Ashok Leyland gets innovative

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In view of the changes affecting the CV industry, Ashok Leyland is banking on technology and innovation.

Story by:

Bhargav TS

After revealing the use of ‘smart’ EGR to help its CVs to comply with BSIV emission norms, Ashok Leyland has announced that it is innovating on various fronts to ensure that its products are relevant, and make a profitable business case. If the ‘Smart’ EGR technology, which the folks at Ashok Leyland call iEGR, has enhanced fuel efficiency by 10 per cent, and minimised the usage of electronics; have kept the weight constant and reliability good, the innovation is also expected to result in lighter, safer, efficient and world-class products. According to the chief technology officer Dr. Seshu Bhagavathula, the company is planning three upgrades to address a shift to CVs with higher power to weight ratio, and CVs with fully-built AC cabins. This, mentions Bhagavathula, will occupy our time and effort.

Market vibes

With the rise in operating speeds set to change the way the long haul segment operates, Ashok Leyland is finding an opportunity to innovate. It also stems from the need to match the duty cycle requirements; the need to change engine calibration parameters, and to collect data. “All this will have to be done in the next couple of years,” mentions Bhagavathula. He explains, “EGR is suitable for Indian conditions rather than SCR. SCR can be offered at the price of an EGR, but will result in higher maintenance cost.” Connecting higher maintenance cost of SCR to the need for urea dosing and electronics, Bhagavathula opines, “SCR systems are not bad. It is EGR that we believe will help our CV users in the long run.” A function of engine as much as it is the function of fuel quality, driver and the road conditions, EGR, mentions Bhagavathula, offers the advantage of less number of parts. The bill of materials is better. “We researched. We collected data. We found out that EGR is less complex,” he reveals.

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If the ‘smart’ EGR developed by Ashok Leyland has the ability to help a 400 hp engine to meet BSIV emission norms, much work has gone into the tweaking of the cooling system, the exhaust gas control valve among others. The in-cylinder combustion process was optimised. “We combined intelligence with EGR. We gave five per cent back and a maximum of 10 per cent exhaust gas instead of 20 per cent. The intelligence thus is in the combustion chamber, and not at the EGR level. It reduces the role of a Particle Oxidation Catalyst (POC), and could even eliminate it. We optimised in-cylinder temperature as well,” Bhagavathula elaborates.

Optimising injection pressure by modifying the design of the nozzle, Ashok Leyland engineers claim to have upped the fuel efficiency, and the life of the engine. Planning to keep the electronic content to the bare essential, the CV maker is keen to gradually increase the complexity of its products. The current efficiency of the engine at around 40 per cent, states Bhagavathula. It leaves enough potential for improvement, he adds. Touching upon the potential to improve material technology, Bhagavathula opines, “Over 60 per cent of the engine efficiency can be achieved by using fine materials. There will be no corrosion or sound, and hardly will there be a need for oil.” Hoping that one fine day it will be possible to arrive at such a development in real-time, Bhagavathula draws attention to the engines they make. We make our own engines, and not source them, he says.

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Tech upgrade

At Ashok Leyland, a separate team is working to improve the combustion process. Products that have higher power to weight ratio will be launched. Also launched will be CVs with a power output of more than 400 hp. According to Bhagavathula, 49-tonne vehicles with 180 and 190 hp will rise to 200 and 220 hp. The AC cabs, he adds, will flaunt a different level of fit and finish. The use of light weight material is set to increase, states Bhagavathula, the future lies with the suppliers, and how they could help reduce the cost of the end product. Ashok Leyland is closely following alternate fuel technology developments. In the electric vehicle space, it is working on new management strategies. They are about controlling the vehicle and battery functions.

With Optare, Ashok Leyland has developed a strategy to enhance the bus range by 45 per cent. Efforts are being made to access new technologies. Reveals Bhagavathula, “Fruitful exchange of technologies is taking place.” In the direction of connected CVs, the work on driver warning systems is underway. Three systems would be offered. The basic system will warn the driver. The mid-level system will address the needs of fleet operators that are keen to deliver their cargo on time. The premium-level system is autonomous, and engineered to offer complete control. What Ashok Leyland currently offers is ‘iAlert’ and ‘Ley Assist’. ‘iAlert’ improves viability through state-of-the-art, innovative, user-friendly, and cost effective services. Through the ‘Ley Assist’ app., the owner or driver can avail of all the information about the truck through Bluetooth. This includes information about the problems faced too.

Full-range strategy

Keen to become a full range player, Ashok Leyland will launch one new product every three months for the next two years. With an aim to bag 30 per cent of the LCV market, the company is planning to invest Rs.400 crore over the next two years for LCVs. An electric LCV range is also said to be on the cards, and would be soon unveiled. With the Indian CV market set to change, it is natural of Ashok Leyland to innovate. It will not just benefit the CV buyer, but also the society at large.

Multix Maxim

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The Multix seems to blur the line between a small commercial vehicle and a personal utility vehicle.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

On a narrow winding road in the hinterland of Konkan, the Multix came as a surprise. Exiting a blind corner, on a rough country terrain that could hardly qualify as one, the Multix, with five adults and the cargo tray full of food grain sacks, made for an interesting sight. It looked dandy, and capable. It gave an impression of blurring the boundary between a personal utility vehicle and a small commercial vehicle. Introduced in 2015 by Eicher Polaris Pvt. Ltd (EPPL), a 50:50 joint venture between Eicher Motors and US-based Polaris, the Multix is finding takers for the versatility it offers. The number of Multix sold till date may be a little hard to ascertain, it for certain is showing signs of growing beyond the vision it was expected to live up to. Measuring 3235 mm in length, 1585 mm in width, and 1856 mm in height, the Multix was developed to start a new segment of independent businessmen as buyers. Those, looking for mobility, and a means to fulfill their business needs. Homologated under the category of personal vehicle, and a business vehicle by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), the Multix, states CEO Pankaj Dubey, is a personal mobility vehicle.

Riding on 13-inch dia. wheels, and 155/80 R13 79T tubeless radial tyres, the Multix flaunts a 172 mm ground clearance. Subjected to extensive testing in India and the US of over 18 lakh kilometres, the vehicle borrows from Polaris’ expertise in building ATVs and side-by-sides. The vehicle also borrows from Eicher’s expertise in building two wheelers, tractors and commercial vehicles. Developed to tap a population of 5.8 crore independent businessmen, the Mutix makes a strong case to combine business with pleasure.

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Business and pleasure

The sales of Multix may tilt in the favour of ‘white plate’ personal vehicle, its preference as a ‘yellow plate’ commercial vehicle is rising. Subjected to off-road durability, reliability and safety tests, the vehicle can be registered as either. For commercial application the preference is expected to be for the AX+ variant, which has a kerb weight of 683 kg (GVW is 1150 kg), and is priced at Rs.2.43 lakh ex-showroom approximately. Closer to the original design, and developed with an intention to address the needs of those that will indulge in multiple usage, the AX+, sans the doors, would make more room for passengers. Mentions Dubey, “The original design (AX+) we created was a primary model without doors. On the basis of customer feedback and our research, doors were added. This resulted in the MX.” The doors of the MX are made from Flexituff, a light-weight material that the company has patented. The bonnet of the Multix is also made from this material. It is according to Dubey, highly durable, resistant to rust, and easy to repair. If the AX+ and MX will meet the crash norms that are expected to be rolled out next year, Dubey avers, “It is debate-able to apply passenger vehicle crash norms to a vehicle that has a top speed of less than 60 kmph. Since we have to, we will adhere to the norms.” The MX is priced at Rs.2.82 lakh ex-showroom approximately, and weighs 775 kg. Its GVW is the same as AX+ at 1150 kg.

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On par in terms of load carrying capacity with many small commercial vehicles available in the market, according to Dubey, the Multix, states Dubey, offers a distinct advantage of independent suspension. Termed as Pro-ride, the suspension is made up of hydraulic McPherson struts at front, and double wishbones at the rear. Drive is routed to the rear wheels through a four-speed constant mesh gearbox. Capable of clocking better speeds over less than ideal surfaces should make the Multix appealing to those that transport perishable commodities like vegetables and fruits. Designed to sustain up to 20 per cent more than the specified storage capacity of 418.3 kg, the possibility of overloading is never far away, the vehicle, with the glass partition between the cargo bay and the cab dismantled, can offer a cavernous 840-litre storage capacity. The rear seats are foldable.

If the appearance and dimensions of the Multix make it appear unique, a strong tubular chassis is at the core. The body panels are a combination of flexituff material and steel. Offering unique engineering attributes like Power Take Off (PTO), which is called Xport, and can help power a generator or a water pump among other utilities with the help of a PTO shaft sold as an accessory, the Multix, Dubey elaborates, seeps less than one-litre of diesel per hour. Capable of generating three kilo-watt power in less than five minutes, the vehicle has a 11.5-litre fuel tank. Making for a 12-hour operation for a PTO linked utility, the Multix comes across as versatile. Affected by demonetisation because of high reliance on cash in rural and semi-rural areas, the Multix has turned its attention to urban buyers. Its ability to play the role of a commercial vehicle is drawing attention. The pan-India migration to BSIV has helped ther Multix to look at newer avenues and opportunities, to grow. The move to BSIV triggered a 20 per cent rise in the cost, says Dubey. He mentions, “The incorporation of EGR technology led to an increase in the cost.” Looked upon as an investment by a small businessman, the increase in cost is proving to be a challenge. Buyers are unable to understand the reason behind the cost increase, says Dubey. While new ways are being found to make the buyer understand, EPPL, to ensure a smooth transition, ceased the production of BSIII Multix in Februrary 2017. In March, BSIV Multix production was started. Some BSIII vehicles have been left over at the dealer level. EPPL, states Dubey, is taking care of these.

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Continuous improvement

Made at a modern manufacturing plant at Kukas, Rajasthan, spread over an area of 25 acres, and with an annual production capacity of 60,000 units, the Multix is subjected to stringent quality checks. With stress on continuous product improvement, a cell of 40 engineers, according to Dubey looks into customer demand and feedback. Necessary changes are incorporated to improve the quality and value. To ensure high manufacturing standards, the Multix is built with the aid of robotic weld lines, a modern paint shop, and a final assembly line. It will not be an exaggeration to describe the manufacturing facility to be almost as flexible as the vehicle. Mentions Dubey, the design flexibility of the Multix is a double-edged sword. It makes it highly versatile, but also leads to some limitations, expresses Dubey. He adds, “The roll-cage, which elevates safety, covers 70 per cent of the body structure, also poses certain limitations.” The roll cage is said to pose certain restrictions in making signtificant design changes to arrive at a open-top version, and a single-cab version. “Based on business requirements we will take a call,” quips Dubey.

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Pursuing growth

Financed by leading private and public sector banks, and NBFCs, the Multix is sold through a pan-India network of 76 dealers. Network expansion is underway, and three new dealerships at Delhi, Faridabad and Thane were recently commissioned. EPPL plans to bridge the 100 dealership mark by the end of this year. The target for next year is 150 dealers. Entry into urban markets like Delhi has created a need to offer a CNG version. EPPL is seeding a CNG model, but will take time to launch it. It is perhaps the need to expand the network to CNG markets to offer the right support. Avers Dubey, that a centre close to the customer plays a big role in satisfying his needs.

Having clocked 20 per cent growth last year, EPPL is hoping for a stronger growth this year. It is betting on market reach, and the availability of BSIV model, to enhance the urban thrust. The need, says Dubey, is to be certain. Uncertainty is not healthy for business,” he avers. Eyeing the exports markets of Nepal and Bangladesh, and in discussion for export to central American countries, EPPL is looking at many new avenues of growth. The simple yet dandy workhorse nature of the Multix should make it appealing. Seen in flesh, the Multix, with the front dominated by a steeply rising bonnet, does look purpose-built. The head lamps and parking lamps are recessed, and separated by a faux grille. The bumper doubles up as a moulding that runs along the lower portion of the body.

If the large windscreen with a single wiper adds to the tall-ish looks of the Multix, the overall impression is of a semi-forward cab layout. A rising window-line and wheel arches define the sides, and endorse the wedge-shape. The greenhouse and wheel arches, finished in a shade of black, add a touch of style. The rear is made up of a large trunk lid, held in place by two latches. The tail lamps are built into the rear pillars. Visible under the rear floor, and fitted snugly in the tubular chassis is an air-cooled single cylinder direct-injection G650 W Greaves Cotton engine. It belts out 13.4 PS (9.85kW) of power and 37 Nm of peak torque at 1600-2000 rpm. Power is routed through a four-speed constant mesh gearbox. The PTO juts out of it.

The Drive

The wide opening doors make for easy access. The large windscreen and ample glass area makes for good visibility. The simple dash, made up of a combination of lines, includes an instrument panel containing a speedo, and a fuel and temperature gauge. The gear lever juts out of what could be described as the centre console. The bench seat presents the possibility to seat three people at front. It provides fair amount of support. The rear bench seat can seat three people. The amount of room available is fair. An amount of noise accompanies the starting of the engine. The Multix may not score high in refinement when compared to cars, vibrations are well contained. Moving away from standstill, the Multix may not quickly gain speed, it presents a feel of being a tough workhorse. The tall first cog amply hints at a workhorse orientation. The second and third cogs bring some speed to the vehicle. Good momentum is achieved in the fourth gear. Speeds in the region of 50 kmph are achieved. A race against the clock is not the Multix forte. Rather than speed, the ability of the vehicle to lug impresses. If this make the Multix fit to be a commercial vehicle, its flexible nature impressesive, no less.

The ride is superior to that of a mini-truck. Less than ideal surfaces are displaced with ease. Bad stretches fail to discomfort the occupants. Handling is good, and the steering feels direct and precise. The need for a power steering is felt though. With an impressive ability to maneouvre through narrow spaces, the Multix with a turning radius of 3.93 m, offers 27.8 kmpl mileage under standard test conditions. Offering good fuel efficiency, the Multix costs as much as a small commercial vehicle would. Its tractor-like ability to power utilities through a PTO is an added advantage. The move to BSIV may have increased the price of the Multix, its ability to offer superior flexibility makes it appealing.

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Pankaj Dubey, Chief Executive Officer, Eicher Polaris Pvt. Ltd.

Q. What makes the Multix stand out?

A. It is targeted at businessmen who can use it for personal as well as business purpose. The vehicle can be used to carry passengers, and to move cargo. With a number of vehicles available in the market for load carrying, we may not be the best, we are however on par with some of them. Offering the comfort of independent suspension all round, the biggest USP of the Multix is the comfortable drive it offers. For those carrying perishable goods, or goods that may get spoilt due to road shocks, the Multix offers a solution. It offers a safe transit for products which are sensitive to bad roads.

Q. What about the load carrying capacity?

A. The payload capacity of the Multix is 450 kgs. Raising it by 15 to 20 per cent would not be an issue. We have come across customers who have claimed to carry 900 kg of cargo with ease. We do not support any form of overloading however, and it should be avoided at all costs for an improved ecosystem.

Q. What led to the development of the Multix?

A. We designed the Multix with a sole objective to serve customers that are looking at multiple usage. The Multix can perform various tasks, and deliver a fuel efficiency of 27-30 kmpl. It is equivalent to that of a two wheeler. When not carrying load, the Multix can be used as a five-seater car. Two-wheeler owners can have a bigger vehicle in the form of the Multix. They can have a vehicle that is comfortable, and saves them from weather changes.

Q. What went into the development of the Multix?

A. Both, Polaris and Eicher, combined their strengths to develop the Multix. Eicher brought in the PTO; Polaris brought in its ability to create a new segment and innovate. The Multix is an indigenous product. Its design is localised. It has been also developed locally. Eicher contributed to its cost effective development too. A Polaris contribution, the Multix employs flexituff material, which keeps the weight down. The contribution of both the partners ensured that the Multix would address the customer requirements. It is designed with a roll cage bar that covers up to 70 per cent of the vehicle area.

Q. The role the R&D played in the development of the Multix?

A. The R&D at Eicher Polaris comprises of a team of 40 engineers that look after product improvement, stimulation testing and development of a number of applications that a customer would like to see in the Multix. The team also looks at finding new solutions based on customer feedback. A lot of development is taking place, and includes an effort to make the Multix lighter, and more capable. The testing of Multix for new applications like transportation of liquids is carried out by the R&D. The R&D division is also developing and testing variants that would better fulfill the changing needs of the customers. There is a demand for open-top vehicle, and for a single cab version. A ‘flexi’ design, there are certain areas that are posing a challenge. The roll cage covers nearly 70 per cent of the vehicle, reducing the rear space. We are evaluating feedback received, and are carrying out feasibility tests based on the business needs.

Q. What is the homologation type of the Multix?

A. Mulitx has undergone homologation as a personal vehicle, and as a business vehicle too, at the ARAI. It can be registered as a yellow plate CV and a white plate personal vehicle depending upon the nature of its application. As for now, the demand for white plate Multix is more than that for the yellow plate. The demand for yellow plate is however rising.

Q. What is the difference between the MX and AX+ version?

A. The original design that we created was the AX. It was to be the primary model. Research and customer feedback however revealed that doors were necessary to better integrate the design. Both the MX and AX+ have similar features. The AX+ is more open and can be used for transport in rural areas where mobility is an issue. Equipped with a PTO, which is called the Xport, a feature that is common to tractors, the Multix could help to operate a number of agricultural units. An energy of three kilo-watts could be generated.

Q. Amid the talk of crash norms implementation, how do you see the Multix faring?

A. The top speed of the Multix is less than 60 kmph. To expect it to meet the norms that are applicable to cars that achieve much higher speeds is debatable. We have to adhere to them, and we will. It is a challenge that we are working on. Many changes, including the move to BSIV emission norms, and demonetisation happened in a short duration. This has brought about an amount of uncertainty, which is not healthy for the business. A number of rules are expected in the next few years, and will call for an amount of work. Both the versions of the Multix are offered with an accessory that turns them into a fully integrated vehicle for secure cargo movement.

What changes has the Multix undergone to comply with BSIV emission norms?

This being a low-speed vehicle makes it more challenging. We have introduced EGR. The exhaust gases are recirculated into the system. To comply with BSIV emission norms, we added various things like the ECU controller as well. The changes have led to a cost increase of 20 per cent. For a small businessman, even a vehicle like this is an investment. It is therefore proving to be a difficult task to make him understand.

Q.Is the demand for an alternate fuel Multix rising?

A. We have not seen much demand for alternate fuels. We have been present in small towns where availability of fuels like CNG is low. After introducing the Multix in markets like Delhi and Ghaziabad, we have started hearing the need for CNG variants. We are not in favour of introducing an alternate fuel version soon.

Q. How many Multix are produced? What is the plant capacity?

A. The Multix is produced at a modern plant at Kukas, Rajasthan. There are robots that carry out welding in the weld shop. The entire plant was developed in-house. The current capacity of the plant is 60,000 units, and can be scaled up to 1.2 lakh units depending on the market demand. Currently, we are producing the Multix in a single shift., which can see increase in shifts. But again, it depends on the demand. We are supported by 104 vendors with whom we are working on cost optimisation.

Q. What was the effect of demonetisation? The changes GST would bring?

A. The impact of demonetisation was felt in rural India since most of the transactions are cash intensive. That was felt for a few months, and continues to be in the the minds of the people. The migration to BSIV has pushed up costs. It is a concern that we and our customers share. The value that the customer sees is not very high. He is not ready to understand the reason that made the same vehicle, which was cheaper a few months back, costly. There’s been an impact, and will continue until people do not understand that price increase was inevitable. To ensure smooth transition, we did not produce any BSIII vehicle in the month of March. We started producing BSIV vehicles instead, and began our supply of BSIV vehicles to the dealers. Our dealers are left with a few BSIII vehicles, and we need to take care of those.

Q. What is your current dealer strength?

A. We have 76 dealers. By the end of this year, the number will rise to more than 100 dealers. We plan to elevate the dealer strength to 150 over the next one year. With BSIV in, we are looking at an all-round growth. We are closely monitoring the markets like Thane, Delhi and Faridabad, which we have just entered. These, we feel, will help us to gauge customer appetite. If Tier-one cities respond positively, we will get a head room to expand our reach. Since after sales support also plays a big role, and customers want a center closer to their area of operation. We are looking at strategies that will help us to address customer needs. All our dealers sell as well as service the Multix. We have also tied-up with a RSA to quickly address a complaint.

Q. What growth are you anticipating? What about exports?

A. This year we are growing at 20 per cent. Our aim is to double the growth next year. There are 13 big towns in India – big business centers, where we were not present. They are now our focus area as far as market reach is concerned. We recently began exporting the Multix to Nepal. We will soon find our way to Bangladesh. We are also looking into inquiries received from central American countries. Talks are on.

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Singrauli hosts Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge

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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.