Singrauli hosts Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge

Fuelwatch Challenge 2017 Finals copy

Volvo Trucks hosted the eighth edition of Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge at Singrauli.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

The eighth edition of Volvo Trucks India ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ was held at Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. Home to five thermal power generation plants with an estimated power generation capacity of 13295 mega-watt, Singrauli, saw 29 top contenders – winners of regional rounds, from 29 different Volvo Trucks customers, pilot the new BSIV Volvo FMX 460 8×4 mining tipper on a 3.4 km track in the Dudhichua coal mine. The Dudhichua mine is one of the largest mines among the 10 mines that Northern Coalfields Limited (NCL) operates in the Singrauli region. With rich coal deposits spread over an area of 2,200 sq. km, Singrauli has 15 Volvo Trucks customers, including its biggest customer BGR Mining & Infra. Together they operate 850 FMX trucks. Given the need of the operations, Singrauli has no 8×4 Volvo FMX trucks. All the trucks that operate there are 10×4 FMX 520 and FMX 480. A total of 273 trucks out of the BGR’s fleet of over 500 trucks operate at Singrauli. The mines of Singrauli have 85 FMX 480 trucks, and 30 FMX 520 10×4 trucks. Replacing the mighty dump trucks, the 850 Volvo mining trucks at Singrauli have come to earn the respect of their drivers. They are ably supported by the Volvo service structure.

Choosing to hold the challenge at the Dudhichua coal mine to simulate the exact conditions under which its mining trucks ply, Volvo Trucks got a 3.4 km track, leading up to a discarded dumping site, built. With tight corners and loose surfaces thrown in for good measure, the track, 1.7 km one-way, saw each of the 29 drivers drive with load and without load.

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Aimed at enhancing driver efficiency and skills, which would in-turn help to elevate the energy efficiency of Volvo trucks that they drive, the eighth ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ paid particular attention to how a Volvo mining truck driver planned his drive; employed his skills, and drove safely. In the desolate landscape of a coal mine, one error can lead to costly accidents and damage.

Held over three days, the ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ saw the 29 drivers try all the tricks under the sun to ensure that their’s was the most frugal drive. The most tricky part of the challenge was perhaps the turn at the half-way mark, which required the driver to make a three-point turning maneouvre. Also challenging proved to be the loose soil surface. It called for the right use of traction. The weather was not the most pleasant during the three days of the challenge. B Dinakar, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Volvo Trucks, expressed that the event is not a competition. It is a culture.

Volvo’s telematics platform, Dynafleet, was pressed into service to record the performance of each and every driver. With the new 8×4 Volvo FMX 460 BSIV (with I-Shift automated manual transmission) as the basis, Appana Babu of BGR Mining and Infra managed to be the most frugal and disciplined. Rajkaran Kushwaha of Baghel Infrastructures (Singrauli) came second, and Bablu Ghatwal of Coal Mines Associated Traders came third. Said Dinakar, that none of the 29 drivers that participated in this edition of the Fuel watch Challenge has ever participated in this event. He drew attention to a rule that restricts entry for three years to those who have participated. Expressed Dinakar, “Since its inaugural event in 2010, more than 20,000 participants have become ambassadors of the Fuelwatch community. They share their skills and knowledge to promote a more fuel-efficient industry.” Stating that it takes more than driving for the drivers to go further, Dinakar said that they are working towards a model where the ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ turns out drivers that become trainers for other drivers in the fleet.

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To represent India in the finals held at Sweden, Babu expressed that it is not just about driving, but is also about understanding the terrain, the vehicle, and to move in harmony. Lauding the efforts put in by the drivers, and their ability to think quickly, Dinakar mentioned, “This also helps us to relook at the technology we offer, and improve upon it.” This edition of Fuelwatch saw an increased participation from over 400 drivers of 29 customers. “The fuel-efficiency margins clocked by the winners have achieved new targets for possible savings in a real-world context, which is testimony of the fact that driver training is pivotal to ensure increased fuel efficiency,” expressed Dinakar. Claiming to spearhead the Fuelwatch mission in the industry, Dinakar explained that they have trained over 55,000 truck drivers nationwide. Stressing upon drivers achieving up to 30 per cent better fuel efficiency over average drivers with regular driver engagement through driver training programs, Dinakar concluded that Indian truck drivers are proving to be top contenders. They are making their mark in the global Fuelwatch Challenge, he averred. If Babu wins the finals at Sweden, his efforts will bring fame to his friends, family and the energy generating region of Singrauli. It will also inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

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Driving the Volvo FMX 460 8×4 tipper

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In terms of appearance, Volvo FMX 460 does not look any different from the Volvo FMX 440 8×4 mining tipper. BSIV emission compliant, the FMX 460 flaunts a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment system. Most SCR components are away from the naked eye except the AdBlue reservoir between the left front and second wheel. An AdBlue pump is integrated into the plastic tank of 32 to 90-litre capacities. Claimed to require topping up every three days considering the continuous operation of the tipper, the FMX 460 features a day cab with comfortable and ergonomic driver area. Powering the truck is a 460 hp, D13K, 12.8-litre, six-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine mounted on a robust and reinforced ladder chassis. Producing a peak torque of 2300 Nm at 900-1400 rpm, the engine has an I-Shift automated manual transmission coupled to it. Power is routed to the road through two live rear hub reduction axles.

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Behind the wheel of the tipper, a sense of sitting higher up is had. Behind the large four-spoke steering wheel is a large rectangular instrument panel. Slide the shifter into neutral, and turn the key. The straight six-cylinder motor comes to life and settles down to an idle. Slide the shifter to ‘A’, release the electronic parking brake on what looks like a thoroughly modern and well put-together dashboard, and step on the accelerator. There is no clutch. The truck starts moving. A noticeable improvement in refinement and noise is evident at once. The BSIV compliant machine is driver friendly and comfortable. In a desolate mining environment, the air-conditioned cockpit is a pleasant place to be in.

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With good visibility ahead, through the large single windscreen, the FMX 460 does not call for much effort to pilot. The overburden at the rear feels a matter of course. The FMX 460 moves away without hiccup. With small increments in speed, the 12-speed splitter and range gearbox with automated gearchanging system begins swapping cogs promptly. With the rev needle hovering on the ‘green’ band of the tacho, the FMX 460 amazes with its ability. A considerable improvement in refinement over the BSIII FMX 440 is evident at once. Having earned a strong reputation for its ability to go deep down into a mine, the FMX 460 further elevates the abilities the FMX mining tipper range is known for.

The Dudhichua coal mine where I had an opportunity to drive the FMX 460 is full of FMX 520 and the FMX 480 10×4 trucks. They operate in severe conditions. Exhibiting strong traction, the FMX 460, in severe operating conditions, impresses with its ability to keep noise and dust out. No wonder, one of the 29 drivers participating in the Fuelwatch Challenge expressed that they were longing to get behind the wheel of their trucks to escape the warm, humid and dusty environment of the mine! On the move, the engine brake of the truck makes for good control. The brakes exert a strong bite when called upon to retard the truck. Acknowledging the advantages had by maintaining good mining tracks, BGR has deployed a good number of water spraying tankers and motor graders. If the diff locks help to negotiate narrow winding tracks with loose soil, the inter-axle locks help to carry out the task at hand without interruption. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Is that what the FMX 460 is trying to convey? I think, it is.

Indian bus industry is changing

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Last fiscal saw the Indian bus industry change; experience growth and excitement.

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Last fiscal was a good year for the Indian bus industry. The industry witnessed growth followed by the enforcement of the bus body code (AIS 052), and the school bus code (AIS 063). Posting good growth, the industry also witnessed the arrival of sleeper bus code (AIS 119), which is claimed to be a world first. Progress was also achieved in tarmac and double-decker bus code draft. Experiencing buyout times on the back of good orders from government run State Transport Undertakings (STUs) and City Bus Undertakings (CBUs) as well as private bus fleet operators, the bus industry grew at an average 10 per cent last fiscal. Apart from the homologation of a sleeper coach built by Bangalore-based bus body builder (converter), Veera Vahana, under the new sleeper coach code in April 2017, the bus industry in India saw some exciting developments during the last fiscal. At Busworld India 2016, Belgaum-based Alma Motors displayed a tarmac coach with aggregates like engine, gearbox and axles sourced from tier suppliers like Cummins and ZF. Pointing at empowering key bus body builders like Veera Vahana, Alma, JCBL and others, the bus code, it seems, has provided the much needed direction to the Indian bus industry it looks like. Expressed Prashant Kakade, Manager & Co-Ordinator MDC, Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT), that the bus code has had an influence of turning bus body builders into bus manufacturers. “They are now looking at sourcing aggregates from key suppliers to make their own bus that complies with the bus code regulations”.

If bus body builders continued to gather speed and mass, traditional bus manufacturers like Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, and SML Isuzu did brisk business as well. Operating at the premium end of the market, global bus makers like Volvo and Scania did well. The premium bus market, driven by rear-engine buses, hovered around 1000 units last fiscal. At busworld India 2016, in an effort to retain its leadership position in the premium bus market, Volvo Buses India unveiled a two-axle 12 m long coach with a locally made 8-litre common-rail diesel engine. This engine is made at the Volvo Eicher engine joint venture at Pithampur, Indore, called the Volvo Eicher PowerTrain. The 5- and 8-litre engines made at this plant, which mirrors the processes and layout of Volvo’s Skovde plant in Sweden, are supplied in Euro6 guise to many European locations of Volvo. Said Akash Passey, Senior Vice President – Business Region International, Volvo Bus Corporation, “The inclusion of a locally produced engine addresses the demand of our customers for localised products, and would reflect on the cost and maintenance of the vehicle.” Akash stressed upon taxation as one of the key reasons why operators take long to achieve Return On Investment (ROI) in the case of premium buses. This is also said to be the reason why many city bus operators are not very keen to procure premium, low-floor rear engine buses.

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Premium players eye mid-premium positions

To make a compelling case for buyers, Scania took an ethanol-powered bus route to the market. Its over three years after the first ethanol-powered low-floor 12m-long city bus began plying at Nagpur. Since then, the Swedish manufacturer is working towards supplying 55 bio-fuel city buses to the city of Nagpur. If, and how viable they are, will be known over a period of time. In a bid to tap into the emerging mid-premium position, which according to Joerg Mommertz, Chairman & Managing Director, MAN Trucks India, offers an opportunity to better specifications than the domestic budget producers, global bus makers have been introducing products while homegrown players like Tata and Ashok Leyland up their ante. In association with Alma, MAN introduced a Mammoth front-engine 12 m luxury coach in early 2016. Volvo has been pushing its UD mid-premium brand of city buses in India. It recently received an order from the twin cities of Hubli-Dharwad. Dharwad features on the Central government’s scheme of ‘smart cities’, which promises to overhaul the infrastructure and make cities ‘world-class’. Tata Motors bagged an order to supply 25 vestibule buses worth Rs.50 crore to Hubli-Dharwad in January 2017. The order followed a bigger order from 25 STUs and CBUs in September 2016 to supply 5000 buses, representing a healthy growth of over 80 per cent over last year as far as the order book went.

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STUs and CBUs as growth drivers

In FY2016-17, STUs and CBUs emerged as the key bus industry growth drivers. A big surge in STU orders was witnessed last fiscal, and after a gap of nearly four years, indicating renewed focus of various state governments and city councils on public transport. With the overall commercial vehicle market in India estimated to be 715,000 units, buses make up roughly 20 per cent of it. The Indian (medium and heavy) bus market grew 7.64 per cent in FY2016-17 with the sale of 47,262 units as against the sale of 43,909 units last fiscal. The light bus market grew 3.94 per cent with the sale of 50,864 units in FY2016-17 as against the sale of 48,936 units last fiscal. Leave for the 1000-unit premium rear engine bus market, and a small chunk of rear-engine premium city bus market (that saw the arrival of a new player, JBM last fiscal) led by Volvo and Scania, the Indian bus market by and large is made up of budget mass volume buses. It is here that Tata and Ashok Leyland lead. They are followed by Eicher and SML Isuzu and others. Prominently front-engine oriented, this end of the bus market is driven by low acquisition cost, fuel efficiency, service-ability and low cost of operation.

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On the back of good orders, Tata Motors grabbed the lead from Ashok Leyland in FY2016-17 as the number-one bus maker in India. For some years, the lead position separated the two by a minuscule gap of one-per cent. Said Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, “We clocked a growth of 22 per cent in FY2016-17 against an industry growth average of 10 per cent.” In the pursuit of higher profitability, Ashok Leyland pursued a strategy to exit some of the State Transport Undertaking (STU) businesses. Expressed Vinod K. Dasari, Managing Director & CEO, Ashok Leyland, “We decided to concentrate on innovative products.” Ashok Leyland’s stress on innovative products is not new. In 2014, the company introduced a front-engine flat-floor city-bus called Janbus. Providing a modern, albeit front-engine alternative to the low-floor rear engine premium city buses, the Janbus proved popular because it cost almost half of what a Volvo city-bus costed at an estimated Rupees one-crore. In addition to the lower acquisition cost, the Janbus was engineered to carry more people, and promised carriage of people at a lower cost. With AC optional, the bus, offering single-step entry, came equipped with an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT), an India first in buses.

700-03152889 © Siephoto Model Release: No Property Release: No Paseo de la Independencia, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

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© Siephoto
Model Release: No
Property Release: No
Paseo de la Independencia, Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

 

Bus technology

With the bus codes influencing the Indian bus market during the last fiscal, much technology found its way into Indian buses. AMT has proliferated since. ABS has become standard on heavier buses, and also air suspension. The market for AC buses, including retrofitment grew steadily last year. It is an estimated 20,000 and 25,000 units strong according to Pramod Verma, Vice President, Sphere Thermal Systems. It was between 12,000 and 14,000 units five years ago, quipped Verma. The demand for AC can be linked with the rising market demand for comfort and refinement. If the demand for comfort and refinement drew the demand for lighter AC buses for school, staff and tourist application in FY2016-17, many government transport undertakings – CBUs, under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric (FAME) vehicles scheme, took out tenders to procure hybrid and electric vehicles. Under the aegis of the central transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, two 9m-long buses refitted with electric propulsion system were introduced in the capital city of Delhi to ferry the members of the Parliament. Tata Motors will soon deliver 25 diesel hybrid rear-engine low- and flat-floor city buses to the city of Mumbai. These mirror the CNG hybrid Tata Hispano city buses that ply at Madrid. Late last calendar year, Volvo delivered two diesel hybrid city buses to Navi Mumbai against an order for five such buses, making it the first manufacturer to supply a hybrid city bus in India. This bus is said to cost Rs.2.3 crore against the Tata Hybrid city bus, which is claimed to cost Rs.2 crore. High acquisition cost continues to be a deterrent despite a 50 per cent subsidy offered under the FAME scheme. To be precise, there is the challenge of gap-funding, which will need to be addressed.

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With electric vehicle infrastructure in India lacking, hybrid buses make ample sense. CBUs however are said to be already looking at electric buses! Last fiscal saw CBUs put out tenders for the procurement of electric buses under the FAME scheme. Perhaps anticipating this, Tata Motors, at the Auto Expo 2016 premier fair, displayed a 9m electric bus based on its Ultra platform. JBM in association with Solaris displayed a 9m electric bus with a pantograph. Not to be left behind, Ashok Leyland, which owns Optare, unveiled a 9m electric bus called Circuit in early 2017. The move up to electric buses traces its roots in the first phase of emission reforms in 2008, which led to Delhi city buses being retrofitted with CNG almost overnight. Most Mumbai city buses also run on CNG. CNG however has posed limitations in terms of availability and infrastructure. The operating costs of CNG buses are proving to be higher than LNG. Promising to overcome to limitations posed by CNG, Tata Motors recently showcased a LNG city bus at Trivandrum.

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As government run STUs and CBUs continue to call for modern yet cost effective buses, private operators continue to up the efficiency of their operations by deploying technology and modern buses. For private bus operators, complex bus rules and high taxation structures, which differ from state to state, continue to be a challenge. Business for them comes from government contracts, corporate staff transportation, tourist transportation, and from the transportation of school children. They accurately map the flow of people such that school and staff bus operators render to tourist transportation during weekends. Demand for large underfloor storage compartments in buses is on the rise when it comes to heavier, long-haul tourist buses. This is also driving the the need for powerful engines. With infrastructure improvements, the number of people travelling by bus continues to rise. The number of consignments transported by buses is also increasing. It serves as a good secondary earning medium. Especially during off-season. Expressed B Anil Baliga, Executive Vice President – Bus & Application, VE Commercial Vehicles, “A lot of the operator profitability comes from cargo.“

Comfort and fuel efficiency improvements

Increasing STU exposure, companies like Eicher are deploying technology to improve NVH and comfort on front-engine buses. Eicher is one of them. Said B Anil Baliga, that their focus is on NVH of front-engine buses. On the subject of high preference to front-engine buses in India, Baliga mentioned, “Indian operators are smart. They know their Return On Investment (ROI) very well. The trick lies in selecting the right route and the right bus.” The enforcement of BSIV emission norms from April 01, 2017, has ensured that most buses come with a common-rail turbo-diesel engine. Most heavy buses come with SCR after-treatment technology. This has had a definitive effect on acquisition cost, and operating complexity, what with the need to opt for annual maintenance contracts with authorised dealers rather than depend upon private garages that are much cost effective. With fuel efficiency at the forefront of operator equations, it will not come as a surprise that Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) is aluminium extensively in the building of its bus bodies. Use of such a technology is also expected to keep it ahead of its competitors, and body builders that are moving up the value chain. Taking advantage of the bus code, bus body builders (convertors) like Veera Vahana, JCBL, Alma Motors and others are investing to turn into bus manufacturers by procuring key aggregates like powertrain, suspension, etc., from the respective tier suppliers. Signalling bus industry transformation, the growing equation between convertors and aggregate manufacturers is starting to spring surprises. At Busworld India 2016, Alma Motors displayed a tarmac bus with aggregates procured from tier suppliers like Cummins and ZF.

Exports

If bus body builders are turning into bus manufacturers, CV majors like Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors are concentrating on exports for growth. T Venkataraman, Senior Vice President – Global Bus, Ashok Leyland, puts the domestics and export sales ratio at 58:42 as far as his company is concerned. Buses made by his company are exported to the Middle East, SAARC and African markets. In addition to this, Ashok Leyland also produces buses at a facility at Raas Al Khaimah in the Middle East. This plant has a capacity to produce 1200 units per year, and is helping the company to cater to the African markets. Ashok Leyland is also exporting Euro5 buses to Ukraine as well. Tata Motors is also applying thrust on exports. It exports buses to various African markets, Russia, the Middle East, and other destinations. The company claims to have achieved a leadership position in the medium bus segment in the Middle East. Eicher exports buses to SAARC markets; to the Middle East and African markets. Similarly, SML Isuzu exports staff, school and luxury buses to SAARC and African markets.

Light bus market

With the participation of Japanese players like SML Isuzu, the light bus market is transforming. Tata Motors continues to lead this market. Its lighter buses flaunt quality bodies built by Marcopolo. Daimler India Commercial Vehicles is BharatBenz lighter buses are also finding good acceptance in the market for staff and tourist bus transportation. A strong player in this segment is SML Isuzu and Eicher. Both has there own bus body building plants. Both have a considerable presence in the school bus sector. A pleasant change in the school bus market is Ashok Leyland’s Sunshine. Claimed to be the first bus to comply with roll-over crash norms, the bus saw the company seek the feedback of students, parents, school authorities, drivers and others. Stress was laid on minimising blind spots and offer a cheerful travel experience. The interior of the bus is thus colourful; there are safety elements built in, and the seats employ anti-bacteria fabric. With the Nissan collaboration behind it, Ashok Leyland is expected to bring out new products in the LCV people mover segment. It currently has the Mitr. A 8 metre-long version of the Mitr will be launched soon.

 

Industry future

With crash norms expected to roll out in next fiscal, and the move up to BSVI emission norms scheduled for 2020, the Indian bus market has only one way to go – to advance quickly to close the gap with buses that are offered in the advanced market at a fraction of the cost. The export of 12m rear engine inter-city bus by Volvo to Europe has proved that there is a distinct price advantage in buiding a world-class bus in India. Initiatives like sleeper and double-deck coach codes by the government is empowering bus body builders to turn manufacturers. This spells good for the growth of the Indian bus industry even as the traditional CV manufacturers look at increasing their reach into the international markets. It is not for nothing, that the Indian bus market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10 per cent by 2020. It is all about progressing demand, value and luxury after all.

 

India’s first e-taxi rolls out

The first Indian e-taxi has rolled out at Nagpur.

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

As part of the Phase I of multi-modal electric vehicle pilot project, 100 e-taxis have hit the road at Nagpur. Operated by Ola Cabs, the e-taxis are four door Mahindra e2o Plus electric cars, painted in a shade of green and white. A reflection of Central Goverment’s aspiration to build electric mass mobility, the 100 e2o Plus e-taxis will add a unique blend to the city’s public transport structure. The home constituency of minister for road transport, Nitin Gadkari, Nagpur set the stage for ‘green’ public transport roughly three years ago when the first ethanol-powered Scania 12 m low-floor city-bus found its way to the city. More bio-fuel Scania city-buses are said to have been supplied to the city of Nagpur against an order for 55 such buses. The arrival of 100 e-taxis follows the announcement by NITI Aayog for a mass shift to electric vehicles by 2030. Expressed Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister, Maharashtra, at the e-taxi launch, “This pilot project will have a positive influence on the society.” To support the project, the state government is claimed to have waived off VAT, road tax, and registration charges. To help Maharashtra to be looked upon as a model state for others to emulate, the e-taxi pilot project is claimed to have lead the State to set aside an archiac rule that cars with engines below 900 cc cannot be registered as taxis.

Dr. Pawan Goenka, Managing Director, M&M Ltd. with the electric car e2O Plus, at the launch of India's first Multi-Modal Electric Vehicle Project in Nagpur copy

Crucial to the proliferation of e-taxis will be the supporting infrastructure. Ola is claimed to have invested over Rs.50 crore towards the purchase of 100 e20 Plus, and to set up the charging infrastructure. If sources are to be believed, over 50 charging points have been installed across four strategic locations in the city. Highlighting its commitment to train and educate the driver partners on maintenance and use of electric-vehicle in association with its OEM partner, Ola Cabs has fixed a base fare of Rs.40, and a charge of Rs.8 for the first twelve kms. Beyond that the structure changes to Rs.12 per km. A ride time fare of one-rupee per minute will be charged as well. If the fare structure looks similar to that of an Ola prime sedan, and an Ola mini, it also highlights the fact that alternate fuel vehicles as a mass transport medium are yet to be ‘truly’ viable. If the absence of a cancellation charge, which is applicable for an Ola mini, at Rs.50, is a positive, the size of the e2o Plus means that three commuters can travel in good comfort, not including the driver. Four adult commuters is going to be a squeeze.

Measuring 3590 mm in length, 1575 mm in width, and 1585 mm in height, the e20 Plus compares well with an Ola mini, which is typically a compact sedan like the Hyundai Xcent and Ford Aspire. The Xcent measures 3995mm in length, 1660 mm in width and 1520 mm in height.

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Powered by a 48 cell configuration, Lithium Ion battery of 210 Ah, the e20 Plus has an on-board power of 11 kWh. Using a three-phase AC induction motor, the e-taxi develops a peak power of 19 kW (25 hp) at 3500 rpm. It generates a torque of 70 Nm at 1000 rpm. Transmission is a two-speed direct-drive unit. Front suspension is made up of Mac Pherson struts, and coaxial springs. Rear has a twin pivot trailing arm with a coaxial spring and damper. On a full charge of 88 Wh, the e20 Plus covers 110 kilometres. Top-speed is 80 kmph. Acceleration from zero to 40 kmph is claimed to be 6.3 seconds. To charge the e20 Plus (up to 80 per cent), a 3 kW, single-phase, 16 Ampere charger is supplied. It takes approximately seven hours and twenty minutes. On a 10 kW, three-phase, 32 Ampere charger, the charging time reduces drastically. Ex-showroom price of the e20 Plus e-taxi at Nagpur is Rs.7,73,380 (inclusive of the FAME incentive), claim industry sources. A three year or 60,000 km warranty is offered.

Charging infrastructure

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Solar power developer ACME Group has provided battery swapping and charging station ‘EcoCharge’ to taxi aggregator Ola for their pilot project at Nagpur. The new charging station is India’s first battery swapping and charging station for electric vehicles. It brings with it, advantages like lowest operating cost and fast charging. The time it takes to swap is less than it takes to fill fuel. The project, inaugurated by minister for road transport, Nitin Gadkari, is said to have commenced operations with over 50 charging points across four strategic locations at Nagpur. Sources at ACME indicate, that the company, with the new project, plans to replicate similar swapping and charging infrastructure in other cities of India in a bid to facilitate faster adoption of electric mobility. Expressed Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, Founder and Chairman, ACME Group, “I see a future of energy storage along with solar to provide 24×7 power and oil free transportation. This should help India solve problems like pollution, heavy dependency on oil import, and enable many industries to pro-actively generate employment opportunities.” ACME offers lithium batteries that have been developed in-house, and boast of intelligent BMS technology for electric mobility and stationary applications. With capacities ranging from kilo watt per hour to mega watt per hour, ACME has a lithium battery manufacturing facility at Rudrapur, in Uttarakhand.

Tata Motors looks up to an exciting future

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Post the transition to BSIV, Tata Motors is eyeing strong growth.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Like many other commercial vehicle manufacturers, demonetisation affected Tata Motors too. The end of FY2016-17 marked not just the end of a tumultuous period, it also marked green shoots. For example, buses did exceedingly well. For Tata Motors, they posted a growth of 22 per cent against an industry growth rate of 10 per cent. This led the company to grab the lead in the Indian bus market. LCVs also performed well for Tata Motors. Looking at a new period that does not come often, and will perhaps never come again, Tata Motors is looking up to an exciting future. According to Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, the CV maker is confident of infrastructure revival helping it to grow. It is also looking at growth coming from the push for electric and alternate fuel vehicles. With teams in place, and post the significant structural changes to assume a leaner form, the company is exerting a good deal of thrust on exports as well.

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The Ultra, according to Pisharody, is in the sweet spot. It is helping the company, along with the Prima, to drive exports. Export volume accounts for 17 to 18 per cent of the total volume, and is expected to go up to 25 per cent. Keen to offer the lowest cost of ownership, Tata Motors, in FY2016-17, saw the M&HCV segment shake and rattle. A segment where its new age products, Signa and Prima, enjoy a considerable clout. The months of April and May brought good growth to M&HCVs whereas the months of June, July and August proved to be weak. The reason, said Pisharody, could be attributed to GST. “GST started doing the rounds, and the PMO and the finance minister began talking about its implementation from April 2017. This seems to have led to lacklustre performance of M&HCVs in June, July and August last fiscal on the back of uncertainty, as CV buyers, hoping that prices will fall, decided to postpone their purchase. The talk of a tax structure of 18 per cent would entail a drop in prices by 8 to 10 per cent,” he expressed. The M&HCV segment started gaining velocity in September, and because of the good monsoon. In October 2016, and at the start of the festive season, the M&HCV segment recorded the highest growth in FY2016-17.

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Demonetisation

In November 2016, the effect of demonetisation was most felt in north and west, the markets where Tata Motors enjoyed the most exposure. “For a few days, the CV industry was literally stranded on the road,” opined Pisharody. Pointing at the way the transport industry works, Pisharody said, “A truck driver carries an amount of cash, which the driver and owner figure out as necessary.” The industry declined over the next two months. Tata Motors’ sales declined 30 per cent in comparison to October, and 15 per cent in comparison to the corresponding month of the previous financial year. The same situation prevailed in December 2016. In January 2017, the effect had vanned.

Despite the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for Delhi & NCR (EPCA) exerting its stance, it was expected that February, March and April 2017 would witness pre buying. An amount of pre-buying did take place. Tata Motors however, took a balanced approach according to Pisharody. This ensured that the CV maker did not carry much inventory into March 2017. “We looked at precedence, when vehicle manufacturers were allowed to sell their existing stock, and not manufacture it after the cut-off date. The Supreme Court judgement was surprising,” expressed Pisharody. He said further, “Our strategy works around dealers carrying a stock of 30,000, all segments included, at the end of March. It amounts to one month of stock, and something which the dealer is able to carry into the next month. In this case, into April.” Production of BSIII CVs was immediately cut down on March 29, 2017, by Tata Motors. More impetus was laid on BSIV vehicle production, which the company was already ramping-up. Attention was also paid to help dealers to liquidate their stock.

What made it important to help the dealers liquidate their stock was the sales tax component already paid. Taking back dealer stock would have meant losing the paid tax component. “We were largely successful in liquidating the dealer stock,” stated Pisharody. Over a off-take and retail of 30,000 in February 2017, the March 2017 off-take was only 36,000. Tata Motors did not push inventory, and the figure the company settled for in March 2017 was lower than March 2016. In March 2017, the company witnessed solid retails of between 51,000 and 52,000. Dealer stock of BSIII vehicles according to Pisharody was very low as a result. It was between 3000 and 4000. Big trucks amounted to less than 500. At the plant level, the company incurred a stock of 15000 CVs.

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Getting rid of the inventory

To get rid of 15000 BSIII CVs, Tata Motors is looking at export markets. It is also looking at aggregates to be sold as spares. Putting the company at a disadvantage when it comes to market share in March, Tata Motors reported a wholesale volume of 14000 as compared to a retail volume of 22,000-23,000. Out of the 15000 BSIII CVs left with Tata Motors, the number of M&HCVs, according to Pisharody, is 4000 units. He informed that discussions are on to seek a legal remedy, and that the government is supportive. Upon analysing, Tata Motors found out that 8000-8500 units (out of the 15000 BSIII vehicles) could be exported to markets like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh as they are. Considering a monthly export of 5000 to 5500, it would take the company four to six months to get rid of the BSIII stock opined Pisharody. Of the remaining vehicles (that are not exported), Tata Motors plans to convert to BSIV. An ICV like the Tata 1109, explained Pisharody, can be converted to BSIV with a nominal cost of five per cent. Conversion of such vehicles has already begun. In case of vehicles that would pose a conversion challenge in terms of efforts and expense, Tata Motors is moving slowly. While hoping that a legal remedy is available to dispose them, the company is also looking at cannibalising high value items like gearbox, tyres, etc. This would help it to fulfill its long-term service obligations.

Beginning of a new period

Tata Motors is looking at FY2017-18 as a completely new period. The product performance equation in comparison to the competition will change according to Pisharody. The price positioning as well as customer eligibility will also change, said Pisharody. Terming the company as a CV market leader, and futuristic in its approach, Pisharody averred, “We will cater to price conscious as well as performance conscious customers.” The company will bank on a dual strategy as the new period reveals itself. For lower powered engine of up to 160 and 180 hp, the company is looking at EGR. With an overlap between 160 hp and 180 hp, Tata Motors is looking at deploying SCR technology on higher powered CVs. “All Tata engines have EGR,” informed Pisharody. He said, “Look at the 497 engine for example, and it is equipped with an EGR. The new three and five-litre engines that power the Ultra will deploy EGR. Two-axle trucks and lower powered buses will be equipped with EGR technology. For muti-axle heavier trucks, SCR technology will be deployed.”

If the stress on SCR technology hints at an attention to BSVI emission norms, Tata Motors is making a big jump in technology. It is doing so with an intention to achieve benefits like fuel economy, reliability and lower maintenance costs. Pisharody may expect higher resale value to come in once the migration to new (BSIV) technology takes place, and on the back of fuel, which will be different from what was available until now, the fact is, the next quarter looks lacklustre. It is something that Pisharody is well aware of. Especially on the back of some pre-buying in February and March. With GST scheduled for July 01, 2017, an amount of uncertainty is expected. Uncertainty is expected go down in the second quarter of FY2017-18 according to Pisharody. He opined that bus and SCV sales in July and August are expected to be much better than they were during the corresponding period last fiscal. Buses, he quipped, are already on SCR. As 13 Indian cities moved up to BSIV emission norms in 2010, Tata Motors equipped buses and urban application CVs like garbage compactors (on 1621 platform) with SCR technology. SCR technology for Tata Motors is therefore not newfound.

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EGR vs SCR

Ramping up production of BSIV CVs, the company has limited the deployment of SCR tech to Tata Cummins engines. The four-cylinder engines that Tata makes, will continue to be equipped with EGR. With Cummins, said Pisharody, Tata Motors is enjoying access to the latest and the most modern technology. Apart from SCR equipped engines, Tata Motors will also source EGR equipped engines from Tata Cummins in the 150 to 200 hp power range. Confident of the GST elevating the efficiency of the logistics industry (by doing away with border checks), Pisharody opined, “The strategy is to equip a certain range of engines with EGR, and a certain range of engines with SCR.” Girish Wagh, Head – Project Planning & Programme Management, M&HCV, Tata Motors, explained that they have acquired good global and local experience from the use of EGR and SCR technology. “For light-duty applications of up to 150 and 160 hp, EGR can do the job, and would entail lower costs,” he mentioned. SCR technology, according to Girish, makes sense for engines that are powerful as it will provide better fuel economy. “Beyond 180 hp, liquid economy of SCR is better than EGR”. With the use of SCR engines, Tata Motors is eyeing the twin advantage of lowest cost of operation and longer engine life. Well aware that the move to BSVI emission norms will make SCR essential, BSIV trucks with SCR techlogy according to Pisharody will command good resale value.

With the engine governed electronically, Tata Motors has had an opportunity to add value. It thus developed vehicle acceleration management system that filters driver input to ensure optimum efficiency and longer aggregate life. Tata Motors has also developed fuel economy switch, the mode of which the driver can select depending upon the duty cycle and usage condition. A host of technologies have been developed by Tata Motors to increase aggregate life. Efforts to improve ride and comfort were undertaken on the basis of the feedback received. The company has developed a modular chassis frame, which aligns with multiple applications. A new 6.5-tonne front axle has been developed to facilitate higher load carrying capability. Revealed Girish that 14000 common-rail trucks are already plying in India for the last seven years, and have provided a good learning opportunity. The company, averred Girish, is deploying 1800-2000 bar pressure common-rail systems and DOC for EGR application. The price differential between BSIII and BSIV Tata CVs is in the region of 10 per cent. For the higher amount paid, the operator is getting much better value mentioned Pisharody. He said, “We are offering better AMC for SCR equipped vehicles.” Keen to ensure that Tata CV operators enjoy lower total cost of ownership, the company will market AdBlue solution as a Tata brand through 3000 outlets and fuel stations.

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Confident of infra revival, and the rising demand for electric vehicles (a tender for 100 electric-buses has been floated at Pune, and for at least six buses in Himachal Pradesh), Tata Motors, expressed Pisharody, is expecting new regulations like AC, advanced crash norms and CAFE to call for attention in the next two years. “Powertrain and vehicle teams at Tata Motors are in place for BSVI regulations that are due to come in force by 2020,” Pisharody signed off.

VECV: Meeting BSIV with EGR and SCR

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Meeting BSIV emission norms with EGR and SCR technology, VE Commercial Vehicles has launched the Pro 5000 Series.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Eicher Trucks & Buses, a part of VE Commercial Vehicles Limited, has employed Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to meet the BSIV emission norms. The SCR technology has found its way into the heavier Pro 6000 Series and Pro 8000 Series trucks. The Pro 5000 Series trucks that the company recently launched in Mumbai employs EGR technology in combination with Volvo’s EMS 3.0 electronic governing architecture. Filling the gap, and turning VE Commercial Vehicles into a full range player according to Vinod Aggarwal, Managing Director & CEO, the Pro 5000 Series trucks range from 16-tonne to 49-tonnes. Found in 4×2 tipper and rigid haulage guise; 8×4 haulage guise, and in 4×2 tractor guise among others, the Pro 5000 Series, is powered by a common-rail 5.7-litre six-cylinder (E694) engine that produces between 170 hp and 192 hp depending on the application type.

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Sporting the Pegasus business grille and twin round head lamp design, which marks a departure from the single unit clear-lens assembly design found on other Pro Series trucks, the Pro 5000 Series is claimed to offer unmatched reliability and optimised operational cost. Expressed Aggarwal, “With the introduction of Pro 5000 Series, we have come to offer the widest range of heavy-duty trucks. The Pro 5000 is available at different price points, and is equipped with intelligent features like fuel coaching and cruise control.” Stressing upon competitive acquisition cost of the Pro 5000 Series trucks, Aggarwal mentioned that they recorded good growth last fiscal. It were more than the industry average.

Faster growth

In FY2016-17, VE Commercial Vehicles performed well. Despite being a challenging year, the company recorded a 12.6 per cent growth against the industry growth of four per cent. Tight planning on inventory, said Aggarwal, helped minimise the impact of the Apex Court’s order to stop the sale of BSIII vehicles from April 01, 2017. VE Commercial Vehicles produced only 2500 units after demonetisation. It was left with 1000 BSIII units in the plant and some 400 to 500 units with the dealers when the court order was issued. A decision to export or convert the BSIII vehicles has been taken, averred Aggarwal. Posting 50 per cent growth in HCVs, 33 per cent growth in MCVs, and 17.5 per cent growth in buses, the company exported 8,500 vehicles last fiscal, an increase of 25 per cent. Informing that the company has introduced a 180 hp bus powered by the E694 engine also found on Pro 5000 Series trucks, Aggarwal opined, “The market feedback we have received is that our bus gives higher fuel efficiency.” It has been sometime now that VE Commercial Vehicles has been increasing its STU exposure. It has supplied buses to KSRTC, BMTC, MSRTC, and Gujarat and Telangana transport undertakings according to Aggarwal. If the captive bus body building plant at Pithampur is proving to be advantageous, access to Volvo technology is also proving to be of much help. The VE Commercial Vehicles joint venture between Eicher and Volvo will turn nine on July 2017, and the EMS 3.0 governing system found on the Pro 5000 Series trucks is a reflection of Volvo technology percolating into VE Commercial Vehicles.

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Powering the heavier Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 Series Eicher trucks are 5-litre and 8-litre engines that are produced by VE PowerTrain (VEPT), a joint venture company between Eicher and Volvo with a plant at Pithampur. The plant replicates the production systems that are in place at the Skovde engine plant of Volvo in Sweden. The engines produced at VEPT plant are also supplied to Volvo locations the world over, and in a form that makes them Euro6 compliant. The engines made at VEPT also find their way into Volvo’s other group entities like Volvo Penta.

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Volvo tech for superior performance

If the EMS 3.0 governing system in the Pro 5000 Series trucks is reflective of Volvo technology percolating into VE Commercial Vehicles, the technology is also helping the CV maker deliver products that promise best in class efficiency. Expressed Aggarwal, “Technologies like EMS 3.0 present the company with a big advantage.” Quipped Gill, that they were the first to introduce cruise control in 2014. When VE Commercial Vehicles was established nine years ago, the Eicher product range that was transferred from Eicher Ltd. to the joint venture company were essentially CVs that employed Mitsubishi technology. With the participation of Volvo, these legacy products were upgraded and turned around to offer a superior experience, reliability, efficiency and low cost of operation. The E694 engine interestingly employs a bit of legacy technology, a bit of UD technology and a bit of Volvo technology claimed sources close to the company. If that provides an interesting insight into the ways of working at VE Commercial Vehicles, it is easier to understand the claim made by Gill that technology and emission norms are not new to them. “We looked at trucks running more, and earning more. As technology leaders, we have installed Eurodip paint tech and robotic welding line for the manufacture of cabins at Pithampur,” mentioned Gill, The Pro 5000 Series of trucks are available with a fully built cabin (long-haul trucks like the Pro 5031 come with a sleeper cabin), and a rolling chassis (cowl). Telematics is optional, and also the M-Booster technology, which is claimed to further enhance fuel efficiency according to Gill.

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Increasing efficiency and performance

VE Commercial Vehicles overhauled the parts distribution network to up efficiency and performance even as it continues to launch new products with the view of addressing the exacting needs of the market. Said Gill, “Over 97 per cent of the parts are shipped the same day. Over 98 per cent of our trucks have delivered on the fuel efficiency promise.” “Our vehicles offer 97 per cent uptime,” he stressed upon. Offering features like fuel coaching and cruise control, which are claimed to reduce driver fatigue and inform the driver and the operator about fuel efficiency, the Pro 5000 Series, it is clear, is a step forward by VE Commercial Vehicles to increase medium and heavy commercial vehicle market penetration. With GST expected to roll out in July, and if delayed, by September 2017, the year ahead looks challenging for the CV industry. VE Commercial Vehicles continues to be confident of growing faster than the industry. To achieve greater market reach, the company, said Gill, has invested in 250 GPS connected breakdown repair vans, and a dial-a-part call centre. The company has 151 3S dealers, 13 2S facilities, and 23 SPD and 160 EGP facilities as part of its network to support its clients.

With BSIV CVs expected to call for better dealer support, what with OBD systems on board, VE Commercial Vehicles is looking at addressing the exacting needs of the CV market. In the wake of rapid changes the market is experiencing, customer expectations are changing. As a full range player, for VE Commercial Vehicles, AMCs and re-built engines, and gearboxes, will matter as the need for up-time rises. The Pro 5000 Series trucks reflect not just upon VE Commercial Vehicles’ capabilities, and its journey into the future, they also reflect upon how the Indian CV industry is changing.

Ashok Leyland: Meeting BSIV with iEGR

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Ashok Leyland has developed iEGR for its CVs to comply with BSIV emission regulations.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Ashok Leyland achieved the feat of complying with BSIII emission regulations when they were enforced in 2010 with an in-line mechanical fuel pump. The fuel governing system of the engine was suitably tweaked. To meet the BSIV emission norms that came into force pan-India from April 01, 2017, the commercial vehicle manufacturer has taken the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) route. It has developed what it would like to term as intelligent Engine Gas Recirculation (iEGR). Rather than adapt a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system, the company chose to tweak the engine combustion management system and EGR of both its engine families – H and N, that range between 130 hp and 400 hp. Announced Vinod K. Dasari, Managing Director and CEO, Ashok Leyland, that the technology was developed over four years, and with the view of eliminating challenges pertaining to SCR system in terms of weight and operational costs. Claiming that his were the only company in the world to comply with BSIII emission norms using a mechanical pump, Dasari mentioned, “Better fuel efficiency (of up to 10 per cent), and reliability from the absence of SCR associated electronics are the two outcomes of the iEGR endeavour.” With the elimination of POC, and additional sensors, the BSIV trucks, the company offers, promise to deliver higher payload because of the weight saved. Stating that they have been offering SCR since 2010, and came to conclude that it is useful in long runs at constant speeds, Dasari averred, “India is a value conscious market.” What makes iEGR interesting is the low acquisition cost of the vehicle as compared to the one that is equipped with a SCR system.

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Impact of SC order

Like other Indian automakers, Ashok Leyland was also affected by the Apex Court’s order to stop selling BSIII vehicles beginning April 01, 2017. Not the one to push inventory on to its dealers, the company, according to Dasari, was left with 10,664 BSIII CVs. “It was panic”. “The successful development of iEGR over the last four years helped us to retain our confidence,” said Dasari. A decision to swap the BSIII engines in BSIII CVs was taken. The engines taken out will be sold in the aftermarket, mentioned Dasari. He claimed that no major financial impact was had, and even though the development was painful. “It is a pain, not fun, but we will get over it,” averred Dasari. Till date, 220 BSIII CVs have been converted to BSIV. The cost of swapping the engine per vehicle is roughly Rs.20,000. The BSIII engine costs Rs.1.4 lakh according to Dasari. In the aftermarket, it is expected to fetch a price of Rs.2.2 lakh. Ashok Leyland vehicles, expressed Dasari, are virtually sold on cash and carry basis.

Risk aversion

An endeavour to invade new markets overseas has proved to be of much use to Ashok Leyland in its effort to averse risk. With the Indian market showing signs of much cyclicity off late, the company, which according to Dasari, is the ninth largest truck maker and fourth largest bus maker in the world, is looking at increasing its export thrust. Said Rajive Saharia, President – Global Sales and Distribution, that the company is keen to export one CV for every two CVs sold in the domestic market. Expressed T Venkataraman, Senior Vice President – Global Bus, that the domestic and export sales ratio as far as buses are concerned is 58:42. Buses are exported, he averred, to the Middle East, SAARC, and African markets. Stressing upon the next quarter looking tough, Venkataraman expressed, “We are supplying Euro 5 vehicles to Ukraine, and are going to Latin America.” Quipped Saharia, that more trucks were sold overseas last year than buses. “ Close to 60 per cent of export sales was through trucks,” announced Saharia. The company is looking forward to export LCVs. When it does, the exercise would help it to inch closer to the target of exporting one CV for every two CVs sold in India. Apart from the Middle East, SAARC and African markets, Ashok Leyland is looking at Russia and Ukraine too. In an effort to arrive at streamlined manufacturing processes and higher efficiency, Ashok Leyland has replicated the Ras Al Khaimah plant at Bangladesh. A 200 to 300 unit market will make an attractive export market (in Bangladesh) according to Saharia.

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If Bangladesh is the largest truck export market for Ashok Leyland, the company has began exporting the Boss to Russia. Said Saharia, “Supply of bus kits to Ukraine is on, and local converters are building bodies on them.” Ashok Leyland’s strategy to averse risk and grow faster than the industry reflects from its decision to exit some of the STU businesses. This, for a leading bus player in the country was not an easy task. Said Dasari, “We exited some STU businesses for low profitability.” In its quest to put the Dollar where the returns are, Ashok Leyland made it a point to concentrate on innovative products. The result of this is the introduction of Captain, Guru, Circuit electric bus, Sunshine school bus with roll-over protection, and the Oyster (safest) school bus in the Gulf. Due to its growth potential, Ashok Leyland paid attention to the coal tipper and construction truck market.

Tapping growth

Selling over 200 Guru ICVs till date, Ashok Leyland witnessed good uptake in 10×2 and 8×2 mining tippers and construction trucks. It sold over 1500 units according to Dasari. The share of Ashok Leyland’s mining tipper and construction truck market, claimed Dasari, grew by 50 per cent over the industry average of 30 per cent. From the time it was launched, the company has sold over 3000 Sunshine school buses. There is a waiting list of 500 vehicles. Despite a single product (Dost), Ashok Leyland’s LCV portfolio, said Dasari, witnessed a growth of 4 per cent. Expressed Nitin Seth, President, LCV and Defence, “We are now looking at running faster. We will launch the passenger version of Dost followed by the bigger version of Dost called the Dost+. An eight-metre long bus on the Mitr platform will be introduced. We will also address the demand for 32-seater school bus and a CNG vehicle. These would be developed in left-hand drive variants as well by keeping in mind the export markets.” Ashok Leyland is keen to tap world’s 80 per cent LCV market that is left-hand drive oriented. To cater to the market for smaller buses, the left-hand drive Mitr will be Ashok Leyland’s ace card.

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Apart from expanding the three LCV platforms the company currently has, the plan, according to Seth, is to develop new LCV platforms by 2019-2020. Well aware of the domestic LCV market turning eight-per cent positive for the first time this year, Seth is looking at hitting a six-lakh volume by 2021. Seth is also hoping the LCV to be a bigger player with the coming of GST. In the export markets, Seth is keen to leverage the fact that Nissan LCVs are marketed in many markets making them a familiar sight. With stress on filling up the gaps in the LCV product portfolio by developing new platforms, Ashok Leyland is looking at quadrupling the sale of LCVs with the Nissan joint venture behind it. Keen to sell one LCV for every two LCVs sold in the Indian market, the company is banking on Dost+, which offers a 1400 kg capacity and rides on 15-inch dia. wheels to further increase its LCV market share in the near future. The Dost+ comes equipped with six leaf spring suspension at the rear, and a four-leaf spring suspension at the front.

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Defence business

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Providing further impetus to its defence strategy, the supply of Stallion vehicle kits grew 7.4 per cent, from 3076 numbers to 3304 numbers. With an ambition to cater to 25 per cent of the defence budget, the company has invested in a new defence vehicle facility at its Ennore plant. Special focus is on catering to defence vehicle market. Close to 95 per cent of the UN peace keeping forces in Africa, informed Dasari, use Ashok Leyland vehicles. The company has received 4×4 mine protected vehicle order from the Indian Army, he revealed.

Investing in the right solutions

Happy with the genset volume growth of six per cent on the back of new product variants, Ashok Leyland has begun selling automotive engines. It has received first customer order from USA. Said Gopal Mahadevan, Chief Financial Officer, Ashok Leyland, “We have been doing away with all those inside processes, which do not add value to a shareholder, vendor, customer or a large investor. We are automating a lot of them, eliminating, and streamlining them. With limited resources, we have been judiciously investing employee cost in product development and marketing. Much focus is being paid to achieve a high rate of success.” Claiming that Ashok Leyland is one of the few companies in the world to possess sub-BSIII capabilities since it caters to such markets, Mahadevan averred, “We have BSIII in-line and common-rail tech, and we have BSIV EGR and SCR.”

Owning German SCR specialist Albonair, which supplies Euro6 SCR systems to Volvo, Ashok Leyland, it is surprising, chose to develop iegr rather than to deploy SCR. Said Dasari that stress was laid on offering what would best suit the Indian market. He gave an example of trucks being washed by the river-side with buckets of water. Expressed Mahadevan, “We are attributing growth to addressing the exacting needs of the market. We are the only manufacturer to increase the price of our products in January 2017 by four per cent. We are the only one to gain maximum market share in March 2017.” Averred Dasari that the company’s market share grew from 24 per cent to 32 per cent. Of the view that they have seen good growth despite hiking product prices, Gopal averred, the solutions we offer are about total cost of ownership. Working on multiple channels, Ashok Leyland, to tap growth, worked on increasing the points of presence. “50 to 1,600 is a disruptive force,” said Mahadevan. Putting money on channel expansion rather than discounts, the company concentrated on efficient breakdown services, he added. This, mentioned Gopal, was necessary because the vehicles sold by them are often misused, and are therefore prone to a breakdown.

Apart from investing in the channel, Ashok Leyland has also invested in new products. The Boss, Captain, Partner, Janbus, Mitr, Guru, and others are a point in case. The company leveraged technology to address the requirements of the customers at any given time. This helped the company to secure an order from USA. Claiming that dealers appreciated company’s policy to not push inventory, Gopal opined that a clear focus is on return on investment at Ashok Leyland when it comes to technology. He explained, “As far as technology is concerned, ours is the only electric bus that climbed the Rohtang pass without a breakdown.” Ashok Leyland is building its capabilities in parallel. It is digitising. Mentioned Rajive Saharia, that Ashok Leyland is banking on digital initiatives for growth.

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Digitisation

Digitisation for Ashok Leyland, apart from common-rail engines, means telematics and a slew of ‘support’ technologies. Mentioned Dasari, “We developed a new way of providing telematics in the form of a single device that works on any Ashok Leyland vehicle, and without any kind of engine or associated architecture. It provides driver information, diagnostics, etc., and is found on BSIV CVs.” Ashok Leyland has developed a scan tool for onboard diagnostics for a fraction of a cost, and sans the need for a laptop. The company has also developed Ley Assist, which according to Dasari is a Bluetooth operated phone based tool to diagnose error without any physical connection. Looking at autonomous vehicles and vehicle platooning technologies as the future, the folks at Ashok Leyland are working in that direction, albeit with limited resources. Expressed Mahadevan, “I have limited Dollars, and I am spending them efficiently.” “Our net price realisation in March was better than in February, and it is something that is hard to believe but true,” he added. Ashok Leyland is paying attention on logistics and supply chain. It is also paying attention to improve the capabilities of tier 2 suppliers. Revealed Mahadevan that stress is on pertinent technology; technology that will sell. “We are thus keen to build an engine portfolio, and turn it into a separate line of business. A lot of our engines are used for marine applications besides gensets,” he signed off.

JCBL charges ahead

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With bus body code regulations in place, JCBL is looking at setting the pace.

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

Chandigarh-based JCBL was established in 1989, with a mission to design and manufacture high quality buses and load carriers that are stylish, well engineered, and have high standards of reliability. Serving the commercial vehicle industry for the last 25 years, the company has built luxury buses, integral coaches, school buses, special application vans, medical vans, motor homes, armoured vehicles, agricultural implements, tippers and tip-trailers, cargo carriers, refrigerated vans, and heavy haulage tippers. Specialising in the manufacture of bus bodies especially, JCBL, with the AIS (052) revised bus body code in place, is looking at setting the pace. From January 01, 2017, buses, under the bus body code, will need to be classified into specific types as per the guidelines of the Central Motor Vehicle Rule (CMVR). They will need to be built as per the set specifications, and should have the necessary approvals from the respective transport authority. According to Rishi Aggarwal, Managing Director, JCBL Ltd., with AIS 052 bus body code in place, the government is stressing upon improved safety in CVs. “Looking at the rising pollution levels, and the demand for safety and comfort in India, the implementation of stringent norms like the bus body code and BSIV emission norms is the need of the hour,” he adds. Sanjeev Babbar, Chief Operating Officer, JCBL Ltd., opines, “The bus body code will be implemented in two parts. Broad specifications will need to be met in terms of dimensions. In 2018, the second phase of bus body code will be implemented, and will call for specific structural rigidity and structure FEA requirements.” “Specifications will also call for window retention, seat testing, anchorage, headlight and windshield swipe tests,” he adds.

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OEM support

Over the 25 years of its journey, JCBL has come to work closely with almost all the CV OEMs in India. It has thus experienced, first hand, the industry ups and downs. Witness to the current turbulent times with pan-India BSIV emission regulations to be enforced on April 01, 2017, followed the announcement of GST in July, JCBL is confident of achieving strong growth despite the challenges. With the sleeper coach code expected to be announced soon, the company, despite the near future of the CV industry looking more or less unpredictable, continues to be bullish about growth. Undeterred by the low double digit growth registered last year by the bus industry, JCBL is optimistic about a bright future. Says Agarwal, “JCBL has been a strong support partner for Ashok Leyland and SML Isuzu for their pan-India bus business for many years.” “Close to 50 per cent of the business carried out by JCBL comes from these two OEMs,” he adds. Out of its four manufacturing lines, JCBL has developed two lines for Ashok Leyland and SML Isuzu each. The company would build school and staff buses for both these OEMs. The third line, JCBL has specifically developed for Ashok Leyland ambulances. The fourth line caters to private businesses, including those that demand bullet proof and armoured vehicles.

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JCBL body built 170 mini buses for SML Isuzu last year as part of an order received from the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking. JCBL recently completed an order of over 170 life-saving ambulances to Ashok Leyland. These ambulances were supplied by Ashok Leyland to African markets. The company has bagged an order for 1,000 ambulances from an OEM. These would be supplied to defence forces, and are specifically tailored for defence applications. To reduce the time it takes to build a bus body, JCBL has developed a mechanism where a fully fabricated body is ready. This is being practiced for SML Isuzu. A fully fabricated body is married to the bus chassis before the paint process. “Much time is saved,” avers Babbar. “Not only does this cut down the manufacturing time to seven days, down from 20 days taken for an LCV, it also allows us to work on lean inventories. Two more days of body building can be reduced if the body-chassis marriage can take place after the body shell is painted,” he adds.

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Container bodies

JCBL supplies truck container bodies measuring between 22 ft. and 40 ft. to Ashok Leyland ICVs and MCVs that range between 10 and 16-tonnes. JCBL is executing an order of 500 32 ft. containers for Ashok Leyland medium and heavy-duty trucks against an order for 1200 trucks placed by logistics start-up Rivigo. With the truck body code on its way, load body trucks, LCVs especially, are already being built by OEMs. Opines Babbar, “Cargo transportation hereafter will be safer. It will be done in a box. The market would thus graduate to container transportation model of business.” “The progress in truck code has already started with the cabin _ with AC fitted cabins. For load bodies too there will be compliance necessary. OEMs are working with various body manufacturers on this,” states Babbar. Strategically located to cater to the needs of SML Isuzu plant at Ropar, and Ashok Leyland plant at Pantnagar, JCBL is increasingly looked upon as an application builder that can address the requirements of OEMs as far as the North Indian markets are concerned. “We are working with Mahindra for the design and development of their new platforms,” reveals Babbar. He adds, “For Tata Motors, we are doing Light Armoured Troop Carriers (LATC) and special application vehicles related to defence applications like ambulances and bomb disposal squad vans.” JCBL has approvals from Ashok Leyland and SML Isuzu for their LCVs and ICVs. This, says Babbar, will be a significant growth area for JCBL in the coming times. JCBL is also gearing up for medium-duty vehicles in the next quarter. The company recently supplied two election campaigning vans to Samajvadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav apart from a few other chief ministers. These vehicles highlight the company’s abilities to build motor homes, mobile offices, and bullet proof vehicles.

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Adapting to changes

The ability to adapt to market changes has seen JCBL in good stead. JCBL has honed itself to quickly respond to changes as well as anticipate them. Says Babbar, “The peak season for bus sales starts from January and extends all the way to July. It is during this period that JCBL has to raise production to as much as 600 buses per month. The paint shop has to be run in three shifts, and the plant has to operate in extended shifts. The rest of the year witnesses drop in sales. We have to quickly adapt to such market changes, and more.” A labour intensive business according to Babbar, JCBL has to do much planning. It has to anticipate. “Optimisation of capacity and maintenance of business cycle is necessary. One achieves good results in an year if an order for additional 150 to 200 units per month is bagged,” avers Babbar. Adhering to yearly targets is necessary, and beyond that, that is where the growth lies. In case of an overlap, old orders can affect the performance of the company in the next season. To drive growth, clearing old orders expeditiously, if any, and concentrating on current business is a challenge that the team under Babbar is managing well.

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Gearing up for the future

The last seven months have been a busy period for JCBL. The company facilities are being upgraded to comply with the AIS 052 standards. “Whether it is a bus for an OEM, or for the private sector, approvals are necessary. This makes it necessary to have a common base structure and platform. It enables faster approvals as tests are necessary even when you integrate body with the chassis,” explains Babbar. Once the design structure for a particular payload capacity is ready, structural FEA clearance becomes necessary. Clearance is also necessary for components and aggregates like seats, anchorage, window retention, placement of headlights, windshield wipers, etc. “Any change in aesthetics is fine; any change in the structural design needs approval,” mentions Babbar. According to him, once the chassis is up to a specific operation, the body has to be designed as per the requirement. It has to match the placement of the engine (rear or front), floor height, air-conditioner, etc. The nature of application has be taken into consideration as well. “With the bus body code in place, road side bus body building will be redundant. This will lead to an increase in the business of established players,” opines Babbar.

An estimated 40,000 chassis are sold in a year. This is set to change. With the emergence of various codes, stress on fully built vehicles is expected to rise. The same is already happening, says Babbar. Manufacturers are under pressure to achieve good numbers. “Those players that do 35 to 40 bus bodies per month are pumping investments despite demonetisation to comply with the new standards. This is not easy. The good part is, safety will be elevated,” avers Agarwal. JCBL has a capacity to manufacture 5000 buses and 8000 load bodies per year out of its two plants. A mid-size AC bus takes up to 20 days to manufacture. A medium-duty commercial vehicle takes up to 35 days to build. JCBL has invested in a full fledged R&D centre at its Lalru plant. It spends up to four per cent of its annual revenues on research and development. Says Babbar, “It is not that every time we look at numbers only. We use revenues by changing the product mix, or by increasing the unit sales, or by doing both. There has to be an optimum value addition that one is able to generate at the end of the day.”

Comfortable ride

To keep up with the changing needs of the market, JCBL has tied up with Eberspacher Sutrak and Spheros Motherson for the supply of bus ACs. Drawing attention to the rising demand for AC buses, Babbar says, “Aggregates like ACs, roof hatches, air curtains, and electronic gadgets are playing an increasingly important role in the building of bus bodies. Demand for comfort is rising. It is to address this demand that we have tied up with respective suppliers.” Aware of the growing electronic content in CVs, Babbar points at the rising use of LED lighting systems, including LED head lamps. He expresses, “OEMs are already working towards the approval of LED lights in bus body manufacture. Cost is not a hindrance. To get into an arrangement with manufacturers of such specialised components is important.” Emphasising upon his company offering support to their customers, Babbar opines that an arrangement with manufacturers of such specialised components will help us further. Their channel could be leveraged to provide service to our customers, he adds. The idea is to provide a comfortable ride to the customers as well as those who ride JCBL built buses.

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Of the opinion that rear-engine buses are growing in numbers, Babbar avers that by addressing the changing needs of the market, the opportunities to grow for companies like JCBL will only increase. He points at the sleeper bus specification draft, and opines that ‘legal’ sleeper coaches are not far. “As night-travel by buses increases, it is becoming increasingly necessary for OEMs to look at a capable partner that will help them to tap the trend. Quantum jump in technology is necessary for a better tomorrow. There will be challenges, but the need to upgrade will be there. Consider the example of deployment of CNG buses in Delhi,” mentions Babbar. In its effort to support its clients, JCBL has opened offices and service centres at Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai. The company is also closely working with OEMs; it is allowing access to their dealer network. Apart from local teams that provide service support, JCBL has mobile teams at the plant, which help in the delivery of orders as well.

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Alternate propulsion mediums

JCBL is working with OEMs for their CNG buses to cater to the North Indian market. OEMs stand to benefit from offering fully-built buses. With the regulation already in place in markets like Delhi NCR, the objective is to make available an alternate fuel product to achieve that extra market reach. “Almost 80 per cent of the market in Delhi-NCR is chassis driven. A fully built CNG bus is seeing demand where there is a tender, says Babbar. Distribution and availability of CNG is an issue, and in many areas , hybrid and electric buses are being looked upon as an alternative. It will be a value game, opines Babbar. He quips, “Depending upon the area of operation, the one that offers better value for money will be the game changer as far as alternate fuel vehicles are concerned.”

After identifying an opportunity, JCBL tied up with bus components manufacturers in Europe. The intention was to control the balance of supply with costs. “We started with seats, then we got into bus components and then FRP components under MSL brand.” says Babbar. To cater to the captive requirements, the company developed in-house FRP shop for its bus body building needs. Though Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene material (ABS) is also in the usage based on the customer requirements along with PVC coated sheets and pre-coated sheets, the demand for FRP is rising. JCBL, over the last few years, has been maintaining a CAGR of 20 per cent. It has clocked Rs.125 crore revenue in FY2015-16. Close to 50 per cent of this was generated from OEM business. Close to ten per cent came from defence applications. The rest was generated from private business. “We expect to earn Rs.150 crore in the current financial year,” says Babbar. JCBL is experiencing good demand in school and staff buses. With GST coming in, JCBL expects things to simplify. Hoping to source chassis from a chassis manufacturer directly, JCBL, it is clear, is keen to turn into a bus manufacturer. It is aiming to become a bus manufacturer rather than remain a mere bus body builder. Concludes Babbar, “GST will be beneficial in cutting down time taken to transport. It will simplify and cut down taxes. All this will mean considerable cost savings for us.”