CV industry triumphs at the Apollo CV awards 2017

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The Indian Commercial Vehicle (CV) industry came together to celebrate success at the Apollo CV Awards 2017 on February 09, 2017, in Mumbai. The eight edition of the awards, which were jointly founded by Commercial Vehicle magazine (belonging to Next Gen Publishing Pvt. Ltd.) and Apollo Tyres, adjudged products, OEMs, CV components manufacturers, CV application builders, and transporters. Held every year, the 2017 edition took into consideration developments that took place in the 2016 calendar year. Accordingly nominations were called from OEMs, CV components manufacturers, CV application builders and fleet operators in a process that lasted over two months before culminating into 24 awards and a plaque honouring the contribution of the CV man of the year.

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The five member jury of the Apollo CV awards 2017 comprised of Dilip Chhabria, Founder, DC Design, Rajat Kataria, Divisional Head – Marketing (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa), Commercial Vehicles, Apollo Tyres, V G Ramakrishnan, Managing Director, Avanteum Advisors, Kaushik Madhavan, Director – Automotive & Transportation, Frost & Sullivan, and Bhushan Mhapralkar, Editor, Commercial Vehicle magazine. The jury scrutinised close to 50 ‘non-fleet’ nominations received. This involved long debates, a deep exploration of domain knowledge and experience. Parameters like fitness for application, quality of aggregates, fuel efficiency and top speed, option to have vehicle better suited for the purpose, price and sales were considered. Over 622 ‘fleet’ nominations were received. These were scrutinised by Metric Consultancy Ltd. by using the Journey of Excellence parameter derived from the British Quality Foundation.

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The Mahindra Blazo 37 won the CV of the year award. Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles Ltd. won the CV maker of the year. Nalin Mehta, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Mahindra Trucks and Buses Ltd. won the CV man of the year. The ‘Best practice adopter of the Year’ award was won by NTC Logistics India (P) Limited. CV dealer of the Year award was won by Cargo Motors Pvt. Ltd. Tata Armored Personnel Carrier and Force Traveller First Responder were joint winners of the Special CV application of the Year award. MCV tipper of the Year award was won by Tata Prima 2528.K. Spheros Motherson’s Revo E roof-top AC for hybrid and electric buses won the CV component of the Year award. Tata DLT double-deck tractor (trailor) carrier won the CV application builder of the Year award. Volvo 8400 Hybrid city-bus won the Promising debut of the Year award. Volvo FMX440 won the HCV tipper of the Year award. BharatBenz 1617R won the MCV cargo carrier of the Year award. Eicher Pro 1110XP Hexadrive won the ICV cargo carrier of the Year. SML Isuzu Executive LX Coach won the LCV people mover of the Year award.

Orange Tours & Travels won the Private sector bus fleet operator of the Year award. The School bus of the Year award was bagged by Ashok Leyland Sunshine school bus. The ICV people mover of the Year award was won by BharatBenz 917 Tourist. The Fleet application of the Year – Niche award was bagged by Schedulers Logistics India Pvt. Ltd. Tata Signa 4923.S tractor won the HCV tractor cargo carrier of the Year. Mahindra Blazo 37 won the HCV rigid cargo carrier of the Year award. Gujarat Logistics won the Small fleet operator of the Year award. The Large truck fleet operator of the Year award was won by Inland World Logistics Pvt. Ltd. Eicher Pro 1049 won the LCV cargo carrier of the Year. Mahindra Imperio was judged the Pick-up of the Year.

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Executive travel

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To address the need for executive travel, SML Isuzu has introduced an executive coach based on its highly popular S7 platform.

Story & photos: Anirudh Raheja

With a 7500 kg gross vehicle weight, the SML Isuzu Executive LX Coach seats 19 people in high levels of comfort. If the push back luxury seats are replaced with semi-reclining seats, the coach can accommodate between 28 and 30 people. Based on SML Isuzu’s S7 platform, which has sprang numerous derivatives including a range of school buses, the executive coach incorporates the updates the Ropar-based commercial vehicle manufacturer has subjected its S7 platform too. The Executive LX Coach is thus a combination of new and familiar.

Appearance

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In terms of appearance, ‘modish’ could well be the word. A large windshield that extends way down dominates the front fascia. It also signals a clever use of glass to ensure good visibility ahead as well as add a dash of style to what would otherwise have been a boxy structure. Designed and engineered to accommodate as many people, the Executive LX Coach looks modern and smart. Its front FRP fascia, seems to strike a resemblance with an Executive LX bus built on the same, S7 platform, but with a shorter wheelbase of 2815 mm. The streaked, twin-beam head lamp assemblies add a touch of style, and as does the bumper. It is an integral part of the front fascia. SML Isuzu sources claim that the Executive LX Coach is aimed at tourist and staff transport. The good fit-finish levels will provide this coach an ability to attract both, the tourist and the staff bus commuters. Seeming to carry an amount of influence of the bigger Isuzu FR1318 bus, the Executive LX Coach flaunts fixed side windows. They are glued and provide a pillarless look, like that of the Isuzu FR1318! Measuring 8,291 mm in length, 2,262 mm in width and 3,060 mm in height, the Executive LX Coach looks well proportioned. Its wheelbase measures 4,240 mm. The body structure of the front-engine bus is made of reinforced steel. Riding on 16-inch wheels, the coach has an emergency exit door at the rear-right. Complying with the bus code, the rear fascia of the coach, sports a hatch with the tail lamp consoles on either side. There is a small windshield at the rear. Its functional value is however not clear. Opening the hatch hinged at the top provides access to the storage space. It is big enough to store the bags of all those who could ride this coach.

Air-conditioned

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If the fixed windows provide a clue, the Executive LX Coach is fitted with a Trans ACNR 25 kW roof top air-conditioner. Entry into the coach is through a pneumatically operated door on the left. The low step entry makes it easier to get into the bus and get down from the bus. The first impression upon climbing inside is the good fit-finish levels. This particular coach came fitted with 2×1 push-back seats. These were arranged across five rows. The seats have been procured from Harita Seating Systems, and come with padded arm rests and footrests. Each row of seats is provided with two mobile charging points to address the needs of commuters. The hat racks have air-con ducts running through them. Above each row are a bank of adjustable AC vents and reading lights. Also built into the hat rack are the speakers. A 19-inch, foldable LCD panel is built into the roof. For emergency evacuation, a red button has been placed in the passenger compartment. On the pillars is a hammer painted in red. This could be used to break the window glass in case of an emergency.

In-line with the other S7 (platform) variants, the Executive LX Coach does not have a full driver partition. The front passenger seat could be reached by stepping past the lid, which provides access to the engine compartment below. This lid is flush with the floor! Even the driver could choose to take this route to his cockpit or climb in through the dedicated door provided to him. Built at SML Isuzu’s bus building facility at Ropar, the driver cockpit of the Executive LX Coach will look familair to those who have been in an S7 (platform) bus, or have piloted one. It is not a complicated place to be in. It is not a place that is buzzing with a lot of electronics; digital stuff, that is.

At the wheel

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The driving position of the Executive Coach is commanding. The large front windshield provides a good view of all that lies in front. Ergonomically well engineered, the dashboard, as part of the driver’s cockpit is functional and simple. It flaunts a faux-wood and black surface finish. The instrument console is made up of a large speedometer, front and rear air pressure gauge, and fuel and engine temperature gauge. A strip at the bottom of what could be defined as a simple looking conolse, is a strip that contains the warning lamps. To the right of the instrument console is the head lamp height adjustment switch. The center console has an array of buttons followed by a music system and the AC controls. The three spoke steering wheel is a carry over from other S7 buses. Below the steering wheel, and to the left, is a blue coloured knob that switches on or off the pneumatic control system of the passenger door entry. Above the driver’s seat is a large mirror to help him quickly glance at the pasengers. For him to watch the traffic behind his bus or in the vicinity are the large external mirrors. The gear shifter is well placed and is within easy reach of the driver. In terms of ergonomics and comfort, the Executive LX Coach scores well.

On the road

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Turn the key; the SL T3 diesel motor fires to life. Available in BSIII and BSIV guise, the engine is located longitudinally at front with the drive going to the rear through a five-speed synchromesh manual transmission and a hypoid live axle. The 3455cc diesel engine produces 101 hp and 310 Nm of peak torque at 1500-1750 rpm. Good response translates into the coach smartly moving away from standstill. The SL T3 unit produces good torque from lower rpm. This helps to enhance tract-ability. Good insulation adds to the refined natire of the engine. The Executive LX Coach is a good place to be in. It is quiet and devoid of harshness. Switch to second gear, and the action, though not quite car-like, is smooth and predictable. Engage third gear, and the coach picks up speed. The lower ratios feel taller a shade taller than the higher ones. They ensure good supply of torque. With speeds in the region of 50 kmph attained easily, the coach displays good refinement. The driver area is not very noisy or a tough place to be in. It is reflective of the good sound insulation the company has deployed. The recirculating ball type power steering is light and offers good feedback. It helps to manoeuvre the coach with ease. The semi-elliptical multi leaf suspension along with hydraulic double acting and telescopic dampers at both, the front end and the rear end, support a pliant ride over a variety of surfaces. It does have a firm edge to it, but is pliant. The dual circuit vaccum assisted pneumatic brakes offer a good bite. They retard the coach, and provide a progressive feel. The air-conditioner cools the large area inside the bus effectively, and without robbing the engine of its ability to propel the vehicle at good speeds.

Bright future

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The Executive LX Coach follows the 11 m-long FR1318 in a territory were customer preferences are changing. Expectations about comfort, efficiency and safety are rising as much as they are changing. For SML Isuzu, which posted a growth of 18.8 per cent in the first half of FY2016-17, the Executive LX Coach does not signal a new territory. It has had a presence in the executive tourist and staff bus transport segments, albeit with its small wheelbase Executive bus. The Executive LX Coach promises better operating economics no doubt. Meeting the AIS 052 bus body code specifications, the Executive LX Coach from SML Isuzu points at a modern build and high standards of fit-finish. With the BSIV and CNG versions of the Executive LX Coach under certification, the future for this particular example looks bright. The Executive LX Coach extends the company’s possibilities to gain a greater pie of the market that is growing in.

Gazing into the future

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The display of people movers by Tata Motors at its Pune plant provided an opportunity to gaze into the future of public transportation mediums.

Story & photos: Ashish Bhatia

To gaze into the future is not easy. To gaze into the future of technology that will influence the transportation of masses is not easy. Tata Motors, at its Pune plant, provided an opportunity to look some of the most exciting buses that will define the future modes of transportation recently. It displayed its people mover range, starting from the alternate fuel Ace Magic to the flagship Starbus fuel cell bus concept. Guenter Butschek, CEO and Managing Director, Tata Motors, announced the launch of the Starbus Hybrid city bus on the occasion. A series hybrid city bus, modelled closely on the 10 Tata CNG hybrid city buses that are running on a route in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, the Starbus Hybrid will soon hit the roads of Mumbai, at the Bandra-Kurla Complex. They will ply between BKC and the nearby suburban rail stations of Sion, Kurla and Bandra. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has placed an order of 25 hybrid buses with Tata Motors under the FAME program. These buses will be operated by BEST. With the municipal elections in Mumbai drawing close, the first Starbus Hybrid, is expected to hit the BKC roads only after the elections are held and a new governing body comes to power.

For a democratic country like India, that is the second most populous in the world, and spread over an area of 3.287 million sq. km, the need is to move people in a manner that is well integrated. To ensure an integrated and efficient travel is a challenge. In his inaugural speech at the Busworld 2015, P S Ananda Rao, Executive Director, ASRTU, expressed the need to inculcat one-million busses immediately in addition to 7.5 lakh buses present (in the system) to address the need for people in the vast country to move. Highlighting the potential for rural connectivity, he mentioned that there is a need for 50,854 buses at 600 buses per 10 million rural population. According to a survey, claimed to be conducted by the government, over 50 per cent of the workforce continues to work at home or travel to their workplace by foot in the absence of adequate transport facilities. Many are largely dependent on private transport as the share of public transport is just 18.1 per cent of work trips. The data collected by the survey indicates that citizens are largely dependent on private modes of transport, such as bicycles (26.3 million) and motorcycles (25.4 million) in rural and urban India. In 2015 the number of daily trips using a motorcycle for commuting was 35 million (excluding personal trips).

Fuel cell bus

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With a typical city bus expected to do 200 runs a day, it made for an interesting display of six most modern buses by Tata Motors including the BKC-bound Starbus Hybrid. All five buses were prototypes, and provided an opportunity to gaze into the future. The most interesting was the ‘Tata Starbus Fuel Cell bus’. This bus is said to be the country’s first ‘Fuel Cell’ bus. Touted as a zero emission mass transport solution for city travel, it was developed in partnership with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), and combines hydrogen gas and oxygen. The bus measures 12 m in length and is claimed to have a power output of 114 bhp. If the use of fuel cell technology results in 40-60 per cent efficiency in energy conversion over conventional diesel buses, the bus, based on the previous-generation LPO 1625 Starbus Fuel Cell bus concept, shares the platform with the Starbus Hybrid and Starbus Electric. Four hydrogen cylinders of 205 litre capacity each are placed in the roof casing. A longitudinally arranged hydrogen fuel cell power system at the rear produces electric energy (equivalent to 114 hp) via the Lithium-ion battery pack. The battery delivers power to a rear-axle mounted propulsion motor through a summation gearbox, resulting in a combined output of 250 hp and 1,050 Nm of torque at 800 rpm. Featuring independent pneumatic suspension with hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers, the fuel cell bus features pneumatic dual-circuit s-cam braking system, which is ABS assisted. The full low-floor bus can seat 30 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Top speed is 70 kmph, and maximum gradeability is 17 percent.

Vestibule bus

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The Tata Marcopolo urban 9/18 FE vestibule bus measures 18 m in length. It can carry 120 (including 50 seated) passengers, which is almost equivalent of two 12 m buses. Powering this bus is a Cummins 6.7-litre, 280 hp engine located at the front. Aimed at moving more people in less space (in a typical urban landscape), the vestibule bus has a compact turn circle and can be manoeuvred with ease. The turning radius of this bus is claimed to be no different than a regular bus. What makes the vestibule bus significant is the order Tata Motors bagged recently to supply 30 vestibule buses for the BRT corridor at Dharwad-Hubli. Each bus is said to cost Rs.1.6 crore, and will ply on a 22.2 km-long corridor.

Mini people movers

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Standing out of the crowd of buses, the electric Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris made for a portfolio of mini people movers that Tata Motors is working on. Albeit in an electric form, they are looked upon to play the role of a feeder vehicle and last mile transporter. Already a word in last mile connectivity, the electric forms of Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris could well set a precedent in last mile connectivity for others to follow. Powering the Super Ace electric is a permanent magnet AC motor. Electricity is fed by a 20.7 kWh lithium-ion battery. The top speed of the CV is 80 kmph. The travel range is in the region of 100 kmph, and the rated payload is 600 kg against a GVW of 1750 kg. Magic electric contains 12.6 volt, 180 Ah batteries. Equipped with regenerative braking tech, the vehicle has a power rating of 15kW. It can reach a top speed of 40 kmph, and cover a distance of 50 km on a single charge. Battery takes eight to 12 hours to charge. The Magic Iris is powered by lithium-ion battery modules of 48 volt and 110 Ah capacity. Capable of ferrying four passengers, the traction motor of the Magic Iris is rated at 9 kW. Peak torque is 42 Nm. Capable of travelling 100 km on a single charge, the two battery modules of Magic Iris take eight hours to charge fully. The vehicle can be had with a 120 watt solar panel on the roof for supplementary charging, making it a first of its kind in its segment.

LNG bus

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It was late last year that Tata Motors showcased a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) powered city bus based on its LPO1613 platform at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It did so in association with Petronet LNG Limited (PLL) and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Displayed here, the bus, painted in an attractive shade of orange, was powered by a 5.7-litre BSIV engine that produces 130 hp of peak power at 2500 rpm and a peak torque of 405 Nm at 1250-1500 rpm. The LPO1613 chassis is built at the Lucknow plant, and the body is built at Marcopolo’s Dharwad plant. Dr. A K Jindal, Head – Engineering Research Centre, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that Kerala is keen to place an order for 10,000 buses, with 10 per cent of them, LNG powered. He added, “The supply constraints posed by CNG infrastructure makes LNG a logical extension. To increase the range of a CNG powered bus (from 300 km), more storage cylinders will be needed. This will adversely affect the power to weight ratio, payload capacity and seating capacity. LNG has a two-and-a-half times more per litre capacity than diesel. The range therefore will be between 600 to 700 km.” RT Wasan, Vice President – Sales and Marketing, Tata Motors, mentioned that cities are growing, leading to traffic congestion, in-turn bringing out a need to design different modes of public transportation. “The Urbanisation in India is skewed as compared to countries like China,” he added.

Buses for a greener tomorrow

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As countries the world over seek greener ways of move people, putting impetus on alternate mediums of propulsion, it did not come as a surprise when Dr. Jindal stated that, there is a need to adopt a viable combination of fuel and vehicle technology. Stressing upon rapid urbanisation, Wasan said that there was a need to look at the mode of transport that would best suit the needs. This would call for lower investment in infrastructure, and relate to issues like direct health-cost of urban pollution, transport mortality, air quality, climate change and depleting natural resources, he added. With the rate of electric and hybrid technology penetration to be dictated by the pace of technological breakthrough and federal policies, it is essential to take into account a study conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), which projected average speeds across cities are falling. Said Wasan, “The government’s approach to building more roads looks contradictory to the need for facilitating an eco-system where sustained mobility coexists.” Wasan cited the example of Jakarta, the most populous city of Indonesia. He explained, “Families traveling in private vehicles are charged a levy for using the infrastructure. In such an instance, public transport provides the answers.” Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that December sales figures are a testimony to buses doing well. “We are doing well in buses,” he added. Pointing at State Transport Undertakings (STUs), Pisharody stated, “Buying is coming back and a lot of tenders are being floated as we speak. It is after a long time that buses have come into a space they deserve. The Indian economy does not support them.” Announced Butschek that the company’s aspiration is to be among the top three global CV players by FY2018-19. “The objective is to transform the Indian commercial vehicle landscape, and to offer the customers cutting edge auto technologies, packaged for superior performance and low lifecycle costs,” added Butschek.

Gazing into the future

Taking a holistic view, and as far as the application of technology is concerned, Dr. Jindal said that the reduction in battery costs is a positive sign. “Electrification does make an ideal choice for long haul or for heavy-duty application. The technology model is simply unsustainable, and would eat into the vehicle payload,” he mentioned. Electromobility, according to Dr. Jindal is suitable for vehicles that travel over shorter distances. Hybridisation, he added, is suitable for a medium-duty vehicle that travels over a medium distance. While the lifecycle cost is lowest in hybrid and electric vehicles, the major challenge for operators is the acquisition cost. It is two-to-three times higher than conventionally powered vehicles. A ray of hope according to Dr. Jindal, is if the government intervenes to make it feasible for new technology to embed itself sooner than later. Driving a frugal strategy, technology development at Tata Motors spans across diverse areas like vehicle control strategy, electric and hybrid vehicle battery development, traction system development, high voltage components and safety, Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH), durability testing, light weighting, and customer trials. A part of the strategy is also to build key components in-house. Fast charging batteries are being worked upon by using Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) technology. According to Dr. Jindal, the advantages of LTO are significant. This battery technology is considered to be a game changer. Working on a future ready product pipeline, Tata Motors, said Dr. Jindal, has already exceeded the 20 per cent fuel reduction target set by the FAME scheme of the Government of India towards encouraging electric vehicles. “ The need of the hour is to achieve a sustainable hub and spoke public transportation model for new technology mediums to find a place and grow,” signed off Dr. Jindal.

The art of designing

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In what could be a rare occasion, Tata Motors provided an opportunity to peep into its design studio at Pune. It is the nerve centre, which brings a CV to life. A visual rendering undergoes several reiterations in a bid to refine the final layout of the vehicle before going into production. The entire process of the development of Starbus Hybrid was shown at the studio in steps that revealed the journey from the drawing board to a production model. Step one showed how the primary sketch of the bus was turned into a more definitive form. In consultation with different verticals at the OEM, it was further refined. The bis turned two dimensional. The next step saw the two dimensional form being shared with the three dimensional modelers to achieve a full scale three dimension model. This process, includes consulting the engineering team to work on areas like manufacturing, production and other. It is at this step that the creative team and the technical team come together. The rendered form begins acquiring details. Step three involves building a dummy model, which is handed over to the clay modelers. The clay modelers refine the surface. Stage four involves the task of transforming the clay model into data using a laser beam and camera based equipment. Refined surfaces are accurately captured. Controlling the hardware is Pollyworks’ software. Scans are transferred to a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) modeller. It is then sent to a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine to replicate the image of the model. The design process further evolves with the help of a Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). CAD is three-dimensional in a bid to bring more details on to the ideated sketch. Designers are encouraged to carry out an in-depth field research on public transportation in the country before they ideate a new concept. Designers also ensure that the new elements merge seamlessly with the standard design elements. This ensures that the result is in sync with the brand identity.

Volvo’s hybrid drive

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Volvo Buses India is offering the 8400 low-floor hybrid city bus to help cities fight the menace of pollution.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

It is drizzling for the last one hour. Any chance of it stopping looks slim. The Vardah cyclone that devastated Chennai is showing its after effect at Bangalore. The drive to Hosakote on the outskirts of Bangalore is uneventful with tiny droplets colliding against the car windows. As the wipers work to keep the unseasonal rain from obscuring the vision of the driver, an impression is had that urbanisation is fast overtaking any attempts by the local inhabitants to carry out farming. The lure of big money from the sale of fertile parcels of land is too precious to be ignored. Described as the IT capital of India, Bangalore is perhaps the best example of how urbanisation is spreading its tentacles in every direction, bringing with it the need for efficient modes of transport. One of the modern, if not the most efficient means of transport at Bangalore are the Volvo buses. They are found the moment one steps out of the Kempegowda International Airport. The plant that manufactures these buses is where I am going. I will be spending time with the new hybrid city bus the Swedish bus major has launched. Two 12 m hybrid low-floor city buses have already been supplied to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport against an order of five. The third bus will soon leave Hosakote for Navi Mumbai. It is currently undergoing trials and validation. Reflecting upon Volvo’s experience in producing hybrid and electrical buses (the first hybrid bus Volvo produce is claimed to be the 2008 B5LH low-floor city bus), the low-floor hybrid city bus that I will spend time with, is a diesel-electric. It adds to the count of 6000 hybrid and electric buses Volvo has produced till date. A parallel hybrid, the bus, in terms of appearance, looks no different than the diesel powered 8400 12 m long, low-floor city bus. The Volvo 8400 diesel bus is found in over 30 cities in India.

Smart proposition

Smart the 8400 low-floor diesel city bus looks. The 8400 hybrid bus mirrors the 8400 diesel bus in appearance. The body structure is 100 per cent local, and flaunts good fit and finish levels. The use of materials, paint, and build standards hint at world-class construction. They also hint at the need the company felt in investing in a captive body building plant at Hosakote in 2008.

Based on the Volvo B5RLE platform, the 8400 hybrid city bus adds to the premise, which VRV Sriprasad, Managing Director, Volvo Buses India, describes as instrumental in persuading people to leave their vehicles behind and take to public transport. The 8400 hybrid bus seats 32 people apart from the driver. Its low-floor height makes it easier to enter and exit. There are two pneumatically operated doors on the left side of the vehicle for the purpose. With 2×2 seating arrangement, the hybrid bus, says Sriprasad, has much of its content coming from Sweden as far as the chassis is concerned. “Since the 8400 qualifies as a strong hybrid, the customer,” adds Sriprasad, “is entitled to a subsidy of Rs.61 lakhs for the bus that costs Rs.2.3 crore.”

Building on the experience of deploying hybrid buses in Australia and Singapore, Volvo in India, launched the 8400 hybrid city bus after the central government formally announced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles (FAME) scheme in April 2015. The 8400 hybrid bus, it is clear, is not, about numbers. It is about providing a sustainable solution to cities battling with the issue of pollution. Claim Volvo sources, that the 8400 hybrid bus requires no supporting infrastructure. The parallel hybrid nature of the bus, they add, makes for a smart proposition. In the case of an electrical failure, the bus can still run, albeit on the diesel engine.

Smart tech

At the core of the 8400 hybrid bus is a 215 hp 5-litre Volvo D5 four-cylinder diesel engine (installed longitudinally at the rear), and a 160 hp electric motor. The engine and the motor produce a peak torque of 800 Nm each. The electric motor serves both, as a propulsion motor and as a generator. When the brakes are applied, their retardation effect is harnessed to recharge the batteries. This energy would have been wasted otherwise in the form of heat. Repeated braking, which is typical of a city-bus operation as it stops and starts, proves to be of operational benefit thus. Due to its considerable torque, the compact electric motor offers good performance at low speeds. It is at low speeds, and when the bus moves away from stand still, that the diesel engine is most taxed. It is then that it pollutes the most. Supplementing the diesel engine’s superior properties at higher speeds by producing maximum torque right from the start, the electric motor provides excellent starting characteristics and driveability. Electric power is also used when the vehicle is standing still. When the bus stops to pick up commuters or at the traffic light, the diesel engine switches off automatically. The bus, as a result, does not produce exhaust gases, and makes for a silent operation.

The motor of the 8400 hybrid bus is actually an integrated starter alternator motor (permanent magnet motor that also works as a generator and diesel engine starter motor) that runs on alternating current. The clutch and the 12-speed automatic transmission are an integral part of the driveline. The electric (electronic) unit is said to feature an energy converter for direct or alternating current and the batteries. The brain of the hybrid system is an electronic control module, which regulates the engagement and disengagement of electric and diesel power as per the need. The module also influences gear changes and battery recharging. On the 8400 hybrid bus, the power steering pump, air compressor and cooling fan are powered by separate electric motors. Each electric motor operates only when it needs to. This saves energy.

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Behind the wheel

Like the diesel powered 8400 city bus, the driving position of the 8400 hybrid bus is low, and with a good view of what lies ahead. The driver cockpit is simple and functional. It is ergonomically well sorted, and has the instrument console at the centre. The console is made up of a large speedometer and tachometer dials. To the right are the air brake pressure dials. The other dials include the turbo boost pressure gauge, temperature gauge, fuel gauge and an engine oil pressure gauge. A portion of the console is occupied by an LCD readout. To the right, and adjoining the console is the parking brake switch. To the left is the AC control. Below is what could be described as a ‘pad’. It contains the transmission buttons. There are three of them. One is the ‘Drive’ button. The other two are the ‘Neutral’ and ‘Reverse’ buttons. Next to the transmission buttons is a round exterior light switch. A round blue lamp at the end of the pad indicates that this bus is hybrid by nature. It has ‘HYB’ written on it.

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Turn the key, and the diesel engine wakes up to a distant growl. The management system gets down to conducting various checks. Once it is done, the diesel engine shuts down. Silence prevails. The only noise is the whine of a motor. It is indicative of an utility running. With the parking brake disengaged, all that is needed is to press the accelerator. The bus moves away, with the only indication, the rising speedo needle. It is exactly at 24 kmph that the diesel engine cuts in (the next time it cut in at 20 kmph). The tell tale indicators are a distant whine of the engine and the rising tacho needle. The motor propels the bus, and highly capably. It does so at a time when the diesel engine could be most relied upon in a diesel bus.

Speeds in the region of 50 kmph are easily achieved. The bus exhibiting good stability and a pliant ride in the process. While the air suspension is made up of sturdy air bellows, the steering provides good feedback. The auto transmission shifts cogs smoothly. No jerks are noticed as the 12-speed auto-box does its duty. The suspended driver’s seat and a fully adjustable steering position make for a comfortable driving position. The large mirrors offer a good view of what is around, and at the rear. Noise levels inside the cabin, even with the diesel engine running are low. When it is time to slow down and stop, the brakes provide a strong bite. The feel is linear and progressive. The electronically controlled disc brakes of the bus are ABS equipped. The moment the bus halts, the diesel engine goes to sleep. The muted whine of the utility motor is audible once again.

Smart, comfortable and eco-friendly

Smart the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus is. It is modern and comfortable. It is efficient and environment friendly. Volvo sources claim that the 8400 hybrid bus offers fuel savings of up to 30 per cent higher than a diesel bus. Speeds of up to 24 kmph are attained without the diesel engine waking up. The top speed of the bus, limited to 80 kmph, presents the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus with a good opportunity to deliver an efficient and comfortable ride. Claim Volvo sources, that the advantage a parallel hybrid bus offers over a series hybrid bus is the use of battery pack. The battery pack is not subjected to heavy use, and lasts long, they add. They also draw attention to the bus’ ability to run on diesel in case the electric (electronic) section develops a fault. It has been five months that the two hybrid buses at Navi Mumbai have been operating. The learnings will take some time coming. The buses will have to clock many more kilometers. With lower exhaust emissions during travel and zero emission when stationary, the 8400 hybrid bus makes an interesting reflection of how technology in buses is progressing.

It is afternoon by the time I depart from Hosakote. The rains have stopped. The weather has turned pleasant. The sun is out. It feels fresh. Quite unlike Mumbai where smog is often mistaken for fog, and where the room for a bus like this is only growing.

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Mahindra Blazo: Smart trucking

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With the Blazo range, Mahindra Trucks and Buses Limited, is aiming at addressing varying requirements of transporters in a bid to double the market share in the next two and a half years. Story and photographs:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Mahindra unveiled the Blazo truck at Auto Expo 2016. The move signalled a significant change at Mahindra Trucks and Buses Limited, a business vertical of USD 17.8 billion Mahindra Group. Offering multi-mode technology, the Blazo pointed at digitisation. It also hinted at a change in the company’s strategy to structure its product range. Unlike the Torro, Traco and Truxo, the Blazo is actually a range of medium and heavy trucks. They do not succeed the Torro, Traco, or the Truxo, and instead build upon the company’s experience of building trucks since 2005. Reflecting upon the future, the Blazo range comprises of a 25-tonne cargo carrier and tipper, a 31-tonne cargo carrier and 8×4 tipper, a 35-tonne car carrier and tanker, a 37-tonne cargo carrier and cowl chassis, a 40-tonne tractor-trailer and tip-trailer, and a 49-tonne 6×4 tractor-trailer.

Smart looks, smart tech

In terms of appearance, the Blazo does not mark a drastic change. It shares the line at the Chakan plant with the Torro, Traco and Truxo. It also shares a good deal of components with them. Subtle visible changes are what sets the Blazo apart. The most prominent are the body coloured head lamp surrounds. The grille gets an amount of chrome. The doors flaunt ‘Fuelsmart’ stickers, which hint at the technology at the heart of the truck. Announces Nalin Mehta, Managing Director & CEO, Mahindra Trucks and Buses Limited, “We have worked on the look of the truck. We have worked on the air flow.” He does not mention about the ‘Fuelsmart’ technology as yet. It is for the latter. Open the door, and the modern interior of the four-post suspended cabin presents itself. There’s good deal of plastics. This however is not were an excercise to light weight the truck lies. It is in the use of stronger and lighter grade steel for the manufacture of some of the crucial components according to Mahindra sources. The dashboard may look familiar but carries significant changes.

Consider the Blazo 37 for example. Those familiar with the interior of the Truxo 37 will find the Blazo familiar. The dashboard may look similar, There is a significant difference. The instrument panel is new and car-like. A wide array of warning lamps give the impression of a christmas tree lighting up as they appear. They disappear as the engine wakes up. The analogue brake air pressure gauges have gone digital. They are now part of the LCD readout (DIS) at the centre of the instrument panel. States Mehta, “The Blazo not only looks different, but also behaves differently.” “We took much effort to build the Digital Information System (DIS). The fuel efficiency indication on the DIS is plus or minus two per cent,” he adds. To the left of the instrument console are an array of switches in what looks like a switch bank. The parking brake lever is also at this location. What looked a bit bland on the Truxo 37 looks smart on the Blazo 37. The three multi-mode switches in the switch bank draw attention. They are the highlight of this truck. The three ‘mode’ switches are also an indication of the efforts that have gone into the development of the Blazo. Explains Mehta, “The Blazo stands for multi-mode.” “We decided to address different preferences in one product line. We created drive cycles, which were appropriate to various applications. The challenge was to switch from one operating cycle to another without causing trouble. The need was to be able to change cycles on the fly. The driver should be able to engage ‘Turbo’ mode when he encounters a gradient. He should be able to engage the ‘Light’ mode when he is running empty,” he explains. The ‘Fuelsmart’ technology, it is clear at once, is about fuel efficiency and performance.

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Addressing differing needs

Work on the Blazo started 15 to 17 months before it was unveiled at Auto Expo 2016. Engineers fitted the electronically governed 7.2- litre engine with multi-mode on trucks of some customers. This would provide an opportunity to optimise the engine. “It took us one and a half year to optimise the engine. We tested the engine by installing it on some of our customer trucks. The outside world did not know that this was a multi-mode truck. Once we were confident we decided to launch the product,” reveals Mehta. Forming the basis of the Blazo range, the electronically governed, BSIV ready 7.2-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine traces its origin to an electronically governed engine the company was offering on a 40-tonne tractor (prime mover) earlier. The company, mentions Mehta, saw a clear indication that different applications required different fuelling cycles. “The move to BSIV would entail the application of common-rail technology. Customer demand was to have flexibility,” he states.

To address the differing needs of customers, the company studied in detail their operating patterns. It was found out that they would travel without load. Even some very good transporters would run 20 per cent of the operation without load. “Applications like tankers often return empty. There are different road conditions and load conditions. Car carriers are about volumes. There are those that load more; the ODC requirement for example. The challenge was to address different needs in one product line. The creation of drive cycles, which were appropriate to various applications, would be the best way to do it,” expresses Mehta. The electronically governed 7.2-litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine produces between 220 hp and 274 hp on the Blazo (range). The peak torque it produces is 800 Nm and 960 Nm respectively. The transmission offered are six-speed and nine-speed units. The 40-tonne and 49-tonne tractor for example, are equipped with an Eaton nine-speed (with crawler gear) and ZF nine-speed (with crawler gear) gearbox respectively.

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Better payload capacity

Apart from light weighting to improve payload capacity, the rear axle ratio of Blazo was optimised according to Mehta. “We specifically looked at two or three applications. We created a model for concrete mixer and a tipper. We reduced the wheelbase of our tractor to help our customers meet the new regulations for car carriers,” he adds. Since January 2016, over 1500 Blazos have been sold, claimed a Mahindra source. Helping the company to carve out a greater pie of the market, which is currently 3.5 per cent, the Blazo saw the involvement of Bosch. Bosch did an excellent job of developing different drive modes according to Mehta, based on the road-load data Mahindra had collected. “Bosch helped us to arrive at the three drive cycles as per our needs,” Mehta states. He adds, “Mahindra engineers drove the truck for over two-lakh kilometers to achieve the right calibration.” Customer co-operation meant a few thousand trucks were running with the technology even before the Blazo was formally launched.

Behind the wheel

The three-way adjustable, suspended driver seat offers a commanding driving position. I am at the helm of the Blazo 37. The view ahead through the large windshield is uninterrupted. As the engine comes to life, the first impression is that of refinement. Over the Truxo 37 that I briefly drove last year, the Blazo 37 feels refined. The electronically governed engine is clearly less noisy and restless. “The electronic engine has translated into less vibrations,” says Mehta. “We carried out ‘running’ improvements in the wiring harness, the propeller shaft, the chassis, the suspension, etc.,” he adds. Get going, and the Blazo feels quite responsive. It feels eager. The ‘turbo’ mode is on. Producing a flat peak of 800 Nm between 1100 and 1700 rpm, the Blazo 37 feels tractable. The move to ‘heavy’ mode brings about a change in the behaviour. The truck feels a shade less eager, and as tractable. Comfortable and refined to drive, in the ‘light’ mode, the Blazo feels a little less responsive. The engine feels like it is running lean. The fact is, it is burning less fuel, and conserving power by about 40 per cent of the 100 per cent power available in the ‘turbo’ mode. The ‘light’ mode is engineered for use when running empty. It provides the operator an opportunity to save fuel. A 10×4 rigid truck with a rear tag axle, the Blazo 37 is the most popular among the trucks Mahindra sells in the M&HCV category. Of the trucks that Mahindra Trucks and Buses sells, the Blazo, in a span of an year, has come to account for 30 per cent of the CV sales according to Mehta. The good part is, the Blazo makes clever use of electronics to address the different needs of different operators. This way, it is helping the operators to earn more. Comfortable, modern, and easy to maneouvre, the Blazo 37 that I drove, reflected upon the work that has gone into developing it; into the development of the Blazo range. The Blazo makes a promising proposition for a transporter for certain, and in an environment that is becoming complex and challenging.

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Blazo as a package

As a package the Blazo brings with it a driver trainer. The aim, states Mehta, is to create drivers out of those who have been driving by improving their skill sets. “Driver training about Blazo is to use the multi-mode. We are ensuring that customer drivers are trained. We sit with the driver and show him which mode to use when,” mentions Mehta. The electronic nature of Blazo makes it future ready. It is truck that can address the complex needs of the market. The Torro, Traco and Truxo will fall behind when the BSIV emission norms are implemented in April. The BSIV emission compliant Blazo will become the mainstay. Costing about a lakh and a half rupees more than an equivalant Torro, Traco or Truxo truck according to Mehta, the Blazo has a lot going for it. By shelling out 10 per cent more the transporter gets a truck that is modern, efficient and drivable. The digital nature of the Blazo gives it the ability to offer a lower TCO.

Indian CV industry in 2017

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The year 2017 is set to be yet another challenging year for the Indian commercial vehicle industry.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

The month of October 2016 was a good month for the Indian CV industry. M&HCV sales grew 16.92 per cent with the sale of 25,934 M&HCVs as compared to 22,181 units sold in the corresponding month last year. LCVs too posted good growth with the sale of 39,635 units, up 8.84 per cent, against the sale of 36,415 units in October 2015. Total CV sales were 65,569 units, up 11.9 per cent, against the sale of 58,596 units in the corresponding month last year. This was despite the industrial production in India indicating a decline of 1.9 per cent over October 2015. With pan-India implementation of BSIV emission norms and GST scheduled for April 2017, pre-buying expectation is being expressed by many industry leaders. This would add to the replacement demand, claimed an industry expert. The announcement by prime minister Narenda Modi on the evening of November 08, 2016, to withdraw Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes from circulation changed the situation overnight. The move, termed as demonetisation, saw people queuing in front of banks and ATMs to deposit old notes and withdraw whatever new notes they could lay their hands on.

Difficult times

The ATM withdrawal limit, capped at Rs.2000 per day, and the withdrawal limit at the bank capped at Rs.24000 per week, added to the operational challenges of transporters. Even after 50 days, the situation does not seem to have changed much. For the CV industry, and transporters in particular, operational difficulties continue. Improvement in cash flow has helped, but the fall in fleet utilisation levels is a matter of concern. It would be appropriate to consider the announcement by Japanese brokerage firm Nomura at this moment. It has announced that proprietry indices have dipped to the lowest levels since 1996 with rural consumption showing the maximum impact. The full grown impact of what is termed as demonetisation is expected to emerge this month. The Nomura Composite Lending Index (CLI) for India for early 2017 has slumped to the lowest levels, and is consistent with GDP growth of below six per cent.

Cool October, and a hot November

Against the backdrop of peak fleet utilisation levels in September and October 2016, a sudden drop was observed in November 2016. The situation in December was more or less the same. Claimed an industry expert, that the situation is expected to continue to be the same for the current as well as the next quarter. Said SP Singh, Convenor, IFTRT, “The drop in fleet utilisation has been sharp. The issue is the steep fall in cargo despatch post demonetisation as businesses and traders are not procuring goods due to unsold inventories.” Unlike Septmebr 2016 and October 2016, the situation post demonetisation, it is clear, is not upbeat. Any chance of fleet utilisation going up drastically is being looked upon for the later half of the next fiscal. Any expectation of pre-buying in the wake of pan-India implementation of BSIV emission norms from April 2017 may not hold enough strength anymore. Nalin Mehta, Managing Director & CEO, Mahindra Trucks and Buses Limited, expects pre-buying. “There is a lot of time left. Typically pre-buying would happen only in March 2017; at the last minute,” he added. Describing transporters as good managers who got around to managing the cash crunch, Mehta averred, “A CV buyer was more likely to postpone his purchase. He would rather concentrate on purchasing only what is essential.”

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Apart from pan-India BSIV emission norms implementation in April 2017, GST is also expected to be implemented in early FY2017-18. Fuel prices in the International markets are showing a tendency to rise. The value of Indian Rupee may fall in the short to medium term. The US Fed rates are also showing an inclination to rise. This is certain to reflect on the Indian economy, of which the transport industry is a part. The transport industry accounts for an estimated 5.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. If good sales growth of October 2016 indicated that the industry sentiment was changing for the better, the sales numbers in November 2016 seem to paint a different picture altogether.

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), in its report for November 2016, announced that 1,563,665 automobiles were sold in the country, down (-) 5.48 per cent, as compared to 1,654,407 vehicles sold in the corresponding month last year. In November 2016, 45,773 commercial vehicles were sold, down (-) 11.58 per cent, as against 51,766 CVs sold during the same period last year. M&HCV sales were 17,499 per cent in November 2016, down (-) 13.13 per cent, as against the sale of 20,144 units in November 2015. In November 2016, 28,274 LCVs were sold, down (-) 10.59 per cent, when compared to 31,622 units sold in November 2015. Optimistic, Mehta is confident of demonetisation being a temporary phase. Opined Anuj Kathuria, President – Global Trucks, Ashok Leyland Ltd., “The (market) environment is so volatile that saying anything does not mean much because we don’t know which way the market is going to swing.” “The general expectation,” he mentioned, “is that there will be a pre-buying demand. It may get dampened by demonetisation however.” The effect of demonetisation on the CV industry in 2017 will be tough to determine, an industry expert claimed. He claimed further that growth will shift further. In case it does, the CV industry will have to wait longer to reach peak levels once again.

The slowdown effect

Hopes about pre-buying continue. In an uncertain environment however, claimed an industry source, it will be the performance of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors that will reflect on the performance of the transport industry. Disruption in supply chain is a matter of concern for the industry already. Stated an industry source, that the Indian (Purchase Manager Indiex) PMI for November 2016 decreased to 52.30 in November over 54.40 in October 2016. Queues in front of banks and ATMs continued in December 2016. Demonetisation, claimed an industry source on the condition of anonymity, has shaken the confidence of consumers. They are no longer willing to spend as much. The situation in rural India is bad, he added.

In an interview, Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, is known to have said that the number of inquiries to buy new trucks have almost disappeared. He is also known to have expressed that truckers will eventually get used to cashless ways. Demonetisation, it is clear, has affected the cyclicity of the CV market. Trucks under contract are operating but the same is not the case with those who operate on load-availability basis. This has had a clear effect on the need to buy a new truck. In the case of buses, the urgency to buy a new bus is also expected to take a beating. The amount of people movement has gone down, claimed an industry expert.

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Uncertain times

Growing on a small base (the bus segment accounts for 20 per cent of the Indian CV industry), the bus segment has seen good orders from government transport bodies in recent times. In the case of private players, the going’s choppy. Said K T Rajshekhara, CEO, S.R.S. Travels, “Our flow chart is getting curtailed as people are curtailing travel due to the money crunch.” Pisharody’s comment that there is a lot of uncertainty because the pipeline is not moving at all assumes importance at this juncture. Claimed an industry source that big orders will take time to fulfill. The segment base may not expand drastically therefore. Growth, sources said, could emerge only in the second half of next fiscal. The Union Budget, scheduled for February 01, 2017, is expected to provide some relief. How much of that will touch the CV industry will need to be seen. Any expectation of the CV industry reaching peak levels of FY2011-12, it looks like, will now take longer. Pisharody is known to have said that he expects the CV market to regain its peak in FY2018-19.

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Optmistic ever

Optimism is keeping the CV industry going. Said Mehta, “If the country will grow, the CV industry will grow. If you produce, you have to transport. Policies in this have a limited role to play. The need is to transport.” “Road transport will continue to play a role in the growth of the country. If one believes in the India story, he or she has to believe in the CV story. GST may change the structure of transportation, but it will not hamper the growth of the CV industry. India is a growing economy, and the CV industry will have a good future,” he mentioned. Transporters may defer their decision to purchase CVs, they will however come back, claimed an industry source, when they see even a slight improvement in the economic situation. In FY2015-16, the CV industry grew by 12 per cent. M&HCV segment grew double digit at 30 per cent. LCV segment was almost flat, and registered a growth of 0.30 per cent. The amount of growth the CV industry records in FY2016-17 will set the tone for the future. In its latest report on ‘Mega trends shaping the Indian commercial vehicle market’, Ernst & Young said that the Indian commercial vehicle market will double to 1.6 million units in the five years starting FY2016-17. This will be in-line with the increase in infrastructure spend, rapid urbanisation and entry of major multinational players in the country. Pisharody is known to have expressed, that in terms of quarterly peaks, one should start seeing it from the second half of the next year. The benefits will start coming in the second half of FY2017-18 and the real growth and good impact will come in FY2018-19. The reason, according to him, is the settling down of the dust kicked up by BSIV emission norms. The effect of what is termed as demonetisation is certain to spring up new challenges. The situation will become clear as the year progresses. Transporters would also get to know as the year progresses. As new norms take shape, transporters would need to learn to handle their CVs; to address their servicing needs, and more.

Optimistic about growth

The (truck) trailer segment in India is optimistic about growth. It is looking at outperforming its global peers over the medium- and long-term.

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

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The cancellation of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes under the guise of ‘demonetisation’ may pose a challenge to the Indian transportation sector, a big chink of which includes the trucking industry, the fact is, the truckers have not lost hope yet. According to the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), there are an estimated 9.3 million truckers in India. Of these, the number of heavy-duty trucks is increasing year-on-year. There is a distinct movement happening towards higher tonnage trucks. The ban on overloading is driving transporters to look at bigger, multi-axle trucks that can carry more. While October 2016 marked a month of growth for Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCVs), the sale of truck-semitrailers and truck trailers is on the rise. Rajasthan continues to be the biggest truck-trailer market; Haryana continues to be the biggest car carrier market. The effect of demonetisation may be evident on truck trailer operators, they continue to see growth in the scope of their vision. Industry experts are also optimistic about the growth of truck-trailer segment. This growth, they claim, will ensure that the trailer industry, which is both, organised and unorganised, will post good growth. Truck code may take time yet, and until then, the unorganised bit of the trailer industry may not have a reason to worry about. That does not eliminate their responsibility to build safe and high quality trailers; the fact is, the trailer industry in India is looking at outperforming its global peers over the medium- and long-term.

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Cyclical in nature

A highly cyclical market in India, according to Neha Tayal, Research Manager – Automotive Division of TechSci Research, the Indian trailer segment has been growing. Though it may contribute a mere 10 to 12 per cent of the total commercial vehicles sold in India, it has been growing. Said Tayal, “The segment holds the potential to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of seven to eight per cent, over medium- to long-term. Rajeev Batra, Chief Operation Officer, Tata International DLT Pvt. Ltd., is also of the opinion that the trailer market is looking up. He attributes the growth potential of the trailer market to the focus the government is putting on meeting safety and other standards. Mentioned Batra, “The trailer market growth in FY2016-17 and 2017-18 will be in the region of 10 per cent to 15 per cent respectively.” The trailer market has been growing in 2016. In 2015, it posted a consistent recovery. The recovery started in 2014 after recording the lowest sales in 2013. Till 2020, the trailer market in India is expected to grow at a rate of 10-15 per cent annually. The Indian trailer market is claimed to range between 18,000 and 20,000 units per annum. The market for overburden tippers is said to be between 3,000 and 4,000 units per annum.

Complex market

(Truck) trailer market in India is complex. Over 80 per cent of the market is made up of unorganised players. Many of these are regional players that address regional operator requirements. Players like Tata DLT and Satrac Engineering are part of the 20 per cent organised market. They have been carving out a larger share of the trailer market. Tata DLT, in FY2015-16, sold over 39,000 trailers across various applications such as mining, cement, road construction and material movement among others. According to Batra, the company commands six per cent of the market share in trailers. The mix of business at Tata DLT is the OE business and the aftermarket business. Tata DLT makes trailers to be offered along with Tata Motors’ prime movers like the Tata LPT 4018. It also makes trailers for special application like tip trailers, curtain trailers, running gears, etc., to address the specific needs of the operators. The manufacture of a trailer is a complex task, claimed an industry expert. It is the components (axles, suspension, etc.) used in the manufacture of a trailer, which makes it a complex task, he said. Depending on the nature of application and how much a trailer buyer is ready to spend, organised players like Tata DLT offer York axles, BPW axles, or Fuwa axles. At unorganised players, cost is said to be a prime criteria.

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(Truck) trailer types

(Truck) trailers are broadly classified on the basis of the number of axles they are fitted with. They could have two or more axles. The number of axles is correlated to the load carrying capability of the truck-trailer. It is also connected to the application the truck-trailer is meant to address.

Sidewall trailers and bulkers are used for cement based applications. They constitute 30 to 35 per cent of the overall trailer market. The flatbed and well bed trailer, deployed for steel and steel-coil movement along with skeletal trailer for container movement make up the majority of the (truck) trailer market. They account for 40 per cent to 45 per cent of the market share cumulatively. Tip trailers and tank trailers, catering to road infrastructure, make up 20 per cent of the segment. An estimated two-to-three per cent segment share is made up of Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) carriers. A minuscule chunk of (Truck) trailers also finds use in highly specialised application areas; they could be fitted with racks, curtains, etc., or heavily customised. A part of the trailer market are also the motor carriers, which ferry cars, two wheelers, trucks and buses from the plant to a dealer. These are often found be as long as 22.5 m. If an industry expert is to be believed, the Government of India recently capped the length of such carriers to 18.75 m. Said S.P. Singh, Senior Fellow, IFTRT, “Driving a good per centage of M&HCV sales are vehicles that move cars and SUVs. Continuing double digit growth of two wheelers (and four wheelers) is also necessitating the need for carriers. Capping the length at 18.75 m instead of 16 m may pose safety issues.”

Regulatory environment

If the lack of regulatory environment helped the unorganised trailer market to mushroom, it is no longer the case. Regulatory environment is kicking in. The capping of the length of motor carriers at 18.75 m is just the start, said an industry expert. He added, the truck code will set things right; will ensure safety and environmental compliance in the case of trucks. Avvered Ranjit Singh, Punjab Transport Company, “The approval of trailer type code AIS 113 will not only improve the safety norms, it will also drive professionalism and turn trailer makers into organised players.” Batra informed, “The trailer type code AIS11 will go beyond the enhancement of existing safety norms.” Overloading and overspeeding ar the two issues regarding truck-trailers that need to be addressed. The need is to change the operator mind set; to strictly implement the apex court’s order to ban overloading. Stricter policing is helping, toll road companies are getting more aggressive in combating overloading since such vehicles damage their roads. Facilitating the carriage of more load, truck-trailer operators are sadly not immune to the problems faced by others, including delays at state borders and limited availability of infrastructure. Drawing attention to the fact that a truck-trailer has difficulty operating over narrow roads, the industry expert claimed, that the pressure to break even for a truck-trailer operator is high. His focus is therefore bound to be on higher utilisation. Expressed Kulwant Singh of Hundal Trailer Service, “The cost of trailer transport is competitive, and has the potential to cushion the industry from slowing down.”

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Safety and road infrastructure

Safety concerning truck-trailers is perhaps the most debated subject. Safety and better returns in the case of trucks are tied to infrastructure. Stated Tayal, that the lack of adherence to adequate safety compliance has attributed to the country’s substandard road and traffic conditions. Testimony to it is the substantially higher rate of casualties, at both the loading facilities as well as on the roads.” Mandatory ABS on heavy trucks has been an effort to elevate road safety. Claimed an industry expert, that there is a need to maintain the trailer, ensure that its braking system, lights and other mechanisms (like the container lashing mechanism) are in good working condition.

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Need to standardise; to grow

Stress on standardisation is being laid to ensure that the trailer market grows. Said Batra, “Standardisation of input will certainly facilitate a better return to the transporter in the form of mileage, longer life of trailer and improved operating economics. The cost of transport, which is highly competitive when it comes to trailers, would cushion the trailer industry from experiencing any slowdown impact. Typically in India, the trailer market is concentrated in cities and regions where the need for transporting commodities (finished goods, FMCG, etc.) or natural resources (iron ore, coal, etc.) is more. It is in line with easy access to national highways.” Tata DLT is banking on growth by introducing products like tip-trailers and canopy trailers. Quick to understand the direction in which the wind is blowing, trailer manufacturers are tapping into the cement trailer market. According to Anuj Kathuria, President – Global Trucks, Ashok Leyland, the tractor-trailer segment is primarily driven by the cement movement. He mentioned, that container movement is another potential growth segment that could contribute to the segment’s overall growth. “With infrastructure looking up, it is bound to sustain growth,” opined Kathuria.

Outlook

Trailer manufacturers are optimistic about growth. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, according to Tayal, is the silver-lining. It would have a positive impact on the commercial vehicle sector, the trailer segment especially, thinks Tayal. Expected to bring down logistics costs and enhance efficiency, the (truck) trailer market, globally, is expected to grow at a CAGR of three to four per cent over the next five years. Much growth is expected to come from countries other than the USA, EU and Japan. ASEAN and East European countries are expected to emerge as the major growth driver for the global trailer market. India is expected to be at the forefront.