Eiichi Seto, Managing Director & CEO, SML Isuzu Ltd.
Interview by: Anirudh Raheja
Q. What is your view on the Bus Code, and its implementation?
A. Bus body code is a good regulation for the industry which has been dominated by unorganised bus body builders for long. They are still not ready to accept the new regulations. We are however ready to meet the new challenges. The Bus Code is primarily for vehicle and passenger safety, both of which are important. The government needs to be appreciated for implementing the Bus Code.
Q. About your bus portfolio; any new products that you will be launching soon?
A. We will be soon showcasing three new products. These would include the Ecomax minibus for school, staff and tourist application. The Executive LX model is based on the S7 platform. The Ecomax will compete with Force Traveller. The Executive LX will aim at luxury and staff transportation. We have also introduced a new front fascia for trucks and standard bus models as an interim solution to improve the product image. We will soon start operation of a brand new pre-treatment and cathodic electro-deposition coating line for cabin and cowl at our paint shop based on Japanese technology. This will enhance anti-rust capability of our products. We have also introduced a new paint line at the bus body plant. This would help us to enhance the bus building capacity; that of S7 buses especially. We will be also increasing the production of Isuzu buses to 400 units per month.
Q. With so much activity underway at SML Isuzu, how do you rate the performance of the company?
A. The planned Rs.220 crore capex is still on. It is being implemented in a phased manner. In the last one year, we sold 8320 units of buses, which marks a 20 per cent rise over last year. Truck sales increased by 33 per cent. While bus sales have recovered, growth has largely come from trucks. With the view of growth, we are expanding our capacities by 25 per cent to 2000 units from the current 1500 units per month per shift. Our target is to achieve 7200 units for the second half of the year, and to achieve a total of 15,300 units for the year. We recently organised our dealer meet to understand the ground reality. The dealer meet was also held to understand the current market position. This would help us to analyse demand forecast of the bus market, and the sales prospect in the second half of this year.
Q. How is SML Isuzu gearing up for the upcoming emission regulations?
A. The demand for commercial vehicles in India is huge. Global players are expanding their operations in India. This will entail more competition. The BSIV vehicles will come with a price rise. There will be another, and substantial price rise when BSVI emission compliant vehicles are introduced. The motivation for operators to upgrade their fleet is likely to take a hit. There is a need to understand at this point, that the after-treatment devices for BSVI emission compliant vehicles are very costly. They could cost more than the engine. A matter of concern is the fuel. Also of concern is the urea fluid necessary to carry out SCR. If not of the prescribed quality, the vehicle will refuse to run. A huge infrastructure will be required to make available the prescribed quality of Adblue urea solution for BSVI emission compliant vehicles. The good thing is, the component suppliers in India will get a chance to expand their horizons and develop competitive product portfolio for BSVI emission compliant vehicles.
Q. What is the supplier involvement that you are witnessing?
A. The development of BSIV emission compliant vehicles is providing component suppliers a chance to upgrade themselves, to localise products, and to keep the costs down. We have already geared up for BSIV emission compliance. Pan-India implementation of BSIV emission norms has been pending for nearly five years now. Availability of fuel is still a big question, and remains unanswered. It depends heavily upon the government, which mainly owns the oil companies. For BSVI emission norms, a lot of products need to be imported from Europe. It is good that many component
and device suppliers are localising them.
Q. What about the short lead time to BSVI emission norms from BSIV emission norms?
A. We need to improve our environmental standards, there is no doubt. The time to move to BSVI emission norms from BSIV emission norm is however short. It therefore seems too ambitious. Isuzu already has technologies similar to EuroVI in Japan. The basic technology is available. It is however not localised for India. The big question is not the basic technology. Basic technology is already available. The question is fuel. The other is regarding the after-treatment devices like SCR and DPF, which nobody in India may be able to make by the set deadline of 2020. Meeting the deadline will call for importing. For suppliers it is very difficult to trust the government at this moment. Localisation of related products was delayed because BSIV emission norms took five years to be implemented. The same thing can happen for BSVI emission norms. Importing is against the ‘make in India’ concept. A big concern is the testing of vehicles. We will need to use new fuel to validate the vehicle. It is necessary that the validation is done by BSVI fuel made locally. The fuel has to be commercially available. If the fuel is different from what is made in Europe, it could pose a big challenge. A vehicle has to be tested for over a million kms across all seasons. This will take two years almost. I don’t think that the government will be able to provide BSVI fuel by 2018 for such periods of testing. To meet the 2020 deadline looks difficult.
Q. Wouldn’t it be difficult for suppliers to localise if there is no fuel available? How are you addressing supplier concerns?
A. It has been talked about for long in the industry. We are always discussing with our suppliers. We are discussing with them to make the vehicle compact and light in weight. After I joined SML Isuzu, supplier meets have been a regular feature. There is a meet scheduled for next month. At these meets, we communicate what we are going to do. We understand what the suppliers expect from us. They also get an opportunity to understand what our expectations from them in terms of quality, cost and delivery are. A lot of movement in the LCV business has occurred as ecommerce companies have picked up pace in India. I see a major change in costing due to the implementation of GST. Companies incur a lot of cost in the logistics. GST will also change the way products are distributed.
Q. STUs are procuring buses. What do you think of this trend?
A. STUs have begun working on the public-private partnership model. Growth can be had with this model too. Most STUs have their own bus body business. Redundancy will happen now that the Bus Code has been implemented. They are not hiring new people, and since they have a huge stock, they cannot stop abruptly. The STU business will slowly shift to private markets for both, inter- and intra-city buses. Fleet replacement has been on the cards, and once the norms to replace 10 to 15-year old buses comes into play, there will be a market shift. The number of buses will not shrink; buses will be bought by STUs or by their partners. On the contrary, numbers will increase, and the ownership pattern will differ. Government has also announced various rural connectivity schemes for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat whereby we will have smaller buses coming in from smaller centres to bigger district centers. Such movement will also see our class of buses being inducted into STUs which
other wise was only limited to bigger buses.
Q. Is the permit system limiting the growth of buses?
A. I don’t think so. For example, school buses fall under the Type IV of CMVR regulations for buses, and the permit-system is not limiting their demand. The safety of children travelling in the school bus is very important. At many places, autorickshaws are being used for school commitments. Delhi Government seems committed to prohibit old vehicles. Such a move can fuel growth moving forward.
Q. What is your opinion about alternate fuel CVs?
A. For CNG, we have a very good footprint in Delhi NCR where duty has to be paid for entry of diesel powered vehicles. Since it is regulated, CNG powered buses and those that are a part of the LCV segment are showing good growth. Demand for M&HCVs is not picking up pace yet as far CNG is concerned. Fuel availability is an issue. For electric vehicles, we are studying the ecosystem. It is not that easy. Cost and availability of batteries is a major factor apart from the non-availability of supporting infrastructure like charging stations. Our promoter Sumitomo in Japan, from where I have come, has a lot of experience in this segment. It has the biggest electric vehicle charging station network in Japan. Even then, there are limitations that we know of; mainly due to distance. In India, electricity is largely generated using coal. For school buses, there may be a good chance. People are showing interest.
Q. What changes will the implementation of GST bring?
A. For the car segment, GST rate has been fixed at around 18 per cent, but nothing is clear as far as the commercial vehicle segment is concerned. If it is fixed at 28 per cent, then it will be a big difference over 18 per cent for cars. At 28 per cent if one were to consider, there will be no big difference in the tax rate. With BSIV emission norms expected to be implemented from April 2017, overall vehicle cost will increase by almost Rupee-one lakh per vehicle, inclusive of taxes. A spike in demand is expected before the implementation of BSIV emission norms. In the case of GST, if the rate is kept at 18 per cent for commercial vehicles, then the price increase caused by BSIV emission norms will be absorbed. Hoping that this happens, many people will be willing to wait till April 2017 to upgrade their fleet.
The development of BSIV emission compliant vehicles is providing component suppliers a chance to upgrade themselves, to localise products, and keep costs down.