Tata Signa: Next big move

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The Signa marks an interesting and cost effective facelift of the highly popular LPT, LPS or LPK range of trucks from Tata Motors

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Photos: Ashish Bhatia

The LPT, LPS or LPK range of trucks from Tata Motors are extremely popular with operators; albeit in the form of a construction tipper or a haulage truck in the 25- to 49-tonne category. On any National Highway in India, chances are that every third heavy-duty truck is a LPT (also referred to as the Legacy range). The unique identification feature of this truck is its fully built cabin. Examples include the LPT 4018 or LPT 4923 tractor. The two tractors among themselves are known to command over 70 per cent of the market in Rajasthan, which is also India’s largest tractor trailer market. Even in the construction and mining tipper segment, the LPK range enjoys much popularity. At the forefront when it comes to word of mouth publicity, and not without a reason, the Legacy range is the main stay of Tata Motors’ Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicle (M&HCV) segment. It is the bread and butter earner. Upgrading itself continuously without losing sight of the operator, the Legacy range has made the next big move, and is now called the Signa.

Signa calling

Work on the Signa, according to Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, began three to four years ago. Coming at a nominal cost increase, the Signa was born out of the need to upgrade the cabin so that the product would be ready for the next 10 years. Pisharody mentioned, “In the main segment of 25- to 49-tonne, and what we would call as our main platform earlier, we also felt the need to bring the earlier nomenclatures like 4923 or 4018 under a brand. Thus was born the Signa. The cabin on this truck is equal or better than most other cabins available. What better, the upgrade comes at a nominal cost increase. The value will be much more. The powertrain has not changed, and the Signa will have telematics 100 per cent.”

One look at the Signa, and the connection with the LPT cabin is apparent at once. Painted in an attractive shade of orange, the Signa definitely looks modern than the LPT would. If the rake of the pillars and the large windshield indicate the presence of an LPT cabin, the application of composite panels with a brushed-aluminium lookalike embellishment and wind channels at the respective corners firmly point at a significant visual and functional change. They are also light in weight. If the metal cabin presents the operator the advantage of lower repair costs without compromising safety, the chunky metal bumper below houses modern clear lens headlamp and turn indicator assemblies. “We resorted to a metal bumper because of the feedback we received from the operators. It is a three piece design to facilitate easy repairs and replacement in case of damage,” explained Dr. A K Jindal. The chunky bumper with headlamp assemblies in it looks inspired by that of the Prima. The design of the composite panels (including the mesh grille) was also done in a way such that they would flaunt the Tata business look.

Walk over, and the plastic wheel arch cladding draws attention. Also evident are the heightened levels of fit and finish. Panel gaps are tighter and even. Averred Dr. Jindal, “The challenge was to execute changes without changing the BIW. Tools and dies were changed to arrive at tighter panels gaps. The door toolings were changed to incorporate double sealing qualities.” Climb aboard the two point suspended (non-tiltable) cabin, and the composite dashboard draws attention. It is an indication of the rising use of plastics, and looks quite modern. Look around, and the surrounding trim is as modern. Even the moulded roof panel, composite door panels, and the seats with integrated headrests. The seats, said Dr. Jindal, reflect a new signature. They are also found on the Ultra. The driver’s seat is suspended. To cut down NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness), the cabin was effectively insulated (and sealed).

Frugal engineering

Retaining existing nomenclatures like 4923 or 4018, the Signa makes an interesting example of frugal engineering. Mentioned Pisharody, “The Signa looks on par with the current products. Many of our competitors are new while we have been in the market for 60 years. A need for upgrade was therefore felt. The Prima could not have taken the place of the Signa because of the bells and whistles it offers. Prima’s cabin is heavier, and it is possible that buyers may not prefer it in the interest of the cost of operation. The Signa will take care of the products like the 3118 that has had good cabin sales. With a phased rollout of the Signa planned, and in line with the segments where cabin sales range from high to low, the Signa retains the mechanicals of the LPT range. The engine is a Cummins ISBe 5.9-litre unit governed electronically or mechanically. Electronic governance will take precedence once BS VI emission norms are enforced pan-India in 2017. As of now, the 2518.K, for example, comes with a 180 PS mechanically governed BS III compliant engine. The 4923.S comes with an electronically governed 230 PS engine. Transmission is Tata’s own 9-speed G1150 design. The rear axle on the 6×4 4923.S tractor is a single reduction RA109SRT unit.

Behind the wheel

Behind the wheel, the first impression is that of space. Signa’s cabin is spacious. According to Dr. Jindal, it is the widest in the segment. The suspended seat helps to arrive at a commanding driving position. The modern surrounding has an ‘uplifting’ effect. As the engine wakes up, not much noise intrudes into the cabin. revealing at once that the effect of insulating the cabin is successful. With the air-conditioning on, and the windows rolled up, conversation is easily accomplished. The suspended seat also adds to the comfort levels. For someone who is going to spend active years of his life behind the wheel of such a truck travelling the length and breath of the country, or ferrying overburden out of mines, it is absolutely necessary that the cabin is a comfortable and pleasant place to be in. Fitting the bill, the Signa’s cabin also translates into safety. It is capable of supporting higher productivity and faster turnaround time. The focus of the work, explained Dr. Jindal, was on the driver being able to clock faster turnaround times and achieve higher productivity.

Behind the wheel, as I work through the lower range of ratios, and then tap the lever to move into the higher range, the difference is palpable. As the engine revs up to put out the animal-like torque, the difference in the tipper cabin, which is a day cabin, is obvious. The rise in refinement levels are apparent. It is clear, that without losing sight of the dandy nature of the LPT cabin, the team at Tata Motors has subtly brought about a big change. The modern looking instrument cluster is easy to read past the large rim diameter two-spoke steering wheel. Employing parabolic leaf springs and bogie suspension, the 4923.S tractor presents an idea of how the market is shifting to higher tonnage vehicles. Both, the 4923.S and the 3118.T rigid haulage truck are equipped with a sleeper cabin. The cabin of the 4923.S, considering its nature of use, contains two sleeper bunks to support continuous operation. It can thus clock faster turnaround time. Large glass area ensures good visibility all round.

Long live the legacy

Set to replace the Legacy range, the Signa marks a significant achievement. Without touching the driveline or the mechanicals of the LPT, LPS or LPK range of trucks, which have come to be the main stay of Tata Motors, and are the preferred choice of the operators, the Signa has incorporated modernity; is capable of delivering higher productivity and efficiency.

Technology & Innovation in the CV Sector

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The second panel discussion focused on technology and innovation in the CV sector.

Responding to VG Ramakrishnan’s question on the move up to BS VI, Vinod K. Dasari mentioned that they came to know of the developments from the media first. He stated that as part of SIAM they have met the (minister) many times. “The industry’s position is that we will always meet whatever regulations that are there in the country. We have consistently adopted regulations faster than any other country in the world.” mentioned Dasari. “In Europe, the migration from Euro IV to V took about five years; from Euro V to VI it took about six years. Some countries have gone from Euro IV to VI in 10 years, some have taken 12 years to get there. The commercial vehicle industry in India is being asked to do it in three years. It needs to be considered that the duty cycle (in India) is different; the driving cycle is different,” Dasari explained. Mentioning that what is there in Europe cannot be simply cut and pasted here, Dasari expressed that a lot of work needs to be done in the next few years. Questioning the availability of fuel by 2020, he averred, “People say that Tata, Mahindra and Ashok Leyland do not have Euro IV technology. We have it since 2010. We are not offering it here because there is no fuel available. The petroleum industry is now saying they will make fuel available for Euro V from 2020, which is the same fuel for Euro VI. I think we are making emotional decisions. If there were Euro VI in India today, trucks would be actually purifying the air,” he added.

Industry ready

Mentioned Erich Nesselhauf that rather than worry about the industry’s readiness it is necessary to find out if the infrastructure is there. “Without infrastructure (fuel) it would not work. Also, if we would decide to scrap old vehicles not more than 15, and more than 10 years, there would be a lot of movement,” Nesselhauf said. He opined that there was a need for the government to tell before hand since there’s also the issue of finance. Offering a media perspective, Bhushan Mhapralkar expressed that suppliers have been closely working with OEMs on Euro IV and Euro V projects. The products are exported by Indian OEMs. Dasari exclaimed, “Expecting suppliers to invest will not be an issue in case of the move up to Euro VI. The question will be when. If the fuel is available and the oil industry invests Rs. 30,000 crore to reach that level, there will be tremendous pressure on ministry of road and transport to make sure that the auto industry moves up to Euro VI. The Supreme Court banned diesel vehicles. I thought about the data that was provided. To stop pollution, the need is to stop polluting vehicles. There’s no point in stopping a (BS IV emission compliant) vehicle, which has the lowest emission in Delhi. Unless the industry moves to Euro VI therefore, such emotive decisions will be made.”

Teaming up for technology

Avinash Belgamwar suggested a need to team up and develop a technology that will give substantial returns. Ramashankar Pandey averred that the industry has done a good job in the past; has done the norms as per the requirement. He called for a need to debate publicly; for the industry to reach out to the judiciary and the politicians. Stating that it is they who are much more responsible for purifying the air, Pandey opined that a business case of technology and innovation has to come through communication.

Cost implications

On the issue of technology and costs, Nesselhauf expressed that connected vehicles will dot the future. He drew attention to the use of electronics in transmission, which helps it to anticipate a slope and change gear automatically. Nesselhauf opined that more electronics will find its way into CVs. Stated Dasari, that if the price goes up (because of technology) and the (buyer) does not see return on investment he will not buy. Pricing will be set by the market. If everyone’s cost goes up, the price will increase. “The after treatment of Euro VI costs more than the engine. It’s not going to come for free. Some of the cost increases will have to be absorbed because of market considerations, and margins will thus come down. The other alternative would be to increase the price. The operator will charge a higher freight rate,” he explained.

Effect of Euro VI on the independent aftermarket

Responding to VG Ramakrishnan’s query on the effect of Euro VI on the independent aftermarket, Nesselhauf said, “The aftermarket will find it difficult.” Dasari, at the other end, stated that there are many technologies that are available. I would like to break them in two categories. One is the list of technologies that will come because of regulation. The likes of bus body, crash worthiness, etc. There will be technologies that the customer will choose. The likes of telematics, remote diagnostics and prognostics. In India, customers are extremely value conscious. They will choose it only if it reduces the total cost of operation, or provide benefits that can be monetised. Opined Pandey, that there is a need to educate the customer in the use of technology, for him to make a business case out of it. “Educate the customer and he will come asking for it,” he mentioned.

Technology evolution and value addition

While Avinash Belgamwar stressed upon an opportunity for technology like ‘connected vehicles’ to play an important role, Nesselhauf expressed, “Over technologies that help connect the smart phone to the vehicle’s computer and retrieve data what a customer wants is to know when he could pick up the load; the position of his truck, and what is the fuel efficiency it is delivering. There will be a need to reduce the vehicle weight; remove 1000kg per tonne.

On future technologies that will add value, Dasari said, “Technologies applied in India will not be the same. In the case of GPS, a new way of employing the technology has been devised by issuing an SMS the moment the driver drives past a mobile tower indicating his position. There’s no need for a smart phone. We will continue to compete in the world with the same level of regulations or norms at substantially lower costs driven by value conscious customers.”

Change is constant

Connecting the need for technology and innovation to an extremely challenging environment, Nesselhauf expressed that there’s always this thing about ‘if we made it someone else can’. Pandey drew attention to the digitisation of technology. He chose to connect it with the pace of change. While Pandey stressed upon the need to retain drivers and care for them and their families, Dasari stated that he has great belief in the Indian supply chain. “When faced with a challenge, suppliers are certain to come up with a creative way, which is often dismissed as ‘Jugaad’. It is not ‘Jugaad’ when the same level of regulations are achieved in an inexpensive manner,” Dasari averred. Responding to VG Ramakrishnan’s question on investment in technologies that have enhanced safety, Pandey said, “We have worked with most OEMs in pursuit of the product of the future. On the volume count, we are not looking at one player to finance it. We are investing in standard products that can be mass customised; can have a different signature for different customers, and yet have the same core.”

Going electric and devising new ways to devising smarter CVs

On electric CVs, Dasari mentioned that no where in the world has an electric bus been sustainable from a business economic standpoint unless there is a state funding. “If our government is serious and wants to fund a certain element of it, there will be a lot more growth coming in for electric buses.” “Electric buses cost substantially more than a normal bus,” he added. Expressed Belgamwar that electric is not the future because of the cost of replacement. “Hydrogen, I think, holds promise. He drew attention to work being carried out on feeding hydrogen and oxygen as a combination; have only oxygen and not air as an intake to arrive at a exhaust-less vehicle. Averred Bhushan, that as a CV magazine their rendezvous with technology during the past one year has been in the area of telematics, AMT and alternate fuel as well as smarter vehicles, which have more electronics in them; offer higher level of comfort and pride of ownership, enabling the operator to conduct business in a profitable manner.

Said Nesselhauf, that electric vehicles will dot the future, what with the capacity of solar panels going up every year and their price coming down. “Talk about city transportation, and about covering 150 to 200 km per day, it is simply amazing. It is easy and convenient. Another five years, and we will see them on the road,” he mentioned.

Dasari pointed out at alternative fuels like CNG, LNG, bio-fuel and ethanol. “Alternative fuels are evolving, and they are available in India and would therefore work out to be cheaper. To make them work and achieve Euro VI could be another avenue of technology,” he said. “As SIAM president, I would like to mention that the auto industry generates 30 billion jobs. A third of the manufacturing GDP comes from auto; more than 10 per cent of the R&D happens in the auto industry. However, if there’s a traffic jam, accident, or air pollution it is the auto industry that is blamed.” added Dasari. Drawing attention to the Delhi Government sponsored IIT Delhi study done prior to the court visit, Dasari remarked, “The auto industry generates less than 20 per cent pollution, of which 15 per cent comes from cars. That makes it 3 per cent. In the wake of the move to take the least polluting car and ban it, I think the auto industry needs to wake up; do things pro-actively and collectively.” He concluded, “Our focus on competing with each other doesn’t mean that we form a cartel. It could instead mean improving the image of the industry.”

Vinod K. Dasari, MD, Ashok Leyland

Avinash Belgamwar, MD, Nextmotive Motors Pvt. Ltd.

Erich Nesselhauf, MD & CEO, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles

Ramashankar Pandey, MD, Hella India Lighting Ltd.

Bhushan Mhapralkar, Editor, Commercial Vehicle

Moderator:

VG Ramakrishnan, MD, Aventeum Advisors LLP

CV sector growth in 2016

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The first of the two panel discussions focused on the growth the CV sector will experience in 2016.

Satish Sharma set the tone for the discussion by stressing upon deficient monsoon in FY15 and FY14. Stating that the rainfall in Chennai was a deluge, Sharma drew attention to the incremental optimism seen in the market. Pointing at mining and road infra beginning to show up, he expressed that bank credit continues to be in the region of seven to eight per cent. “It needs to climb up to 14-15 per cent. Capacity is being put back by three years; the forming of the new capex cycle is still to happen, and the story is yet to play out. The consumption story has to play out. Whether the government is going to spend or the public is going to start consuming first, I think both of it should happen at some point in time,” mentioned Sharma. Stating that the M&HCV space is operating on a low base, Sharma opined that the LCV story is clearly negative, and reflects on an entire value chain that is not sequential. “It is a cause for worry,” he added.

Touching upon HCV segment revival, Nalin Mehta said that the replacement demand will continue and is likely to include pre-buying on account of regulatory expenses and cost increases. He added that fleet utilisation is improving, and the need is to wait and watch. Said Kaushik Madhavan, that there is optimism, and the driver for continued growth is likely to be the demand for last mile connectivity. Last mile connectivity, he expressed, will drive LCV growth. Pegging domestic sales at around 3000 units, which is about eight to nine per cent more than current, Madhavan drew attention to exports. He stated that they are likely to be around 12-14 per cent, and amount to a little over 100,000 units, which is good.

Speaking on freight trends, Rajinder Singh Sachdeva expressed that freight index has not seen much uptake in the last two years. He mentioned, “Every diesel price reduction led to one per cent profitability for the fleet owner. The Government is however not passing on the benefit of fuel price decrease. While the overloading ban has helped, the negative part is an increase in operational costs due to regulatory norms and toll taxes.” Stating that competition from railways has increased, Sachdeva remarked, “The industry is bracing up to compete with waterways, and there’s improvement in overall efficiency of transportation. There is hope, but the emergence of e-commerce, is exerting cost pressure at the OEM and fleet level.”

In response to Ramakrishnan’s mention of four pillars of growth, government initiatives on road infra, and a significant reduction in international crude prices, Dr. A K Jindal mentioned that there is optimism in the case of coal mines and infrastructure expenditure. He remarked that the effect is yet to be felt at a level where it will reflect growth. Stressing on an overall improvement in freight efficiency, Dr. Jindal opined that professionally managed logistics companies are seeking more profits by better utilising their fleet. He stressed upon fuel efficiency being dear to operators as it accounts for almost 50 per cent of the overall cost despite softening of diesel prices. Drawing attention to rising focus on safety, weight reduction, and higher load carrying capability, Dr. Jindal stated that these factors are influencing the design of trucks and their operation.

Stating that growth is visible after a long time, Nalin Mehta mentioned that the overall environment is cautious and private investment is not coming through. He expressed, “A lot of capacity was quickly installed when India was shining. Today, capacities are under-utilised, and discounting is a reflection of that.” Private investment may not be coming soon till other signs of the government stabilise, including the picking up of the convergence story, he added. In response to Ramakrishnan’s question about running on two cylinders out of the four, Mehta averred, “There’s good optimism on account of some of the fundamentals falling in place.” “No private investment proposal is pending. I would give it another two years before we see a very good time,” he mentioned.

Stating that 2011 was the best year for the CV industry post the recession of FY09 when the market halved to half a billion vehicles, Rajinder Singh Sachdeva mentioned that almost 29 per cent of the CVs in 2009 were above 31-tonne. The number has risen to 57 per cent since, he said. “In light- and medium-duty, it has risen to 47 per cent from 29 per cent in the above 12-tonne category,” mentioned Sachdeva. Stating that in (6×6 and 8×4) tippers, the count has gone up from 57 per cent in 2009 to 75 per cent, Sachdeva said that preference for heavier vehicles is on the rise, and has led to better operating efficiency. “In buses, there has been 18-19 per cent growth. Light- and Medium-duty buses have taken over because of city congestion, and the need for fuel efficient vehicles,” explained Sachdeva. He opined that buyers have become alert because of the talk of end-of-life, and are becoming more organised, efficient, and productivity is turning out to be key factor.

Echoing Sachdeva’s observation about a segment shift towards higher tonnage, Mehta expressed that there is higher emphasis on reliability and efficiency. “Transporter is learning a new way of dealing with this. There is last mile distribution, there is rural demand, there is semi-urban demand. The hub and spoke model is taking off even without the GST,” Mehta remarked. He added, “Once GST comes in, and the states are intelligent enough to not circumvent certain barriers, the (industry) will take off.” Adding a technology edge to the discussion on segment shift, Dr. Jindal stated that the 49-tonne tractor-trailer is today the biggest loading segment. It wasn’t there during the last two years. Also, pressure against overloading is on the rise. The demand for lower kerb weight is on the rise therefore,” he mentioned. Dr. Jindal drew attention to the rise in use of composites. This will lead to a big shift in the design of vehicles, he said. Dr. Jindal also drew attention to the emergence of autonomous vehicles, and the introduction of safety features like lane departure warning. He averred that with safer driving environment, it will be easier to cut down weight and increase the overall efficiency of freight. Sachdeva expressed the need to curb tertiary use of vehicles; vehicles that are not maintained well, and are operating in a bad condition. He stated that first five years mark the prime usage period followed by a sale to the second owner. “The biggest barrier to put composites on CVs,” explained Sachdeva, “is the refusal of insurance companies to honour the claim.”

Pointing at the mindset of a typical fleet operator who thinks that he need not spend money as he can’t overload, Sharma, in response to a question on sale of tyres providing an indication of growth, expressed that Uttar Pradesh and Harayana embraced radialisation first, rather than the disciplined south. “The grossly overloaded states did not radialise. We found out that the buyer is not ready to pay 30 per cent more for a tyre if he cannot overload,” mentioned Sharma. He added, “The current behaviour does not indicate a boom ahead. The retreading industry is looking far more progressive, and our dealers tell us that transporters are stressed; their working capital is blocked. As far as indications from tyre sales are concerned, tyre production is down by five per cent.”

Growth, opined Mehta, is seen at the FY12 level currently. “There’s a lot of replacement demand. Buyers are getting good deals. Looking at freight movement, infra activity, private investment, and global investment, I am optimistic that a year from now the situation would be much better. Young transporters are taking over, and they will lead to a big change,” he added. Delving upon the key factors associating growth, Rajinder Singh Sachdeva stressed upon fuel efficiency. “Fuel efficiency,” he said, “constitutes to about 50 per cent of the total costs as compared to 10-15 per cent in Europe.” “It will continue to be so even as the other factors including toll costs, tyre costs and driver costs play out. Not only has the driver become more aspirational, he is available in lesser numbers,” he added. Mehta averred, “I used to see a lot of cost focus in the transport industry. It will change to revenue. Focus would be to get better out of the trucks, and fuel will remain an important factor. Strategically transporter will start thinking about doing better; about achieving faster turnaround time.”

Expressed Kaushik, “Trends like the move to higher tonnage vehicles will lead to a change in price positioning. We see the mass market segment under 30 lakhs; premium segment under 40-45 lakhs. There seems to be some activity in recent years in what some would call as the value segment (in the 30-45 lakh bracket). This segment is going to see a lot of activity in the next two years. Different OEMs seem to be approaching it in different ways. There are the European players who are aggressively targeting this segment. Then, there are the Indian OEMs as well.” Expressed Sharma, “Directionally we are correct, it is a matter of when (strong growth will show up). My own personal guess is the year after.”

Rajinder Singh Sachdeva, EVP, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles

Kaushik Madhavan, Director – Automotive & Transportation, Frost & Sullivan

Nalin Mehta, MD & CEO, Mahindra Trucks & Bus Division

Satish Sharma, President (APMEA), Apollo Tyres

Dr. A K Jindal, VP & Head, ERC (Commercial Vehicles), Tata Motors

Moderator:

VG Ramakrishnan, MD, Aventeum Advisors LLP

Alma Mammoth: the premium edge

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A rendezvous with the Alma Mammoth highlighted the abilities of the MG Group and the technological prowess of MAN. Further tweaks are certain to elevate the Mammoth to a new level.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

The Alma Mammoth grabs attention. Enough to raise a doubt if it were designed by ace Indian designer Dilip Chhabria. Built by Belgaum-based Alma Motors, the coach building arm of MG Group, the Mammoth is quite attractive. Drawing the attention of show goers at the Busworld India 2015 show held at Mumbai, the two-axle 12 m long bus puts out a premium inter-city appearance. Adding weight to the proposition is the presence of MAN logo on the body as well as on the front wheels. Announcing MAN’s entry into the bus segment, the Mammoth employs a MAN chassis that finds its way to Belgaum for a premium body to be built on it.

Set up in 2004 in response to a mandate for bus body building received from Ashok Leyland according to Anil M. Kamat, Executive Director & Partner, MG Group, Alma Motors has come to have two plants at Belgaum. The Mammoth is built at the younger plant, which will continue to be dedicated to the building of the Mammoth, according to Kamat. Supported by the MG Group’s allied business verticals like West & Deccan, MG Composite LLP and Grey Engine LLP, Alma Motors caters to the conversion demand for Ashok Leyland, Ashok Leyland Nissan JV, Volvo Eicher, Tata Motors apart from MAN and a host of bus operators like Pai Associates. Entering into conversion of automotive bodies from 1980, and progressing to serve OEMs like Mahindra and Force Motors apart from those mentioned earlier, the Mammoth marks the entry of the coach builder into the premium segment. It is logical therefore, that for a company, which has built over 90,000 buses in the last 19 years (and of which 7,500 have been exported), the Mammoth matters a lot.

The move up to Mammoth

It was at the 2011 Busworld India that a MAN (Germany) official approached the MG Group, taking note of the four models the company had displayed there. He expressed an interest in bus body building according to Kamat. The display of automotive electronics business vertical, Grey Engine LLP at the Busworld 2013 proved be a basis for a serious discussion with MAN officials. A visit to the MG Group facility followed in 2014. “MAN officials,” Kamat exclaimed, “were also talking to two other companies. Their (MAN’s) condition was to get the bus body work certified by MAN, Germany. We took up the challenge and completed the project in 10 months.” Supported by West & Deccan, which is the Group’s design arm, the company went to work. Since it was a front-engine chassis, the frontal styling was a challenge. The result turned heads at the Busworld 2015. The frontal appearance of the Mammoth turned heads even when we took it out through the city of Belgaum and on to the Belgaum-Kolhapur stretch of the Pune-Bangalore highway.

The surprise element at the Alma plant at the start of the drive was the presence of two Mammoths, an LHD version and an RHD version. Over nine Mammoths have been built till date according to company sources. Of these, the LHD versions have found their way to Ethiopia. The RHD versions have found their way to Maldives. Once the 280 hp engine is made available, the Mammoth will find its way into the Indian market by the mid of this year. Trials with various bus operators of the current, 220 hp version are said to be underway. Claimed Kamat that the MAN chassis is fantastic, and the mileage is far superior.

With the engine at the front, the MAN chassis is of the ladder frame variety. It is however engineered especially for bus application by MAN, according to Kamat. Adorning a Alma logo at the centre, the frontal styling of the Mammoth stands out. Below the huge glass windshield is a grille that tends to skillfully accommodate sleek lamps, including the daytime running LEDs. Cleverly and thoughtfully styled along the lines of a rear engine bus rather than a front engine bus, the giveaway is the driving position. Unlike in a rear-engine bus, the driver of the Mammoth seats higher up. This is however nicely masked by the lack of a protruding engine cover inside. The driver’s door opens all the way down. Steps built into the inner surface reveal themselves as the driver’s door is opened. They help him to climb down or climb up. Get behind the wheel, and the rear view mirrors placed on either side of the large windshield give an impression of the driver sitting at almost the same level as in a rear-engine bus.

Premium looking and comfortable

The sides highlight superior levels of fit and finish. Bonded windows create a similar impression, and also does the large front windshield. Aft of the door are lockable doors that provide access to the storage compartments along the side. Transporters are known to transport small scooters in the centrally mounted box sections of their rear engine buses. They will not be able to do so in the Mammoth. The only box section available is at the end. It is clearly not big enough to transport a scooty. For safety, the fuel tank is mounted between the two ‘C’ sections of the frame, and between the two axles. Nicely designed arch surrounds painted in a contrast colour liven up the sides. They are openable for ease of service access.

Dominating the rear is a large hatch hinged at the top. It is strut mounted, and a part of an ingenious approach towards emergency exit. Called the EM-Secure (Emergency Management – Secure), the emergency exit of the Mammoth, also includes a manually ejected stairway, built with assist handles to provide support while descending, allowing passengers of all age groups to evacuate the coach unharmed as the height between the last step and the pavement is less than two feet. According to Alma sources, the EM-Secure has been patented by them. In all, the Mammoth comes with eight emergency exits! One from the door on the left; two by breaking the window glass on either side in the front section; two from the front and rear roof hatch each; two by breaking the window glass on either side in the rear section, and from the EM-Secure at the rear.

 

 

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The luxurious push-back seats on the bus we drove were imported. The seats have since been localised, and come from either Harita or Prakash. This was done in consideration to the travel preferences of various travellers the Mammoth will address. The hatracks continue to be imported, and have high quality of build apart from the multi-purpose consoles including AC vents built into them. Attention to detail means the driver of the Mammoth and his associates have to deal with two keys only. One for the ignition and the other for the rest of the locks. The overall fit and finish levels of the passenger compartment are of good standards, and lend a premium touch. Any rough corners are hard to identify. Besides each seat has a mobile charging point with a USB port.

The drive

Finding its way over Belgaum’s seemingly congested roads, some of which are being expanded, the Mammoth got an opportunity to stretch its legs on the four-lane highway between Belgaum and Nipani. The driving position of this bus is commanding to say the least. The large windshield provides good visibility. Also do the rear view mirrors mounted higher up and ahead. The modern engineering attributes that have gone into the making of this bus reflect through the instrument console behind the large two-spoke steering wheel with MAN written at the centre. The console has two big dials, that of the engine revs and vehicle speed each. The warning lamps occupy a place in between the dials. Below the speed dial are three dials including those that indicate the fuel and air pressure. Switches on either side of the instrument console are for ride height adjustment, hazard warning, etc. To ensure that there’s no uneven load distribution, the Mammoth’s bellows can adjust the air pressure. This also improves the handling, stability and tyre life. To counter rough road conditions, the bus has a second ride height system, which raises the chassis height by 50 mm. Gathering speeds in the region of 80-100 kmph, the Mammoth gave the impression of being steady and devoid of any tendency to rock. Any pitching at the front is only under heavy braking. Retardation of speed is accomplished confidently, thanks to the dual circuit S-cam brakes and an ABS system.

If the all-round pneumatic suspension impressed with its ability to provide a comfortable ride, the Mammoth, powered by a six-cylinder 6.8-litre turbocharged diesel engine, which produces 220 hp at 2400 rpm, has been engineered to have a low centre of gravity. A quality that is clearly reflected through its impressive handling abilities on the highways at speeds. Capable of a top speed of 110 kmph, the six-speed manual transmission of the Mammoth is light to operate. The first three ratios are tall whereas the other three, and particularly the last ratio aids to do good speeds.

At speeds in the region of 60 kmph, an amount of engine noise finds its way into the driver compartment. Noise in the driver compartment is clearly not as low as in the passenger compartment. Capable of seating 36 people, the Mammoth could do with some more refinement; more noise insulation. This would also help towards a premium experience, and in the wake of its front-engine layout. Located longitudinally at the front, with the drive going to the live rear axle, the engine does feel a bit sluggish on inclines. Especially when the need to regain speed after slowing down is necessary. The 280 hp engine should help to address this issue and up the appeal of the vehicle. Apart from elevating the performance of the bus, the 280 hp engine will also provide an opportunity for MAN and Alma to truly compete with premium segment players, albeit in the front engine category of the market. According to Kamat, a rear engine configuration is also in the making. A multi-axle variant could find a way into the future.

The Mammoth edge

Premium looks of the Mammoth are well matched with MAN’s ability to engineer a bus chassis that displays high levels of stability and comfort. The effort put in by the MG Group despite the chassis’ front engine configuration is worth acknowledging. The Mammoth presents a premium feel, albeit with the need for more refinement and power. A powerful engine will arm the Mammoth with more fire power. A sleeper coach version could further define the flexibility of the platform. The rear-engine version would best epitomise the premium edge that the MG Group is looking at for the Mammoth to achieve.

Anil M Kamat, Executive Director, MG Group

Q. Where do you see the Mammoth as a project?

A. What we have tried to create with the Mammoth is a complete expression of our passion for bus building. With this product and the way it is gaining traction in the export market, we hope that the Mammoth will also attract similar levels of interest in the domestic market once we get the 280 hp engine.

Q. From body conversion for Mahindra at Zaheerabad to the Mammoth. How do you look at the journey?

A. We have been doing business with Mahindra for the last 40 years. Bus building opportunity came to us in 1994 on the Mahindra FJ. We produced 17,000-18,000 FJs. We developed a Mini Tourister model for Mahindra. Probably, the first true bus product of Mahindra. We began building bus bodies on 15-seater platform. Model after model, we kept developing conversions for Mahindra. In 2004, we had an opportunity from Ashok Leyland. We set up a new facility at Belgaum. The Belgaum plant came to cater to Volvo Eicher. We built the new Skyline; almost 10,000 of them. We also developed a bus body for Force Motors. We produced about 4000 buses for them. We gained the confidence of Indian OEMs. We have been able to offer OEMs with the best bus building solutions. Our solutions are cost effective and competitive. What makes us unique is our ability to work with different OEMs, including Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and others. For Ashok Leyland Nissan joint venture we have produced the Mitr buses. We are working with MAN too, and for a bus that has been certified by MAN, Germany. We should be clocking 100,000 buses by the end of this fiscal. This fiscal also happens to be our 20th year in the business.

Q. How did you survive the slowdown?

A. We come across challenges every day. We have a strong inclination towards creating something new. Not that we were not affected by the slowdown. We were hoping for the bus industry to boom, and in the process expanded our infrastructure. Lot of our projections went haywire. Since we were catering to many customers we were able to survive the slowdown. We are looking positively at this year, and expect the bus industry to take off. Especially with so many trends coming in. Also, the various activities taken by the Government. I feel that there is going to be a huge demand for mass transportation solutions. Buses will play a major role. We are building body solutions that range from USD 4,000 to USD 60,000. It would therefore depend upon the amount of flexibility we can offer to our customers. We continue to upgrade ourselves and offer the best solutions to our customers. We are taking the right steps, and we hope that our efforts get their due. We hope to get the right traction in the market.

Q. How did the Mammoth project come about?

A. We first participated in the Busworld exhibition in 2011. Since then we have put on quite a show. We displayed four models on four different chassis. We met a MAN representative from Germany. He expressed interest to enter into the Indian bus industry. At Busworld 2013, we displayed our automotive electronic product – a mock up of a bus with electronics in it. We had a serious meeting with MAN personals at this juncture. In April 2014, MAN official visited our facility, providing impetus to the coach building project. There were two other companies that they were talking to. The pre-requisite was to get the body certified by MAN, Germany. The entire design, the structures, welds, etc. We managed to build the product in 10 months; fully engineered and certified by MAN, Germany. It was an opportunity as well as a challenge. The Mammoth is our first true luxury coach. The feature constraint was the front-engine layout. Frontal styling was a major challenge.

Q. How do you look at Mammoth as a front engine premium coach over others, which are offering rear engine premium coaches?

A. The front engine chassis is a stepping stone for us. We needed a reputed partner like MAN. We will not pitch the Mammoth against the Volvo buses or Scania buses. It is going to be a notch lower. Our effort has been to create a better impression with our body solution. This product has proved to be of much interest in Germany (at MAN). The Mammoth, we feel, will give them (MAN) the confidence to introduce a multi-axle rear engine product at a later date. For that coach too, they would prefer to have the Mammoth body design is what we feel. That is the kind of product that will pitch against a Volvo bus or a Scania bus. The Mammoth will kick-start a different segment all together.

Q. Will this bus be positioned as a mid-premium offering?

A. In case of the body, there’s nothing that is less premium about it. The MAN chassis is fantastic. We conducted lot of trials. The mileage that the Mammoth delivers over all terrains is far superior than the other products available. In case of noise and vibration we are at par if not above. I think it is about the mindset that this is a chassis-based product whereupon the other products available are monocoque designs. Monocoque designs offer certain benefits like more luggage space, but then the price of the Mammoth would be lower than what it costs to buy a monocoque bus.

Q. What future do you see for the Mammoth?

A. Mammoth is attractive, and there is nothing that is lacking in terms of ‘premium’. Every person, company and fleet operator that has seen it wants to posses it. The need is to pitch it at the right price point with the right specifications (engine). As far as the export market is concerned, we got inquires even before we had the first prototype ready by seeing the pictures; the 3D rendering of the product. We received good inquires from Bangladesh, Africa, Maldives, Sri Lanka, etc. we have received export orders. We have started exporting the Mammoth. We are confident that this product will do very well in the domestic market once the 280 hp engine comes in. We expect the 280 hp engine to reach us at the start of the next financial year. The Mammoth will also offer a sleeper variant in view of satisfying the demand.

Q. Would Mammoth evolve into a broader portfolio?

A. Mammoth will continue to be a MAN chassis-based design. We are currently having a capacity to produce five Mammoths per month at Belgaum. By April 2016, we would have geared up to produce 30 buses per month. We have deployed a lean manufacturing setup.

Hybrid and electric vehicles to play a pivotal role at Auto Expo 2016

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Smart and efficient CVs, including those that are propelled by alternate fuels, will find a place of prominence at the Auto Expo 2016.

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

The 13th edition of Auto Expo is set to open its doors to the show goers on February 5, 2016. To be held between February 5 and February 9, the premier event, organised by Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), Automobile Components Manufacturers Association (ACMA) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), will be held at two locations. The vehicles show will be held at the India Expo Mart venue at Greater Noida between February 5 and February 9; the components show will be held at Pragati Maidan between February 4 and February 7. Expected to surpass the benchmarks set by the earlier editions of the show, the Auto Expo 2016, according to Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII, will see the existing eight halls at Greater Noida venue being joined by six new halls. Commenting on the future of the show, Banerjee mentioned that they (organisers) are in talks with the government to hold the show at a single place.

Bigger and more exciting show at Greater Noida

As far as the current show edition is concerned, there will be 65 exhibitors (there were 55 exhibitors in the last edition) at Greater Noida. They will be spread over an indoor exhibition space of 73,000 sq.m. (up from 69,000 sq. m. in the earlier edition). The joining of eight halls with six new halls is expected to generate an additional area of 37,240 sq. m. Over the Auto Expo 2014, which saw a footfall of 5.6 lakh people, this edition of the show is expected to attract over one lakh visitor per day. The highlight of the show will be 26 global launches and 44 Indian launches. According to the SIAM sources, auto companies are geared up to unveil no less than 80 vehicles. Many of these are expected to be hybrid and electric in nature. Hybrid and electric vehicles are thus set to play a pivotal role at the Auto Expo 2016. Especially in the wake of the measures that are being spoken about by various bodies to lower vehicular pollution. Also, with the government putting in place the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme to encourage a shift to alternate fuel vehicles, the presence of alternate fuel vehicles is going to be higher than ever before.The theme this year is ‘Mobility for all’.

More exhibitors will power the components show

At the components show, there will be more than 1,500 exhibitors displaying their products. Apart from a large contingent of domestic players, there will be players from over 20 countries. There will be over 900 Indian exhibitors, and over 600 overseas exhibitors. Spread across 18 halls, exhibitors at the components show will occupy 80,000 sq. ft. of display area. Over 50 exhibitors are new. Containing country pavilions of Japan, Taiwan, China, Canada, South Korea and UK, the components show will also have dedicated sections for bearings and garage equipment. With ‘Asli Naqli’ display, which includes an educative display of original and pirated products to educate the public, ACMA will highlight its fight against piracy. According to Arvind Balaji, President, ACMA, the show this year will have an Innovation Pavilion to showcase world-class components designed and developed in India.

From commercial vehicle makers

Expected to occupy the biggest display area at the show, Tata Motors will showcase a slew of new and exciting range of commercial vehicles. The highlight of the CV line-up will be the unveiling of the Signa range of M&HCVs by Tata Motors. Claimed to have been developed with an investment of Rs 500 crore, the Signa range, positioned between the Prima and the Ultra, will sport an all-new cabin and a reinforced chassis. Aimed at those who are looking for outstanding value and superior fuel efficiency, the Signa range is expected to employ future-compliant emission technologies and the latest telematics solutions available. Apart from a new variant of the Magic SCV equipped with a 40 hp common-rail diesel engine, Tata Motors is expected to display an electric intra-city Ultra bus. Tata Motors will also display a hybrid low floor city coach.

Mahindra & Mahindra, is expected to unveil an electric version of the Maxximo mini-truck. An exercise encouraged by government’s National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), the Maxximo electric is expected to draw a good deal from the Group’s electric entity, Reva. If sources claiming to be aware of the development are to be believed, the Maxximo electric will feature the same lithium ion batteries that are deployed in the Reva e2o electric car. The Maxximo electric is expected to have a permanent magnet synchronous motor to deliver 19 bhp of power and 62 Nm of torque. The travel range for a single charge is expected to be 100 km. Apart from the Maxximo electric, Mahindra is expected to display its range of new SCVs and M&HCVs including the Traco 49 tractor.

Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles is expected to showcase its Pro series of trucks and buses. The highlight will be the new Pro 8000 series of construction and cargo heavy-duty truck range. As far as the Pro 6000 series of commercial vehicles are concerned, the company is expected to display the Pro 6025 RMC and 6025T. The Pro 6000 series is powered by a 6-cylinder 7.7-litre VEDX8 diesel engine coupled to a 9 speed ZF 1110TD gearbox (with crawler). This engine is made in India at the new Volvo Eicher powertrain facility apart from a 5-litre diesel engine. Both these engines are exported in advanced emission compliance forms to various Volvo CV locations around the world. As part of the Pro series trucks, the company will also display the newly launched refeer truck range. In case of buses, the CV maker is expected to display the Pro Skyline bus range. Said Vinod Aggarwal, CEO, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, “We have showcased innovation in our products. We are introducing technologically advanced telematics, which will ensure optimum fuel management, engine management and uptime management that are seen in advanced economies. These integrated services based on technology innovation will be seen as benchmark services in the Indian commercial vehicle industry.”

Isuzu India will display various iterations of its D-Max pick-up to present an idea of how versatile the pick-up platform is. Mahindra & Mahindra will be unveiling a new range of commercial vehicles. These are likely to include refreshed medium and heavy-duty models as well as a surprise in the form of an ICV concept. The company is known to be developing a range of ICVs in the 8 to 16-tonne range is on for some time now. Three engines – 3.2-litre, 3.5-litre and 4.8-litre, are expected to power the ICV range. The 4.8-litre engine is said to be based on the 7.2-litre engine that does duty in the medium and heavy-duty range of trucks currently.

Having begun to roll out its buses, JBM will display its low-floor monocoque construction city bus. Built in a technological partnership with BredaMenarinibus of Italy, the bus on display at the Auto Expo is expected to be what will find its way to the various transport undertakings. Ashok Leyland is expected to display its range of new, modern CVs including an Optare electrically operated bus.

Piaggio India is expected to display the new porter range of small commercial vehicles apart from the Ape three-wheelers it produces in India. Atul Auto is also expected to put on display its range of three-wheelers that it produces at its plant at Rajkot. Lohia Auto is expected to display its range of Eco-friendly three-wheelers.

Our humble tribute to the industry

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Photography : Sanjay Raikar, Aditya Dhiwar and Mahesh Reddy

The bar was set high. The six editions of the Apollo-CV Awards did their bit to elevate it. The seventh edition could be no different. And to help us realise this, we were helped by a strong support from the industry, and from our partner Apollo Tyres. A jury comprising Rajat Kataria, Divisional Head, Marketing – CV Radial (Asia Pacific, Middle East, North Africa), Apollo Tyres; Dilip Chhabria, Founder of DC Design; VG Ramakrishnan, Managing Director Asia Region, Frost & Sullivan, and Bhushan Mhapralkar, Editor, CV magazine, had the task of adjudging the OEM (truck and buses), auto components and CV application award categories. It was not an easy task. Especially when one were to consider the emergence of new trends as well as the fortification of some the eixsting trends. With the sales figures clearly indicating a continued growth in the Medium & Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCVs) across 2015, it did not come as a surprise that the vehicle nominations amounted to 38 numbers. Conspicuously missing were LCV nominations from the 3.5-tonne to 7-tonne category. If this indicated a movement in the SCV and M&HCV categories, it was not at all easy for the jury to adjudge; to pick up the winners. Especially in the wake of a firm resolve of the CV industry to see through the challenges. To keep moving forward, and turn out new, exciting and efficient products. An excellent array of products may be exciting news for the industry, for the jury it were akin to having sleepless nights. The judging process involved long debates, and deep exploration of domain knowledge as well as experience.

It was after a considerable effort thus, that we arrived at the results. The basis of the results was born out of the consideration for parameters like (a) fitness for application, (b) quality of aggregates, (c) fuel efficiency and top speed (d) option to have vehicle better suited for the purpose (e) price and (f) sales. This was applied to vehicles that were made available during the 2015 calendar year. We arrived at 24 awards to do justice to all the constituents. We tapped into the expertise of Metric Consultancy Ltd. to first invite and then vet fleet operator and dealer applications. Metric had to deal with 524 nominations over a span of three months. These nominations were put through the wringer using the Journey of Excellence parameter derived from the British Quality Foundation.

It was a privilege to host senior representatives from manufacturers. Watching them interact with the incumbents, gave us an inkling of the shape of things to come for the CV industry. The picture (below)should provide a fair idea of what happened at the Jury meet on December 18, 2015. The picture over the next 12 pages should provide an idea of what happened at the awards ceremony on January 21, 2016.

On the following pages is a synopses for each of the panel discussion that preceded the awards evening. As you will discover, the industry heavyweights did not hesitate to air their views on issues that are important and have the ability to influence the course of the industry.

1. SCV of the Year

Nominees: (a) Nextmotive Across (b) Mahindra Jeeto

Winner: Mahindra Jeeto

The Small Commercial vehicle segment continues to grow. It continues to evolve, and has been addressing the rising aspirations of the buyers and operators. SCVs thus have been addressing the changing needs of the buyers and operators. Changing in form and function, SCVs have began to invade into the pick-up category. Re-inventing themselves like no other CVs perhaps, SCVs are turning powerful and efficient. They are gaining an ability to turn around faster. Their capability is increasingly linked to the influx of new technology and design excellence. SCVs, to be precise, are getting as customer-centric as they could. What made the Mahindra Jeeto win is its ability to help its operator achieve higher productivity, thanks to a clever design, and an ingenious platform modularity.

2. Pick-up of the Year

Nominees: (a) Mahindra Supro Maxitruck (b) Tata SuperAce Mint

(c) Ashok Leyland Dost Strong (d) Isuzu D-Max AC Cab Chassis

Winner: Tata SuperAce Mint

This emerging segment has an array of national and global players with products of varying attributes like fuel economy, payload, speed and price. The winner, the Tata SuperAce Mint, has added a new dimension to the segment. The vehicle impressed with its ability to combine comfort, ease of use and functionality. With 2.25 tonne GVW, the SuperAce is fitted with 165/R14 LT radial tyres. The vehicle measures 4340 mm in length, and 1,460 mm in width. It has a good ground clearance, and is powered by a 1.4-litre, common-rail turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that puts out 70 hp of power and 140 Nm of torque between 1,800 and 3,000 rpm. Capable of clocking a top speed of 125 kmph, the SuperAce Mint is well equipped with a power steering and an independent front suspension. It aims at those who need a pick-up that will be easy on the pocket, work like a donkey and yet support a faster turnaround time.

  1. Large Truck Fleet operator of the Year

    Nominees: (a) Safexpress Pvt Ltd. (b) CCI Logistics Ltd. (c) Core Logistics Company

    Winner: Safexpress Pvt. Ltd.

    As big boys of the logistics industry, they excel in service and operation. They also have a strong balance sheet to flaunt, and are always ready to adopt the latest technological innovations or logistical paradigms. They set the standards for those aspiring to make it big in their field. Beginning its journey in 1997, Safexpress has been delivering logistics excellence to its customers. It has firmly entrenched itself as the ‘Knowledge Leader’ and ‘Market Leader’ of supply chain and logistics industry in India. Located at Dwarka, one of the fastest growing hubs in Delhi, Safexpress supports a fleet of over 4000 ISO-certified, fully containerised, all-weather-proof vehicles. Catering to industry verticals like FMCG & White Goods, parcel market load, industrial goods, agricultral products, seeds, cements and chemicals, Safexpress made it to the top because of its hunger for excellence.

4. Small Fleet Operator of the Year

Nominees: (a) Shivani Carriers Pvt. Ltd. (b) Gujarat Logistics (c) PT Express Pvt. Ltd.

Shivani Carriers Pvt. Ltd.

Contrary to their size, small fleet operators have come to acquire exemplary standards in business and operations. Often faced with the daunting task of managing their business within limited means, they are not lacking on any count. What drew attention to Shivani Carriers Pvt. Ltd. was their ability to operate their business professionally. Shivani Carriers Pvt. Ltd., which began its journey in 1976 as ‘Super Motor Transport’ with parcel booking, has come to have a fleet of around 90 vehicles. Each is fitted with a GPS device. The fleet has containers, trailers and mini trucks, which cover approximately 5,00,000 kms every month. Highlights of Shivani Carriers’ operations include smart fleet cards system, use of a customised software, e-fleet software for vehicle evaluation, E-P.O.D. (scanned copy of proof of delivery), online vehicle tracking system, a fully equipped workshop, and two godowns of approximately 10,000 sq ft.

  1. HCV Rigid Cargo Carrier of the Year

Nominees: (a) Eicher Pro 6031 (b) BharatBenz 3723R

          1. Ashok Leyland U-3718 (d) Ashok Leyland U-3118

Winner: Ashok Leyland U-3718

An intrinsic part of the hub and spoke transportation model, heavy commercial vehicles are proving to be feature-intensive and technologically rich. The winner in this category, the Ashok Leyland U-3718 aligns itself rather accurately with the market demand for higher tonnage vehicles. Employing a U-cabin, the U-3718 37-tonne 10×4 rigid truck promises faster turnaround apart from an ability to carry more. Powering the truck is a 180 hp 5.6-litre H-series diesel engine that produces 670 Nm of torque between 1300 and 1600 rpm. The U-3718 is also equipped with a ceramic clutch disc with a booster assist, and a nine-speed transmission. Fitted with twin steerable front axles, two rear axles and a self-steerable pusher lift axle at the middle that enables the vehicle to carry higher loads, more efficiently, the U-3718 is also equipped with auto-lift axle that senses when the vehicle is running in an unloaded condition and will automatically lift the axle to support additional fuel saving.

  1. HCV Tractor Cargo Carrier of the Year

Nominees: (a) Mahindra Traco 49 (b) Eicher 6040 (c) Tata LPS 4923 TC CR

Winner: Tata LPS 4923 TC CR

HCV tractor cargo carriers are dandy workhorses. The tractor-trailer combination results in versatility that is hard to match. Capable of ferrying goods that a rigid cargo truck simply cannot think of, the HCV tractor-trailer, with better earning potential, can be a car carrier, a steel coil carrier, or a container carrier. The winner in this category is a volume oriented tractor that is also well built. The 49-tonne GVW Tata LPS 4923 TC CR is powered by a 230 hp 5.8-litre, Cummins 6B six-cylinder diesel engine that produces a torque of 850 Nm between 1400 and 1700 rpm. Mated to the engine is a 9-speed gearbox. With a 23.5 per cent grade-ability, the tractor draws from Tata Motors’ long standing experience in making heavy-duty trucks in association with global associates like Cummins. Drawing on the popularity and a loyal following gained by the LP range, the LPS 4923 presents familiarity and the ability to keep the costs down.

  1. Fleet Operator of the Year – Niche Applications

Nominees: (a) Gujarat Logistics (b) Lakshya Global Logistics

Winner: SML Isuzu S7 Next

There is no better way to describe a specialty than to term it as a niche. It is a place for a few, and takes a good deal of effort and attention. Beginning its journey nine years ago, Gujarat Logistics have strived for excellence by setting high standards with the help of their excellent business practices and management. Making a modest beginning in 2006, Gujarat Logistics has stood up to its motto of providing accurate and secure transportation services of value cargo. An ISO 9001-8000 certfied company, Gujarat Logistics has kept itself up to speed with judicious use of technology. It has invested in a GPS analytics dashboard. Its fleet of 100 vehicles is backed by GPS based fleet management system to ensure timely delivery and collection of cargo. Known to deliver container equipment at the stipulated time, the company has evolved into an efficient organisation. Gujarat Logistics operates through 10 offices and operations spanning major port cities, and industrial towns of Gujarat.

  1. ICV People Mover of the Year

Nominees: (a) SML Isuzu S7 Next (b) BharatBenz Staff Bus (c) Eicher Skyline Pro

          1. Mahindra Tourister Excelo (e) Tata Starbus Ultra 9/9 (f) Tata SLF ICV CNG

Winner: SML Isuzu S7 Next

ICV people movers are a step ahead. Especially when compared to their counterparts in the cargo segment. With impressive applications, engineering qualities and specifications, they make modern marvels that are capable of addressing emerging market niches. Delivering on various fronts, and in various capacities, ICV people movers make efficient staff carriers, school buses or metro feeders. Their performance is indicative of the general direction in which the bus industry is heading. Of the two contenders, the SML Isuzu S7 Next impressed because of its abilities and versatility. With 8.8-tonne GVW, the vehicle measures 9280 mm in length. Confirming to Urban (City) Bus II specifiations, it looks capable of executing diverse roles. Powered by a 100 hp, 3.5-litre BS IV common-rail diesel engine, it puts out a maximum torque of 315 Nm. With a 200 mm ground clearance, the S7 Next is equipped with two entry doors, and an intelligent transport system.

  1. School Bus of the Year

Nominees: (a) Mahindra Tourister Excelo T25 (b) Tata Cityride Ex Skool Bus

Winner: Tata Cityride Ex Skool bus

Ferrying pupils, school buses are about safety, comfort and punctuality. Impervious to fluctuations in the CV industry, these new breed of buses comply with often conflicting parameters. Standing up to the expectations of parents and school managements, not to forget the expectations of those that manage the operations day-in and day-out, school buses are catering to changing needs and regulations. The winner in this category, the Tata Cityride Ex Skool Bus has been engineered on a modern platform. It boasts of superior build standards, and is capable of seating 36 students. The bus is powered by a 2956cc four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 74 hp and 245 Nm of torque between 1400 and 1600 rpm. Transmission is a five-speed unit, and the top speed of the bus is 93 kmph. Bus Code (As 063) compliant, the school bus features low noise and vibration levels, and is highly fuel efficient.

  1. Private Sector bus operator of the Year

Nominees: (a) Perfect RoadRider Travels (b) Orange Tours & Travels (c) City Services

Winner: Perfect RoadRider Travels

Bus fleet management has turned into a serious, professional activity that looks at yield per seat, online ticketing, life cycle value of buses, in-bus entertainment and fancy bus shelters. Operating 436 buses and 57 mini buses, Perfect RoadRider Travels started its journey in 1994 by rendering services to individuals and other small scale industries based in the Amabattur Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Chennai. The company began by engaging vehicles from private vehicle owners and other existing tourist car operators. The organisation has since grown to operate 436 busses and cars for employee transportation and over 50 coaches for tourist transportation. The highlight of the company’s operation is their ability to sincerely serve the requirements of their clients and provide them complete satisfaction. Employing a loyal workforce amounting to 650 people across four branches, Perfect RoadRider Travels has invested in a SAP application software, and monitors real time drives.

  1. M&HCV people mover of the Year

Nominees: (a) Volvo 9400 XL (b) Mercedes-Benz Luxury Inter-City coach (c) Alma Mammoth

Mercedes-Benz Luxury Inter-city coach

Modern inter-city transport systems are the need of the hour. Especially when it comes to addressing the rising need to travel. So, what better way to address their need than to offer the best bus technology. Inter-city buses that are quicker, comfortable and offer a good ambiance. The Mercedes-Benz luxury inter-city coach drew attention because it promises speedier and comfortable travel. It presents the operator, the ability to accommodate more people without sacrificing their comfort levels. The aluminium body construction technology of the luxury coach makes it efficient. Powered by a 354 hp, 12-litre common-rail diesel engine located at the rear, and generating a torque of 1600 Nm, the Mercedes-Benz luxury inter-city coach measures 14950 mm in length and sports three axles. Out of the two rear axles, one is driven and the other is of the tag steerable axle type.

  1. ICV Cargo Carrier of the Year

Nominees: (a) Eicher Pro 1114 (b) Tata Ultra 1012 (c) Eicher Pro 3015

Winner: Eicher Pro 1114

ICVs continue to evolve. Result of customer-centricity that is also about blurring the boundaries between segments, ICVs are about technology, image, price and TCO. Set to play an important role, they make modern and versatile cargo carriers that promise better value while being reliable and efficient. The winner in this space, the Eicher Pro 1114, offers a better payload that springs from its ability to combine aggregates that make for an reliable and efficient operation. The 3.3-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged and intercooled engine produces 113 hp and a maximum torque of 400 Nm between 1400 and 1600 rpm. It combines all of what has made Eicher trucks highly successful over the years with increments in technology. The Eicher Pro 1114 thus offers the best of both worlds to make it highly versatile, efficient and fiercely competitive.

  1. MCV Cargo Carrier of the Year

Nominees: (a) BharatBenz 1623C (b) Eicher Pro 6025T (c) Mahindra Torro 25

Eicher Pro 6025T

The strong and versatile MCV segment continues to grow; be it a rigid truck tipper or a special application truck. Capable of addressing a diverse range of applications and customer requirements the Eicher Pro 6025T drew attention for its modern construction and an ability to deliver on diverse counts. Indicative of a big change taking place at Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, the Pro 6025T is indicative of how CV makers are striving to address the changing needs of the market. Powering the 6025T is a 219 hp, 7.7-litre diesel engine that does 850 Nm of torque between 110 and 1700 rpm. The engine, mated to a nine-speed gearbox, is one of the most modern units, and made at a world-class Volvo Eicher Powetrain facility at Pithampur. The 6025T, with a GVW of 25-tonne, is part of the thoroughy modern and versatile Pro 6000 series trucks. These trucks are efficient, well built, safe and offer a high earning potential.

  1. HCV tipper of the Year

Nominees: (a) Volvo FMX 440 Coal Tipper (b) BharatBenz 3143CM

(c)Mahindra Torro 31 (d) Tata LPTL 3118

Winner: BharatBenz 3143CM

These pragmatic and reliable machines are best suited for the rough and tumble of mining, quarrying and construction operations. They can be looked upon to perform one of the most demanding jobs a truck is capable of. Leveraging the experience of making some of the most successful premium segment trucks globally, the BharatBenz 3143CM packs modern technology. It is powered by a 11.9-litre, six-cylinder, turbodiesel engine that produces 422 hp and 2100 Nm of torque at 1100 rpm. If this translates into high pulling power, the tipper, with a 31-tonne GVW, offers a carrying capacity of 19 cu. m. Of significance is the twin-disc dry plate clutch and a six-speed Automated Manual Transmission (AMT). Available at almost half the cost of what it took to buy a Mercedes-Benz Actros, which the 3143CM replaces, the highlight of the heavy-duty tipper is its high local content, world-class engineering and features like hub reduction.

  1. Promising Debut of the Year

Nominees: (a) Alma Mammoth (b) Mahindra Truxo 25 260 hp

Winner: Alma Mammoth

There were some interesting debuts last year. They collectively pointed at a future that would unleash a hunger for growth, and a burning desire to turn out a world-class CV that has the potential to change market perception. The winner, the Alma Mammoth, grabbed attention with its looks despite a front-engine layout. Employing a MAN chassis and powered by a 220 hp, 6.8-litre, MAN D-0836 diesel engine located longitudinally at front, the Mammoth made a promising debut for its ability to change the perception surrounding a front-engine bus. What made it truly promising is its ability to add a premium edge to the front-engine bus concept; to create the same ambiance as a premium rear-engine bus, and deliver almost the same amount of comfort.

  1. CV application builder of the Year

Nominees:

(a) Schwing Stetter – Truck mounted concrete mixer

(b) Tata Fleetman – New telematics solution

  1. NSR Body Works – Light weight and durable container body

Winner: Schwing Stetter – Truck mounted concrete mixer

Truck application can be highly diverse and differ in terms of use, and in terms of productivity gains. An outcome of diverse technological inputs, they can mean different business propositions to different people. Of the three nominations received, it was the Schwing Stetter nomination that drew the most attention. Perhaps due to the company’s prowess in developing concrete mixer applications on modern truck chassis. These applications are fitted on vehicles that are not just sold in the domestic market, but also in markets around the world. They are world-class and designed to last long. They are efficient and cost competitive.

  1. Innovative product of the Year

Nominees: (a) Volvo FMX 520 dump truck (b) Volvo FMX 480 dump truck

          1. BharatBenz 3143CM (d) Alma Mammoth

Winner: Volvo FMX 520 dump truck

Innovation is a broad term. Its definition as far as CVs are concerned, is about desirability, productivity, and safety and comfort. It is about design, technology and the ability to serve the market needs in the most efficient and innovative manner. The Volvo FMX 520 dump truck, drew attention for its ability to offer more for less. Positioned between a 100-tonne dump truck and a 31-tonne deep mining tipper, the FMX 520 is powered by a 520 hp, 13-litre diesel engine that delivers 2500 Nm of torque. Aimed at operating in mines only, the dump truck promises higher fuel efficiency and agility than a 100-tonne dump truck. With a 73-tonne GVW, the FMX 520 dump truck is innovative since it uses aggregates from existing Volvo truck models. Employing a 14-speed splitter range manual transmission, the dump truck is equipped with two steerable axles at front. Out of the three rear axles, two axles are driven and the third axle is a tag steerable pusher axle.

  1. Auto Component of the Year

Nominees: (a) KTCR Varsha drag link with sealed-for-life ball joint (b) Hella projector head lamp module (c) RSB propeller shaft for new commercial vehicles (d) Spheros Motherson Revo-E rooftop air conditioner

Winner: Hella projector head lamp module and Spheros Motherson Revo-E rooftop air conditioner

A formidable field on its own, four nominations were shortlisted on the merit of technology, market performance, price, and relevance to category. Each entry was subjected to a detailed scrutiny, and attention was paid to the infrastructure and capabilities of the suppliers. Two components stood out. The Hella projector head lamp module and the Spheros Motherson Revo-E rooftop air conditioner. They stood out on the count of technology and value. They stood out on the count of frugal engineering and an ability to meet the market demand. Both drew attention because of their ability to enhance efficiency, and the ability to address safety and comfort. Comfort in case of the Spheros Motherson product, and safety in case of the Hella product. What made the two products, from Hella and Spheros Motherson each, worthy of recognition is their ability to save energy and in the process make for an eco-friendly apparatus.

  1. Special Application CV of the Year

Nominees: (a) Volvo FMX 520 dump truck (b) Volvo FMX 480 dump truck (c) Tata MHC 2038

Winner: Tata MHC 2038

Addressing specific needs of the market, these special application CVs are made to perform their duty to the fullest. They are an outcome of an extensive study of their target audience, and are specialised to the core. What made the Tata MHC 2038 stand out was the nature of its application. Engineered to do duty in the armed forces, the MHC 2038 is a material handling crane. It is powered by a 370 hp, 8.9-litre Cummins ISLe 370-30 series engine that does 1550 Nm of torque at 1300 rpm. Mated to the engine is a nine-speed manual transmission. The front suspension is parabolic; the rear suspension is of the tandem bogie type with semi elliptic leaf springs. With a GVW of 22500 Kg, the MHC 2038 not only reflected upon the ‘Make in India’ endeavour, it also reflected upon the abilities of the manufacturer to built such special application vehicles.

  1. CV dealer of the Year

Nominees: (a) Bhandari Automobiles Pvt. Ltd. (b) Anamallais Agencies (c) Shree Automotive Pvt. Ltd.

Winner: Bhandari Automobiles Pvt. Ltd.

They are the OEM’s interface. An important element in the CV ecosystem that either conveys a good impression about the manufacturer, or otherwise. Left with an amount of operating costs to handle, and in a situation where the needs of the buyers are changing, dealers have to exude much professionalism. They are expected to evolve; respond to market changes quickly, and keep those who look up to them, happy and satisfied. Established in 1979, Bhandari Automobiles made it to the top on the basis of their ability to manage the operations professionally. Not only is the dealership operated professionally, it has come to build a loyal workforce of over 900 people. A dealer for Tata Motors Commercial Vehicles, Bhandari Automobiles has been quite successful in establishing long lasting relationships. It continues to strive to add more customers every year and retain the existing ones by providing them good service.

21.Best practice adopter of the Year

Nominees: (a) VRL Logistics (b) Inland World Logistics (c) Perfect RoadRider Travels

Winner: VRL Logistics

In an era where technology rules the roost, fleet owners have leveraged to their advantage technology, and an ability to control costs. Seeking better operational control, they have strived to attain good customer focus and excel in the management of business. Of the three nominations, VRL Logistics stood out because of its ability to employ technology and set a standard in the area of cost control, operational control, customer focus and overall management. Established in 1976 with the help of a single truck, Hubli-based VRL Logistics has grown into a nationally renowned logistics and transport company. One of the larget fleet operators in India with a fleet of 4077 vehicles, the company employees over 15,640 people. It pioneers an ability to provide a safe and reliable delivery network in the field of parcel service. VRL Logistics has spread its operations to courier service, priority cargo and air chartering to meet the growing demands of its burgeoning customer base.

    1. man of the Year

Winner: Vinod K. Dasari

An engineer with a Masters Degree in Business Administration from J L Kellogg School of Management, USA, he has consistently grown in his many roles at Ashok Leyland. Starting as a COO in 2005, his confidence and knowledge reflects in the company’s performance. The company registered a net profit of Rs. 159.32 crore for the first quarter of FY16 as against a net loss of Rs. 47.56 crore for the corresponding period last year. Under his leadership, Ashok Leyland outperformed the industry with a 45 per cent growth in the M&HCV segment. In Q1 FY16, the company sold 14706 units of trucks and 3894 units of buses on the basis of improved mix, better pricing and tighter cost control. Continuing to grow smartly, Ashok Leyland, under the leadership is transforming into a company that is increasingly global in its thinking. For the second consecutive year the Apollo CV awards jury voted Vinod K. Dasari as the CV man of the year.

    1. maker of the Year

Nominees: (a) Tata Motors (b) Daimler India Commercial Vehicles

          1. Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles (d) Mahindra (e) Ashok Leyland

Winner: Ashok Leyland Ltd.

A Rs. 9,943-crore company with a 27.1 per cent market share, Ashok Leyland is targeting USD 10 billion in the next 10 years. In Q1, FY16, the company reported a net profit of Rs. 159.32 crore against a net loss of Rs. 47.95 crore for the same period last year. While the industry volume grew 23 per cent, Ashok Leyland out performed the industry with a growth of 45 per cent in the M&HCV segments. In Q1, FY16, Ashok Leyland sold 14,706 units of trucks and 3894 units of buses. In Q2, FY16, Ashok Leyland recorded a net profit of Rs. 287 crore, a two fold year-on-year rise. Net sales rose to Rs. 4,878.81 crore against Rs. 3, 150.36 crore during the same period last fiscal. Launching the improved Dost, the company, with the Boss and the Partner have been invading the LCV and ICV segments. It has traditionally been strong in the M&HCV segments, and is a leader in the bus segment in India.

    1. of the Year

Nominees: a) Mahindra Jeeto b) Eicher Pro 6025T (c) Eicher Pro 3015 (d) BharatBenz 3143CM (e) Tata SuperAce Mint (f) SML Isuzu S7 Next (g) Tata LPS 4923 TC CR (h) Tata Cityride Ex Skool Bus (i) Mercedes-Benz luxury inter-city coach

Winner: Mahindra Jeeto

Capable and powerful, the emergence of modern commercial vehicles reflects on their ability to take on the competition. Combining tradition, technology and a deep understanding of the market, they are engineered to address the requirements of their buyers and users to the core. Fitting the bill, the Mahindra Jeeto made it to the top drawing from its maker’s long standing experience in building LCVs. A modern transport solution that is efficient, well equipped and versatile in terms of engineering as well as market positioning, the Jeeto has been equipped with a good deal of fire power. Producing 11 hp and 38 Nm of torque, the vehicle creates a lasting impression. A reason perhaps, is also that it is one of the most well designed, well engineered and smart looking CV to come out of the Mahindra stables in the recent times.

Toyota HiAce: Epitomising luxury and comfort

Unveiled at the Auto Expo 2014, and later at the 4th Bus and Special Vehicle Show in 2015, the HiAce is aiming at those who seek to travel in luxury. 

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

 

Delhi-based Mann Tours and Travel Services Pvt. Ltd. (MTTSL) has nine Toyota HiAces in their fleet. These have been a part of MTTSL’s luxury van and coach fleet from 2012, and are aimed at those who are seeking luxury travel. Reflective of the changing market preference, the HiAces that MTTSL has in its fleet are a far cry from the original HiAce that debuted in 1967. These are fifth generation models. Available as a cab over pick-up, delivery van, as a stretched commuter vehicle, and as a camper van, the first generation HiAce was designed as a commuter vehicle capable of transporting up to eight people. The exterior dimensions and engine displacement were in compliance with Japanese Government regulations. The engine was installed underneath and between the front passengers.

Even in the current generation HiAce, the engine is installed underneath and between the front occupants. Debuting in 2005 as a wider and longer wheelbase wagon, and also in a high-roof ‘Grand Cabin’ form, the big change over the earlier generation model was the placement of the gearshift lever on the dashboard. This was done to enable easier movement. Assembled in Portugal, Phillipines, South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Vietnam apart from Japan, the HiAce in many parts of the world is available as a mini-van, van, mini-bus, pick-up, cab and an ambulance. More than six million HiAces have been sold since its introduction in over 140 countries. In India, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) showcased a HiAce at the Auto Expo 2014. The vehicle was also displayed at the 4th Bus and Special Vehicle Show in 2015.

 

Conservative looking yet elegant

From the front, the HiAce comes across as a conservatively styled yet elegant looking van. It even looks a shade bulky with that high roof. The clear lens wrap around lamps complement the grille, and present the front a touch of elegance. If the creases break the monotony of the large front panel, the deep bumper with a wide air dam does a good job of masking the bulk. Walk over, and it is aptly clear that this is not a small van by any measure. The HiAce measures between 4,695 mm and 5,380 mm depending on the version chosen. It measures between 1695 mm and 1880mm in width, between 2245 mm and 2285 mm in height. It measures between 2570 mm and 3110 mm in wheelbase. The normal body, high roof version in question measures 4695 mm in length, 1695 mm in width and 2245 mm in height. The wheelbase is 2570 mm and the ground clearance is 195 mm. Riding on 15-inch dia. wheels and 215/75 R15 tyres, the HiAce, from the side, looks more elegant than it does from the front. The cab forward stance does add a touch of aggression. The sheer size, refusing to fade out of the memory. The rear-view mirrors mounted on the A-pillars continue to grab attention. They accentuate the looks of the van. Adding to the elegant look of the van, and keeping the sides from looking bland, a shoulder-line runs from the front door to the rear lamp, and under the door handles. The rear door (only on the left) is of the sliding variety, and allows access to the passenger compartment. It extends all the way up to touch the ‘rain gutter’. Below, it goes down to the level of the ‘running board’. Powered by an ‘easy closer’ door function, it does not take as much effort to close the large door. If the door is left partially open, the ‘easy closer’ function automatically shuts it.

The rear is made up of a large tail gate. The flat-back is not as inspiring. It instead hints at the utility status of the van, albeit in an elegant manner. Vertical tail lamps are built into the respective pillars. A ladder to the right side of the tail gate provides access to the roof.

Luxurious interior

Step inside, and the leather upholstered captain chairs attract. The cabin (passenger compartment) is spacious and roomy. Capable of seating seven people (HiAces with MTTSL that can seat 10 and 12 people), the light grey coloured trim accentuates the beige leather upholstered seats and the roof section. Large grab handles draw attention. Also does the soft lighting. It adds to the ambiance.

Of the seven luxurious seats across three rows, four are ‘powered’ captain seats. The three third row seats are ‘fixed’. The two captain chairs in the front row can swivel up to 180 degrees. Those occupying this set of chairs can thus face the rest of the occupants and not feel left out. The second row seats also swivel. Considering the plush environment and the level of comfort the HiAce’s cabin offers, it does not take long to understand why this van is a hit among corporate companies and luxury travel seeking families and friends. If the two rows of swivelling seats can turn the van’s cabin into a small meeting room, the manner in which the first row seats swivel, they make it easier for aged people to get in and get out. Head room, legroom and shoulder room is in ample supply. The seats themselves are highly supportive and comfortable. The reclining features on the four captain seats makes them supremely comfortable.

A partition between the driver’s cabin and the passenger compartment ensures that meetings can be conducted without disturbance, and in silence. The cabin is well insulated. The driver’s cabin is also well insulated. It is comfortable, and equipped with fabric seats for the driver and co-passenger. An amount of space in the driver’s cabin is taken up by the engine cover; it is mounted such that the box built on the top of it is placed between the driver and co-passenger seats. The driver can store nick-nacks in this box. The dashboard is simple and straightforward in its construction. The quality of plastics is good. The four-spoke steering wheel resembles that of the Corolla. The 2-DIN music system too. The parking brake is located besides the dash mounted gearshifter. The steering is collapsible. There are two SRS airbags and a reverse camera. It aids to reverse the ‘big’ van into the parking slot.

 

The drive

Powering the HiAce is a 145PS, 2982cc, 1KD-FTV in-line four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine with variable geometry turbocharger and an intercooler. Exerting a good pull, the engine generates a maximum torque of 300 Nm at 1200-2400 rpm. The van, weighing close to two-tonnes, feels agile. It picks up speed well. The four-speed automatic transmission does a fair job of routing power to the rear wheels. Interestingly, the van does not feel as heavy or as big to drive. Equipped with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), the commanding seating position with a good view ahead makes it easy to manoeuvre the HiAce. The controls are well placed and the rear view mirrors add to the visibility.

Speeds in excess of 100 kmph are easily achieved, and with a sense that there’s more power in reserve. On an open road the HiAce cruises at good speeds, the engine turning at a fair pace. In the city, the size of the HiAce makes it a bit of a chore. However account for the large dimensions, and the fact that the driver is sitting on the front axle, and it is easy to pilot. A quiet and vibration free cabin makes the drive comfortable. It presents a feeling of driving a car rather than a van. The power assisted steering is light. At speeds it feels a bit light, but offers a good feedback none the less. The ride over a variety of surfaces is pliant. The suspension, consisting of double wishbone and stabiliser bar at front, and leaf spring at the rear, does a good job of soaking the irregularities.

When it is time to shed the speed, the brakes exert a strong bite. Equipped with ventilated disc brakes at front and drums at the rear, the braking under a variety of situations inspires confidence. The HiAce features ABS, Emergency Stop Signal and Brake Assist (BA) and a Brake Override System (BOS). The 70-litre fuel tank presents the big van with a good travel range.

 

In India

The HiAces Mann has in their fleet are Completely Built Units (CBUs). If the industry sources are to be believed, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) is looking at CBU imports to address the growing need for niche transport applications in the form of 10-seater and 12-seater HiAce. On the radar are five star hotels, premium schools and corporate travel companies, claim sources. For the HiAces that are already running on Indian roads, TKM is known to provide the needed support. With the need for quicker turnaround and an ability to derive more gains in the wake of the considerable investment, it is Toyota’s pursuit for quality that makes the HiAce appealing. “We turned to the HiAce as it is a competent vehicle. Also, Mercedes-Benz has stopped importing the Viano van”, said Parmjeet Mann, Director, MTTSL. She did not reveal what it cost to buy a HiAce. What she mentioned instead is that the typical hire charge for the HiAce is Rs.60 per km.