Volvo’s hybrid drive

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

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

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

Smart proposition

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

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

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

Smart tech

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

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

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Behind the wheel

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

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

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

Smart, comfortable and eco-friendly

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

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

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Mahindra Blazo: Smart trucking

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

Bhushan Mhapralkar

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

Smart looks, smart tech

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

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

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Addressing differing needs

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

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

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Better payload capacity

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

Behind the wheel

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

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Blazo as a package

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

Indian CV industry in 2017

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

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

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

Difficult times

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

Cool October, and a hot November

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

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

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

The slowdown effect

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

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

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Uncertain times

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

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Optmistic ever

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

Optimistic about growth

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

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

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

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Cyclical in nature

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

Complex market

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

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(Truck) trailer types

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

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

Regulatory environment

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

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Safety and road infrastructure

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

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Need to standardise; to grow

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

Outlook

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

Volvo ups the ante

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Volvo Buses India has upgraded its inter-city bus range; the engines are now BSIV emission compliant.

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

Volvo Buses commands 65 per cent of the premium luxury inter-city bus market in India. The market is claimed to be a meagre 3 to 4 per cent of the overall bus market in India. Claimed to have kick-started this market in 2001 with its 12 m long B7R two-axle rear-engine bus with body built locally by Azad Coach Builders, the Swedish bus major has come to entrench itself firmly into the Indian market. It has grown with the market over time, retaining its first mover advantage, reaching out to both, the State Transport Undertakings (STUs) and private operators like Neeta, Sharma, VRL, SRS Travels and many more. Taking upon the task of building its own bus bodies by investing in a bus body building facility at Hosakote, Bangalore, in 2008, Volvo Buses India also expanded its product line-up. It added a multi-axle 13.8 m luxury inter-city bus in 2008, a 14.5 inter-city luxury coach in 2012, and a low floor city bus in 2011. Having initiated the trials of its value brand, UD Buses, in 2014, Volvo Buses India has stuck to building premium rear-engine buses. According to VRV Sriprasad, Managing Director, Volvo Buses – South Asia, “The company has always taken the lead in introducing new technologies and concepts, and is working to help ‘create value’.” Despite the advent of competition from global majors like Mercedes-Benz and Scania, Volvo has held on to its own. It has sold over 6000 buses, including 4,500 coaches that are claimed to connect 100-plus locations across India. Over 1,500 Volvo city buses are said to operate in 34 cities in the country. Launching a hybrid city bus in Navi Mumbai last year, Volvo has taken yet another step to further consolidate its place in the burgeoning Indian bus market.

The company has replaced the B7R 12 m platform with B8R. This is the same platform that was the basis for Volvo exporting its first bus to Europe last year with a Euro 6 powertrain. This bus was recently launched in Spain according to Hakan Agnevall, President, Volvo Bus Corporation. The B9R platform has been upgraded to B11R. This platform includes two luxury coaches; one is 13.8 m long and the other is 14.5 m long. Both the buses now sport a 410 hp 11-litre six-cylinder in-line common-rail turbodiesel engine that is BSIV compliant.

The B8R gets a locally manufactured 330 hp, 8-litre common-rail six-cylinder turbodiesel engine that is BSIV compliant. Particular mention should be accorded to the 8-litre engine made at VE Commercial Vehicles engine plant at Pithampur, Indore. It is highly localised and forms the basis for many Volvo group products the world over. With this engine, Volvo Buses India, will be able to address the demand of its customers for localised products. The engine, as the heart of the bus, according to Akash Passey, Senior Vice President – Business Region International, Volvo Bus Corporation, will help to improve the operating performance of the customer, and usher a better experience for those who ride this bus.

Marking the completion of 15 years of Volvo Buses in India, the new upgraded buses are set to keep Volvo ahead of the curve. Building on the familiarity of the brand in India, the B8R and the B11R have also seen some cosmetic changes, both externally and internally. A noticeable change outside is the redesigned grille and head lamp assembly. The head lamp assembly flaunts powerful xenon beams, and is claimed to outperform the halogen lamps the buses came with until now. Flaunting new bumpers at the front and rear, a new feature on these buses is the Rear Vehicle Monitoring (RVM) system. It includes a rear camera that offers a rear-view when reversing in the 2-DIN screen fitted in the driver console. If the bus flaunts aluminium hatches on the storage lid and the engine hatch at the rear, the high levels of fit and finish standards. are clearly evident.

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There is a perceptible change evident inside too. Not limited to fit and finish, it is also about the 2×2 seating arrangement as well as the 2×1 seating arrangement. The 14.5 m 2×1 B11R bus came fitted with Prakash Fainsa seats, which marks a departure from Harita Seating, which until now was regarded as the standard for seating systems in premium luxury buses. The 2×1 seating arrangement made for a spacious feel. Also fitted on this bus was a pantry and a chemical toilet. These are meant to serve the needs of travellers during long distance rides. Featuring five fire extinguishers, the bus, complying with the AIS 052 bus code, is fitted with an emergency door at the rear right. A digital nose, fitted in the ceiling, detects any drop in oxygen level, and alerts the driver. The driver drowsiness assist feature is optional, and can detect a change in driver attention. Also fitted are three high-definition CCTV cameras and passenger alert systems.

The driver cockpit includes a sprawling dash with the instrument console at the centre. Two big dials are that of a speedo and a tacho. Two smaller dials on either side of a LCD screen are that of turbo pressure, temperature, fuel level, and air pressure respectively. To the right of the instrument console is the parking brake lever, and a set of switches including the one that helps to adjust the rear-view mirrors. To the left of the instrument console is a bank of switches that include passenger cabin lighting, and various other ancillary lighting functions including the one for the chemical toilet. There’s an AC console, head light and fog lamp switch and a (head lamp) leveller. There’s a 7-inch LCD screen too. The media head unit is built into what could be termed as the center console. The driver seat is adjustable, and makes for a comfortable driving position. The turn of key has the needles rising. They settle down as the engine wakes up to life. Since it is at the rear, not much noise travels to the front. It is the instruments that are the sole indication of the state the engine is in. The LCD screen at the center indicates the gear the I-shift transmission is in; if it is in neutral. The screen incorporates a fully-integrated master multiplex architecture for on-board diagnosis. The optional Alco-lock breath analyser mounted on the pillar to the right signals the bus to not start if the driver fails the breath test! The driver drowsiness console on the dash is also optional, and has a camera fitted in it. It records the driver’s eye movements, and sounds a chime if it detects driver’s eyelids are batting slowly.

Another interesting feature is the ‘I-coach’. It guides the driver through voice commands on the use of critical parameters like energy and torque. It coaches him to extract power optimally. The geo-fencing function as part of the I-coach records the mistakes committed by the driver to help him improve his skills. With telematics on offer, this bus, as I ease it out of parking, is one of the most modern premium segment buses available in India. The 12-speed Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) is slotted in ‘D’. It mimics an auto transmission, and there’s no clutch for me to worry about. Its the expanse of the bus that I need to worry about. This one’s really long at 14.5 m. The rear-view mirrors are of much help. The low seating position ensures that I look up to the mirrors while being seated comfortably with an almost uninterrupted view of what is there in the front. Belting out 410 bhp, the new upgraded 11-litre BSIV compliant common-rail turbodiesel six-cylinder engine of this bus makes it perhaps the most powerful in its class. This is evident as I step on the accelerator once out on an open stretch of tarmac. The bus surges ahead, the whopping 1980 Nm peak torque unleashed between 950-1400rpm ensuring swift progress. The B11R with its upgraded engine feels quick and powerful no doubt, it also feels very refined. Quite unlike the front-engine buses that are found in abundance in India.

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Despite its 19,500 kg weight, the B11R responds with good alacrity as I pilot it over Volvo’s track at Hosakote, Bangalore. With the lever in ‘D’, the gears change as the gradient of the track changes, and with it, the speed and load. This is indicated by the ratio the transmission has currently selected in the LCD screen. As I see it, the bus is currently in fourth gear. As speeds rise, the transmission steadily shifts up. Speeds rise; the speedo needle has come to hover around the 50 kmph as the bus travels over a straight stretch. Turns is where the challenge to pilot this bus lies. It needs to be gently guided into and out of turns considering its length and the rear overhang. The longest bus one can lay their hands on, the B11R can seat 37 people with 2×1 seating arrangement. The 2×2 seating arrangement enables the bus to accommodate 57 passengers. The Electronically Controlled Suspension (ECS) – pnuematic in nature – makes for a comfortable ride. The steering feels precise though not as tight as that of a passenger car. This is a bus, and the steering wheel is quite large in diameter. Larger than my Fabia’s steering wheel. Confident, I decide to pilot the bus through a narrow curvy stretch of the track. At one point it calls for a stop and go. The ‘hill-start’ helps. The bus moves ahead. Interestingly, it does not feel like it, but the rear steerable tag axle is helping the bus to negotiate tight corners by modifying (reducing) the turning radius. The tag axle wheels turn in a certain proportion to the front wheels. They steer in the opposite direction!

The Electronic Braking System (EBS) presents the Volvo bus with an impressive braking ability. The brakes are pneumatically operated, and are ABS equipped. A mere touch of the pedal is enough to retard the bus. Brakes are discs all round, and their temperature is monitored to ensure their optimal efficiency and ability. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) reduces the risk of a roll over. Also included, an advanced anti-skid system, applies the brakes if it detects any abnormal movement. Each wheel brakes individually to stabilise the coach while reducing power to the drive wheels. For control while driving down a slope, the bus is equipped with a speed retarder. It works in tandem with the brakes to ensure safe deceleration. Reflective of how far, and how fast technology has progressed to make the lives of bus commuters comfortable, the Volvo 14.5 m bus sets the standard. It is estimated to cost in the region of Rs. 1.15 crore. For an operator who would spend such an amount on a bus, the proposition has got to be solid. This is exactly what the Volvo B11R is built to support. It is a world-class machine. It is solidly built, and would like to spend most of its life on the road, taking long strides, time and again.

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VRV Sriprasad, Managing Director, Volvo Buses – South Asia.

Q. As the first to launch a hybrid bus in the country, are you content with the market acceptance?

A. Unlike plug-in hybrid buses, diesel hybrids do not bank upon the supporting infrastructure. Nothing specific is therefore required from the government. As a government policy, there is the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric (FAME) vehicle scheme. It is a very big facilitator and enabler for hybrid and electric vehicles. Volvo was the first to qualify and deliver buses under the FAME scheme. At Volvo Buses India we have been in constant dialogue with the government to let the scheme to continue. If it does, it will provide good motivation for corporations to utilise the subsidy and bridge the capital cost gap in a given framework.

Q. Is the subsidy under the FAME scheme enough?

A. For the start, we cannot complain. Consider the example of our hybrid bus. It qualifies as a strong hybrid. The customer is thus entitled to a subsidy of Rs.61 lakh for a bus that costs Rs.2.3 crore. That is a fairly substantial sum. With performance an important aspect of hybrid vehicles, the concept is gaining acceptance. Once it attains a certain threshold, we can push the Ministry of Heavy Industries to look at higher subsidy. It would have to come from all the stakeholders involved.

Q. How has been the feedback for the hybrid buses supplied to Navi Mumbai Muncipal Transport (NMMT)?

A. We are engaged with NMMT. It has acknowledged fuel savings upwards of 33 per cent when compared to conventional diesel buses that they operate. We feel that NMMT could speak to their passengers to gauge their experience of traveling in a hybrid bus in comparison to a conventional diesel bus. If the STU is looking to position itself as forward looking, we believe they will go for more hybrid buses.

Q. What part is Volvo Buses playing in Group synergies?

A. There is definitive synergy at play within the Group at the engineering level. I would not want to comment on synergy at the business level in India at this stage.

Q. Volvo Group partner Nova bus has introduced plug-in hybrid and full electric buses. Is a similar proposition viable in India?

A. In India, it will be just the Volvo brand for now. We also have Sunway as another joint venture partner in China which is a provider of hybrids. However it is too nascent to look at such partnerships for India’s hybrid bus segment.

Q. What do you think is the biggest differentiator for Volvo Buses?

A. We have been testing electromobility solutions for long. A hybrid or electric vehicle we launch is a culmination of years of testing and validation. This is the biggest differentiator. When money is spent to buy a bus, the buyer is assured of getting a tested product; he is assured of its performance. At Volvo, we spend a considerable amount of time to bring out a product. Time is spent on intense testing and validation of the product. No decision is taken in an adhoc manner. Nobody can claim to have perfected the hybrid technology. Battery technology continues to evolve. In the case of hybrid bus batteries, the challenge faced is to make them suitable for adverse climates, hot and humid regions especially. It is a big challenge in India. We have restricted hybrid buses to cities where we are sure the temperature and humidity levels do not exceed a particular level. We are pragmatic; we are not holding back. In India, it may seem like the customers and competition are rushing ahead. Such an approach does not align with our philosophy.

Q. Are you looking at engaging global partners like ABB Tosa to build electric bus charging infrastructure in India?

A. Globally we work together and the electric buses for Sweden are being planned in partnership with them. In India, we are yet to decide on introducing electric buses. These buses would be launched in Sweden by the year 2018. Only post this will we be able to look at a time-line for India.

Q. Since you are pitching hybrid buses to various STUs, are you looking at any volumes?

A. I would not be able to put a number to it. The annual capacity of the Hosakote plant is 1500 units. It is not fully utilised. If I get a 300 vehicle (hybrid bus) order, I shall be able to deliver it in a period of six months given the surplus capacity I have at my disposal.

Q. What is the local content of Volvo Buses in India?

A. In the case of the body, we have localised 100 per cent. On the chassis front, much of the content is coming from Sweden. In the 12 m bus, the engine, we have started sourcing from Pithampur. We are on a program to increase localisation going forward.

Q. Lithium-ion battery prices are said to spiral downwards. Will it make hybrid buses attractive?

A. There could be a point of inflection or deflection where it could lead to the rates suddenly falling. It is then that we would look at volume benefits.

Q. The National Electric Mobility Mission (NEMMP) plan envisages seven million hybrid buses by 2020. Is it achievable?

A. We see some traction on cars and plug-ins. While the count is achievable cumulatively, it would be premature to estimate such a count exclusive to buses.

Q. How will electromobility align with other mobility medias like intra-city and inter-city modes of transport in the future?

A. In the core areas of a city, and in ‘no pollution’ areas, pure electric is the way forward. Away from the core areas, plug-in hybrids could fit the bill. In the case of diesel hybrids, which do not require a dedicated infrastructure, suburbs could be the best region to ply. In the case of inter-city travel, we do not see the possibility of replacing diesel powered buses anytime soon.

Circuit from Ashok Leyland

Ashok Leyland has introduced an electric bus, developed indigneously for the Indian mass market.

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

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In a country where mass transit is by means of 1,50,000 diesel-run buses, often accused of attributing carbon dioxide and smog, Ashok Leyland has unveiled a new electric bus called the Circuit. Adding to the efforts of reducing global warming, the Circuit points at a rising transition towards alternate mediums of propulsion in India. Especially electric medias, and in particular buses, which form the backbone of India’s public transport despite the arrival of newer mediums like metro and monorail. Expected to contribute to the paradigm shift in public transportation in India, Ashok Leyland has indigneously developed the Circuit, a full electric bus, ahead of schedule. Unveiled at an event in Chennai, the Circuit bus series is a zero emission vehicle that was completely engineered in India. It was designed keeping in mind the Indian road conditions, and the prevailing load conditions. Varied topography along with usage was also considered. The Circuit thus has been built on a simple, mass-market platform, which aims to reduce operational and maintenance costs.

At the Circuit’s unveiling ceremony, Ambuj Sharma, Additional Chief Secretary, Industries and Commerce, Government of Tamil Nadu, expressed that the government aim is to ensure 20 per cent of the vehicles sold by 2020 should be electric or hybrid in nature. “Where the former will be pure electric, the latter can be mild or strong hybrid. Considering the upfront acquisition cost and running cost, there is a lot that matters. However, moving away from fossil fuels is the need of the hour,” he mentioned. The Circuit, according to

T Venkatraman, Sr. Vice President – Global Bus, Ashok Leyland, is part of the plan to invest Rs. 500 crore towards expanding the bus portfolio. The investment will be phased, and close to Rs. 22 crore have been pumped into the development of the Circuit, he added. Venkatraman revealed that all transport corporations are talking about procurement, and for each of them acquisition cost is important. “We already have three or four STUs which are actively under tendering. Once people see our ability to participate, they will come to us.”

Parts that make the Circuit

If the name ‘Circuit’ sounds unusual for an electric bus, it is also reflective of the change that it taking place in the Indian auto industry. Up to 40 per cent of the parts that make the Circuit are sourced locally. This excludes the Lithium-ion batteries. Their management is a proprietory tech however, and the IPR lies with Ashok Leyland aver sources. Equipped with an alert system that can signal if the bus is low on power, the Circuit has a 120 km travel range on a single charge under standard test conditions. While sources claim that the batteries are sourced from Ashok Leyland partners in the United States, they can be fully recharged in three hours according to Venkatraman. Averred Venkatraman that it is not about usage but about battery management that is important. This, he added, will need to be monitored for charging and discharging of the batteries as part of the vehicle’s usage cycle. “The material can come from anywhere, the whole intelligence of managing the battery is an electronic control knowledge,” opined Venkatraman. The batteries of Circuit, claim sources, are capable of lasting up to seven years depending upon their usage.

Platform strategy

The Circuit bus is part of a platform strategy that will spring new variants and more buses claim industry sources. It would all depend on the requirement, they add. According to Venkatraman, it is possible to make an electric bus with 65-70 seats. However the amount of batteries it will require will simply make it prohibitive, he added. The dimensions, body specifications, and grade-ability of Circuit comply with Urban Bus Specifications II set by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. Developed with technological inputs from Ashok Leyland’s UK subsidiary Optare, which is looked upon as a pioneer of electric buses, the Circuit can seat 31 people excluding the driver. The seating layout is a classic 2×2. Attention has been given to ergonomics. The driver cockpit has been designed to ensure a comfortable drive. From the passenger point of view, a big change is going to be the near noiseless travel. The Circuit emits 78dBA of noise, which is considerably less than the 85dBA noise a conventional diesel bus in the same class emits. The Circuit features on-board wi-fi and USB mobile charger for the convenience of the passengers.

The system

At the heart of the Circuit is a motor. It is coupled to a propeller shaft and the differential. Capable of attaining a top speed of 75 kmph, the Circuit is currently available without air-conditioning. Designed and engineered with a payback period of up to five years, an air-conditioned version will be offered upon demand. Built at Ashok Leyland’s plant at Alwar, Rajasthan, and at Viralimalai, Tamil Nadu, the Circuit, according to Venkatraman, can be rolled out in three weeks from either facility. With focus on cost competitiveness, the Circuit, according to Venkatraman, will be made specific to order. It will, he added, make a good medium for transport at heritage locations and in hilly areas. Sale of 50 units in the current fiscal has been envisaged. The plan is to take this number to 200 units next year. With government offering the subsidy under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric vehicles (FAME) scheme on a first-come-first serve basis, the onus will be on the STU to engineer a proposal, and seek the subsidy to procure an electric bus. Industry sources claim that the Circuit will be priced in the region of Rs. 1.5 crore.

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Slow, but picking up

The FAME scheme to promote electric and hybrid vehicles received much applause. Its allocation has been subject to scrutiny and criticism. The allocation is said to be not enough. If the FAME has been encouraging for manufacturers to jump on the electric (and hybrid) bandwagon, the need to develop technologies indigenously is calling for more support. For every diesel bus replaced by an electrically propelled one, a whopping 25-tonnes of CO2 emissions can be reduced every year. As per the study by Indian Institute of Science (IISC) that undertook the evaluation of electric vehicles for urban transport, electric buses generate 82 per cent more profit over diesel buses. Revenues too can see a 27 per cent hike. The Circuit electric bus provides Ashok Leyland an opportunity to tap into the FAME scheme, which was launched in April 2014 by the central government, and is part of the ambitious National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP). Under NEMMP, the government aspires to put seven million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads of the country by 2020. Claim industry sources, that in the case of buses, it is the length of the bus and its charging speed that is among the prime factors that decide the level of subsidy. Mentioned Venkatraman, “We need to work with our partners, and engage with battery manufacturers to figure out what more we can do to make the electric bus more efficient.”

T. Venkatraman, Senior Vice President – Buses, Ashok Leyland Ltd.

Q. How do you look at the FAME scheme?

A. Since pollution is surging in cities, the government is compelled to offer an option, and say that they will increase the subsidy. If it will be sensibly priced, more and more people will respond to it. More subsidy will translate into easier availability of battery technology, which would make electric vehicles a more engaging option. Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are offering a VAT subsidy. It is about making it happen. It is about work in progress. We need to see what can be done to make this happen. I can explain FAME to them, but the STU has to put together a proposal and seek the subsidy from the government. This is about first-come-first-serve subsidy.

Q. How do you see the ecosystem developing for electric vehicles in India?

A. We need to work with our partners to make it sensible. We have to engage more with the battery manufacturers and figure out what else can be done to make it more efficient. We have the ability and the know how to put it together. This vehicle is a 30-seater vehicle, which we can take up to 65-70 seats. But the amount of batteries it will call for will make it prohibitive. Our team is already working on that, and commercialisation is the key.

Q. How much time will it take to roll out one bus?

A. The bus can be rolled out in three weeks. It does not have too many aggregates put together, and it is more about assembly kind of situation. It is all about balancing the technology right. The bus can be rolled out in three weeks, provided the aggregates have been agreed upon, and the prototype is approved. If it is a brand new product to be built ground up, then it would take three months. There are many players who are importing this vehicle (an electric bus) from various parts of the world. There is a Chinese company that announced that it is setting up a plant in India. To us, the USP will be a mid-size vehicle, which has been completely developed in India. This would not be made to stock but made to order. We will serve what the customer wants. It would depend upon the application and the required battery.

Q. What about battery life in such applications?

A. Battery life, depending upon usage, is seven years.

Q. Which facility will the Circuit be made at?

A. The bus can be rolled out from either of our seven plants. For us, it is logistics that will play an important role. It will influence vehicle cost. Depending upon the demand, we would like to build this bus at a location that is closer to the customer. This would help to keep the vehicle’s logistics costs low. Our plants are fully equipped to facilitate technology transfer from one location to the other. The bus, we are aiming at city application, feeder routes offering last mile connectivity, and at tarmac. Tourist will be targetted as we move forward.

Q. Where are you sourcing the batteries from?

A. A battery is very important for an electric vehicle like the Circuit. It is therefore not about usage, but about how the battery is managed. The (battery) material can come from anywhere, the intelligence of managing the battery is about electronic control knowledge. For now, a Lithium-ion battery technology is good enough. A breakthrough in battery technology is expected as efforts to reduce the battery weight are on. Efforts are on to make it safer, smaller and more powerful. The battery is currently being sourced from the USA. We are working with three to four companies simultaneously. These include Malcom and Valence. It (battery) is something that we need to be very careful about. Many have tried and failed. Excessive heat is often the reason. We would like to minimise the risk first. We would like to work with the company which validates it under expert supervision.

Q. What is the effect of AC in terms of performance?

A. The AC will roughly take about 35-40 per cent off the distance travelled. This will necessitate an increase in battery power. The battery will need to be managed in a modular way as the arrays are increased. This can be managed. A power bank is a decent business model, but calls for a need to balance the batteries. When you have multiple batteries you can’t have different charging in different batteries. The mismatch of charge will create a surge.

Q. What investment would such activities attract in the future?

A. For the expansion of our bus plant, we have put in more than Rs. 500 crore, which stands relevant for multi-application and not just this product. Out of this, roughly 10 per cent of the investment will be routed to such an application. Some transport corporations are talking about procurement of an electric bus. For each of them it is the acquisition cost that matters. We have already got three or four STUs which are actively under tendering. Once our ability to participate is evident, they (STUs) will come to us. We are trying to ensure that the subsidy is sensible.

Q. What are the critical issues when it comes to electric vehicles?

A. Monitoring and discipline are essential when it comes to the operation of electric vehicles; their charging cycle and their usage. This includes carrying out of the necessary checks. An interesting part is, an electric bus will not throw the kind of surprises a diesel bus could. Considering the fact that alternate fuel is the cause of concern as well as the most relevant topic the world over, each programme calls for a robust structure. There is a need for infrastructure to be in place before an experiement with technology is carried out. An example is the need of CNG pumps to ensure a constant and consistent supply of gas before the technology is made commercially available. We believe that an experiment is easy since one can work with the currently available power options and then build the infrastructure. Factors like how the cost of battery can be brought down matter. Reduction in cost has an effect on the payback period, and is thus important. If payback period goes down, a lot of electric vehicles will hit the road.

Earthly ambitions

Nagpur-based Mann Engineering Company has acquired 10 Eicher Pro 831T tippers.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

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A black Land Rover Freelander cuts through the traffic on the Nagpur-Chandrapur highway. In it is S.Jagjeet Singh Mann, partner of Nagpur-based Mann Engineering Company that specialises in mining exercises in the state of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Mann Engineering Company is a family owned enterprise with an estimated net worth of between Rs.100 and Rs.150 crore. Established in 2013, the company traces its roots to Mann Transport Company that was founded by Jagjeet Singh’s father, Bhan Singh Mann, at Pench and Kanha range of Western Coalfields Limited (WCL), one of the eight subsidiaries of Coal India Limited (CIL). Mann Transport Company specialised in the transport of coal; Mann Engineering Company has come to specialise in a variety of mining exercises. It has been growing from strength to strength with the judicious use of resources and technology in an increasingly competitive environment.

Just before Chandrapur, the Freelander turns off the highway and heads into the remote countryside. Green fields of cotton mark either side of the road as habitation fades into the background. The road surface deteriorates. The high ground clearance of Freelander helps as at one point the road almost disappears. What remains is a rough earthen patch. Even on such a bad patch of country road there is traffic; local two wheeler riders are interspersed by heavy lorries and semitrailers. It is getting harsh and desolete as every passing truck kicks up a dust storm. The phone signal dwindles and almost dies. After what seems like a long journey, heaps of overburden appear on the horizon. It takes some time for the Freelander to reach closer, its wheels bouncing off the rough surface below. It comes to a stop, and Mann alights. He walks a few steps to his spartan site office. His company has been awarded the task of removing all type of material and all kinds of strata by hiring equipment such has HEMM, tippers, drills, dozers, graders and water sprinklers to drill, excavate, load, transport, dump, spread, doze, grade and sprinkle with water at specified places as per the instruction of the engineer-in-charge at the amalgamated Pauni 2 and 3 open cast coal mines in the Ballarpur area. The total quantity to be excavated, as per the work order, is 78,32,000 cu. m. Mann’s company has 46 months to execute the work awarded to it. Work began in April 2016.

Equipment’s the backbone

Lined up outside Mann’s spartan site office are a few trucks. Two of these are Volvo FM tippers. One is a Pro 8031T 31-tonne GVW tipper. They are a part of the 174 machine fleet Mann Engineering Company owns. Making up the company’s backbone are Tata Hitachi excavators, Volvo FM and FMX heavy-duty tippers, BEML and Komatsu dozers, Caterpillar moto-graders and pay loaders, Tata and Volvo water sprinklers, Tata and BharatBenz diesel dispensing vans, Atlas drilling machine, Tata utility and service vans, and 10 Eicher Pro 8031T tippers. The 10 Eicher Pro 8031T tippers are one of the youngest machines in the fleet leave for one Eicher light duty truck and an Isuzu D-Max pickup that were recently porcured. According to Mann, these 10 trucks were acquired because of his company’s rapport with Volvo Trucks. “We chose Eicher Pro 8031T because of our experience with Volvo trucks, which has been good. Since the Eicher Pro 8031T is a Volvo products we formed an impression that it will be good too. Also, if we have an issue, we could walk up to the people at Volvo and tell them to address it,” he adds.

Siddharth Kirtane, Head – Sales and Marketing, VE Commercial Vehicles Ltd., reveals, “Mann Engineering Company bought five 8×4 Eicher Pro 8031T tippers with a 16 cu. m. rock body in October 2015. In May this year, they bought another five 8031T tippers with a 16 cu. m. rock body upon finding the performance of the truck good.” Hinting at leveraging his experience from selling Volvo tippers in India’s mining belts Siddharth explains that the Eicher Pro 8031T is built at Volvo Trucks’ facility at Hosakote, Bangalore. “From the time the truck was made available in October 2015, we have sold 288 units,” he adds.

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Mann’s preference for Eicher 8031T tipper stems from his long experience in the field. He has been the pillar of his company, and his family. He is well aware of how the equipment his company operates has an effect on the costs and the company’s ability to sustain as well as grow. Mentions Jagjeet Singh Mann, that they have used the Mercedes-Benz Actros tippers, MAN tippers, and Tata Prima tippers. “We have also had Scania, Kamaz and other tippers for trial. We also trialed a tipper from a Russian company with operations in Bengal,” he adds. He draws attention to how drivers are spoiled for choice. “If the AC develops a fault due to some reason, the driver simply refuses to operate the truck,” he adds. Mann explains, “He (the driver) will simply drive to the site office, park his truck and drive away in another (standby) truck.” Avers Siddharth, that there’s a lot at stake. Companies are hard pressed to finish their work before the prescribed period as this helps them to save costs. Standby equipment is thus a part of their operating strategy, he adds. Unlike before, maximum uptime forms a crucial link when it comes to sustain-ability and earnings.

Explains Mann, that fuel costs amount to 50 per cent of their project costs. The fact is, project costs haven’t increased overtime, it is the fuel costs thathave increased substantially. They have now began to amount to 55 to 60 per cent of the project cost, he adds. Avers Mann that the rise in operating costs and overheads continue to shrink the earning potential. “Our earnings amount to a mearge 8 per cent of the total project costs. A 10 per cent saving in fuel cost per machine also amounts to a significant saving for us. This especially matters when the diesel consumption at a project site amounts to between 9 and 10 lakh litres per month,” explains Mann. In peak season, work progresses at a feverish pace. A duty cycle lasts for 20 hours or more.

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Eicher advantage

Mann has come to see a distinct advantage in the Eicher Pro 8031T. “They consume less fuel than the Volvos,” he quips. So, apart from the rapport with the Volvo folks, it was the frugal nature of the Eicher tipper that got Mann to procure five more units in May 2016. States Mann, “The Eicher (Pro 8031T) costs roughly half of what it costs to buy a Volvo FMX 8×4 tipper at Rs.95 lakh approximately.” he is happy that for almost half the cost, the Eicher Pro 8031T is helping him to execute 75 per cent of the work that a Volvo tipper does. The oldest Volvo tipper in the fleet is a FM 300. The first Volvo Mann came in contact with was a FM7. It was bought by Avtar and Co., a company that was established by his father in 1988, and had Mann’s brothers as partners apart from his father. The newest Volvos in the Mann Engineering Company fleet are nine FM480s. Many Pro 8031T drivers are Volvo drivers. Their expectations from the machine are high. Avers Siddharth, “Expectations from drivers and owners alike made us embark on a task to build qualitative aspects around the Eicher heavy-duty truck portfolio.” He adds, “It is thus about professional processes and abilities, higher payload and efficiency, superior uptime, and better profitability.” Solidly built the Pro 8031T tipper is. With a payload capacity of 25-tonnes approximately, it is a 280 hp class machine. Arguably the most powerful in its class, the 8-litre six-cylinder Volvo engine that powers the Pro 8031T is built locally at the Volvo Eicher PowerTrain (VEPT) plant at Pithampur, Indore. This engine also powers many Volvo Group products the world over.

Cost effective and frugal

Structured over a wheelbase of 4600 mm, the C-section long member of the truck, aligning with Volvo’s specs, is 300 mm tall. It runs through out the length of the chassis. The driver’s seat of the Pro 8031T is 6-way adjustable, and the cab is 4-point suspended. AC is standard. According to Siddharth, it costs approximately Rs.55 lakhs to buy the Eicher Pro 8031T. A mid-premium product according to Kirtane, the Pro 8031T is used by Mann for work up to a depth of 30 m. “Against every excavator that is operated, there are five tippers attached. We bought ten Eicher tippers with a calculation that they as a batch of five will work in tandem with two excavators,” he adds. Citing his experience since 1995, Jagjeet Singh Mann says that up to a certain depth (of up to 30 m) they are using the Eicher tippers, and below 30 m they are using Volvo tippers. Like the Volvo tippers, the Eicher Pro 8031T is also subjected to a duty cycle of 21 hours. Equipped with a manual nine-speed gearbox, the Eicher Pro 8031T, according to Mann, has led to a 10 per cent fuel saving per truck. Over the 10 trucks the company is operating, this amounts to a significant chunk of saving.

On-site

Significant mechanisation is evident as excavators and trucks crowd a desolate parcel of land. Excavators are chipping away at chunks of mother earth. Work is progressing at a feverish pace. Like bees swarming up to a piece of Jaggery, Eicher Pro 8031Ts line up one after the other for the excavator to fill their rock bodies with overburden up to the brim. Mann signal the driver of one of the trucks to disembark. I take his place. In the crawler gear, the truck moves up an incline with ease. It feels like there’s much more than the expected 25-tonne load at the rear. Overloading in the mining context is not a well kept secret. The soft cotton soil is sticky, and the tyres, I can sense, are cutting into the soil, making sizeable trenches. Grip and traction are hard found luxuries, and the Pro 8031T keeps going, its mighty torque not letting the soil win. With heavy use, the gear shifter feels a bit vague in its travel. The gears slot nevertheless. A tough creature this truck is as it ploughs through the soft soil, and rolls over to the dumping site, which is a about a km away. The trenches dug by earlier travels has the truck tramline almost. There is no easy life for the driver or the machine here. AC is the saviour.

A few meters from the dumping site is parked a white Bolero of the Volvo service team with a site engineer in it. The nearest brick and mortar service center is 35 km away at Chandrapur, and stocks inventory. It has the capability to carry out heavy repairs. A crucial link such centres play in ensuring that the trucks are on the job 24 x7. Expresses Mann, that maintenance is carried out at 9 am in the morning, and at 8 pm in the evening.” Responds Siddharth, that it helps to have a direct contact with the customer. “That is what keeps us ahead,” he adds. An interesting perspective Kirtane provides is on how technology is helping operators like Mann to sustain in a tough business environment where businessmen with deep pockets and little experience are bagging contracts at costs that could be hardly termed as sustainable.

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Technology to sustain

The rate at which a contract like this was awarded to a company over two decades ago is the same even today, avers Mann. The price of diesel, which amounts close to 60 per cent of the total project cost, has increased significantly, he adds. States Mann, that in 1995, fuel cost accounted for 15 per cent of the total project. Companies like Mann, says Kirtane, have been able to sustain because technology has ensured that they enjoy efficient and reliable machines. Machinery uptime has steadily risen; utilisation and efficiency have steadily grown too. According to Siddhrth, if the average diesel rate is Rs.60 per litre, the mining rate is also in the region of Rs.60. Avers Mann, “Consider an equipment fuel consumption average of 1.5-litre per km, and the fuel cost amounts to between 55 and 60 per cent of the total project cost today.” Quips Siddharth, that the fuel savings in comparison to 1995 level are substantially higher today. They are to the scale of 2x, 3x, 4x, and evev more, he adds. Mann agrees. He says that technology has been playing an increasingly important role in growth. He avers that he would like to avail of higher automation. Perhaps the new Eicher telematics could help him increase his company’s profitability; address his need for more automation. Interestingly predict-ability has gone up. Mentions Kirtane, “Predict-ability has gone up, and technology has ensured that the machines record higher uptime.” Unlike earlier when much time was lost in dealing with a breakdown, companies like Mann Engineering have benefited from manufacturers like Volvo and Tata Hitachi setting up service and repair facilities at the site. There’s trained manpower – engineers and technicians, at the site that manufacturers are posting. This is ensuring the clocking of maximum uptime. Mann is well aware of this, and therefore chose to buy the 10 Eicher Pro 8031Ts over trucks from other brands. He is open to considering other brands, but is keen to hear those out that can offer better service and support than the folks at Volvo are able to.

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Considering the harsh environment in which the machines operate at a mining site, and the frenzy with which the activity takes place, companies like Mann Engineering, it is clear, are racing against time. They want to stay ahead of time. Only then will they be able to sustain, and be capable of buying more Eicher Pro 8031Ts. The Pauni project, the company is keen to finish in three years instead of the stipulated four years. This, says Mann, will improve their profitability and reduce their operating costs and overheads. The Pro 8031T is proving its mettle at the Pauni mines. It is also proving its mettle at other mines across the Indian subcontinent. Set to be a live example of how technology has increased the ability of mining excavation companies to predict, plan and work in the most efficient manner, the Eicher 8031T has a lot going for it. Signs off Mann, “We are looking at buying more Eicher 8031Ts”.

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