a distinctive cabin. Avers Pathak, “The distinct looking cabin of the pick-up truck is its calling card. It is a home for the driver away from home.” With the buyer often the operator, the cabin of the pick-up truck was designed to look aspirational. It thus looks stylish, and is modern and spacious inside. In the case of the load body, which is the business area, stress was laid to achieve a flat loading area. The load body is thus efficient and spacious. With attention to offer higher payload, the team in charge of the Yodha scavenged through the company bins to arrive at a pick-up truck that was far superior and way ahead of any pick-up available in the Indian market. Connoting three words – protective, practical and premium, according to Pathak, the Yodha points at the Tatamobile legacy through its design outline. Built to operate in hostile conditions, and be effective in business, the Yodha draws attention.

Capable of projecting the driver as a business executive and not just a commercial vehicle driver as he executes last mile deliveries, often of high value FMCG and consumer electronics, the team in charge of the Yodha factored in a high ground clearance of 210mm and high departure and approach angles. Complementing the ‘conventional’ Xenon range and the legacy 207 pick-up range, the Yodha was designed and engineered to make the driver (operator) feel at ease in an urban environment. Emphasis was laid on aggressive looks. Making the driver feel like a Yodha out to conquer business, the Yodha, according to Anurag has been conceived on the Xenon international pick-up foundation to suit the Indian market and customer requirements. Exported to markets like South Africa, Thailand and Australia, the pick-up range as a platform is the technology showcase for Tata Motors in Australia. In the Australian market, it is offered with an auto transmission. Aimed at diverse applications in India like fruits, vegetables, agri-produce, FMCG, white goods, poultry, milk, fisheries, pharma, cash, parcel, courier, ecommerce, cash van, and more, the Yodha, flaunts trendy ORVMs, bold grille, and stylish head lamps.

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The hardware

The Yodha has the cab and the load body bolted to the chassis. Its hardware consists of a 85 PS, 3-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine mounted longitudinally on a tubular frame. The frame, according to Pathak, is strong and rigid. It is different from that of the 207 and from that of the ‘conventional’ Xenon. It is four-mm thick with belly reinforcement. Avers Pathak, “The load body too is strong.” The suspension of the Yodha has been tweaked, and consists of semi-elliptical springs all round. It is unlike the ‘conventional’ Xenon, which could be had with an independent double wishbone front suspension. The rear suspension of the Yodha PS comes with two-stage leaf springs. The front has an anti-roll bar. Employing strong axles, the Yodha is fitted with a G76 five-speed manual transmission and a larger dia. clutch. Mentions Pathak, “The thinking behind Yodha was to have a robust workhorse.” With a 4×4 single cab variant, a 4×4 crew cab variant, and the Yodha+ (soon to be launched), the pick-up truck rides on 217/75 R16 radials. A range of products actually with the choice of a 4×2 manual steering version, a 4×2 power steering version, a manual steering version without the load body, and a power steering version without the load body under the Yodha Eco product vertical, the pick-up truck is a common usage vehicle aimed at motivated and hard working individuals. Pointing at the dual cab Yodha DC 4×2, Pathak states, “The Yodha ranges between one-tonne and 1.5-tonne payload.”

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Developed by taking into consideration the market requirements and the variation in the tax rules in each state, the Yodha, according to Pathak, offers the best payload in the segment. Citing an observation that pick-up trucks are moving down and SCVs are moving up, Pathak expresses, “We have engineered the Yodha DC 4×2 to accommodate a one-tonne load body. We are striving to reduce the kerb weight without sacrificing the robustness of the vehicle. We are doing this to increase the payload capacity. We have succeeded in reducing the kerb weight of Yodha DC 4×2 by 7.5 per cent. The payload capacity has increased by 25 per cent.” Apart from the new tubular frame, weight saving was facilitated by the new axles (rigid front and live rear). The endeavour to save weight and offer higher payload will continue as new Yodha variants are launched. “We are introducing new variants in different markets to help clock additional volumes. We are seeing the Yodha fit into new application areas like isothermal and other special application vans,” says Anurag. To meet the market requirements, and that of the law, the team in charge of the Yodha worked on the load body height as well as the load body area. They also worked on minor details like side-drop load body and fixed side body. When launched, the Yodha+ will turn out to be the ‘Big Daddy’ of all Yodhas with a payload of 1.5-tonne. Currently, the Yodha PS is the largest selling.

Stating that overload is rampant, Pathak explains, “Customers are slowly coming to realise that it is better to run at rated load.” The strong traction enjoyed by the Yodha, mentions Pathak, stems from the fact that the operators are able to experience a product that is quite different than the Xenon. “We therefore look at it as the Yodha, and not as the Xenon Yodha,” he comments. Stressing upon an improvement in cabin space by 5.5 per cent from the re-arrangement of trim, the Yodha, according to Pathak, was built after listening to the customers. Attention was paid to make it comfortable to drive over longer distances. “We did a lot of customer clinics. We went back to the drawing board. We leveraged the best to engineer the Yodha to serve someone as conventional as a vegetable or fish transporter, and someone as special as the army,” he mentions. Providing a choice between the contemporary and the good old, the Yodha according to Pathak, is enjoying a smooth ride and a strong demand after migration to BSIV.”

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The drive

What strikes foremost is the high floor height. Access seems a bit awkward at first. The gap between the seat and the flooring looks less. This inhibition is demolished as the driving position feels just right, or even a bit high-ish once behind the wheel. What seems like a flat seat, provides good support. The tilt adjustable steering is easily adjusted to arrive at a commanding driving position. The view ahead is good. The modern and straightforward dash, with the absence of a blower unit, does look a bit bare. The engine wakes up an amount of diesel clatter. Better insulation could do the trick perhaps. There are no vibes, and the clutch feels light. The gearbox feels smooth to operate. The taller first gear makes for an easy start. If the clutch travel feels a bit more than expected, the Yodha gathers speed fairly quickly. Out on the road, the commanding driving position makes for a good view ahead.

The steering wheel surprisingly offers good feedback. The Yodha PS feels quite car-like to drive. Despite the leaf springs all-round, the ride quality is decent. Over ideal surfaces it is pliant. Displaying good dynamics, the Yodha does not go past 80 kmph. As per the law, the top speed has been limited to 80 kmph, which is attained fairly quickly. The brakes, made up of discs at front and drums at the rear, exert a strong bite. They have a progressive feel about them, and aid the vehicle in shedding speed.

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Compared to the Yodha PS, the Yodha DC feels more refined. It seems to be better at keeping the noise out. It also feels spacious with another row of seat behind. The driving position is as commanding, and the visibility as good. Like the Yodha PS, the rear view mirrors provide a good view. Light cutch and a smooth shifting five-speed manual gearbox makes for a car-like feel. Also, the ability to adjust the tilt of the steering column. The steering feedback is good and aids maneouvrability. If a sense of robustness is evident, the Yodha, in either form – dual cab or single cab, feels easy to drive and maneouvre. On the dual cab version, the rear suspension setup is slightly different. This has a bearing on the ride quality. The ride of the dual cab Yodha is pliant than the Yodha PS. True workhorses both, the Yodha DC and the Yodha PS, are. The anti-roll bar at front contributes; makes for predictable handing. Predictable handling makes it easy to negotiate the twists and turns. Strong brakes with a progressive feel inspire confidence.

The warrior clan

The modern, albeit aggressive appearance of the Yodha makes an impression. It is a smartly executed product with a robust hardware. Building on the legacy of the Tatamobile, the Yodha reflects on the experience of the company to provide commercial mobility solutions that result in lower cost of ownership. Designed and developed with diverse applications and buyer profiles in view, the Yodha presents the owner-operator with a pick-up truck that is smart and empowers him to do business in an urban environment, and across the vast countryside. Flaunting high ground clearance and a good approach and departure angle, the Yodha impresses with its car-like driving experience. It is not as plush, and could do with more noise insulation. Fit for accomplishing diverse tasks, the Yodha comes across as a fiery machine fit for the warrior clan.

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Making the Yodha

The Yodha is built at the J18 block of the Tata Motors’ plant at Pune. The line is common to the Yodha, ‘conventional’ Xenon and the 207. The export Xenons are also made at the facility, and it is thus interesting to see jobs with a diferent, hydroformed frame roll down the final assembly. They flaunt different drivelines, suspension, and other parts. The overall manufacturing arrangement in the hall, as part of a huge integrated manufacturing complex, looks a bit unconventional. The hall itself is roughly broken into two compartments. The rear half, dedicated to the construction of the cabin BIW. Cabins for the 207, ‘conventional Xenon, and the Yodha share the same line. Kuka robots find application to carry out precise welds in hard to reach areas. Except the skin panels, all the other panels, including those of the door and the bonnet, are supplied by the vendors. Sub-assembly stations weld the door panels and the bonnet panels. They are then fitted to the cab.

The cab BIW is transferred to the paint shop adjoining the hall. From the paint shop, the painted cab BIW is delivered to a trim line on one side of the first compartment of the hall. Trim parts like glass, wiring harness, seats, etc., are fitted here. On the other side is the compartment is the final assembly line. Suspension, steering gear, driveline, cabin and load body marriage takes place over here, and as per the model configuration. At the plant level, there are said to be a whopping 350 configurations, including the complete pick-up family Tata Motors sells in India as well as in the international markets.

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Volvo retains mining advantage; looks at new avenues of growth

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The endeavour at Volvo Trucks India is to be a trusted partner of their customers.

Story & Photos:

Ashish Bhatia

Volvo Trucks India started its journey in India in 1996. It started by offering long-haul trucks in the form of FH, FM and the FL. It found a calling in mining trucks over time. The economics of trucking turned the Swedish truck maker into a household name in heavy-duty mining tipper segment. In the long-haul highway segments, it was left to find a niche in the ODC segment. With 33 per cent of the business coming from the mining sector, Volvo trucks are going strong. They are adapting, innovating and partnering with the customer in the quest to achieve the position of a total solutions provider. Successful in striking a lasting rapport with its customers, especially in the overburden (waste or soil removal) applications in mines, Volvo Trucks India has found a place of pride in the niche market. According to Dinakar B, Senior Vice President – Sales, Marketing & Aftermarket, Volvo Trucks India, “A difficult market it is. Others, global majors have tried and failed.” Constituting over 90 per cent of its business, the remaining 10 per cent is attributed by on-road trucks – ODC carriers. Volvo Trucks India has found a niche.

The niche

Finding a niche in the mining segment was not easy. According to Dinakar B., the company does not offer an entire range of mining products in India. The main stay is the FMX heavy-duty tipper range. It has made a mark. It has made a difference as operators seek high productivity levels. Providing a total value preposition, the FMX range has made a name for itself. Drawing attention to the nineties and early 2000, Dinakar B averred that customers earlier purchased either heavy dump trucks or lower tonnage (10-tonne to 16-tonne) trucks. “With business purely dependent on the tenure of the contract and the nature of the customer’s work, it was necessary that we offered him the right solution. The conventional trucks in two axle, and in 6×4 configuration, with a power range of 180 to 200 hp posed certain limitations. Our mining trucks quickly made a mark. They could be relied upon, and were capable of withstanding work cycles of longer duration. So the operators switched over to Volvo trucks,” explained Dinakar. Pointing at an uptime of 24 hours, he expressed, “As long as the customers maintain their vehicles well, they are assured of a reliable truck.”

Apart from the need to work long hours, mining trucks have to offer higher productivity, carrying capacity, and an ability to pull from the lower bench to the higher stock bench. “It was after gauging the performance, that the operators decided to invest in our multi-axle trucks,” mentioned Dinakar. To support the mining trucks portfolio, Volvo Trucks India has built its own service and spares network. It has deployed its own engineers at customer sites. According to Dinakar, what makes the difference is the ability to provide a complete solution. It is what makes a difference. The brand immersion, according to Dinakar, is based on the three pillars of safety, environment care, and productivity. The market share of Volvo Trucks in India in the premium mining trucks segment is approximately 60 per cent. Competition is not idle. What continues to work in favour of Volvo mining trucks is the belief in technology, and aggregates that can stand up to the abusive nature of continuous working cycles in Indian mines. Keen to maintain 60 per cent market share in the mining segment, Volvo Trucks India continues to drive technology and offer the right solution.

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The right solutions

The introduction of Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) called I-Shift has provided huge benefits to the operators. Customers, according to Dinakar, have reported saving of five to six per cent over a similar manual transmission truck. He pointed at the FuelWatch challenge the company conducts every year to how fuel efficient its trucks are. Early this year, the company successfully conducted the eighth edition of the challenge at Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. Striving to raise the skill levels of the drivers, increase fuel efficiency and consciousness towards environment, FuelWatch is becoming an integral part of Volvo’s sales strategy as far as the mining trucks are concerned. Refraining from selling trucks unless they are certain that they will make a profitable business case for the customer, Volvo Trucks India, once certain, not only sells the truck, it also provides support such that the trucks can run 24×7. “We assure the customer of a 90 per cent plus uptime,” said Dinakar.

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Setting up a benchmark by offering service and spares at the mining customer site, Volvo Trucks India is ensuring that breakdowns don’t last for more than 24 hours in most cases. “It entails synergy agreements, full maintenance contracts, parts contract, and technical support to the extent of offering helpers to Volvo Trucks customers,” according to Dinakar. Among the noteworthy initiatives that Volvo Trucks India has taken is the Indian School of Mining, Dhanbad. The school is helping customers to achieve high efficiency. To Volvo, the school is presenting an opportunity to understand customer needs. Having 200 touch points, and 750 technicians, Volvo advises its customers to invest in a team of technicians, as soon as the truck count goes up to 15.

Banking on technology

The BSIV FMX 460 8×4 tipper the company recently launched employs SCR and I-Shift Automated Manual Transmission. Introduced in 2014, the I-Shift was developed with the use of enormous on-road data gathered by Volvo Trucks in real-world conditions. Found on all Volvo brand of trucks sold, it is being improved continuously. Currently in the fourth generation, it is an indication of advanced technologies that a Volvo mining truck in India have come to possess. According to Dinakar, the I-Shift is far more advanced than what the competition has to offer, and assures class leading fuel efficiency. Drawing attention to Volvo having developed 10×4 tag and pusher axles with a 480 hp and 520 hp power engine variant, Dinakar expressed that the mining trucks that Volvo Trucks India sells, come with a mining software package. It supports good start-ability on gradients and operate-ability under less than optimum conditions. Work is underway to further enhance the software, which supports features like ‘jerk start’, ‘I-roll’ and ‘Eco-roll’. The FMX tippers, unlike the FM 460 puller, do not feature a crawler gear in their I-Shift AMT.

Market trend

With existing customers looking at a better duty cycle, and better cost per cubic metre handling, the market for niche application tippers is evolving in two to three directions. New entrants are looking to attain similar operating efficiencies. Coal requirement in India in terms of the thermal power necessary, is taking its own course to develop. Most coal excavation today, or coal mining requirements, are broadly being catered to by entities like Coal India Limited., Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) and Neyveli Lignite Corporation India Limited. They are looking at Mine Development cum Operations (MDOs). Privatisation and the auctioning of blocks is taking a definitive shape. Over the next two to three years it is expected that the dependence on Coal India Limited and government activities will reduce in contrast to the dependence on MDOs.

Citing an example of NTPC Ltd., which has taken a few blocks from Coal India Limited, Dinakar expressed, “The former will not buy coal from Coal India Limited going forward. The way the blocks are shaping up, they will make NTPC self-sufficient. The blocks will be handled by private entities. When these private entities enter the MDOs, they will look at more efficient ways of earning, which would lead them to attain cost benefits. They will look at a higher class of equipment like multi-axle dump trucks. This is where we see an opportunity.” “As MDOs rise, and local players take over the handling of coal from the surface, Volvo Trucks India is looking at an opportunity to transport coal. It is evaluating the market,” he added. Aware that overdependence on a particular segment could make it vulnerable, Volvo Trucks India is looking at other vital, growth oriented segments. Said Dinakar, “We want to expand beyond coal, and sustain our leadership in coal

mining.”

Dinakar B, Senior Vice President – Sales, Marketing & Aftermarket, Volvo Trucks India

Q. What is the mining segment contribution to Volvo Trucks India?

A. We are in the niche market. We do not offer a complete gamut of products in mining. Our mining trucks, or multi-axle mining trucks go to government contractors. They make a difference to those who want to take advantage of their productivity and value. Much depends on the contract tenure and the work that these contractors do. Going back in time, in the 1990s, or early 2000, our truck positioning was about total value preposition. Customers purchased heavy duty dump trucks or lower tonnage (10-tonne to 16-tonne) trucks. Multi-axle trucks were alien. Trucks back then were either two-axle or of 6×4 configuration with power ranging between 180 and 200 hp. What made our trucks tick was their ability to endure long duration work cycles. Our trucks have an uptime of 24 hours a day. They don’t need regular intervention except for preventive maintenance. As long as the operator maintains them, he is assured of reliable trucks. Offering better productivity, better carrying capacity, and better pull from lower bench to the higher stock bench, our trucks have won the confidence of the operators.

Q. How has the mining product portfolio performed over the last three years?

A. The year 2015 was the best year for Volvo trucks in India. We touched an all-time high of over 1200 trucks with a market share of 65 per cent. In 2016 calendar year, we experienced a drop of five per cent (60 per cent). We sold 1100 trucks approximately. Our market share today is 60 per cent. Competition is growing as others are experimenting with various methods and strategies to invade the niche segment that we are in. What we have learnt is that you as a manufacturer have to believe in technology, build aggregates that can sustain the loads, and the nature of continuous working cycles. Despite trying, the competition has not succeeded. I am confident that we will retain the 60 per cent market share.

Q. How are you adapting to the evolving needs of the market?

A. Mining in terms of the over burden removal work is evolving in two to three different directions. Existing customers are looking at a better duty cycle, and at better cost per cubic metre of handling. New entrants are looking to attain similar equations, and are scouting for entities to partner them. For the production of thermal power, the coal requirement is taking its own course to develop. Most coal excavation or coal mining requirement today is catered to by Coal India Limited., Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) and Neyveli Lignite Corporation India Limited. They are looking at Mine Development cum Operations (MDOs). Privatisation and auctioning of blocks is taking a good shape. Over the next two to three years, the dependence on Coal India Limited and government activities will go down. Dependence on MDOs will rise. NTPC Ltd., for example, has got a few blocks from Coal India Limited. It will not buy coal from Coal India Limited with the MDOs shaping up well. It would be self-sufficient with its own blocks. The blocks will be handled by private entities that will enter the MDOs. The private entities will look at efficient ways of earning. They will attain cost benefits, and will look at higher class of equipment like multi-axle dump trucks. Such a move will lead to efficient coal handling. Coal handling, from the pit to surface, is by government companies. Coal handling, from the surface, is by local players. We see an opportunity here. Volvo trucks could play a role provided the working conditions are conducive.

Q. Where do see the most traction coming from?

A. Our products in India are specifically developed for overburden applications. The flagship offering is the FMX 460 BSIV. Its advanced I-Shift technology, developed from the enormous on-road data gathered by Volvo Trucks in real-world conditions, is tailored for mining application. It is far more advanced than the automated manual transmissions offered by others. We have also developed 10×4 tag and pusher axles with a 480 hp and 520 hp engine option. The 33 cu. m. coal body on the FMX 460 is seeing good traction.

Q. How has the I-Shift evolved over the years?

A. The I-shift that we offer, comes with a mining software package. It is particularly suitable for hilly gradients and heavy loads. With the challenge of making it work on gradients and with heavy loads. We are continuing to improve the software on an ongoing basis. We recently improved the shifting part of the I-Shift. It entailed hardware and software changes, and resulted in smoother shifts. While features like ‘jerk start’, ‘I-roll’ and ‘Eco-roll’ improve fuel efficiency and performance, the I-Shift AMT of the FMX 460 does not come with a crawler gear. It is offered on FM 460 puller. Where the tipper’s first gear ratio is 14.9 that of the first crawler gear of the FM 460 is 32. There are two crawler gears on the FM 460. They help to tackle very heavy loads (greater than 325-tonne). In India it is approved for 150-tonnes.

Q. How do you plan to make the transition to BSVI by 2020?

A. Our product development team is working to meet the BSVI emission norms by 2020. We already offer Euro6 trucks globally. We will offer the best solutions to our customers.

Q. What is the extent of localisation in India?

A. We have up to 20 per cent localisation in India, which includes the body and a few components barring the driveline. The driveline is imported.

Q. To avoid unnecesary inventory, how is the demand for trucks and spares gauged?

A. We follow a project tracker. Each and every project is tracked. We map upcoming projects; gather details from sources. We also track the prospective buyers and bidders. From them, we understand the requirements. We also ask our customers about their future plans. We also rely on trend analysis. There are instances when we have to work up an error margin despite the best scientific methods we use. Our planning cycle is of five months. We have to import CKD kits from Sweden, and thus take into consideration the shipment, local clearances and assembly. We have to have a five months forecast. A certain degree of clarity is necessary. Inputs from retail organisation, and historical data from customers are obtained. It is used in combination with the other data to gauge future demand.

Q. How do you create brand awareness, and reach out to the customer?

A. Our strength lies in the fact that we have our own network. With it, we remain closer to the customer. We have always aspired for customer success as they use our equipment. In mining, it is not just the truck, it is instead the complete solution that we offer. Our brand immersion is based on the three pillars of ‘safety’, ‘environment care’, and ‘productivity’. Our products are fuel efficient. In terms of per cubic metre efficiency, the introduction of I-shift has hugely benefitted the customer. He is assured of five to six per cent savings. Testimony to this is the FuelWatch Challenge. It is our bit towards lowering the carbon footprint. Also, we do not sell a Volvo unless we feel that it is needed at the customer site. Once we are certain, we allow our trucks to operate 24×7 with an assured uptime of over 90 per cent. This is helping us to be a trusting partner to our customers.

Q. How do you rate your aftermarket thrust?

A. For us, the aftermarket has shaped up well. We have the best aftermarket network in mining in the country today. We are looked upon as the benchmark when it comes to the supply of spare parts at the customer site. We ensure that breakdowns do not last beyond 24 hours. We continue to improve our methods, be it through synergy agreements, full maintenance contracts, parts contract, technician support or by offering helpers to our customers. Having invested heavily on the driver training, we continue to encourage our customers to take initiatives like the opening of the Indian School of Mining at Dhanbad. We have hired people to visit customer sites and understand their business. If there is a change, we suggest ways to tweak the operations such that the best results are had. Our partnering with the customer helps him to get the best out of his Volvo truck.

Q. What global trends will touch India?

A. We are looking at automatic braking, which exists in our global portfolio. The autonomous mining truck that was tested in the underground mines is another technology, which I think, is easy to implement in the Indian mines too. Dynafleet coupled with operational efficiency is a new initiative from us. It gives an exhaustive data on its own. It is the crunching of that data, and extracting the relevant information that is important. We are working with our customers on the same.

Q. Does India contribute to the global R&D at Sweden?

A. We give feedback to Sweden, which is the Volvo R&D hub. This is done to fine tune the India strategy.

Q. What synergies do you share with your joint venture partner Eicher Motors?

A. In the mining segment, if our customers require Eicher trucks, we help get them. At the operating level we have a good understanding.

Q. Do you intend to reduce dependency on the mining segment?

A. We are looking at islands of opportunities, where our products will offer a value proposition in 24×7 working conditions. We are looking at a highly productive environment for them. We may not look at new products for expansion, and the three to four potential segments that we see include bulk excavation similar to lift irrigation that is carried out in Telangana on the Godavari riverbed. It is a time bound exercise. We see blue metal and Granite quarrying as a potential area. The gradients are steep and require careful manoeuvring. In the area of on-road construction, our tip-trailers could serve. After determining the potential islands of growth, we would need to change our products so that they can adapt to the needs. We will announce a revised product strategy next year (in 2018).

Q. What are your growth areas and the challenges you see?

A. Overdependence on a particular segment is a challenge in my opinion. It makes any organisation vulnerable. As 90 per cent of our business in India today comes from the coal overburden removal segment in mining, 90 per cent of my workforce and network is concentrating on one particular segment. We are not looking at other vital growth segments, and that is the challenge. It is something that we are seriously working on. We want to expand beyond coal and sustain our leadership in coal mining.

BGR Mining & Infra Pvt. Ltd.

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Among the top three coal mining contractors in India, BGR Mining & Infra Pvt. Ltd., (BGR) started operations 25 years ago. It began with a few conventional tippers, and a small excavator when it won the contract to excavate six lakh cubic metre of overburden in four months. The project was a success and gave the company the confidence to grow. From a few conventional tippers, the fleet of BGR has grown to include over 2000 tippers. It is in fact one of the first few key customers of Volvo Trucks India to have put every model of Volvo tipper to use. Apart from a large fleet of Volvo tippers, BGR has come to have the largest fleet of Volvo 10×5 dump trucks. These trucks are helping the company to meet the growing demand for higher capacity. Said B Umapathy Reddy, Chairman & Managing Director, BGR Mining & Infra Pvt. Ltd. that it is Volvo’s approach to partner with customers, and to set a benchmark in after-sales support that we have come to see them as our preferred partner.

Dhansar Engineering Pvt. Ltd.

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Dhansar Engineering Pvt. Ltd. traces its roots to 1890. With the sixth generation of the Agarwalla family at the helm, the company has come a long way to become one of the leading coal mine contractors. Also into construction and transportation, Dhanbad-based Dhansar Engineering Pvt. Ltd. (DECO) began its association with Volvo Trucks some 15 years ago after it won the contract for earth excavation and filling at the Tehri Dam project. While Manoj Agarwalla, Director, Dhansar Engineering Pvt. Ltd., attributed the success of their operation in overcoming operating challenges in an extremely difficult strata, boulder formation and fragmented terrain to their partnership with Volvo Trucks India, Harsh Agarwalla, Managing Director, Dhansar Engineering Pvt. Ltd., mentioned that their decision to choose Volvo trucks has turned out to be right. “Volvo trucks lived up to our expectation,” he averred. With a 100 per cent Volvo fleet, DECO is one of the largest customers of Volvo Trucks India.

BharatBenz High-Five

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Three BharatBenz trucks ran from Chennai to Ludhiana and back via Kolkata and Vijaywada to celebrate the five years of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Photos:

Mahesh Reddy & DICV

It is past midnight as the convoy of three trucks gets on the highway to Mumbai. It is part of an initiative by Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) to celebrate five years of its journey in India. Starting from the DICV plant at Oragadam on the outskirts of Chennai on August 22, 2017, the convoy, under the ‘High Five’ campaign, will cover 19 major cities across India. Comprising of BharatBenz 1214, BharatBenz 2523, and BharatBenz 3123, the convoy will travel over a distance of 8000 km in one month. It will stop at dealerships, dhabas, and transport nagars, highlighting the advantages of a BharatBenz truck. I have travelled to Pune to join the convoy. Pune is one of the 50 stops the campaign will take during its journey. I have been given the opportunity to drive one of the three trucks as the campaign travels from Pune to Mumbai. Travelling with me is Rajaram Krishnanmurthy, Vice President, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles.

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High Five

There is good amount of traffic as we hit the Pune By-Pass, rolling out of the Ghatge Trucking BharatBenz dealership. The By-pass will lead us to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. To my surprise, the BharatBenz 1214 that I am at the wheel of, is easier to pilot than I had expected earlier. A modern truck, it is ergonomically arranged. My thoughts take me back in time to the day I drove a similar camoflauged truck at Hyderabad in 2012. When I tell this to Rajaram, he responds, “The Indian trucks have made a positive impression in Africa. The chances of a truck driver returning safe from the journey are full if he drives a truck made by Daimler in India.” His words surprise me. It takes a while before they sink in. It is silence for a few moments before he speaks: “In Africa, the terrain is so harsh that only the tough survive. If a truck breaks down during a journey, the safety of the crew is at risk.” Marketing and selling Indian made Daimler trucks in Africa for a good three to four years, Rajaram came to observe that many African markets do not have any emission norms. There are some markets, he mentions, where the competition includes used trucks sourced from Europe. Hinting at Indian Daimler trucks driving a change in Africa, Rajaram announces, “Much has changed in India over the years that I was in Africa.”

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“Three years back when I left, the growth of the company was different. Now it is different. With BSIV emission norms coming in, and with technology by our side, a big change that I have come to observe is that customers are listening to technology. When I left for the international markets, it was about price. It was about the offer. Today, the same people are talking about technology,” he says. Referring to the ‘High Five’ campaign, Rajaram avers, “We want to celebrate the fifth anniversary of BharatBenz with more than 50,000 trucks on road. We want to involve our customers, drivers and partners. We want to thank them for trusting our brand and our products.” My thoughts are drawn to an event at Mumbai in 2012 when the BharatBenz HDT truck provided an insight into what a BharatBenz truck is like. It provided an insight into the technology that was leveraged from Daimler operations the world over. During the Hyderabad event, an engineer informed me that the cab suspension was based on a design found on Daimler’s Latin American trucks. As I tell this to Rajaram, he reveals,“ We will soon start rolling out Freightiner brand of trucks at Chennai for export to Latin American markets.” On the same line at Chennai are produced the BharatBenz, Fuso and Mercedes-Benz brand of trucks. “The Indian customer gets the same quality of truck that a Mercedes-Benz truck customer gets in an export market,” says Rajaram. “We export Mercedes-Benz trucks to the Indonesian market, and the Freightliner trucks will be exported to Latin American markets,” he explains.

Made in India

As he unveiled the BharatBenz HDT truck in 2102, Marc Llistosella, the then CEO and MD of DICV, announced that it was based on the Mercedes-Benz Axor platform. “We spent six years without any return, and now is the time,” he said. We indulged in extensive testing; we built a test track at our facility. We tested each and every component; tested everything. We tested for three long years. We gathered unique knowledge. We went after hardware engineering. Not very fancy, but innovative,” informed Llistosella. When I mention this to Rajaram, he avers, “the buyer was interested in price when we tried conveying technology during the move up to BSIII emission norms. He asked us about price, and about the discount. The same buyer today is asking about technology.”

Not much sound is entering the cabin. Our conversation poses no hurdles. Passing through the cities of Salem, Coimbatore, Kochi and Bangalore, the High-Five campaign stopover at Pune saw Rajaram and Satish Ghatge (the proprietor of Ghatge Trucking) hand over five spanking new BharatBenz trucks to their respective buyers. The ceremony saw BharatBenz owners drive to the dealership to interact with Rajaram and his team; with the dealer and his team. Some are into long-haul business, and some are into the construction business. They expressed that they are happy about their decision to purchase a BharatBenz truck because it is reliable and efficient.

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The Expressway

The convoy rolls down the Expressway, and it is clocking good speeds. Says Rajaram, “The abolision of barriers due to GST entails a smooth drive for a truck. It can now travel more kilometers. Drivers can drive for more time, and over longer distances.” “It is under these circumstances that the comfort factor assumes importance,” he quips. The sale of fully-built cabin is rising according to Rajaram. My thoughts go to Eric Nesselhauf, MD & CEO, DICV, announce that they will offer fully built trucks only. It was on the eve of the first truck rolling out of the assembly line at Chennai. When I mention this to Rajaram, he quickly responds, “We have observed that speeds have multiplied since April. A truck that was averaging 30 kmph is now averaging 55 kmph. A truck often runs for 70 to 80 kms at a stretch with an average speed of 55 kmph. Since the truck is driving at high speeds, it has to have a safe cabin.” “With SCR technology, there is a reduction in overall costs. To increase operator profitability, we look at cutting costs. We are the only manufacturer that did not increase the cost of the truck after migration to BSIV,” he explains. The decision has led to DICV gaining traction opines Rajaram. He explains that the assembly lines are running full; seven days a week. “We are addressing the issue of a waiting period of four to six weeks,” he quips.

The journey

We cross the Talegaon toll post. The ‘High-Five’ campaign stickers on the door are attracting attention. Once past the toll plaza, it does not take long to regain good speeds. Speeds in the region of 60-80 kmph provide a glimpse of how modern and capable this truck is becoming. There’s no hint of fatigue. If the power steering is making it easy to maneouvre, the ample glass area and the wide mirrors are providing a good view of the surrounding. Pointing at the instrument panel, Rajaram opines, “The driver has to have comfort if he is to drive for more than 300 kms.” “Revenue will come by driving more, and driving longer distances. By doing more trips,” he avers. Informing that every third truck sold by DICV is air-conditioned, Rajaram states, “A gazette notification came out last week, which mandates a ventilation system or an AC. We are pushing for an AC cabin because they are the best for Indian truck drivers as India develops.” It starts to rain. The wipers begin their task in earnest.

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As I slow down, another BharatBenz truck speeds past. A customer truck, ferrying vegetables perhaps, to the markets of Mumbai. We both notice. Mentions Rajaram that it is the ability to save 10 to 15 per cent fuel which makes us competitive for a transporter to operate a BharatBenz truck. “Fuel cost accounts for 60 per cent of the total operating cost. So, nine per cent of the total cost is saved,” he explains. Helping to tide over cyclicity and changes to the economy, DICV has had exports of trucks exceed expectations. Says Rajaram that they are experiencing growth in every segment. The company is starting second shift at the Chennai plant to address rising demand in the domestic market. Seeing a consolidation, and a clear differentiation between the efficient and the not so efficient operators, DICV, claims Rajaram, has got repeat orders as well as new orders from new customers. “When the operators approach us to purchase trucks, they are aware of how much money an operator is making out of a Bharat-Benz truck. It provides a clear signal for them to switch. The new purchases that happened in the last three to four months, we got a share bigger than we had earlier,” he expresses.

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Stating that they will lead the market, Rajaram says that they will bring new connectivity series, which is telematics based. There are other features that DICV will offer. In the case of connected truck technologies like AEB and driver assistance system, DICV will bring them when the market is ready. “We have them,” expresses Rajaram. Electronics, it is clear, could find use in many areas, especially with the move up to Euro6 emission regulations in 2020. Drawing attention to the trend of rated load coming in, Rajaram mentions, “With the long-haul market already functioning at rated load, we will make sure our customers get the best product.” The winding ghat roads of Lonavala and Khandala have had an effect on the traffic. The heavy traffic is moving slowly as vehicles negotiate the seemingly sharp turns and winding stretches. At the end of the section, we pull into the lay-by area. My journey with the ‘High-Five’ campaign convoy has ended. Bidding adeu, I climb into the cab. The trucks look smaller and smaller as the cab pulls away. The sky is changing colour. It is hinting at the start of yet another bright day.

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Rajaram Krishnamurthy, Vice President – Marketing & Sales, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles

Q. How do you look at the changes the Indian CV space has gone through?

A. Three years back when I left, the growth of the company was different. Now it is different. With BSIV emission norms coming in, and with technology by our side, one big change that I have come to observe upon my return to India is that customers are listening to technology. When I left for the international markets, it was about price. It was about the offer. Today, the same people are talking about technology. They want to know what is SCR; they want to know why SCR and why not EGR. When we tried conveying technology during the move up to BSIII emission norms, the buyer was more interested in price. He asked us about price, and about the discount. Today, he is asking us about technology.

Q. How is the CV buyer tying technology and costs?

A. Let us consider SCR technology, and the buyer is assured of the lifecycle of the truck. If the lifecycle goes down, the earnings of an operator are affected. This is where technology plays a role. It is not about getting two per cent or five per cent more. It is about the life of the vehicle. Truck buyers are therefore keen to know about the technology that goes into their truck, and how it will affect their capital.

Q. How do you draw the buyer’s attention with the gamut of technologies on offer?

A. Profitability comes from higher revenue and lower cost. Developments like GST have led to the disappearance of state barriers. Twenty-two states have abolished the barriers. This entails a smooth drive for a truck. The truck can travel more kilometers. With the drivers driving for more time, and over longer distances comfort factor assumes importance. Speeds have also gone up. We have observed that speeds have multiplied from April to July. A truck that was averaging 30 kmph is now averaging 55 kmph. A truck often runs for 70 to 80 kms at a stretch with an average speed of 55 kmph. Since the truck is driving at high speeds, it calls for a safe cabin. We offer a safety cabin. Also, revenue will come by driving more, and by doing more trips. With SCR technology, there is a reduction in overall costs. To facilitate better working, we are offering features like reverse camera, AC, e-viscous fan, etc. We are looking at cutting costs so that the profitability of the operator increases. We were the only manufacturer that did not increase the cost of the truck during the move up to BSIV.

Q. How has your decision to not increase the cost made an impact?

A. The impact has been positive. We are gaining higher traction, and our assembly lines are running full. We are working seven days a week. We have a waiting time of four to six weeks. Our order book is one and a half months. We need to supply more. The good part is, we have created a pull. Preference for our trucks is rising. We have buyers coming to us. Only when they know that we can’t supply, do they go to others. We are working on the challenge of reducing the waiting time for our customers.

Q. Given your presence in the nine to 49-tonne segments, which is growing the fastest?

A. We are experiencing growth in every segment. We are seeing higher growth in M&HCV segments over the nine-tonne segment. Our strategy is 50 per cent domestic and 50 per cent exports. Because of the order intake, domestic sales are more. We are pushing more in the domestic market.

Q. With the coming of GST, what change at the operator level do you see?

A. Earlier many operators used to bid for the same contract. Now, only the efficient ones are able to bid and win the contracts. It is indicative of efficiency going back into the costs. We are seeing a consolidation. Operators are consolidating. Clear differentiation between the efficient and not so efficient ones is taking place. Those who are efficient, and have the right solutions are winning the contracts. It is not about small and large operators, but about efficient and less efficient operators. Those who care for every Rupee they spend will stay in the game. Efficiency on every count – the record that you keep, the paper that you use, or the trucks that you operate, is becoming important.

Q. How are you helping an operator to increase his efficiency?

A. When the operators approach us to purchase trucks, they are aware of how much money an operator is making out of a BharatBenz truck. It provides a clear signal for them to switch. The new purchases that happened in the last three-four months, we got a share bigger than we had earlier. We got repeat orders as well as new orders fron new customers. Many walk into our dealerships and ask about what is the new technology available in a BSIV truck. They are not sure. This is because they don’t want to take a chance on what they don’t understand. When there is a new engine and a new platform on offer, an operator is keen to go with what is established. We have been doing Euro4 for the last twelve years. We are now doing Euro6 in Europe. This is not something that we did for the last one or two years. We were selling BSIV trucks even before BSIV emission regulations were implemented pan-India. With the move up to BSIV we have not effected any change to the engine we were offering earlier; there’s been no change in the transmission. We are using air-assisted SCR technology in heavy-duty CVs. In medium-duty CVs we are using air-less SCR technology.

Q. What makes air-assisted SCR tech suitable for one class of trucks, and air-less SCR tech suitable for another?

A. It depends on how many kilometres a truck travels. A heavy-duty truck travels 12000 to 15000 kms a month. A medium-duty truck travels 4000 to 5000 kms a month. We need to give a solution that is suitable for that application. It is about what the customer needs. What the customer needs, we are giving. It is about being cost competitive and fuel efficient.

Q. You have been pushing for an AC truck cabin?

A. A gazette notification came out last week that mandates a ventilation system or an AC. We would want to push for an AC cabin because AC cabins are best for Indian truck drivers as India develops. We are seeing a lot of growth in AC cabins. One in three trucks that we sell is an AC truck. Institutional buyers go for AC cabins. Also the first time buyers who are owner-operators. We are the only CV maker to provide an AC cabin in medium-duty trucks. Medium-duty trucks are typically single-unit owner driven trucks. Buyers of such trucks want to go for an ABS, and an AC. It is they who want to have comfort and safety.

Q. So, the profile of a trucker is changing?

A. Somewhere a realisation is coming in, that only when they are comfortable and safe will they be able to earn more. This change is happening for the last two-three years. This change could be attributed to the exposure the buyers are getting. They are becoming aware of what is happening in other markets.

Q. Freight rates have not grown for sometime. They are in fact dropping. Doesn’t that pose a challenge?

A. This is where efficiency comes in. If your trucks are not efficient you will not be able to participate in the tenders you were able to participate in earlier. Then, you were competitive. What makes it competitive today is the ability to save 10 to 15 per cent fuel. Fuel cost accounts for 60 per cent of the total operating costs. So, nine per cent of the total cost is saved. If five trips were accomplished earlier, the speed and torque of our trucks will enable the operator to do six trips. That one trip accounts for 20 per cent extra revenue. It is with such efficiency that an operator can still remain competitive even if the freight rates do not go up. With BSIV, the efficiency of our trucks has improved. In 2012, we said that our trucks will offer 10 per cent more efficiency when compared to what was available in the market. With BSIV we are talking about giving another 10 per cent on the top of what we offered on our BSIII trucks. We continue to raise the bar, and stay competitive.

Q. What new could we see coming from Daimler India Commercial Vehicles?

A. We will lead this market. When it comes to service, we were the one who said that it has to be done in an organised way. A service done properly will increase the life of a truck. With BSIV each truck has come to the workshop. We will bring new connectivity series, which is top-class. It will improve customer profitability. With the new connectivity series, which is telematics based, we will give more value. We are developing it with our parent company. The technology will come at an Indian cost. There are other features that we will bring too. In the case of connected truck technologies like AEB and driver assistance systems, we will be the first to bring them when the market is ready. We have them. It is a matter of the market being ready. The heavy-duty truck that we launched in Japan is the most advanced. It is a Fuso brand of trucks and packs in technologies like ABS, AEB and more. This truck indicates that we already have the technology. To bring such technologies, there has to be the volume support. A legislation would help, but the point is we have to offer the technology at the right time, and not before time where it finds it difficult to sell.

Q. How much more electronics could we see on trucks in India?

A. Electronics could find use in many areas. It could find use in maintenance systems; in safety systems. When Euro6 comes in, if the truck is not maintained properly, it will become Euro3. The Euro6 technology will call for advanced injection system; system to monitor fuel injection and supply, and whether the exhaust gas coming out of the tail pipe is of the right kind. Electronics plays an important role in ensuring that the truck is emission compliant. The same may not be the case in an EGR equipped vehicle after an amount of usage. We want our trucks to comply with the stipulated emission norms till the end of its life. The onboard diagnostics system we have on our trucks checks whether the truck emits as per the prescribed standard or not. If the truck emits more, it will go into the limp mode. It may not be an exaggeration to say that everything is right because of electronics. There are the NOx sensors; there are the other sensors. These could be omitted, and a way around it could be found. We however do not want to do it. We want to respect and abide by the emission regulations in spirit. We cannot cheat the customer. He expects the life of the vehicle to be longer. Continuous improvement is the way of life for us. In the area of weight, cost, efficiency, and more. We see a trend of rated loads coming in. The long-haul market is already rated load. If one state bans overload, the whole route turns rated load. Maharashtra and Gujarat for example are rated-load states. If a truck has to pass through these states, it has to have rated-load.

Q. How are the export markets panning out?

A. We are doing good in export markets. We are receiving very good response in the exports markets of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. There’s very good response for ‘Made in India’ trucks that we offer under different brands. The Daimler India Commercial Vehicle plant at Chennai makes trucks under three brands. The three brands are BharatBenz, Fuso and Mercedes-Benz. Very soon we will also make trucks under the Freightliner brand on the same line. The trucks, made on the same line, share the same quality. The Indian customer thus gets the same quality of truck that a Mercedes-Benz truck customer gets in an export market. We export Mercedes-Benz trucks to the Indonesian market. The Freightliner trucks will be exported to the Latin American markets.

Q. Are you looking at the ODC market?

A. Currently the volumes do not justify. It is a 100 units market. We could import a truck and offer to the ODC market. Our priority is however to cater to the mass market. In the mass market, we want to be a premium player.

Q. A shift from economy trucks to mid-premium trucks seems to be on. How do you look at it?

A. Many years ago when we said that there was an opportunity, others laughed at us. We believed in India and its growth story. We knew that the customer will change, and accordingly developed trucks that will address his needs. This is the day we have been waiting for. It gives us the confidence to lead this market. What we did seven to eight years ago, others are doing now. They are following us. For example, we offered SCR technology in 2011. We will continue to set the benchmark in fuel efficiency, safety, comfort and technology. We will make sure that our customers get the best product. We have a network of 130 dealers. In India, we cover within two hours. The need is to have an efficient network that reaches the customer in the least time, put the truck back on the road and help the customer to have the best uptime. We reached the 50,000 sales mark last month. We are the fastest growing CV company in India. We want to grow faster.

Euro5 BharatBenz

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To mark five years of its journey, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles has introduced a Euro5 truck in India.

Story & Photos by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) has introduced a Euro5 ready truck in the medium-duty range of trucks it sells. Offering 14 truck models in the 9- to 49-segments, and under the medium-duty truck (MDT) and heavy-duty truck (HDT) nomenclature, the company is starting second shift at its Chennai plant to address the rise in demand for its trucks. Experiencing a positive uptake in the Indian market after the migration to BSIV emission norms, the company has sold over 50,000 trucks in its five years in India. Announcing a dedicated truck brand BharatBenz for India in 2011, DICV bridged the 10,000 units sales mark in 2014. Unveiling the first BharatBenz truck at Delhi in early 2012, and following up with an introduction of HDT truck at Mumbai the same year, DICV is looking at expanding its reach to 40 export markets by the end of this year over the current count of 38 markets. Beginning exports in 2013, and to the left-hand drive markets in 2014, DICV, in the domestic market has come be the number-three player in the HDT space. Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate five years of DICV in India, Marc Llistosella, Head of Daimler Trucks Asia, expressed that they have been changing the game in India. He drew attention to the Fuso eCanter his company has introduced in New York. The electric truck will complement the UPS fleet for last mile delivery in an urban environment.

Describing the eCanter as a game changer, and a solution from Daimler to address the new needs in urban haulage, Llistosella, revealed that they have achieved a nine-per cent growth in India. He averred, “We are seeing a marginal improvement in India.” The Asian business, in comparison, grew 25 per cent. Stating that the significant growth in the last few months gives him confidence, Llistosella remarked, “In 2012, we started with the launch of the HDT in Mumbai. We brought new standards in quality and safety. We also began exporting. Exports have doubled every year since. None of the new entrants have come close to where we are today.”

Banking on technology

Exporting trucks made at the Chennai plant to Indonesia under the Mercedes-Benz brand, DICV has exported 7000 trucks under different brands till date said Marc. Trucks sold domestically and those that are exported share the same line at the Chennai plant of DICV. They flaunt the same build quality thus. Confronting 60 per cent old trucks upon entry into the Indian market five years ago, Llistosella touched upon the cowl trucks. They are not safe, he quipped. Claiming that they were the first to offer fully-built trucks, Llistosella commented, “We were the first to offer a BSIV truck in India. It is us who have been pushing for a AC cabin. We feel that it is necessary for the driver who drives over longer distances. His getting tired has a safety imperative.” Stressing upon the obligation to bring new technology, Llistosella opined, “Now is the right time. Electrification of trucks is possible. It is possible in India with the support of the authorities. We need infrastructure, and we can do it. Daimler can do it.” Expressing that they have not achieved all that they wanted to achieve (in India), Llistosella mentioned that exports have exceeded their expectations. Averred Erich Nesselhauf, Managing Director & CEO, DICV, “We export to 38 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, New Zealand, and Africa. To address export aspirations as well as to address the rising demand in the domestic market, we have started second shift at the Chennai plant.” Erich expressed, “We have never waited for regulations.”

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Staying ahead of regulations

The push for AC truck cabin by DICV made news late last year. The company is continuing to push for AC cabins. The pursuit for AC cabins, said Erich, reflects on our strategy to not wait for the regulations. “We were the first to introduce crash tested cabins. We are exporting them to advanced markets. We were the first to introduce an AC in our trucks. We understand the need to deliver less polluting products. We will not wait for regulations. It is as per our strategy that we are introducing the Euro5 ready truck. It has 40 per cent NOx emissions than an Euro4 truck,” he explained. Offered on the MDT platform, which borrows heavily from the Fuso Canter platform, the Euro5 truck employs airless SCR technology. To meet Euro5 regulations, DICV engineers tweaked the SCR and engine management system.

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Capable of withstanding the variation in the quality of Diesel in India, the Euro5 truck, according to Nesselhauf has already begun finding its way to the operators. “We will hand over the Euro5 truck to our customers that care about the environment,” averred Erich. Hopeful of finding a place in many markets of the world, the Euro5 truck, said Erich, is the cleanest truck on Indian roads today. Reflecting on the ability of the company to pro-actively protect the environment, the Euro5 truck, quipped Marc, will help address vehicular particulate pollution. “We don’t believe in the lack of infrastructure. India is heavily investing in solar and other means of electricity generation. Pollution here is about 400 particles as compared to Germany where it is about 150 particles. There is an opportunity for an electric product. When we come out with an electric product, it will be competitively priced,” he concluded.

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Ashok Leyland’ digital path to growth

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To beat market cyclicity and achieve higher growth, Ashok Leyland is looking at digital initiatives as an enabler.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

With an eye on grabbing a greater share of the Rs.2.4 crore spent by an operator on a truck through out its lifecycle, Ashok Leyland has unveiled four digital platforms that promise to enhance value. Claiming to earn only Rs.20 lakh it typically takes to buy a truck out of the Rs.2.4 crore spent, Ashok Leyland is riding on the rapid growth of smart phones. It is hoping that its four digital initiatives – i-Alert, ServiceMandi, e-diagnostics and Leykart – will help customers to better manage their business logging on. Developed over the last year and a half, the four digital initiatives leverage the telematics solutions that the CV maker has invested in. Said to be the first CV maker to offer a telematics platform ‘Alert’ on its trucks since 2008, Ashok Leyland introduced i-Alert in 2016. The telematics platform was updated in July. If the i-Alert saw the company leverage telematics, the four digital platforms were piloted on 100 CVs prior to their unveiling.

Tapping the aftermarket

Looking at a Rs.60,000 crore opportunity on the Indian highways, the digital initiatives ride on a premise that Ashok Leyland continues to under-penetrate its own aftermarket. If the way in which the four digital platforms connect with each other could be termed as unique, Ashok Leyland is claimed to be the first company in India to do so to ensure an integrated approach for the user. Developed with an eye on a typical global aftermarket revenue benchmark of 25 per cent, the digital initiatives have been integrated with the company’s SAP architecture. Ashok Leyland uses the SAP architecture to carry out its various functions, including the identification and listing of parts, and more. The linkage with SAP architecture helped the company to price the parts it offers on the Leykart platform; to ensure that they could be delivered to the door step of the customer, and to connect 20,000 mechanics to the other initiative – ServiceMandi. With the aftermarket revenue benchmark in India at a low five per cent compared to the 25 per cent benchmark in the global markets, the digital initiatives signal a significant revenue growth potential thus.

Brand and platform agnostic

Said to use ‘Adobe Creative Cloud for Business’ as an interface, the digital initiatives are claimed to have been developed with close co-operation between various teams in the company. Part of the company’s broad plan to beat the cyclic nature of the CV market, the four digital platforms are expected to be made commercially available in the next one or two months for those who would want to opt for their existing fleet. To be expanded to Ashok Leyland’s export markets, and in-line with the company’s thrust on exports as it concentrates on margins rather than absolute market share, the digital initiatives are offered as standard on BSIV emission compliant trucks. What makes them suitable is the higher share of electronics they carry; the higher number of sensors they carry, and which makes them more receptive. Engineered to be brand and platform agnostic, Ashok Leyland is claimed to have engaged IT companies whenever the need for specialised knowledge and coding was felt necessary. Developed by a team of eight to ten young engineers with support from various other departments, the hardware bit of the initiatives includes a black-box. It is fitted inside the dashboard, and is hard to identify. Capable of working even on a two wheeler, if not on a CV of another brand, the functionality of the initiatives is best enjoyed on BSIV compliant Ashok Leyland CVs. On non-BSIV CVs or that of the other brand, the functionality of the initiatives may be limited to track and trace, geofencing, driver behaviour and seeking the nearest independent mechanic in case of the need.

Avenue for faster growth

Performing diagnostics and prognostics, the digital initiatives connect to the cloud. They inform as well as establish contact with the company’s nearest dealer outlet in an event of distress. Looked upon as an avenue that will grow faster in the scheme of things at Ashok Leyland, the way the LCV business of the company is growing, the digital initiatives are expected to grow faster too. They are expected to grow faster than the M&HCV business is currently growing. Offering the promise of enhancing operator efficiency, performance and profitability through an ‘anywhere and anytime’ support for his fleet, the digital initiatives, with an estimated potential to generate Rs.1000 crore in the next three years, are said to draw from the company’s use of digital medium for the past five years to dial process efficiency and operational improvements. The telematics-based i-Alert initiative among the four, offers a live dashboard, which displays vital information of the vehicle in real-time. Going beyond the track and trace function, i-Alert sends alerts directly to the smart phone if a Ashok Leyland CV needs attention. ServiceMandi connects customers with Ashok Leyland trained and qualified mechanics. Over 20,000 mechanics have been signed for the initiative, and with a focus that they use genuine spares sourced from authorised company channel. The mechanics have been star-rated according to their capability and skills. Their fees have been pre-determined, and can thus be pre-ascertained by the operator before choosing to entrust the job.

Providing live status updates of vehicle repairs on a smart phone, the operator can pay digitally on the pre-agreed rate once the repairs are executed. If this provides comfort to the driver, and gives him a feeling that he is not alone in his journey, the e-diagnostics platform is Bluetooth-based and pin-points the error by flashing the error code on the smart phone. A troubleshooting list pops up to help the mechanic or the driver to resolve the error in a simple step-by-step process. Offering a round the clock availability of genuine spare parts, Leykart helps to find out a specific part by entering the vehicle registration number, or by selecting the relevant part from the parts list. Customers can add their choice to the kart and pay digitally. The parts are dispatched to their location from the nearest warehouse through a shipment that could be tracked on the smart phone.

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