In a sector that has been de-growing for a little less than two years in a row after posting over 40 per cent growth five years ago, the Small Commercial Vehicle (SCV) segment is not in the best of health yet. It is true that the rate of decline has slowed down in the past six months; Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) sales, of which SCVs are a part according to the classification by Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers (SIAM), declined by 11.6 per cent in FY15 against the 17.6 per cent fall registered in FY14. Industry experts are of the opinion that there is still time for the (LCV) segment to recover as compared to the recovery posted by Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCV) in the course of seven-to-eight months. M&HCVs posted a 16.6 per cent year-on-year growth in FY15 against a decline of 20 per cent in FY14. It was in 2014 that the news of Jeeto’s development broke out. Enthusiastic motoring press put up images of the camouflaged SCV being subjected to tests with a brief explanation that this was to be the new arrival sometime next year. They went to the extent of digging out information about the project, and claimed that it was called as P601 in the Mahindra circles. It was around the same time, the news of Maruti Suzuki developing a SCV broke out too. In mid-2014 to be precise.
Beginning as P601 at Mahindra’s Research valley on the outskirts of Chennai, Jeeto is expected to redefine the segment that currently has the Tata Ace Zip and Ace. It has begun rolling out of the company’s Zaheerabad plant. To facilitate its production a new building was erected, leading to an extension of the Zaheerabad plant. The extended facility, inaugurated by the chief minister of Telangana, K Chandrashekar Rao on April 22, 2015, was built with an investment of Rs.250 crore, and includes the manufacture of Jeeto and its two engines. The plant has an installed capacity of 92,000 units. It will be hiked to 2.5 lakh units as the demand for Jeeto and other Mahindra products made at the plant rises. This would include 1.5 tractors and 60,000 Boleros and Alfas. Alfa, ironically, is Mahindra’s three-wheeler cargo carrier in the 0.5-tonne category. It is almost in the same category where the Jeeto will head for, albeit with four-wheels to boot. Capex to 2.5 lakh units according to Vivek Nayer, Chief Marketing Officer, Mahindra and Mahindra, will happen over a period of time, and will be dictated by an uptick in demand. Jeeto is certain to be an important part of this strategy, and it does not come as a surprise when Nayer expresses that the category has seen challenging times in the past, and the company is therefore cautiously optimistic. “The launch of this product (Jeeto) will allow us to leverage the maximum when the turnaround in the economy happens,” he says further.
Modern and comfortable
Aspirational product for three-wheeler buyers
Built on a ladder frame, another example of clever packaging is evident from the way the front wheels are placed. They are placed right at the corners. This ensures good cabin space. Says Jayanta Kumar Deb, Senior Vice President, Head – Product Development, Auto Division, “Jeeto been designed as mono body but the deck has been bolted using fasteners.” An interesting part of the Jeeto is its availability in three different sizes (lengths), dictated essentially by the length of the cargo deck – 1630 mm for S, 1780 mm for L, and 1930 mm for X. If this hints at a modular design, Jeeto, depending on the length of its deck, is had with a wheelbase of 2250 mm, 2375 mm and 2500 mm respectively. Comprising of eight variants – S6-11, S6-16, L6-11, L6-16, L7-11, L7-16, X7-11 and X7-16, Jeeto offers two payload options. That of 600 kg and 700 kg respectively. An aspirational product for three-wheeler buyers, Jeeto is powered by a single-cylinder, direct injection, water cooled 625 cc (m-Dura) engine located at the rear. The drive goes to the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual (synchromesh) gearbox and a transaxle. Producing 11 bhp and 16 bhp respectively, access to the engine is had by removing a lid on the deck floor. In what can seem a bit complicated, the engine arrangement is such that the Jeeto S6-11 gets a 11 bhp engine, and the Jeeto S6-16 gets a 16 bhp engine. Fitted with a 10.5-litre fuel tank, which should have the Jeeto covering a distance of 300 km, with an average consumption in the region of 31-33 kmpl, what strikes, is the lack of vibration as the engine fires to life. Since it is located at the rear and placed under the deck, not much noise reaches the cabin even with the windows down. Car-like feel is dialled by wind-down windows and door locking knobs. Despite being a cable initiated mechanism, gearshifts are surprisingly light and precise. Clutch action is light too.
Developing 38 Nm torque between 1100 and 2000 rpm, the SCV accelerates well. Not quite car-like, it does exhibit an amount of spring in its feet. No vibration creeps in even when accelerating through the gears, signalling an amount of effort to ensure low levels of NVH. Considering the behaviour of a single-cylinder diesel engine, the low levels of NVH deserve appreciation, and should help the operator to achieve better productivity. Avers Deb, “Jeeto has been a clean slate product. The m-Dura engine has been developed in-house from scratch over a period of four years with the help of over 70 engineers at Mahindra Research Valley, Chennai, followed by production at the Zaheerabad plant.” Touching upon component sourcing and platform architecture, he adds, “Every part integrated into the vehicle, whether it was developed in-house or by a vendor, has been subjected to rigorous testing. This includes thermal trials, distortion trials, squeak and rattling trails, and also flame-ability trials.” On the components front, an investment of Rs. 100 has been accorded to set up Mahindra Industrial Park. Six prime suppliers have already made it to the park. Others are expected to follow soon.
Supported by suppliers like Minda, Bosch, Exide, Brakes India, etc. Jeeto is equipped with disc brakes at front and drum brakes at the rear. For the speeds that the Jeeto can attain, the brakes provide enough bite. It is claimed to attain a top speed in the region of 70 kmph, and weighs no more than 708 kg.
Equipped with a strut suspension at the front, and semi-trailing arms at the rear, Jeeto provides a pliant ride. Riding on 145/80 R12 LT 8PR radial tyres (of Maxxis make), the ability of the vehicle to provide a good ride, albeit at speeds in the region of 40-50 kmph, was evident when treated to a stretch with broken surface. Aiming to provide last mile connectivity across different sectors, including perishable products, auto ancillary, poultry, FMCG, etc., and where heavy volumes and quicker delivery matters, the Jeeto looks promising. It is not surprising therefore, that Nayer expresses an opinion about the growth of e-commerce having taken the hub and spoke model to a different level altogether. Paradigms in terms of logistics are changing. Some are been creating their own logistics arms to ensure faster delivery for the ever demanding customer which in turn has been becoming a real competitive advantage,” he adds.
Currently, the Jeeto is BS III compliant. It will take a year and half for the BS IV emission norms to come into force. Not to be caught on the wrong foot then, Mahindra, says Deb, has developed a BS IV version. It will be sold at an additional cost of Rs.15,000 over the BS III variant. With the advent of Jeeto, Mahindra is planning to withdraw the Gio gradually.
Plans to export the Jeeto are underway. Mahindra plans to export the SCV to SAARC countries where the emission norms are suitable. According to Pravin Shah, President and Chief Executive, Automotive division, his company will start exporting (Jeeto) to the neighbouring markets of Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. “These have emission norms similar to what India has. This will allow us the flexibility to start the exports simultaneously to expand horizons,” he adds.
To get an edge in the domestic market, Mahindra has tied up with top NBFCs and regional rural banks to ensure easy availability of finance. Currently the manufacturer enjoys a 43 per cent market share in the LCV segment. With the economy gradually recovering, the segment, according to Dr. Pawan Goenka, Executive Director, Mahindra, is expected to grow at five to seven per cent. Interestingly, Mahindra is not keen to stop at the Jeeto. It plans to introduce a passenger version on the same platform, and powered by the same, m-Dura, engine. The launch of this vehicle marks the further utilisation of the Zaheerabad plant. A good part is that Mahindra aims to offer employment to 1,500 people as the capacity expands, from the region. It has already employed 350 people for the Jeeto from the region, and over 900 people at the tractor plant.