Tata Ace grows up; turns Mega

Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Story & photos by : Bhushan Mhapralkar

Tata Ace has grown up in more ways than one. It’s called the Ace Mega.

Tata Ace has grown up. It is now called the Ace Mega. Inching closer to the SuperAce, Ace Mega aims at those who want to carry more, avail better fuel efficiency, and have the ability to turnaround quickly. Coming across as a bit of a cultural shock, after watching the Ace grow from strength to strength for over a decade, the Ace Mega is set to add a new dimension to the Ace family. Both, in terms of performance, and payload carrying capacity. Also part of the equation are qualities like an upmarket stance and a robust build.

Mega appeal

Painted in an attractive shade of metallic Azure blue, the Ace Mega retains the appeal of the Ace. It looks as cute or toy-like. Just that it feels like it has grown up in all directions almost. In a way, it has. Walk closer, and the cabin looks bigger than that of the Ace. It actually is not. Walk to the rear, and the cargo tray looks longer and wider than that of the Ace where upon it is not longer or wider. A sense prevails that the Ace has grown up, helping to understand the fact that the Ace Mega can carry 1-tonne over Ace’s 800kgs. Connection with the Ace is kept alive by the leaf spring suspension all-round. Like the SuperAce however, the Ace Mega is equipped with 165 R14 radial tyres. If this explains the 175 mm ground clearance and a gradeability of 30 per cent, the leaf spring suspension presents the Ace Mega with an ability to handle the rough with the smooth. If the SuperAce is about speed and comfort, the Ace Mega is about the ability to carry more than the Ace; at higher speeds, economically and over less than ideal surfaces. A closer look at the chassis provides a fair idea of the efforts that went into making the Ace Mega robust. Company sources claim that the chassis has been reinforced to account for the higher payload carrying capacity. The cabin has been reinforced as well.

Unlike the Ace where one can easily slid into the driver’s seat, in the Ace Mega one may need to climb into the seat almost. If this provides a reason to think that the Ace has grown up, the cabin feels roomier. The hump between the seats may rob the cabin of some space, it also indicates that below it is the engine. Over the Ace’s 16 hp, 800cc two-cylinder in-direct injection diesel engine, the Mega Ace gets a 40 hp, 800cc two-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine. Longitudinally arranged, the lightweight aluminum engine is BS III (BS IV will arrive in January 2016) emissions compliant. Power is routed to the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. One more cog (over the Ace’s 4-speed gearbox), apart from extracting better fuel efficiency, also aids to achieve higher operating speeds. The Ace Mega is capable of a top speed of 90 kmph over the 60 kmph top speed an Ace can achieve. Fuel efficiency is claimed to be in the region of 18.5 kmpl. Under real-world operating conditions, it is expected to be in the region of 15-16 kmpl. To account for a higher top speed and load carrying capability, the brake system is equipped with discs at the front and (254 mm dia.) drums at the rear. The braking system is servoed, and includes a 7-inch vacuum booster. To address the growing needs of a typical driver-operator in the category, the Ace Mega gets an ergonomically located driver console, lockable glovebox, provision for a music system, mobile charging port and a digital clock.

Comfortable and easy to drive

The large front windshield makes it easy to even spot a rat running across! Apart from the large front windshield, credit for a commanding driving position should also go to the ergonomics. Ergonomically well engineered, the engine cover between the seats does tend to rob the cabin of some space, it does not quite succeed in presenting a sense that this cabin is bigger than that of the Ace and roomier. Seating position is comfortable, and accompanied by good amount of legroom, shoulder room and head room. If the fabric seats help with an upmarket look, the dash is simple and a bit utilitarian. The instrument cluster is at the centre, and below it, is the digital clock, charging port and head lamp leveller switch located. In what looks like a mini centre console, there’s a provision for the music system too.

Waking up to an amount of noise, the engine tends to be a bit noisy. Its typical of an aluminium unit. While the noise is not as intrusive on the move, the need for more sound insulation is felt nevertheless time and again. A thick foam pad on the floor works towards isolating vibrations. They are ably kept out. Not so much about noise however. Taking off away smartly in the first gear, it does not take long to understand that the first and second gear is about the ability to pull. They are taller than the rest. Quite responsive in comparison to the Ace, despite the absence of a tacho, it is aparent that this vehicle generates good amount of torque (94 Nm @ 2000-2500 rpm) at lower revs. The engine is not exactly rev happy, it is instead quite responsive. Push the ‘drive-by-wire’ pedal, and the Ace Mega gathers speed fairly quickly than the Ace is capable of. On a rough stretch, a sense of robustness is had.Manoeuvring is easy but the need for a power steering is felt. The ride, not as plush as that of the SuperAce, has a firm edge to it. A sense of strength and robust built emenates through. For certain, the Ace Mega feels like a grown up Ace.

‘Proper’ pick-up?

Aiming at those who want more than what the Ace can deliver, the Ace Mega, like the SuperAce treads into the pick-up category. According to R. Ramakrishnan, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy & Planning, and Customer Value Creation — Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, the Ace Mega is in many ways a ‘proper’ pick-up. An addition to the Ace family, which commands an estimated 70-80 per cent of the small commercial vehicle market, the Ace Mega may find the going smooth. Even though it is aiming at a market that is going through a dull period, the name, the Ace has earned for itself, it can be assumed, will work in favour of the Ace Mega. Addressing the changing needs of small commercial vehicle operators who apart from a dull environment also continue to face funding hurdles, the Ace Mega, priced 10 to 11 per cent more, reflects an ability to help achieve better profitability. In line with R. Ramakrishnan’s opinion that migration is happening from SCVs to more feature laden and capable pick-ups, the Ace Mega elevates the reach of the Ace family. Indicating a shift in the last mile transportation model, the Ace Mega adds a new dimension to what is claimed to be the most voluminous CV brand in the world. Not to overlook the tendency of operators to overload, the Ace Mega, as a robust mini-truck, presents the operator the ability to achieve more. At Rs.4.31 lakh,
ex-showroom, Thane, the Ace Mega indicates that its maker is well aware of the changing dynamics of the market.

 

Renault takes the wraps off the Alaskan pick-up

Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Story & photos by : Bhushan Mhapralkar

About playing hard and working hard, the Alaskan reflects Renault’s aspirations to be a top global LCV player.

The name Alaskan is long associated with a sturdy dog breed, Alaskan Malamute. With a formidable nature and structure, Alaskan Malamute was originally bred for hauling freight because of its strength and endurance ability, often as a sled dog. Over the years of its existence, Alaskan Malamute has also come to be trained for recreational pursuits. The dual role the Alaskan Malamute has come to play is what is expected of the Renault Alaskan too; about playing hard and working hard. Unveiled in the form of a show car (which is very close to the production model) at Paris in front of 150 motoring journalists from 25 countries including India, the Alaskan reflects Renault’s Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) business aspirations. With production set to commence in mid-2016 at Barcelona, Mexico and Cordoba, the Alaskan marks Renault’s second pick-up after the Duster Oroch, which was unveiled in Buenos Aries in June 2015. The Duster Oroch is a 1/2-tonne pick-up and the Alaskan is a 1-tonne pick-up. Drawing from the extensive pick-up truck knowhow of alliance partner brand Nissan, the Alaskan is heavily based on the new Nissan NP300 Navara pick-up that debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. It is also claimed that the same platform would form the basis of a Mercedes-Benz pick-up due in 2017. Highlighting Renault’s need to enter into partnerships to be a top global player in the LCV business, the Alaskan is set to play an important role when it arrives mid next year. According to Ashwani Gupta, Vice President & Global Head of Renault’s Light Commercial Vehicles Business, Renault wants to be a top global player in the LCV business from being a top regional player. “We are now equipped to take our global growth plan forward and fulfill the aspirations of business users and individual LCV customers across the world, thanks to an enhanced product line-up, new services and an upgraded customer experience,” he said.

The Alaskan

What draws attention foremost is the Alaskan’s imposing front grille with the big Renault logo at the centre. The grille is in line with the business looks many new Renault models are coming to flaunt, including the Kwid compact SUV. LED head lamp clusters, integrated on either side of the grille, are encased by sweeping C-shaped daytime running lights. Contributing to the muscular and what looks like a visually heavy and robust build, the Alaskan sports vast 21-inch dia. wheels. Placed within their gently bulging wheel arches, they provide some mini monster truck excitement. In a twin cab guise, the ‘show’ pick-up has intricate LED tail lamps on either side of the load bay gate. Apart from the detailing of the wheels, the production vehicle may lose out on the door mirrors fitted with cameras and front fog lights with integrated towing hooks.

The dci 190 written on chrome indents built into the flanks indicate a 190 bhp four-cylinder version of a twin turbo diesel engine that is already being used in the Renault CV range. Equipped with a switchable 4WD, the Alaskan is a monocoque construction. Sticking to the rules of the segment, including impressive dimensions and a visual sense of power and robustness according to Laurens Van Den Acker, SVP – Corporate Design, the pick-up also carries specific Renault cues in the form of front-end design. Expressed Laurens, “It is quite robust even though it is a mono body design.” Looking at its pick-ups to provide a good amount of thrust, Renault is well aware that the pick-up market accounted for over five million sales in 2014. It is also aware that it is the expanding pick-up market, which has been the primary contributor to the growth of global LCV market. Made up of three categories — a 1/2-tonne pick-up, 1-tonne pick-up and a full-size pick-up, t he ½-tonne pick-ups command 3 per cent market share. The 1-tonne pick-ups command 17 per cent market share, and the full-size pick-ups command 18 per cent market share. In US and Canada, the full-size pick-ups command 90 per cent of the market.

LCV strategy

Adding a formidable edge to Renault’s aspiration of becoming a top global (LCV) player is its leadership status in vans. It is a leader in Europe since 1998. It is number one in North Africa since 2010. It ranks among the top three in South America since 2008. Present in 112 countries, Renault’s van operations are supported by 400 certified convertors (body builders). These convertors are spread across Europe, South America and Australia, and help Renault buyers build a van structure that most suits their business needs. Typical applications across the range include a panel van, double cab, platform cab, passenger version, crew cab, chassis cab, box van, tipper, chassis cab dropside, master combi, bus (that seats up to 17 people), maxi van, etc. The platforms on which the structures are build, include the Kangoo (Kangoo Z.E zero emissions is sold in 45 countries), Trafic and Master. Of the three the Master is perhaps the most diverse, and is available in different wheelbase, dimensions, drive orientation (front, rear and 4×4), etc. Unusual among the Renault LCVs is the single-seater Twizy Cargo. It is a zero emissions LCV, which aims to address last mile connectivity.

Associating with Daimler, GM Europe, Renault Truck and Fiat, the French automobile major, at its Sandouville plant in France will start building a Trafic-based Fiat LCV from mid-2016. Banking on an assertive product and market offensives while building solid partnerships and enhancing customer experience, the company, aware of the fact that over 14 million LCVs were sold in 2014, reconfigured its LCV business as Renault Pro+. With 80 per cent of the world’s population expected to be online, Renault, said Gupta, is also offering a new digital experience. Fabien Goulmy, LCV Expert – Brand General Manager, Renault Pro+, reasoned that they are stressing upon tailor made, ingenious innovation and easy experience. “We will use the Renault Pro+ as an expert brand to meet the needs of our LCV customers. The customer experience we offer will be enhanced by our bespoke knowhow, and by strengthening our offer in terms of products and services,” averred Goulmy.

In case of Asia, Renault is closely monitoring the developments. It is evaluating if the Duster Oroch ½-tonne pick-up will succeed. Gupta is well aware of the proliferation of micro and mini trucks in India. He is also aware of the changing needs and aspirations of the Indian LCV buyers. He is confident that a transformation will take place, and enough to suit products like the Alaskan. Apart from pick-ups, Renault is also monitoring the Indian market for its vans. Until the Indian market is ready to accept such Renault offerings, the French auto major has work cut out for itself. To concentrate on pick-up intensive Asian markets like Thailand and Indonesia. To convince more people in Europe to buy pick-ups.

 

Ashwani Gupta, Vice President & Global Head of Light Commercial Vehicles Business, Renault.

Now that you have unveiled your second pick-up, what are your LCV plans for India?

I will not be able to share today what are our LCV plans for India. What I can say precisely is that the products offered by the LCV business are highly professional centric. They originate out of customer usage, which comes from three things – payload, cargo volume and total cost of ownership. The day we realise these three things are evolving in any environment, we are ready to enter. This is about our vans. We have just launched the first pick-up (Duster Oroch) and will be launching the second pick-up (Alaskan) soon. We will evaluate market by market. Some markets play hard, some markets work hard. I don’t think we have the kind of adaptability needed to address the Indian market. We are however aware that a market does not take much time to evolve. Today, US is following the European vans; China is also following the European vans. There are two reasons – urbanisation of logistics and evolution. As urbanisation of logistiscs evolves further, more and more people will opt for panel vans. In case of a pick-up, it will depend on whether it is for material usage or people usage, or both. In South America, the usage is more of material. In Europe, it is more of people and less of material. That is exactly why we decided not to launch the 1/2-tonne pick-up in Europe. We launched it in South America. We are closely monitoring the Indian LCV market.

What role would Asia play for Renault, and within Asia, what role would India play?

Pick-ups are almost global when we talk about 1-tonne. I think Asia-Pacific is going to drive our busines on pick-up. Talk about Australia for instance. We have a great brand, and pick-ups are highly aspired by the Australians. The 1-tonne pick-up market is great in Thailand. We are looking market by market therefore. I am a bit cautious when it comes to vans. Taste about vans differs from country to country. It was therefore challenging for us to go global with just panel vans. It is because of this that we have the Master localised in Brazil. We have all the three products localised in France, which are European in taste. We wanted to have global products over a regional product like Duster Oroch, which can go into these markets. What is missing from our range as a full fledged LCV player are the micro trucks and micro buses. Micro trucks and micro buses are the solutions if one wants to enter into some Asian markets. Korea, for example, is an European van based market. We have a global picture, and we know which country and which region is evolving, and how far. India for certain will evolve with the logistisc challenge. We have seen evolution. We have seen Twizy Cargos parked in front of shops in Paris. India will certainly evolve, and the main driver will be the professional customer. They will start understanding the total cost of ownership. And we have seen it in heavy duty vehicles. Ten years down the line, drivers are having a say in what they want to drive. More and more the economy grows, the purchasing intention also grows. The driver or the professional customer gets to influence the buying decision of the vehicle while going from big fleets to smaller ones, most of which are owner driven. In case of small owner fleets, total cost of ownership gains importance. This will lead to a change.

What do you find are the constraining factors for market evolution of LCVs and pick-ups in particular?

The average cost of a passenger car in India is higher than an average cost of a car in Europe. The average cost of an LCV in India is lower than the average cost of an LCV in Europe. The day this gap is filled, European products will find a place in India.

Could India not serve as an export base for Renault to serve the Asean region, and considering the Oradagam plant?

Yes, India could serve as an export base for the Asean region. We are open to all kinds of study. I believe that India is not prepared for products like these (Alaskan), but that does not mean it will never be prepared. We therefore have to be careful when we look at the export solutions. These are not really answering all the customer needs. The best business case to look at is the heavy duty trucks. They have really answered the customer needs. The buses are now called by their brand. That’s what is needed.

Does it make a business case for Duster Oroch given the high reputation Duster has gained in India?

We will for certain consider such a development. The main challenge in India was to build the brand. We have achieved it, and we can now introduce products. We are in fact introducing the products.

Tata Motors’ Winger is based on an earlier Renault van platform. Tata is said to be testing a newer van platform, which is also a Renault van platform. Given your strategy for partnerships, how do you look at this?

It’s open. We are open to partnering with Tata Motors. You could check with them.

 

Laurens Van Den Acker, SVP – Corporate Design, Renault.

Over the Duster Oroch, the Alaskan looks much futuristic. Does that indicate a definitive change in design strategy?

In case of the Alaskan, we had a little bit of liberty. We could start with a white sheet of paper for the whole front-end. So, it was exactly what we wanted.

Does the Alaskan share its platform with any other vehicle?

It is an alliance platform that Nissan uses as well for their 1-tonne pick-up. This makes good business sense.

What does it take to amalgamate the mechanicals with the intended form?

Even before we start designing, we spend a year with the product planners and the engineers to define what the needs of their customers are. What kind of architecture platform could potentially fufill these needs. And, this creates a brief; a blue print of where the engine needs to be, where the cabin needs to be. Thus, we do not start to design in space. We have a white sheet, but we have some points to extract. It is the same in this case (Alaskan). We know that we are not artists; a design needs to work, it needs to fit in. We have many requirements to fulfill of which design in an important part but not the only one.

How do you use the inputs you get to turn out a design that will meet diverse taste?

Designing a vehicle is a highly collaborative process. To create a design it is not that we wait until the engineers have done their bit, then we do our bit and pass it through to the marketing department. I think good cars happen because designers worked very closely with the engineers. We (designers) were able to influence; we were able to say a little bit more to the left or to the right. When we worked with product planners, we were able to negotiate. Best cars, I think, are of those companies that make the best trade-offs between different competencies. In a really good car, engineering has won, design has won, product planning has won, and the commercial guys at the end of the line will win as well.

How do you design products that cater to emerging markets?

A pick-up truck is a real tool-kit. It is a Swiss Army knife in a sense. It’s a vehicle that is tailor-made. That is why we tailor-made our brand for Renault LCV. It is a vehicle that adapts itself to the kind of needs of the customers. What is really interesting in a pick-up truck is that it goes from a life-style vehicle (that is prestigious, a flag ship and social strata enhancing) to a basic tool to get from A to B without breaking down and falling apart. What we are showing here is a ‘show’ concept. We want it to create a desire. We have therefore shown the highest end of the execution. We will however also give an honest tool that the market needs. We will be able to follow the needs of our customers.

So, what variants could we expect, depending on the client needs?

With this truck we will give every region and every customer what he needs. The truck is capable of going up or going down; becoming tough or prestigious. I think we will be able to satisfy our future clients. We went from having no pick-up truck to having two pick-up trucks next year. We went from having no SUVs to having nearly a full range. We try to be where the market is. Sometimes we try to be ahead of the market. You can see that with the Espace or the Kwid. With the Kwid we tried to be innovative in a segment where there has not been a lot of movement. We are hoping for the Kwid to receive a positive welcome. The truth lies with the customers, and we hope that they will like the vehicle.

How flexible is the Kwid in terms of derivatives?

We will do a Renault and Nissan version. The Kwid platform is thus quite flexible. If Kwid is successful as we hope, then it opens many doors to do many other vehicles. Kwid is a light and strong platform. It is a safe and modern platform. It is well under the 4 m length, which is important for India. There are not many vehicles under 4 m that are enormously attractive. When a car is born, and has genetically the right proportions; the wheels are in the right place, then a lot can be done about it. I hope we can do more (with the platform) than just the Kwid.

So, could the Alaskan pick-up platform turn out an SUV?

Yes. No platform today is created to make just one type of vehicle. It does not mean that we make all the derivatives. Because we depend on the success of the first ones to see if we can do more with a platform, no company develops a platform for just one variation. We have no SUV plans to be completely clear.

How do you connect Renault’s long tradition of making commercial vehicles with the future through your designs?

It is nice that we can start from a position of strength, and even though it is about utilitarian vehicles or commercial vehicles. We did not cover all the segments, but it is easier to go to a segment like a pick-up truck while being strong in commercial vehicles as opposed to having to start from scratch. We benefit from the experience and the legitimacy of our partner, Nissan. It is for us a new market, new segment and new region (with the Alaskan). It’s going to be tough. We will need to prove ourselves. We however don’t come to the table without guns. We have a proven platform. We have an existing infrastructure. The design challenge is fun. A pick-up truck is such fun that I did not have any problems in motivating my team.

What role do the design centers at Mumbai and Chennai play?

Alaskan was designed by a Japanese designer based at Paris. The Indian design team is occupied with the Kwid at the moment, and not just with the car but also the accessories. The design centers in India are working on India-based products. When we start a new competition, any body from any of our six studios around the world can contribute. The world is becoming small. Fifty years ago, Renault made French cars for France, which they exported. The situation has changed. Renault now makes cars for the whole world. Design talent, at the other end could come from anywhere. We have some very talented designers from India. We also have a designer from Mongolia, Hong Kong, Columbia, and Venezuela.

In which areas do you think Indian designers excel in?

The Indian design team has an extremely good sense for business. It seems that every Indian designer knows what works in the market, knows how we sell the car, knows about why people buy cars, why the parents are involved. I learn everytime I meet them. In terms of pure design skills, they lack a little bit. It is perhaps because the automotive culture is lacking. Growing up in Europe would account for exposure to premium brands; would entail seeing many generations of vehicles. Automotive culture in India is growing. A lot of Indian designers come to Paris for an amount of time. When they go back, they take with them the richness of experience. I am really impressed by the R&D and the engineers.

How big is your design team?

My design team is 500 people the world over. Of these 150 are designers. Most studios are in Paris.

SUVs were criticised some years ago for not being environment friendly and as fuel guzzlers. How do you look at the evolution of SUVs into ‘green’ automobiles?

 

SUVs were traditionally based on pick-up trucks. They were genetically heavy. What has changed their image is that SUVs and pick-ups have become mono body. They don’t have a ladder frame with the box on top. Huge progress has been made in terms of engine technology. They are much more frugal, economical and lighter. We are starting to see an evolution in US. The Ford pick-up F150, for instance, uses extensive aluminium. They have to reduce the weight. The challenge with the pick-up is that it has to be strong. It is therefore one of the last vehicles that is going to be ultra light weight. The Alaskan pick-up is more robust than a monocoque is known to be.

Going green

611c38fc-399a-4172-aaf2-1a29b2912c8a_TempBig

The focus on emission control technologies is growing, especially in the case of commercial vehicles.

A 54-year old truck operator, Satpal Singh is a worried man. Operating a 11-year old Tata 1618 truck to ferry goods from Delhi to Mumbai and back, Satpal Singh’s only source of livelihood looks like is in danger. The National Green Tribunal recently issued orders to ban diesel vehicles aged over 10 years from plying in Delhi citing their ability to pollute. Satpal Singh is one of the many truckers who are suddenly finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Their means of livelihood seems to be caught in the cross currents of the polluted air that is claimed to induce many ailments respiratory or otherwise in the Delhi population. In its report released last year, WHO named Delhi as one of the most polluted cities in the world. The advantage derived by the conversion of all public transport vehicles, an estimated 1,00,000, to CNG following an Apex court order in 1998 seems to have been lost. The suspended particulate matter in Delhi region is claimed to be nearing the 1995 levels, which led to the first generation emission reforms steered by the judiciary.

Judiciary driven reforms are welcome, as are also those enforced by the executive. The need to go green cannot be refuted. However, it needs to be backed by a long-term plan that is all inclusive and an outcome of a deep understanding of the technologies that are instrumental in helping to build sustainable, environment friendly automobiles. Speaking at an event in Mumbai in February 2015, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping said, “Pollution is a big problem for all Indian cities. Second, we are importing petroleum products, coal and gas, and are spending a lot in doing so. Our government is working closely on assessing the reach of biofuels and other sustainable fuels. The first bus using ethanol has been plying in Nagpur for the past three months, and it has been a success till now. We are also in the process of experimenting with biodiesel and bio-CNG. It is that time for the economy and country, when we should give the highest priority to alternative and sustainable fuels. In all this, we also want to promote our ‘Make in India’ campaign and utilise the home-grown technical know how to meet our demands.”

The ethanol powered bus from Scania has been plying in Gadkari’s constituency, Nagpur, since November 2014. Another 55 such buses are claimed to have been ordered by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation. A modern, air-conditioned low-floor design, the ethanol bus is Euro-V emission regulations compliant. Bharat Stage (BS) emission standards are closely modelled on the European (Euro) emission standards, the difference limited to some test cycles. Until the implementation of BS III, Indian emission standards followed the Euro standards fairly closely. That was until April 2010. However, since then the gap has been widening. Euro-VI emission norms rolled out in Europe in September 2014. In India, BS IV emission standards were rolled out in 13 cities including the National Capital Region (NCR) at around the same time. The nationwide roll out of BS IV emission standards is yet to take place. This is claimed to have happened because the state owned refineries were finding it difficult to supply the required quality of fuel to regions other than the 13 cities. At an event organised by CV magazine in Mumbai in January 2015, Vinod K Dasari, MD, Ashok Leyland Ltd, said, “It is not the (auto) industry that is lacking in terms of technology, the need is for quicker implementation from the government.” He added,“Nobody is saying no to change. In the next two-to-three years, the regulatory changes will start. We have been supplying BS-IV compliant vehicles in 13 cities, so it is more about the nationwide availability of BS-IV fuel. This will cost the government a capex of Rs.50,000 crores.” Explained a Society of India Automotive Manufacturers (SIAM) official, that even though India is all set to witness nationwide BS-IV emission norms implementation, automakers have been asking for the roll out of BS V emission norms by 2019. The timeline slated for BS V roll-out was earlier 2020.

1a2986de-9e4a-4bb1-9096-4211f93033ed_TempBig

Industry is keen

Ambuj Sharma, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises is known to have said that the government is gearing up to hold discussions with all stakeholders to decide on BS-VI emission standards roll out. Industry leaders seem keen. The industry will however need to make the necessary investment, upgrade their facilities and reach out. Stated Friedrich Boecking, Regional President, Diesel Systems, Bosch, that enough time for development is required if the industry needs to move from BS-V to BS-VI norms. It will take some time for vehicle and engine manufacturers to develop technology specific to Indian roads and driving patterns. This concerns vehicles – commercial vehicles especially, that run on diesel fuel. The Euro V emission compliant Scania city bus in Nagpur runs on ED 95 grade of Ethanol. The BYD city bus at Bangalore runs on electricity; is a zero emissions vehicle. It was during the Commonwealth Games at Delhi in 2010, that Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland supplied six and two CNG hybrid buses respectively. Ashok Leyland is planning to launch the Versa electric bus in India as part of its Optare product portfolio.

The right time

Industry experts are of the opinion that now is the right time to move to a higher emission standards. Oil prices are at a lower level than they were last year. Crude oil prices are still hovering around the USD 60 per barrel mark. When the fuel prices bounce back, it will prove to be beneficial, they claim further. Despite the auto industry willing to roll out vehicles with appropriate technology quickly, the challenge is likely to be at the refinery stage, where large investments may be needed to turn out fuel with an even lower content of Sulphur. Sulphur content in BS V is 10 ppm. In BS IV fuel it is 50 ppm, and in BS IV+ fuel it is 40 ppm. To curb pollution there is a need to move up to BS V emission standard swiftly. Also, since India has been following the Euro emission standards with a time lag, adapting or application engineering products that are already available in the European markets may be useful, without investing heavily, and in a manner that is time consuming. In fact, OEMs and their suppliers are keeping a close eye on the possible developments. Expressed James Verrier, President and CEO, BorgWarner, “Technologies that have been successfully applied in Europe will find their way to India. In the next couple of years, BorgWarner will launch derivatives of such products, which will undergo application engineering, testing and validation at the local level.” Averred Oerlikon chief executive officer of drive systems, Dr. Bernd Matthes, “Frugal engineering will be a part of our approach for expansion in India. Moving forward we will also open our engineering centre in India to ensure that we tailor our products for specific requirements of the market and customise them.”

In pursuit of clean air

If the successful conversion of Delhi’s city buses to CNG, and also those that run in Mumbai is an indication, it is not the dearth of technology or its application that is stalling the move to more stringent emission standards in a pursuit for cleaner air. It is also not that the auto industry is not willing. In fact, the Indian auto industry is more than willing. It will however have to be taken into confidence before the decision to move up is taken. Remarked Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director, CVBU, Tata Motors, “Our Jamshedpur plant is currently manufacturing vehicles complying to BS IV emission standards. It can be fully geared up to manufacture vehicles complying with BS V and BS VI emission standards when required in the future.” A big change to BS V and BS VI emission standards will mark a move to SCR systems, and bring into play additional componentry and associated costs. Not a deterrent for Indian OEMs in any way; many of them are exporting Euro V and Euro VI emission compliant commercial vehicles. At the 2014 Hannover show, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles displayed a Euro V FUSO FJ 2528 R truck that is made at its Chennai plant. Opined Erich Nesselhauf, CEO and MD, DICV, “We are capable of manufacturing Euro IV to Euro VI emission compliant vehicles in India. The question is, what do we want? Since India has more engineers, it is time that some innovative technologies come out of India rather than merely following the developed markets.” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, expressed the need to replace old commercial vehicles with new, more cleaner and efficient vehicles to curb rising pollution levels.

Special application CVs

Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar
Commercial vehicles find favour with special applications that make the fire brigades, airports, armed forces function smoothly and efficiently.

Mumbai Fire Brigade has added a 90 m fire ladder to its fleet of special application trucks, which include fire tenders and crane trucks among others. The new fire ladder, procured from Finland-based Bronto Skylift Oy Ab, has six-axles out of which two are powered and four are steered. Based on a Mercedes-Benz (6260) truck chassis, the fire ladder (watch out for an exclusive story in October 2015 anniversary issue of CV) weighs well over the 49.2-tonne limit prescribed in the Motor Vehicle Act. Special permission was therefore sought from the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to operate it. The 90 m platform ladder includes electric and diesel operated pumps. A battery operated pump acts as a back-up. Capable of reaching up to 30 floors of a high rise, the 90 m fire ladder was procured at a price of Rs 15 crore. Ironically, this fire ladder is not the first to make it to India. Two similar fire ladders were procured by DLF at Delhi, and have been pressed into service at the DLF properties in the NCR region.

Fire tenders

Playing an important role as special application CVs are fire tenders too. According to Dinesh Waghmare of Pune-based Hi-Tech Services, which specialises in the manufacture of special application trucks, fire tenders have to adhere to high standards of protection and reliable performance. Only if the vehicle subscribes to the guidelines laid down by the government organisation will they be approved by the regional transport authorities. While an important part of Waghmare’s work involves understanding the client’s requirements, fire-tenders, he adds, are based upon operational risk profiling, interoperability and specific user needs across fire and rescue authorities. “Each product has to conform to the National Fire Protection Association safety standards. Water and foam tenders, water bowsers, dry chemical powder tenders and emergency rescue tenders are some of the fire tender types,” he states.

Airport CVs

Over the fire tenders found at various fire stations in the country, the ones at the airport look far different. These include the Rosenbauer Panther 6×6 airport fire tender. Manufactured by Rosenbauer International AG of Austria, it is a common site at the Delhi and Bangalore airports. Powered by a 705hp engine, it can quickly access any part of the airfield while responding to emergencies. The one at Delhi, to combat the winter conditions, is fitted with a ‘Low Visibility Enhanced Vision’ system, guided by a Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR) camera mounted on the cabin roof. The camera provides vision even in a smoky, foggy, or a dark environment up to a distance of 450 m. Built using advanced composite materials, the vehicle has a water capacity of 12,500 litres apart from 1,500 litres of fire retardant foam and 500kg of dry chemicals to fight fire. The vehicle is equipped with a remote controlled roof mounted nozzle which can discharge 6,000 litres per minute in just over two minutes. Industry sources claim that in August 2015, two Panther 6×6 airfield crash fire tenders, built fully on RBI chassis and fitted with Volvo TAD-1662VE six-cylinder engine, were procured. They also claim that in March 2015, an Iveco Magirus turntable ladder for township frame was also procured. Both make typical special application commercial vehicles for use under specific conditions.

Also found at the Delhi airport is a Mercedes-Benz Atego. On it is mounted a turntable ladder bucket crane. Says Raghunandan Jagdish of Nandan Ground Support Equipment Ltd, “We understand the customer needs and provide a solution.” Specialising in the manufacture of aerial lift platforms (bucket lifts) and other special application trucks, Nandan Ground Support Equipment Ltd. pioneered the concept of mobile advertisement platforms. “From an outdoor advertising platform truck, scissor lift mounted sky chef to a scissor lift mounted platform that is used to service or replace ventilation equipment, bulbs, etc., in a tunnel, we make a variety of special application trucks. Most are based on a 16-tonne to 25-tonne chassis,” adds Raghunandan. Truck chassis is procured, and as per the requirements, the trucks may be fitted with an automatic transmission or such other special equipment. “For safety of operation, auto transmission is a mandated standard globally,” states Raghunandan while describing ‘airport’ trucks. Raghunandan adds, “We have known of our scissor lifts being in use for 30 years. It were removed from the old chassis and fitted to a new, less emitting chassis.” Nandan GSE Pvt. Ltd., which is also headed by Raghunandan Jagdish, unveiled the world’s largest hi-lift under order from the Ambassador’s Sky Chef for their operations in Delhi recently. Christened as Catering Titan, it is built on a design under license from Byron Aviation, Australia, on an Eicher 30.25 chassis. The hi-lift has been retrofitted with Allison Automatic Transmission and the rear body is cooled using Carrier Supra refrigeration unit that gets the temperature down to zero-degrees under 15 minutes to maintain the strictest HACCP standards for hygiene. The unit can be used to a platform height of 8300 mm and the entire van body can traverse forward up to 4000 mm. There is a uniquely designed platform that helps open up to 3500 mm from 2500 mm.

One of the important commercial vehicles that ply at the airport is a refuelling truck. Most are built on a Ashok Leyland, Tata, Eicher or Volvo chassis. Engineered to get the right balance between vehicle capacity, flow rate, and fuelling unit configuration, the longer ones are termed as tank trailers. According to the Volvo Eicher spokesperson, special application trucks such as petroleum, oil or lubricant platforms are fitted with aggregates such as ABS, bi-polar electrical wiring harness, battery-cut off switch to enhance operational and on-road safety. Depending on the applications, trucks are required to adhere to mining, CMVR. CCoE regulations, he adds. To ensure safety and avoid any untoward incident, hydrant dispensers play a vital role too. They are designed for airports, and have a hydrant system mounted on a truck (Tata 907 for example). Purpose built by a specialist like Titan Antony, such applications have high flow rates of up to 250 cubic metre per hour.

Those distinct looking buses at many airports in the country are the low-floor Cobus 3000 airport transfer coaches. Wiesbaden-based Contrac Cobus manufactures them. Capable of accommodating up to 112 people, Cobus 3000 is aluminum bodied and based on a Mercedes-Benz BF 30 platform. Powered by a Mercedes-Benz OM 904 LA engine and an Allison automatic transmission, Cobus 3000 is equipped with pneumatic ‘kneeling’ system. The bus measures 14 m in length, and has 14 seats. The rest of the space is earmarked for standees.

Construction & Mining application CV

Move over to the hardy world of construction and infrastructure project sites, and mines, and special application trucks like mining tippers and coal tippers come to mind. The Fuso FJ2528C 6×4 concrete mixer truck for example. Built by Daimler India Commercial Vehicles at Chennai, some 450 trucks were exported to Thailand with a Schwing Stetter concrete mixer as part of the company’s ambitious plan to export world-class trucks from India. The Fuso FJ2528C concrete mixer is finding use in Thailand’s construction equipment industry. While the BharatBenz 3143 deep mining tipper will replace the imported Actros deep mining tipper in the Indian market, the 3143 platform has also sprung a coal tipper with a 32 cubic m. coal body. The 8×4 coal tipper has a 6105 mm wheelbase and is powered by the OM457 315 kW 12-litre engine and a G330 AMT transmission. Having a full length sub-frame that is fixed to the chassis to provide flexibility in the front and extra rigidity at the rear, the 3143 coal tipper is not the only one of its kind. AMW too offers a coal tipper in the form of 3118. Worth mentioning is yet another special application truck from AMW – the 2516 transit mixer. It is a common site at most construction projects in India. May it be the highest tower that is coming up in Mumbai or a highway project, the 2516 is present. A common site is the MAN CLA 8 cubic m. transit mixer too. Not to leave out the Tata LPT 2516, Ashok Leyland 2516 and Mahindra Torro 25 transit mixers. According to the Volvo Eicher spokesperson, tippers, concrete mixers contributed 15 to 20 per cent to the company’s truck volumes for this YTD.

Delving upon special application CVs, Volvo Eicher spokesperson stressed upon user and segment requirements, road and load conditions, etc. These are unique and require special design, development and regulatory approvals, he says. Coal, construction and mining tippers tippers, transit mixers are required to handle rough terrains apart from having to deliver superior mileage and clock maximum uptime. Urbanisation, changing demographics, upcoming economic reforms, infra development projects in the form of smart cities, industrial corridors, modernisation of ports and initiatives like ‘Bharat Nirman’ are expected to provide significant impetus to special application trucks. Mentioned Volvo Eicher spokesperson, that ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government will push the level of indigenisation in defence vehicles higher. It will also provide the needed thrust for local manufacture of defence vehicles.

Defence application

Tata Motors has bagged an order for 1239 6×6 trucks for ‘material handling cranes’, which are used for the loading, unloading and transportation of ammunition pallets, spares and other operational equipment. Beginning with a government policy in 2006, which aimed at cutting down the purchase of imported defence equipment from 65 per cent to 30 per cent, coupled with the need for the defence forces to modernise their equipment, Indian commercial vehicle manufacturers are expected to find new opportunities in the area of defence. Says Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, “Make in India is really applicable in defence vehicles.” He adds that his company wants to export more defence vehicles.” An interesting arrangement in case of addressing some of the defence sector needs is the pact CV makers like Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland have with the Vehicle Factory, Jabalpur (JVF). Tata Motors is supplying 2,500 kits per year to the VFJ to build the LPTA715 4×4. The Ashok Leyland Stallion is also assembled by the VFJ under the aegis of Ordinance Factories Board. Ashok Leyland is known to supply the kit for these trucks.

 0e1291fd-66bf-4e14-9d12-84299052628e_TempSmall

Other application areas

Apart from the various special application areas mentioned above, commercial vehicles also find use as refuse trucks with various governing bodies and municipalities. Special application vehicles on bus or van platforms also include ambulances as special application vehicles. Built for the purpose by companies like Force Motors among others in India, ambulances are often fitted with an array of specialised equipment to transport the critically ill or injured to the hospital safely and securely. When it comes to money, special application vehicles on LCV platforms like the Tata 407, Tata 207 and Tata Xenon are specially built to facilitate the carriage of cash to banks and ATMs apart from accommodating armed personnel. Some of these are also partially armoured or fitted with bullet-proof glass apart from highly secure safes. Also built on LCV chassis are police vehicles that include those that transport prisoners and police officials. Riot control vehicles used by the Police are built on truck chassis (16-tonne to 25-tonne) with an amount of armour. They are also fitted with water cannons. Delhi-based Shri Ganesh Fire Equipments (P) Limited, Vijay Fire Vehicles & Pumps Limited and Brijbasi Hi-Tech Udyog Ltd. are known to build water cannons based on truck chassis of various commercial vehicle manufacturers. Ludhiana-based Pyara Singh & Sons specialises in the building of sweeper machines. It has built sweepers on a truck chassis. Such vehicles find application with municipal bodies as well.

Last but not the least, special
application vehicles also include refrigerated containerised trucks catering to the cold chain industry – Pharma, Dairy, Meat, QSRs (Quick service restaurants), etc. Many companies like Randhawa and HLM India specialise in the manufacture of such vehicles. These companies build refrigerated bodies on truck chassis as diverse as a Tata Ace platform to a 49-tonne tractor trailer. Each area involving special application vehicles is estimated to be worth Rs 6 to Rs 8 crore according to an industry expert. Application areas are numerous, and it is therefore tough to estimate the total special application industry worth. Industry sources are of the opinion that special application vehicle industry is worth a few thousand crores but highly fragmented. It is a mix of locally sourced and imported solutions, which makes it hard to estimate in terms of the overall value. Especially when some applications are repetitive in nature, and some are highly customised. Like the 90 m fire ladder the Mumbai Fire Brigade has just procured.

Scania Metrolink: Adding a new dimension to luxury travel

Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar, Photos : Bhargav TS

The ‘Made in India’ Scania Metrolink HD is a modern and comfortable inter-city coach that utilises technology to make a sustainable business case.

It feels weird at first; the seating position is low. A large windscreen puts it in perspective. It rises to meet the roof like a façade of a modern building, almost vertically. Elephant ear-like protrusions contain the rear-view mirrors as they extend further than the windscreen, at the top, on either sides. While they grant a good view of the sides, a sprawling dashboard seems to declare that this automobile is bigger than the biggest American car money could buy. Costing over a crore Indian rupees, this one’s big. Really big. Measuring a whopping 14.5 m in length, a section of the dash seems to envelope the driver; provide him his space as well as the room to feel comfortable, and in command. The seat is air-suspended, and the steering is adjustable for reach. A small switch on the left column flank operates with a ‘whoosh’ before the column can be moved ahead or pulled back towards the driver. This is made necessary not just to arrive at a good driving position, but also to ensure that the driver can easily exit or enter.

The large diameter multi-function steering wheel matches in scale with the dash, visually speaking that is. Both reflect a high quality of build. Even the bits like the large and easy-to-read instrument panel (with two large and small dials, and an LCD readout at the centre). They form the nerve centre of this modern luxury, inter-city coach from Scania. Arguably the most modern that an operator can lay his hands on, this coach – the Scania Metrolink HD, was introduced at the 2013 Busworld (India) in three variants – a 12 m two-axle coach, and a 13.7 m and 14.5 m multi-axle coach. Until April this year, it was sourced from Scania’s captive coach builder in Malaysia. After the Greenfield facility at Narsapura, Bangalore, went on stream in April (adjacent to Scania’s truck plant), the bus is made in India. The coach body, according to Scania India sources, is 100 per cent localised. The chassis is assembled at the truck plant from components and aggregates sourced from Sweden. An amount of localisation is also finding its way into the chassis. Currently it is at a level where the tyres, batteries, wheels, etc., are sourced locally.

If the high quality of build and fit-finish impresses, sources are quick to state that quality here is guarded like a Swedish fortress. That, robust processes are followed even if it would mean spending some more time to get it right. Hard to fault, the Metrolink HD indeed impresses with its build quality and finish standards. Inside as well as outside. If the coach looks smart and distinct, bringing the front up to speed are the sleek headlamps and a black ‘surround’ that seems to envelope the large screen and the portion at the bottom. The one surrounding the screen has Scania inscribed on it along with the monogram. Capable of seating 53 people in superior comfort levels (seats are from Harita), the sides are made up of bolted or glued aluminium panels that are easy to replace in case of damage. They also contribute to keep the weight down. The bus weighs close to 19,000 kg (GVW). Surrounding the engine area at the rear is a distinctly designed grille. Dominating the rear is a vertical lamp bank, and a stylish window enclosure at the top.

The High-Deck (HD) body is built on a semi-integral chassis. The 410 bhp, 13-litre, six-cylinder, in-line, unit injector, turbo-diesel engine is longitudinally located at the rear. Generating a torque of 2000 Nm @ 1000-1350 rpm, the flow goes to the rear axle (the other axle is a steerable, tag axle) through an 8-speed GRS 875 (Opticruise) automated manual transmission (with retarder). Suspension at either axle is pneumatic, and enables a certain increase in ride height when negotiating unruly speed humps and bad patches. One of the switches that forms the bank to the left of the instrument panel is to activate this function, and is supported by an indication on the dash. Ride height automatically comes back to normal once the obstacle is tackled. To tackle the Indian operating conditions, the suspension, according to Scania sources, has been beefed up. Even certain changes were carried out to the chassis and body to ensure that they can endure the Indian operating conditions.

The two fuel tanks, worth 465-litres, have been relocated to in-front of the rear-axle for safety. Similarly, the battery is placed in an enclosure behind the front-axle. Besides my seat, on the right, is a fire extinguisher. Drivers are trained to use the fire extinguisher before they are allowed to drive the bus. Apart from the use of fire-extinguishers, drivers at the Scania driver training academy, undergo a four-day programme. They are taught to drive efficiently and scientifically; carry out minor repairs like belt change, tyre change, etc., and learn to read the error codes so that they can communicate easily with Scania service in case of a breakdown.

The optional fire suppression system, which sprays foam in nanoseconds after detecting fire, and which usually originates in the engine chamber, has not yet been bought by any Scania client. The company sources are hoping that the government makes it mandatory. Each pillar has bright red-coloured hammer fixed on it to facilitate the breaking of glass in case of an emergency. Some competitors are known to mark one of the many window glasses as an emergency exit. On this buses either glass can be broken. An emergency exit door, like in an aircraft, is also provided. Made aware of the nitty-gritties, it is now time to step on the gas. This is facilitated by turning the knob on the multi-function stalk to the right of the steering column into ‘D’. ‘D’ engages power. There are only two pedals – brake and accelerator pedal. The knob also has ‘N’ (for neutral), and ‘R’ (for reverse) written on it. A far-cry from the manual transmission found on some of the other luxury, inter-city coaches, a press button at the edge of this stalk enables to choose ‘Auto’ or ‘Manual’ mode, and is marked as A/M. In manual mode, every uplift of the stalk gets the transmission into a higher cog. Alternatively, the transmission will shift at redline.

Push the stalk down, and the transmission downshifts. Release the parking brake, situated to the right of the instrument panel, and press the accelerator. Like a gentle giant, the coach silently takes off. With hardly any engine noise reaching thus far, the only medium to know what’s going on is the instrument panel. If this marks the difference between buses built on truck chassis with the engine at front, and modern ones with the engine at the rear, the tacho needle moves up and even before one is aware, the transmission has shifted from 2nd to 4th. No jerk, or any sign of trepidation whatsoever.

The only reminder for what otherwise feels like driving a car, is the size and the mass of this bus. It’s big. It is, in fact, one of the longest buses currently available in India. I am seated ahead of the front axle. The position is in-line with the fact that a bus should dedicate maximum amount of space to its occupants. The seats on this bus are the most comfortable one could buy. There’s however a choice for the buyer on which seats he could opt for. Going down a slope the need for the exhaust brake arises; it is one of the buttons on the switch bank to the left of the instrument panel. A tiny flip switch on the gearshift stalk has already been turned to ‘1’. The retarder will engage every time brakes are applied. I don’t need to pull the stalk towards me every time I have to engage the retarder.

It does not take much to reach speeds in the region of 100 kmph on the highway. Speed, on this bus, is limited to 100 kmph. A sticker clearly mentions it on the dash. Laced with an understanding of ergonomics, driver comfort and much of what would make the driver drive safe, this bus, no doubt, marks an amalgamation of modern technology and a promising business proposition. Seeming to wrap around the driver, though not quite like a sports car, the Metrolink HD feels equally at home on a narrow stretch of road. Perhaps an outcome of the fact that this coach provides a pliant ride over a variety of surfaces, and the driver a good view of the surrounding. The steerable tag axle at the rear aids manoeuvring. Use of manual mode also enables better control over narrow, and congested roads. Auto mode is not bad either, and it finally is about what makes the driver feel in command, state Scania sources.

Every manoeuvre is reminding me of how comfortable, and manageable this bus is, to drive, and on a variety of roads – wide or narrow; straight or fairly twisty. Given its length (turning radius is close to 12,000 mm), this luxury coach will not make a suitable productivity tool for an operator in the hilly regions of the north, or over the twisty back roads of Konkan. It is a long-legged highway animal, and will be at home on a modern, four-lane highway rather than a single-lane highway like the one that goes to Shimla. For highways like the one that goes to Shimla, the 12 m two-axle luxury variant would be suitable. Back to the 13.7 m and 14.5 m multi-axle design, and it is clear that the Metrolink HD facilitates the carriage of people in superior comfort.

At the end of the drive, Scania sources mention that one bus per day is currently made at the Greenfield site. Perhaps, in-line with the fact that the market amounts to less than 1,000 units per annum. As demand picks up, the number will be hiked to two per day. As of now, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation orders are being catered to. The next dispatches are expected to be to Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC). The bus that I just drove is set to leave for Kerala. It will undergo trials at the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. It came back a couple of days ago from Kerala after conducting trails with a private operator there. Aiming at public as well as private operators, it is clear that Scania is here for a long-haul. It is here to work closely with the CV market and address its need for a sustainable and profitable solution. An effort in this direction would also include the Ethanol-powered city bus plying at Nagpur. With an aim to introduce bio-gas propelled city bus, Scania got Swedfund to invest in India for local production of bio-gas from urban waste. In view of such developments, the Metrolink HD luxury inter-city coach reflects the abilities of its manufacturer. It also reflects the desire to provide a modern coach; a coach that is comfortable and safe. What counts most is that the Metrolink HD is made in India.

Mahindra Jeeto: Sound Contender

Article by: Anirudh Raheja, Photos by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

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

The name Jeeto signifies ‘Go out and win’ in Hindi. Marking the arrival of a new cargo platform, the Jeeto measures 3281 mm, 3431 mm and 3581 mm in length (more on this later), and 1485 mm in width. A soft, rounded front gives the vehicle a modern look. Contributing towards it is the pseudo grille and lamps that are set into a recess. Turn indicators are a part of the head lamp assembly, and gives an impression of being ‘projector lamps’. A high bumper below sports a large air dam with a honey comb grille. If the quarter glass and a step at the bottom of the windshield presents the Jeeto with a cab-forward stance (folks at Mahindra call it as semi-forward), it also hints at clever packaging. For its width, the cabin of the Jeeto is surprising spacious enough to seat two, and without feeling cramped. There’s good shoulder room, headroom and legroom in supply. The dash is plain Jane and could do with a dark shade. The light grey shade looks prone to staining and soiling. The oval shaped instrument panel seems inspired by that of the Nano, and is placed behind the wheel. The wheel is not exactly round, and hints at an amount of effort paid to add a touch of style. It is good to grip, and the ergonomics on the whole have been well worked out. Even getting in and out is easy. The door opening is fairly wide, and the large windshield offers a good view ahead. The driver’s seat may seem a bit upright at first, but it feels comfortable on the go. The dash mounted gear level is easy to reach and makes driving the Jeeto easy. ELR seat belts ather parts of the world.[7] Polar deserts cover much of the ice free areas of the arctic and

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.

Last mile connectivity, and ride and handling

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.

Global Desi

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.

38ee3fc4-a205-4df4-bc5d-adc146081bec_TempSmall

Going green

Bookmark and Share
Article by: Anirudh Raheja

The focus on emission control technologies is growing, especially in the case of commercial vehicles.

A 54-year old truck operator, Satpal Singh is a worried man. Operating a 11-year old Tata 1618 truck to ferry goods from Delhi to Mumbai and back, Satpal Singh’s only source of livelihood looks like is in danger. The National Green Tribunal recently issued orders to ban diesel vehicles aged over 10 years from plying in Delhi citing their ability to pollute. Satpal Singh is one of the many truckers who are suddenly finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Their means of livelihood seems to be caught in the cross currents of the polluted air that is claimed to induce many ailments respiratory or otherwise in the Delhi population. In its report released last year, WHO named Delhi as one of the most polluted cities in the world. The advantage derived by the conversion of all public transport vehicles, an estimated 1,00,000, to CNG following an Apex court order in 1998 seems to have been lost. The suspended particulate matter in Delhi region is claimed to be nearing the 1995 levels, which led to the first generation emission reforms steered by the judiciary.

Judiciary driven reforms are welcome, as are also those enforced by the executive. The need to go green cannot be refuted. However, it needs to be backed by a long-term plan that is all inclusive and an outcome of a deep understanding of the technologies that are instrumental in helping to build sustainable, environment friendly automobiles. Speaking at an event in Mumbai in February 2015, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping said, “Pollution is a big problem for all Indian cities. Second, we are importing petroleum products, coal and gas, and are spending a lot in doing so. Our government is working closely on assessing the reach of biofuels and other sustainable fuels. The first bus using ethanol has been plying in Nagpur for the past three months, and it has been a success till now. We are also in the process of experimenting with biodiesel and bio-CNG. It is that time for the economy and country, when we should give the highest priority to alternative and sustainable fuels. In all this, we also want to promote our ‘Make in India’ campaign and utilise the home-grown technical know how to meet our demands.”

The ethanol powered bus from Scania has been plying in Gadkari’s constituency, Nagpur, since November 2014. Another 55 such buses are claimed to have been ordered by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation. A modern, air-conditioned low-floor design, the ethanol bus is Euro-V emission regulations compliant. Bharat Stage (BS) emission standards are closely modelled on the European (Euro) emission standards, the difference limited to some test cycles. Until the implementation of BS III, Indian emission standards followed the Euro standards fairly closely. That was until April 2010. However, since then the gap has been widening. Euro-VI emission norms rolled out in Europe in September 2014. In India, BS IV emission standards were rolled out in 13 cities including the National Capital Region (NCR) at around the same time. The nationwide roll out of BS IV emission standards is yet to take place. This is claimed to have happened because the state owned refineries were finding it difficult to supply the required quality of fuel to regions other than the 13 cities. At an event organised by CV magazine in Mumbai in January 2015, Vinod K Dasari, MD, Ashok Leyland Ltd, said, “It is not the (auto) industry that is lacking in terms of technology, the need is for quicker implementation from the government.” He added,“Nobody is saying no to change. In the next two-to-three years, the regulatory changes will start. We have been supplying BS-IV compliant vehicles in 13 cities, so it is more about the nationwide availability of BS-IV fuel. This will cost the government a capex of Rs.50,000 crores.” Explained a Society of India Automotive Manufacturers (SIAM) official, that even though India is all set to witness nationwide BS-IV emission norms implementation, automakers have been asking for the roll out of BS V emission norms by 2019. The timeline slated for BS V roll-out was earlier 2020. 

Industry is keen

Ambuj Sharma, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises is known to have said that the government is gearing up to hold discussions with all stakeholders to decide on BS-VI emission standards roll out. Industry leaders seem keen. The industry will however need to make the necessary investment, upgrade their facilities and reach out. Stated Friedrich Boecking, Regional President, Diesel Systems, Bosch, that enough time for development is required if the industry needs to move from BS-V to BS-VI norms. It will take some time for vehicle and engine manufacturers to develop technology specific to Indian roads and driving patterns. This concerns vehicles – commercial vehicles especially, that run on diesel fuel. The Euro V emission compliant Scania city bus in Nagpur runs on ED 95 grade of Ethanol. The BYD city bus at Bangalore runs on electricity; is a zero emissions vehicle. It was during the Commonwealth Games at Delhi in 2010, that Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland supplied six and two CNG hybrid buses respectively. Ashok Leyland is planning to launch the Versa electric bus in India as part of its Optare product portfolio.

The right time

Industry experts are of the opinion that now is the right time to move to a higher emission standards. Oil prices are at a lower level than they were last year. Crude oil prices are still hovering around the USD 60 per barrel mark. When the fuel prices bounce back, it will prove to be beneficial, they claim further. Despite the auto industry willing to roll out vehicles with appropriate technology quickly, the challenge is likely to be at the refinery stage, where large investments may be needed to turn out fuel with an even lower content of Sulphur. Sulphur content in BS V is 10 ppm. In BS IV fuel it is 50 ppm, and in BS IV+ fuel it is 40 ppm. To curb pollution there is a need to move up to BS V emission standard swiftly. Also, since India has been following the Euro emission standards with a time lag, adapting or application engineering products that are already available in the European markets may be useful, without investing heavily, and in a manner that is time consuming. In fact, OEMs and their suppliers are keeping a close eye on the possible developments. Expressed James Verrier, President and CEO, BorgWarner, “Technologies that have been successfully applied in Europe will find their way to India. In the next couple of years, BorgWarner will launch derivatives of such products, which will undergo application engineering, testing and validation at the local level.” Averred Oerlikon chief executive officer of drive systems, Dr. Bernd Matthes, “Frugal engineering will be a part of our approach for expansion in India. Moving forward we will also open our engineering centre in India to ensure that we tailor our products for specific requirements of the market and customise them.”

In pursuit of clean air

If the successful conversion of Delhi’s city buses to CNG, and also those that run in Mumbai is an indication, it is not the dearth of technology or its application that is stalling the move to more stringent emission standards in a pursuit for cleaner air. It is also not that the auto industry is not willing. In fact, the Indian auto industry is more than willing. It will however have to be taken into confidence before the decision to move up is taken. Remarked Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director, CVBU, Tata Motors, “Our Jamshedpur plant is currently manufacturing vehicles complying to BS IV emission standards. It can be fully geared up to manufacture vehicles complying with BS V and BS VI emission standards when required in the future.” A big change to BS V and BS VI emission standards will mark a move to SCR systems, and bring into play additional componentry and associated costs. Not a deterrent for Indian OEMs in any way; many of them are exporting Euro V and Euro VI emission compliant commercial vehicles. At the 2014 Hannover show, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles displayed a Euro V FUSO FJ 2528 R truck that is made at its Chennai plant. Opined Erich Nesselhauf, CEO and MD, DICV, “We are capable of manufacturing Euro IV to Euro VI emission compliant vehicles in India. The question is, what do we want? Since India has more engineers, it is time that some innovative technologies come out of India rather than merely following the developed markets.” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, expressed the need to replace old commercial vehicles with new, more cleaner and efficient vehicles to curb rising pollution levels.

Alternate technologies

Dr. Bernhard’s comment puts the spotlight on modern commercial vehicles. Diesel powered or those that are powered by other means. To turn the ethanol dream into practicality, Scania has been helping the local manufacture of ethanol from molasses as well as farm waste. Scania has been pushing for biogas powered commercial vehicles as a way to greener environment. While Bangalore Municipal Transport Corporation sources claim that the BYD bus has come with a guarantee of 10-years of battery life, industry sources claimed that electric vehicles may not work out to be as effective as say the ethanol powered bus. Electric vehicles are also claimed to come with a baggage. The baggage of electricity they consume being produced by thermal plants that are considered to be one of the most polluting. But, then the availability of CNG is limited to a few cities. Ethanol is not commercially available yet. As part of its commitment towards ethanol and biogas commercial vehicles, Scania recently announced that in association with the development financier of the Swedish state, Swedfund, it is establishing a partnership to develop the production of biogas as an automotive fuel in the Indian city of Nagpur. The biogas will be produced from digested sludge from one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants in collaboration with local companies. Nagpur is participating in the Indian Government’s initiative to improve the environment and transport systems in the country’s 100 largest cities. According to Industry experts, India occupies third place in terms of global carbon dioxide emissions, and these emissions are expected to double in the next few decades. In line with the country’s continued urbanisation, the quantity of waste produced in the cities is also increasing.

The Indian Government is working actively to improve the environment and accessibility in 100 large cities in the country. The initiative is called Smart Cities, and for the same, the government has approached international companies that would invest in technologies and systems that can promote the development of sustainable cities. Sources close to Scania said that the production of biogas from waste in major cities and residual products from agriculture represents an important part of the solution to India’s problems with air pollution, waste management and the cost of imported energy. Outlining his company’s plan, Anders Grundstromer, MD, Scania India, on the sidelines of the bus plant inauguration at Bangalore said, “Once we are able to produce Ethanol ED 95 in India from agricultural waste, we will also be focusing on wet ethanol. With 95 per cent ethanol and 5 per cent ignition improver, we can reduce CO2 emission by 90 per cent when compared to a diesel bus”. 

Supporting infrastructure

Adoption of alternate propulsion technologies is made successful only by the supply of the required infrastructure. Simply OEMs cannot make it successful. Nor just the suppliers and other elements of the auto industry. For use in diesel commercial vehicles, Castrol recently responded with a Vecton RX fuel saver oil, developed especially for Tata Motors. The lube promises a long drain interval and a reduction in hydrocarbons. Shell also launched Rimula T5 E 10W-30 engine oil in association with Tata Motors. It is of the semi synthetic variety, and promises better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Nitin Prasad, Managing Director, Shell Lubricants India, said, “As we move through generations of emission standards from Euro II to VI, there has been a huge change in the level of collaboration required between engine makers, OEMs and lubricant manufacturers. We need to have end-to-end solutions and everything has to start at the initiation of the design stage rather than at the end of it.” Aware that the need for new technologies will emerge over time, suppliers are focusing on their ability to respond quickly. They are thus adopting lateral measures for expansion.

Dr. Wilfried Aulber, MD and CEO, Roland Berger, opined that it is important for them (suppliers) to stay focused as there is still scope of improvement at Tier 2 level of component manufacturers. “It is true that OEMs should demand products that make them stay ahead of the curve yet understand their needs when it comes to expanding horizons. Component manufacturers in India are not lagging behind in terms of technology, and are in fact fully geared up to serve demand for high end products,” he added. The valve train parts Ghaziabad Precision Products supplies to Volvo Eicher Powertrain find use in Euro V and Euro VI engines of 5-litre and 8-litre capacity. These engines are exported to various Volvo locations around the globe. Sourcing parts locally for Euro VI compliant engine made at the Pithampur plant has been helping the Volvo Group to cut down costs by 25 per cent as against the costs it would incur at Europe.

With a supporting infrastructure, which could be in the form of an ethanol production facility, a clean electricity source, appropriate technology providers, lubricant providers, etc., the need, claim industry experts, is to ensure a complete deployment of emission standards across the country rather than in a phased manner. Low sulphur fuel is expected to be available by 2017. Until then, the full potential of emission technologies as well as that of the regulations may not realise. Not to the fullest. It is actually the government that will have to drive the change. It has initiated measures like National Air Quality Index to create awareness in people against rising pollution. However that is not enough. The need is to uniformly roll out emission norms without losing site of the advantages alternate technologies offer. The need is also for the government to install the necessary infrastructure. Only then will the term ‘Going Green’ will have found the right mention.