The enforcement of ABS and revised Bus Code in commercial vehicles will enhance safety. It will also lead to challenges like price increase.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has amended the Motor Vehicle Act to make Anti-Blokier system (ABS) – anti-lock braking system in English, mandatory. ABS prevents the brake from locking when applied. The amount of pressure applied on each wheel is electronically modulated, and prevents them from locking. If they would lock, the result would be loss of control and an accident. As per MoRTH’s amendment of the Motor Vehicle Act, ABS is mandatory for trucks classified in the N3 (above 12-tonnes GVW) category and buses in the M3 category (above 5-tonnes GVW and carrying nine passengers). It means the new trucks and buses will have to be compulsorily fitted with ABS at the time of manufacturing. The proposed amendment has been implemented from April 1, 2015. Vehicles already plying on the road have to be fitted with ABS by October end. The law in itself is not entirely new. Since 2006, ABS was made mandatory in vehicles carrying petroleum and explosive items, including trailers in the 40- and 49-tonne range. Most CV OEMs have offered ABS as an optional feature in India ever since. It was easy for us to apply ABS to articulated vehicles and hazardous goods carrying vehicles because a rule was already in place since 2006 mentioned Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) spokesperson.
To purchase a commercial vehicle fitted with an ABS system at the factory should not pose an issue. The issue lies with the fitment of ABS on commercial vehicles that are already on the road by the end of October 2015. A clarity on this is necessary, and if the fitment will be done at the dealer level, or at a level where a braking system manufacturer will train a well equipped private workshop to install ABS. The issue of certification will need to be answered, and until then, there will be some chaos. DICV spokesperson clarified that ABS is already present in their heavy duty range of trucks, and to implement it in their other vehicles is therefore an easy task. Of the opinion that the mandatory fitment of ABS is an important step towards increasing safety on Indian roads, the spokesperson stated that their customers will find the 4S/3M as well as the 4S/4M configuration of sensors and modulators from Wabco fitted. In India, the mention of commercial vehicle braking systems bring to the fore two tier suppliers – Wabco and Knorr Bremse. Both have ABS technology with them, and an ability to deliver them to a level where it will suit the needs and wants of the Indian market. Said P Kaniappan, Managing Director of Wabco India, “The decision to make ABS mandatory was long overdue. ABS as a technology has proved that it helps to avoid accidents by reducing the possibility of skidding under panic braking situations. It also reduces the stopping distance significantly.” Drawing attention to the fact that eight per cent of the world’s fatalities occur in India even though India has one per cent of the total commercial vehicles in the world, Jacques Esculier, Chairman & CEO, Wabco Holdings Inc., averred, “ABS is a major cornerstone to enhance safety. It is exactly the reason why it has been featuring on the trucks today.”
ABS is already a standard fitment
ABS is already a standard fitment of Volvo trucks. Expressed Siddharth Kirtane, Head-Marketing, Volvo Trucks (India), that it is actually difficult to remove an aggregate (component) that has gone into the vehicle right at the design stage. “Our trucks are fitted with ABS as standard,” he added. Echoing Kirtane, the spokesperson of Volvo Buses India also said that their buses come with ABS as standard since 2005. All 4×2 Volvo buses are thus equipped with 4S/3M (4 sensors and 3 modulators) configuration. All 6×2 buses are equipped with 6S/3M (6 sensors and 3 modulators) configuration. The mandate, the spokesperson explained, in case of buses is limited to those that are delivered after April 1, 2015. It does not apply to buses that are already plying in the road. ABS will undoubtedly bolster safety in trucks and buses. It will reduce accidents due to loss of control, and pave way for related technologies like ESP and ACC. Mandatory fitment of ABS will add to the cost of the vehicle. Even at the trailer level, manufacturers from the organised sector have began recommending their customers to go for ABS-enabled trailers. This, they claim could drive costs up by 22 to 25 per cent. Most trailers are fitted with ABS kits from by tier 1 suppliers like Wabco. The fitment of these on trailers however requires an amount of skill and calibration. With ABS made mandatory on trucks, the need for ABS-enabled trailers is only expected to go up. It is quite possible that the locked wheels of a trailer under braking could lead to a loss of control even though the truck is equipped with ABS. With buses it is easier due to their construction claimed an industry expert.
Not fully convinced yet
Transporters don’t seem to be as convinced yet, and even though they agree that ABS will improve safety. Inder Bir Singh, Director, ABC Transport Corporation said that knowledge of the ground reality is paramount while working towards improving safety on Indian roads. “ABS is a good feature but there are other more important areas which the industry is terribly lacking in, and which needs to be addressed. Take driver training for instance. With a negligible amount of driving training schools for HCVs in this country, people who are new to the industry join as drivers and helpers and they take their lessons on highways, which is very dangerous,” Singh explained. He stressed on the need for more driving schools that impart quality training and knowledge. Singh, like many fellow fleet operators will have to go to the nearest dealer to get ABS fitted on his vehicle by the end of October. Admittedly, there will be cost incurred, and the same will be passed on to the end customer.
J T Rajashekhara, CEO, SRS Travels, opined that the law is going against the transporters who continue to face numerous hurdles. He said, “Before making any changes, amendments and passing ordinances, authorities need to take into consideration not only body builders and manufacturers but also the end-users who can make them aware of the ground realities. Apart from being a business we are also representatives of the traveling public.” Bangalore-based SRS Travels has close to 5,500 vehicles. Of these, 2,000 are buses. Pointing at the need to maintain ABS, and cater to its tear and wear, Rajashekhara added, “The longevity of ABS can only be determined over the next year or so. Even it’s efficiency, or whether it will need any technology upgradation, etc.” Like Inder Bir Singh, Rajashekhara also mentioned that ABS will not solve the issue of safety alone. Driver training should be conducted with equal zest.
Revised Bus Code
The implementation of Bus Code will mean that bus builders will have to obtain an accreditation certificate that will serve as a proof of their capabilities to adhere with safety norms before building a bus. The implementation of the national bus body building code is to ensure that buses are built in accordance with the stipulated standards of safety, design and comfort. Confirmed a senior official from the transport department, that the new code referred to as AIS: 052 (Revision I)-2008 is mandatory for all companies and owners involved in bus body building of vehicles having seating capacity of 13 and more passengers, with all bus types being covered under it. Until now the practice has been to build a body and then approach the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) for approval. Under the new code, the manufacturer will have to first submit the design of the body to ARAI. Only after getting an approval will he be able to build it. “The new bus code will restructure all the independent coach builders and they will now be evaluated both on production capacity as well as capability,” averred Jain.
For G V Redkar, Head Marketing, Antony Garages Pvt. Ltd. (AGPL), the new bus code is a welcome change. “It will bring about standardisation in the market. Buses are being run in a haphazard way. Over 35 to 40 passengers travel in one bus with no safety measures in place. Somewhere we have to draw the line and focus on safety,” he expressed. He added, “We are taking this as a challenge. For those having the requisite infrastructure and technical requirements, like us, I don’t think it is a difficult task. However yes, players in the unorganised market who do not meet the infrastructure requirements will be affected.”Antony Garages builds between 120 and 150 bus bodies every month. Over the last year-and-half, the company has been following all bus code rules. “With all our systems in place, what we need to do is get certification from ARAI, which is not a difficult task,” mentioned Redkar.
Bus Code will help streamline the supply chain
While some laud the code, there are those who are of the opinion that the implementation of Bus code will increase the coach building time. It will be anywhere between 2-3 months as the new design will have to be approved. This will involve tests like the roll-over test. However, once the bus design with aggregate or components is homologated, the next time, if an aggregate or a component differs from the one before (different make or design of seats for example), only those aggregates or components will have to be sent to the authority for approval. This could take anywhere between 15 to 20 days. Chances are also that this time will be saved of the coach builder who buys out aggregates or components from vendors that have received ARAI certification for their products. Said one coach builder, “Those materials that I use in my bus, and have been sourced from vendors that have been already approved by ARAI, will not need to be put to a test again. My vendor list will be thus curtailed, and instead of 100 I will now have 60 vendors that will supply approved materials.” Piyush Uniyal, GM – Business Development, RMG Polyvinyl India (Wonderfloor) said, “The Bus Code will help smaller coach builders grow. It will also help us to grow since coach builders will have to buy approved products.
Opined Kulwant Singh Wilkhu, Director, Sutlej Motors Ltd. (SML), “The new bus code is a challenge for all bus body builders in India. However it will be easy to follow and join the change, than oppose and kill the business.”
Manufacturers of buses like Volvo, DICV, Scania, Marcopolo, and others from the organised sector may not have much to worry about. The spokesperson of Volvo Buses India confidently replied that they have been adhering to the bus body code much before it was introduced. Even Krister Thulin, Presales and Marketing Director, Scania Commercial Vehicles India, had the same sentiment to share. He said that his company has been adhering to the bus code. Scania began local manufacture of buses at its plant near Bangalore last month. K Srinivas Reddy, MD, Veera Vahana Udyog, “All our buses are Bus Code compliant except the sleeper coach range.” Reddy drew attention to the fact that regional coach builders like Karur have taken a lead in complying with the bus code. Reddy claimed that Karur has been instrumental in bringing together other coach builders to form an association and get their products to comply with the bus code regulation.
For an estimated 2,000 players from the unorganised market, the going will be tough at least for some time. They will have to stream line their vendor base, bring about a big change in the materials they use. The bus code clearly mentions the use of flame retardant materials. Investing in new ways of working will very likely drive the cost of coach building up. Interestingly, apart from the Bus Code, MoRTH has also amended the form 22A to be issued by the fabricator. Earlier the form used to have only information like brand name of the vehicle, chassis number and engine number. It will now have brand name, chassis number, engine number, bus body builder accreditation certificate number (with date of validity) and bus body type approval certificate number, which will ensure strict adherence to the new code.
The enforcement of ABS and revised Bus Code in commercial vehicles will enhance safety no doubt. It will also give rise to new challenges, at least for some time to come. It will also take some time to understand how the end customer (the company whose goods are ferried, and the person who travels on the bus) profits from the change. In the short term, he is likely to face the burden of the cost increase incurred by the CV buyer.