Chennai MTC mulls a makeover

Chennai MTC is increasing its fleet strength by adding ordinary and small buses to establish better connectivity and to increase the efficiency of operations.

Story by: Anusha B

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The T Nagar bus terminus is ten minutes away from the office I step out of. The meeting went well, and the young manager of the company I went to meet treated me well, spoke to me at length, and was courteous. It is the beginning of summer, and it is quiet warm and humid in Chennai. Conceived as a residential locality, T Nagar has turned into a business district better known for its saree shops and jewellery showrooms. The bus terminus off Usman Road that I am headed to, is a hub for services operating to Thiruverkadu, Mylapore, Kodambakkam, Avadi, Nungambakkam, Parrys Corner, Ennore, Manali, Tambaram, Poonamallee, Thiruvanmiyur, Ambattur, Pattabiram and Annanagar. There are also routes to various neighbouring districts like Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur that go from here. Operating under the aegis of the (Chennai) Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which employs an estimated 24,587 people, the T Nagar bus terminus is always bustling with travellers. I want to take a bus to Koyambedu. The route 27c bus arrives in some time. I climb the bus; it is crowded. The bus gets moving after a while and exits the terminus. The traffic on the road forces the driver to drive slowly. Unable to get a seat, I manage to secure a place with two other lady commuters in the front section of the bus. The crowd swells as the bus moves along the route. Many office goers are returning home.

Changing with times

With its roots dating back to 1947 when the Government of Madras nationalised the passenger transport for the first time by introducing 30 buses in the then city of Madras, the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (Chennai) Ltd., is popularly termed as Chennai MTC by the people of the city. Operating buses alongside those that were run by private operators, it was in 1972 that the departmental setup was transformed into a company in order to inculcate a commercial approach without sacrificing the social responsibilities. Thus, Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was formed under the companies Act, 1956, by the Government of Tamil Nadu on January 01, 1972, with a fleet strength of 1029 buses. The fleet strength gradually increased. So did the population of the city. By 1994, the fleet strength reached 2332 buses. Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was bifurcated as Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited and Palaver Transport Corporation Limited on January 19, 1994. The south of the Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar road came under the operational jurisdiction of the Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited, and the North of Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar Road (including EVR Periyar Road) came under the operational jurisdiction of the Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited.

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In June 1997, the two were renamed as MTC division 1 and MTC division 2. To make the corporations viable and for better administrative control, MTC division 1 and MTC division 2 were amalgamated in 2001. By 2003, the Chennai MTC came to have a fleet strength of 2773 buses that operated out of 23 depots. The Chennai MTC also came to have a body building unit at Chromepet, a ticket printing press at K.K Nagar and a reconditioning unit at Patullos Road. During FY2003, 117 buses were purchased to replace aging buses. The Chennai MTC fleet strength in 2009 was 3,260 with 25 depots. Today the fleet strength of the organisation is an estimated 7456 buses that ply along 838 routes and cover a distance 3,929 sq. km around Chennai. Serving an average of 5.2 million people per day, the 7456 buses that the Chennai MTC is estimated to operate include ordinary service buses of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland make; semi-floor buses of Ashok Leyland make mostly (later buses were included under the JNNURM scheme); vestibule buses of Ashok Leyland make having two conductors as they can accommodate almost double of what a conventional bus does; air-conditioned buses of Volvo make that run on select routes (and are estimated to be 100 in number), and small buses of Tata Motors make that connect Chennai with surrounding mofussil areas. Chennai MTC is also said to have 10 double decker buses!

According to Chennai MTC, the buses are segregated as ordinary services with white board and black letters; L.S.S. or PP services with yellow board and black letters; express services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with green board and blue letters; M services with white board and blue letters, and night services with black board and white letters. Claim sources that MTC has an established transportation planning division, which prepares route plans and schedules for the operation of buses. Specials are also operated during fairs and festivals, they add. The Chennai MTC is also known to operate district services, night services, late hour services and night service to serves the needs of a diverse nature of commuters including those that work in the film industry. For monitoring the operation of buses, MTC has posted time keepers at terminals. There are traffic officers with wireless set that are mobile. MTC also has checking squads, which function round the clock to monitor ticket-less travel and crew behaviour.

The journey

It takes an hour for the bus to reach Koyambedu. I alight, and so do many other commuters. For me and all those who have alighted alongwith me, the Chennai MTC has come to play a vital role in shaping our lives. Operating buses out of 32 depots, with an average parking capacity of 200 buses each, Chennai MTC operates the most buses out of the Chromepet Tambaram depot amounting to 200 in number. Boasting of having the highest occupancy ratio among Indian city buses at 84.35 per cent, each bus of the Chennai MTC is claimed to carry on an average 72 people including 24 standees. This may perhaps make it easy to explain the biggest challenge I face every time I travel in a MTC bus. During peak hours, it is not unusual to have the bus to Koyambedu fill up to the brim. It croaks and moans as it moves. With commuters hanging for dear life, it does not make a pretty site. Bus intervals over the last few years have gone up, I feel. The reason behind this, I am told, is the aging bus population of MTC. Old over aged buses are being replaced with new buses, but this is putting a certain constraint on MTC. My experience is, the staff that communicates with the commuters could be trained to be more responsive and sensitive. I am aware that they work long hours, and six days a week, they would however do with a smile on their face as they interact with commuters. Providing services even on holidays and Sundays, which is perhaps a fact that office goers like me fail to recognise, the ticket issuer, I feel, has quiet a job to manage of the overcrowded bus. The organisation, claim sources, conducts special counseling and yoga sessions for its employees.

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Challenges

Buses in India carry a certain socialist agenda, it is no secret. It is also no secret that many city bus undertakings are incurring losses. The reasons could be many, claim sources. Many times, undertakings end up operating buses on routes that may not be sustainable. This is simply because they are under pressure from the political class to have buses going to their constituencies, or through their constituencies. Incurring losses, the Chennai MTC, hiked fares in 2012. The per km revenue of the organisation increased from 20 to 28. The revenue went up from Rs. 2.2 crore per day to Rs.3.1 crore per day. The patronage however fell. The commuter count shrunk to an estimated 52 lakh from 56 lakh. Surprisingly, the revenue of Southern Railways went up as more commuters turned to the suburban trains. Increasing its fleet strength since 2012, one of the challenges that MTC faces is to be profitable and to have sustainable operations. Said to have a per day collection to the tune of Rs.30.2 million as of today, MTC’s challenge, apart from making profit, would be to be looked upon as an agile organisation.

Providing 50 per cent concession tickets to students, including those that are studying in colleges, technical institutions and medical colleges, MTC also provides concessional tickets to students of evening colleges and part-time education institutions. A chunk of MTC’s income comes from provision of chartered trips, luggage fee for bags that weigh more than 5 kgs, fish baskets and by giving buses on hire to government departments and private parties.

The small buses that the MTC has, have begun playing a role as feeder services to plug the gaps, albeit as the Metro gains in form and mass. The MTC is said to have not yet been integrated with the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) since some of the MRTS stations are located away from bus stops which makes transfers difficult. To connect the city with important travel terminals like the airport, the MTC has engineered bus routes like 18A and 18B. Route 18B has air-conditioned buses plying on it. Chennai MTC, from the airport, offers services that connect with various parts of the city. Many airport passengers and airport employees are known to use these services. The bus stop is close to the international terminal.

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The number of women travellers in MTC has been growing. They often make a soft target for harassment by rude male commuters. It can also get uncomfortably hot and sweaty in the bus, especially during summers. Roughly 65 per cent of the people in Chennai travel by buses, and the rest travel by the suburban trains. The second (8 km) leg of the Metro was recently inaugurated. It along with the earlier 14 km leg is not capable of taking a lot of people off Chennai’s roads, I am told. The Metro is operating in a region of the city that simply does not see as much people travel as do people in other areas. Ironically, an overcrowded bus in peak hours is a sharp reality. Its very appearance can typify that. The slant has become the natural pose after years of carrying passengers on the footboards. A Union Ministry report is claimed to reveal that MTC has the most crowded buses in the country with 1,300 passengers travelling per bus per day. The report titled Review of the Performance of State Road Transport Undertakings (Passenger Services) for April 2014-March 2015 mentions that the Chennai MTC carried the highest number of passengers per bus per day during 2014-15. Sources point out that the on-going replacement of over aged buses is causing overcrowding. Close to 57 per cent of Chennai MTC’s fleet is said to be overaged. New buses are joining the fleet, but it will take time before intervals between two buses on a route come down. Industry experts claim that overcrowding and accidents is an issue that could be resolved with better route planning. Several routes are quite long and not effectively utilised, they add. An article in the New Indian Express last year mentioned about the Second Master Plan Traffic and Transportation Review Committee meeting. In the meeting, a proposal to the state government to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, to permit private bus operators in the city was put forward.

Safety is one challenge that MTC is facing claim sources. They draw attention to the accident branch that MTC has opened in an effort to ensure complete safety of its commuters, staff and fellow passengers. While overcrowding of buses is said to be a reason, the other reason claim sources is the lack of road discipline among fellow road users in Chennai.

The road ahead

Rapidly growing and expanding, Chennai is one of the smart cities announced by the Centre. Setting the stage for implementing the 1,366.24 crore smart city project in Chennai, the government recently issued an order for the formation of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a requirement to get funds from the Union urban development ministry. The SPV for Chennai, among the top 20 cities selected for the programme, will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, and evaluate development under the project. An official communication from Greater Chennai Corporation has mentioned that Chennai Smart City Ltd (CSCL), formed under the Companies Act, 2013, will be promoted jointly by the state government and the corporation, both having 50:50 equity share holding. How the MTC will align under the AMRUT scheme, and the kind of allocation it will attract, will be clear over a period of time. Under the pan-city plan, smart solutions using information and communication technology have been proposed for non-motorised transport and water management. If such measures ease the pressure on Chennai MTC buses will have to be seen. The need, first and foremost, is to offer safe and comfortable means of transport to the commuters of Chennai. By replacing its fleet with modern buses, MTC it is clear, is committed to providing safe, efficient and comfortable travel to the people of Chennai.

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ò MTC bus connecting moffusil areas.

ðAshok Leyland make semi low floor bus at Koyambedu Junction.

ò Vestibule bus connecting Broadway and Tambaram.

ò Volvo make AC bus runs only on selected routes.

Regulatory implications on Indian bus industry

Regulatory implications on the Indian bus industry will be disruptive, and throw up unlikely winners.

Story by: V G Ramakrishnan

To say the bus industry in India is undergoing a transformation is an understatement. Regulatory changes in the form of Bus Body Code, which has been implemented in totality from October 01, 2016, and BS IV emission norms, which will come into force pan-India from April 01, 2016, are two such transformational programmes that will deeply impact the participants in the ecosystem. BS VI emission norm regulation is also on its way. It is slated for 2020, and will be yet another transformational program that will deeply impact the participants in the ecosystem. With programmes like these, there is a definitive need to study them, and to evaluate them. The top level impact the programmes like these will have on various players across the value chain. There’s a definitive requirement for deep dive assessment on the regulatory impact. As is the case with any transformational change, the impact is broad based, and as the dust settles, there will be clear winners and losers.

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Adapting to change

Adapting to change is imperative. There is no option. Resistance to change or efforts to maintain a status quo will delay the inevitable. The winners in this transformation will be the consumers, and people. They will be able to avail of safer transportation mediums. With anticipated lower emissions for new vehicles, they will also get to breathe cleaner air. The impact of the regulatory changes will be primarily felt by a large number of State Government owned and operated State Transport Undertakings (STUs) and bus body builders. It is these two that will find it difficult to improve manufacturing process to meet the requirements of the bus body code.

STUs operate large bus fleets in India and the capital cost of renewing their existing bus fleet with new buses adhering to bus body code and BS4, and subsequently BS6 buses, will be significantly higher. Of the over 60 STUs in India only three STUs are profitable. State Governments fund the STUs for the operational losses (due to uneconomical ticket prices) as well as fleet purchases. Higher bus prices will lead to larger fund requirement. This will potentially impact replacement demand and push bus operators to extend the use of their existing fleet beyond the service life. Private bus operators will look towards increasing user charges to offset higher purchase price of new vehicles. Another large segment of bus buyer, educational institutions will also look to pass on the higher vehicle cost as higher prices to the consumers.

Cost impact on fleet and travellers

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Regulatory changes apart from those that concern the body and emissions will also contribute towards a rise in the cost of buses. These include fitting of GPS, live video feeds for passenger safety, and passenger convenience features like Wi-Fi. Customers (bus travellers) should brace for higher transportation costs when using private operator fleets. In comparison, the ones that travel by public transport buses will be less impacted. Governments are expected to step in, and reduce the price impact through higher subsidies. This will however impact the finances of state governments, and lead to higher taxes on consumers. There’s also the hope of tax buoyancy through faster economic growth to offset higher subsidies.

Hike in prices is likely to compel bus operators to extend the replacement cycle. They may decide to use buses beyond their replacement age. In India implementation of regulation on vehicle fitness is generally lax, and with state governments acting as both, operator and regulator, chances of stringent implementation of fitness tests on government fleet is low. Past incidents of poorly maintained buses causing accidents have been widely reported. Many STUs do not insure their buses. This acts over and above poor maintenance as a disincentive for fleet renewal on account of insurance oversight.

The short gap between the implementation of BS IV and BS VI emission norms, and the roll out of GST, will play a part in customer decision. Government bus operators as well as the private operators are expected to be cautious in their approach to invest further. STUs make a significant chunk of sales as far as bus manufacturers are concered. The manufacturers will stand to gain if STUs and other operators decide to pre-buy; buy new buses before the BS IV and BS VI norms are implemented. There’s also a possibility of operators, given the short, three-year time gap between BS IV and BS VI, wanting to postpone the purchase of buses to a later date. They can thus evaluate the cost impact better. A critical element here will be the fleet age and the replacement requirements of bus operators.

A likely scenario is customers indulging in advance purchase. They could purchase buses ahead of the BS VI emission norms roll out. This would help them to beat the price increase. Bus manufacturers can thus expect to witness a spike in growth in specific years to be followed by suboptimal growth for intermediate period and beyond 2020. The volume growth and higher prices of buses will help OEMs to improve their earnings even as they witness growth cycles with swift reversal between growth and de-growth.

Bus Code, a mixed bag

Changing regulations, the bus body code in particular, is expected to be a mixed bag for bus body builders. Operations of unorganised and semi-organised bus body builders are expected to be severely impacted due to their inability to invest in infrastructure, equipment, R&D and people expertise to meet the standards prescribed in the bus body code. These busineses will eventually have to shut down. The shutting down of unorganised and semi-organised bus body builders will benefit the organised bus body builders, OEMs and component suppliers. The three will be able to avail of new business opportunities. They will be able to expand their capacities and increase volumes.

The transformational changes in the bus industry will be disruptive, and throw up unlikely winners. The commercial vehicle industry will be watching how the unorganised and semi organised bus body builders respond to the challenge of bus body code. Smaller companies have used ingenuity to survive, grow and thrive in a challenging environment using innovative business models. The outcome of the regulation driven changes in the bus industry will be watched with interest as it could well serve as a road map for other markets to chalk out their strategy. Epecially those markets or sectors that are likely to witness changes driven by regulations. The bigger question is, are we moving from an unorganised sector to an organised sector? And, how prepared are we for the far reaching implications that will arise?

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V G Ramakrishnan is Managing Director and Partner of Avant Advisors LLP.

Saving to win

The Asia-Pacific round of Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge 2016 finals was held in Sweden with a prime objective of saving fuel.

Text & Photos: Bhargav TS

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Anil Reddy worked hard to get to Falkenburg, Sweden, to participate in the Asia-Pacific round of Volvo’s Fuelwatch Challenge 2016 finals. If he won (in the off-road category), he would go to the global finals. One of the 11000 drivers sensitised by Volvo Trucks India for the Indian part of the championship, under the Asia-Pacific region, Anil drove past 230 drivers to the semi-finals. A hardy soul, he kept climbing, and made it to the team of 30 drivers selected for the India finals. Anil won the finals held at the desolate Besur coal mines, 70 kms to the south of Nagpur in peak summer with temperatures close to 50 degree Celsius. Under the watchful eye of Haribabu, who heads the Volvo Driver Training Centre at Bangalore, Anil used all that he had learnt over the years to make it to the top. He fought a fierce battle where each contestant did all that he could to win the challenge; to be the most frugal over a five-kilometre mining track at Besur’s Gokul Coal Mines. Volvo Trucks deployed Dynafleet, their proprietary fleet management system, to measure the performance of each driver. It measured the drivers on four key aspects – braking, speed adaptation, engine and gear utilisation and standstill. Data on fuel efficiency, driver’s uptime and overall productivity were collected to gauge contestants’ performances and identify specific areas for improvement.

Confident of winning the finals, Anil flew to Sweden, the first time he would ever step into the European Union, and into Volvo’s home country. Some trepidation did find a way to Anil as he got on the plane to Sweden. He simply shrugged it away, lost in the thought that he had to win the title. Conditioned by the desolate mining landscape and harsh working environment, he found his way to Falkenburg. At that point, he had no clue he would have a story to take back home to his fellow drivers, and all those who played a role in getting him to Sweden.

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Born out of the need to care for environment

The history of Fuelwatch Challenge dates back 10 years when Volvo’s Korean officials kicked off the event at the national level. They did so with a view of encouraging their customers and drivers to be more responsible towards the environment, drive frugally and reduce the carbon footprint. The Swedish major also saw a way of telling about their efforts to build efficient and technologically adept trucks through their customers and drivers. The message was clear: Volvo’s customers could build sustainable business and engineer high operational efficiency. Working tirelessly to increase the fuel efficiency of its trucks by infusing new technologies, the company has turned the Fuelwatch Challenge into a global event. It is divided into two parts, an on-road event for its on-road truck drivers and an off-road event for off-road (tipper) truck drivers. As part of the Asia-Pacific leg of the challenge, the challenge in India was kicked off by Volvo seven years ago. It was decided to limit it to the off-road category. This is about to change as Volvo shifts gears once again in India, and renews its focus on on-road trucks. The on-road challenge in the Asia-Pacific region is currently held in Korea, China, Malaysia and Singapore among other countries. In the last edition of the Asia Pacific Fuelwatch Challenge, P Ravi of S V Engineering Construction (SVEC) won the off-road category. The finals were held at Thailand. Following in Ravi’s footsteps, Anil, working for the same company, flew to Falkenburg, with just the thought of winning and retaining the title for India. One of the 14 drivers crowned at their respective national levels in the Asia-Pacific region in the off-road category, Anil would indeed have a story to take back home.

Expressed Per Bruun Hansen, Driver Development Manager, Volvo Group Trucks, at the start of the event on the Falkenberg Motorbana (FM) Racetrack, “In order to achieve good fuel economy the drivers will have to shift gears as less as they can. They will have to shift progressively to ensure better torque. They will need to plan, and be gentle on the accelerator and brake; use them as little as possible. They will also have to reduce idling and constantly check the tyre pressure to achieve the best fuel economy.” “The carriage of overload will increase fuel consumption by one to two per cent. If all the steps mentioned are considered, one could achieve better mileage and increase the operational efficiency,” he added.

The event

Anil and the 13 other participants drove a Volvo FMX 500 8×4 tipper across a designated track created especially for the purpose at the Falkenberg racetrack. The heavy-duty tipper was equipped with D13K500 VEB+, Euro 6 engine that develops peak torque of 2500 Nm, and is mated to an I-Shift AT2612F gearbox. The front of the truck was fitted with leaf spring suspension (FAL20). The rear contained an air suspension (RTH2610F). The tipper was also equipped with Volvo Dynamic steering.

The drivers did two laps in the FMX500. The maximum time they were allowed to drive was 18 minutes. Each driver took off from the start point, got on to the off-road track, climbed a gradient and descended it from the other side. After descending, the driver brought the truck to a complete halt for five seconds. He then drove into the next terrain consisting of mud and sludge. He also drove over a plain area before completing the second lap. During the entire competition, the inter-axle differential lock was engaged. The I-shift lever position was determined by the driver, except when starting. When starting the position was in the automatic mode. Traveling with the gear lever in neutral position resulted in disqualification.

Jangh Yun Son of Korea was announced as the top-most fuel-efficient driver in the off-road category. He is the owner of Moa ICT transporting aggregate, construction waste in Korea. Hsu Chin-Lung of Taiwan was announced as the top most fuel-efficient driver of the Asia Pacific region in the on-road category. He is a professional driver at a big Transport company of Petrol Chemistry, Industry indicators in Taiwan. Anil Reddy was announced the 1st runner up in the (off-road) challenge.

President of Volvo Trucks International, Heléne Mellquist, congratulated the winners. She mentioned, “The great performances offered by our contestants underline the importance of driver when it comes to achieving optimal fuel efficiency. This competition is all about sharing insights to improve drivers’ performance and benefit businesses in the long run.” “For the current edition more than 5800 contestants have participated, and the event is growing year on year,” she added.

Accolades for Anil Reddy

Competing with five contestants and being judged as the first runner-up having stood from the winner with a marginal difference in the off-road category, Anil Reddy attracted much attention for his efforts. GV Rao, Director – Product, Brand and Marketing of Volvo Trucks India, congratulated him. He averred, “It is a proud moment for India and its driver community. With each edition of Fuelwatch, the competition is becoming more intense. Indian drivers are becoming increasingly competitive in their quest to win a global competition like this.” “A competition like this signifies the importance of driver behaviour and its contribution towards achieving higher fuel efficiency, productivity and safety,” he added.

Reddy expressed that he was proud to be a Volvo truck driver. He said that he is looking forward to share his learning from the Fuelwatch event and spread awareness on the importance of fuel efficiency among fellow drivers in India. Mentioned Anil about the training rendered by the Volvo driver training centre in Bangalore. This centre continuously trains drivers, both in Bangalore and at customer’s mine sites. The centre point of driver training is

fuel efficiency.

While Volvo lays stress on fuel efficiency, and goes to the length of formulating, holding and expanding the scope of a challenge called the Fuelwatch Challenge, it may be interesting to note that transportation is responsible for 28 per cent of India’s carbon emissions, second only to power plants, which are responsible for 31 per cent of the emissions. Heavy duty vehicles in India are growing as infrastructure and transportation needs of the country change. This is having an effect on the environment. The drivers of heavy vehicles can contribute towards preserving the environment by saving fuel and ensure that the trucks they pilot, emit less. The task of building trucks that are environmentally friendly, Volvo is already

doing.

BOX

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Per Bruun Hansen, Driver Development Manager,

Volvo Group Trucks

Q. How do you rate the current edition of Volvo Fuelwatch 2016?

A. Without any doubt I would say that the current edition is better than the last edition. This year we saw that the drivers were extremely dedicated. They were highly competitive. In fact, after the results the ones that did not win should have no reason to feel bad. They are still among the best drivers in the world.

Q. In the off-road category, what was the deciding factor?

A. I think it was time management. Managing the time as you go around and make sure you control the throttle rightly as you climb the hill and climb down is important. This really makes a lot of difference in achieving better fuel economy. If two of the drivers are same in fuel economy then we will see the time consumed and finally the costing. This is how we decide the winners.

Q. The difference between the winner, the first runner-up and the second runner-up?

A. I cannot give you that figure, but I can say that the fuel consumption difference between them is less than three per cent. And, that’s quite exiting. That’s why I said that there should not be any hard feelings for the second and third runner-up. Next day, in a different weather condition and on a different track they can be the winners. They are all top drivers. It is because the Dynafleet can record very minute figures, that we have been so accurately able to gauge the performance of the drivers. It is the best tool so far in tracking all the parameters.

Q. How does the Dynafleet help the drivers?

A. Earlier I would need to spend more than four hours with the drivers to understand their driving behaviour and pattern. With Dynafleet my job has become much easier and simpler. With Dynafleet to assist, I am able to train the driver in the area that he should improve in. Dynafleet clearly indicates the area of improvement such that the driver cannot blame me as a trainer. Neither can be put the blame on any external factor. The result is in black and white.

Q. What would be your advice to the competitors?

A. I would tell them to stay calm, and be gentle on the accelerator. I would also tell them to not follow what others are doing. Concentrate on your own performance and the rest will fall into place is what I would tell them.

Q. Some drivers feel that driving premium trucks is difficult. Is it true?

A. In India we are located in Hosakote, Bangalore. There we have a training centre run by highly trained and professional trainers. There are no obstacles therefore in familiarising with new technologies. When drivers come to train, they think that they know everything. However, after a day or two, they realise how different and easy it is to learn new technologies. The day one stop’s learning, he is dead. That is what I believe. I therefore do not think that there’s an issue about premium trucks being difficult to drive.

Truck platooning demonstrated

On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Challenge 2016 finals, Volvo Trucks demonstrated truck platooning at Falkenburg. One truck led the way, and others followed it in a convoy, copying every move of the truck in front. Separated by as little as 25 ft., like a convoy of cyclists in Tour de France, each truck, except the one at the front, benefitted from a drop in wind resistance. Said Hyder Wokil, Mobility & Automation Director, Volvo Trucks, that such a formation could save six per cent fuel. He averred that platooning requires vehicle-to-vehicle communication and an amount of autonomous driving. Pointing at technological solutions that aren’t far from turning commercial application, the platooning demonstration endorsed the fact that incremental steps are being taken to make trucks efficient than they are today. “Truck platooning can bring significant fuel saving and reduce CO2 and toxic emissions. It can also help to reduce congestion through efficient use of existing infrastructure, thereby reducing pollutants and greenhouse gases further. In the long run, haulage companies in particular will benefit from faster transhipment of goods through fewer traffic jams. Roads will be used more efficiently. Through harmonisation of regulations, the automotive industry will be able to work on the smooth introduction of self-driving trucks,” mentioned Wokil.

Ravi and Anil lead the way

At the finals held at Thailand, it was P Ravi who won the championship. He and Anil Reddy works for S V Engineering Construction (SVEC), a company that participates in mining, infra and agricultural projects. Both, Ravi and Anil are leading the way in reflecting upon truck drivers that they should save fuel and care for the environment by doing their bit. There’s also something that SVEC is doing right, that has got Ravi and Anil this far. Established in 1973, SVEC transitioned from irrigation projects to mining in 2000. It has now transitioned into infra projects due to the slowdown in mining activities. Working on infra projects like the construction of second runway at the Bangalore Airport, SVEC has 110 Volvo tippers and 28 Volvo 48-tonne excavators. A loyal Volvo customer since the first truck that SVEC bought in 2000 continues to operate even today, N Vinod Reddy, Managing Partner, SVEC, informs that his company calculates the fuel consumption of its drivers and the best driver is sent to the Volvo Fuelwatch competition. Of the opinion that such a competition motivates the drivers and results in a huge improvement, both Ravi and Anil have been working for SVEC since 2014. Both had the experience of driving premium trucks, but the Volvo driver training and on-site training helped them to learn to achieve better fuel economy. “Anil and Ravi will be made trainers for the rest of the drivers at SVEC so that their journey motivates other drivers,” Reddy stated. Interestingly, for the fleet operator, a rise in fuel savings translates into more profitability. If he has 100 trucks for example, and each truck saves 10 percent fuel, the savings in monetary terms amount to Rs.2-2.5 crore per year.

A system named Dynafleet

Dynafleet make look like just another telematics-based fleet management tool developed by a truck manufacturer, it is however much more than that. According to Volvo sources, it helps to deliver on an important count of fuel efficiency. It measures the fuel economy of a truck, and is designed to provide an insight into the management of the entire fleet, truck-by-truck. Helping to pick up information for a deeper understanding the truck operator’s business, Dynafleet also helps to take corrective measures. It can generate reports from a wide range of parameters and discover why a particular driver consumes more fuel than the other when he is driving the same truck. Potential savings are easy to identify, and quickly. Enhancing profitability, Dynafleet reports vehicle data and driver times to both the driver and the office. This information assists in transport analysis and forms a reliable basis for the vehicle manager’s work and the office’s wage calculations. A complete transport management system, Dynafleet presents a range of logistical functions including the vehicle’s position. This makes the system the transport planner’s daily tool for planning, managing and following up transport assignments.

CAPTION

ò Volvo Trucks officials with Indian contestant and last year’s APAC winner.

ñ FM 500 being used for on-road competition.

ð After the competition all the data are acquired from the Dynafleet by the Volvo official.

Hella modular tech for bus lighting

Bus lighting technology is changing in-line with the need for better illumination and safety as speeds rise.

Story by: Bhargav TS

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Hella showcased its Shapeline modular lamp series at the recent IAA Commercial Vehicles Show (2016) at Hanover, Germany. The series is a modular design, and includes tail lights, brake lights, direction indicators and position lights. Available in different designs, the Shapeline modular lamp series is designed to suit different commercial vehicles; of different sizes and nature. Designed to address multi-volt requirements (12-volt and 24-volt), the Shapeline modular lamp series is based on two different design

lines-classic straight line tech and dynamic curved style. In either design line, the micro-optics on the interior and exterior lense make for a homogeneous appearance turned on and when turned off. Reflective of Hella’s emphasis on modular lighting technology, the Shapeline modular lamp series for commercial vehicles open up a new world of design possibilities for bus body designers and manufacturers.

For bus lighting, the modular front lighting system does not just let the customer choose, it offers an array of design and placement possibilities. The system is made up of an auxiliary high beam, fog lamp, bi-xenon low and high beam, and static bend lighting as well as a position light. The modular lighting technology for tail lamps also provides a whole lot of design possibilities. These include themes such as futuristic, dynamic, sporty, elegant and classic. What makes it interesting as a technology is its capability to accommodate either, bulbs or innovative LED lighting. Promoting Hella’s modular lighting technology for commercial vehicles in India is the Indian operation, Hella Indian Lighting (HIL). HIL caters to the needs of diverse lighting system requirements of the automotive industry in India. It specialises in three areas – lighting for OEMs, for the aftermarket and electronics.

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Built around a chip

An interesting bit about Hella’s modular lighting system is that it is built around a chip. Like an electronic gadget that contains an Intel chip inside it as the central architecture around which the other systems are designed and engineered, the modular lighting system of Hella has a chip at its centre. Expresses Ramashankar Pandey, Managing Director, HIL, that the design may vary according to the needs of the customer, the technology inside is the same. He adds, “We are working on a modular concept that is applied in Germany. The concept is slowly catching up, and we are offering it here in India. There’s been no compromise; the technology is the same, the reflector is the same and even the lighting part of it is the same. The output too is the same. It is just that the manufacturing location has changed.” Unlike the head lamp designs currently found in Indian commercial vehicles, and which have the high beam and the low beam in a single reflector made of sheet metal apart from a soda lime lense, the modular lighting system that HIL is promoting has a reflector that contains a die cast aluminium casing. The electronics are integrated and the polycarbonate cover lense is stone impact-resistant. “Functions like high beam, low beam and fog lamp are separate. If the customer needs it as a package, we can semi-customise it,” explains Pandey.

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Modular lighting tech for interior and signature lighting

The modular lighting system is also being extended to interior lighting applications. This is in-line with the LED tech the company is focusing on. For designers and developers to experiment with the light signature of their vehicle and configure their own lighting design for the front, side and rear end with the click of a mouse, Hella has developed an online configurator for the new series. A vehicle silhouette is selected and different LED modules are dragged individually to the preferred position on the vehicle. The configurator automatically takes into account either current European ECE R48 regulations or American SAE regulations. Designers and developers can download the finished configuration as a PDF file or send a request to Hella customer service centre from within the system.

Extending the current 90 mm module by including an additional LED range called the L4060 series, the modular lighting technology has come to cover a wide range of applications. It has come to provide different light functions. The L4060 series is exceptionally tough and can cope with heavy stresses. Capable of converting existing halogen modules to LED modules within the framework of compatible assembly solutions, the ultra-compact design makes for incredible application versatility. Especially in combination with the benefits associated with LED lighting technology like low fuel consumption, low power consumption, reduced CO2 emissions and zero maintenance. LED lighting tech’s passive cooling among other things offers some distinct advantages, including those that are mentioned above.

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Euro tech pilots India

An interesting part about the migration of lighting technology between Hella Europe and HIL is that the European technology pilots India. Strategies are formulated to drive down cost through frugal engineering. Hella, interestingly, has localised many parts except the lense, which is critical to the reliability and functionality of the system. The lense, avers Pandey, requires much investment to manufacture locally. The current volume levels are supportive of such a move. If an OEM is looking for higher technology with a thermal proof lense, the same are imported from Taiwan or China. For city buses and coaches, Hella has developed a visually distinctive stop light function. By using innovative light guide technology, the brake signal is transported from the centre section which is equipped with LEDs to the outermost points of the light which produces a special signal pattern and a striking rear design. The virtually maintenance-free integrated LEDs have a long service life (approximately 15,000 hours).

In order to increase the application versatility, the stop light product is available in two sizes – 446 mm and 638 mm. The LED additional stop lamp with IP 67 degree of protection is designed for horizontal surface mounting, and can be quickly and easily attached without screws using adhesive which forms a reliable bond. About technology evolution and fitment in India, Pandey opines that there are numerous advantages in adapting LED technology. “Filament-based technology emits only eight-per cent of the light. Much energy is wasted in heating up the filament,” he adds. The advent of the LED technology in projector lamp has helped to package five solutions in two modules. Following the modular postulate to arrive at a platform concept, the company, based on the needs of the customer, can mass customise it. Hella is employing the modular postulate to arrive at a platform concept for the bus segment too.

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Platform concept

Platform concept presents design freedom. It is paving the way for use of technology in different ways. The lamp thus takes different shapes despite the source being the same. Points out Pandey, that Hella is the only company, which is investing in developing technology and distributing it. “We also customise it as per the needs of its clients,” he adds. Stressing upon Hella wanting to play in the bespoke zone and render a variety of products that match the needs of the customers, Pandey avers, “The need to perform in a volume market was striked off. It was decided that customers will not be lured by cheap prices. Our competitors will run the show with five or six mega projects. Our manufacturing lines are highly flexible. We have 15 to 20 projects progressing concurrently.”

In the area of signature lighting, Hella is ready to serve the needs of the customers. It has essential functions in place to cater to issues like safety. Mentions Pandey that the speed at which buses are currently operated, there is a definitive need for advancement in lighting technology. This is especially necessary to support longer vision, he adds. The increase in wattage power of the bulb will not serve the puropse he feels. He therefore states, that such a measure actually makes the lighting system counterproductive. “It is the module which has to be changed, and which in turn calls for design and reflector change,” he adds. The projector module serves the purpose. The reflector along with the module has a cover lense. There’s another lense inside, which amplifies the light. The technology can be customised for variety of different applications. The design supports safety, especially in front lighting.

LED tail lamps

LED tail lamps add to the safety of the vehicles, and buses are no exception to it. India is yet to warm up to LED tail lamps. Used in buses, it can warn other road users by providing, enough braking distance. A big advantage of LED tail lamps is the very short time they take to light up. LEDs glow instantly, giving close to four metre of braking distance for the vehicle following. Claiming to have worked out the cost equation, the average cost per LED tail lamp, according to Pandey, comes to around Rs. 3000. The lamps are maintenance free, and could be offered with a five year warranty. Replacing the bulb in an normal lamp that costs Rs. 350 takes the cost to Rs. 600 per year The user tends to spend Rs. 950 for five years. The cost would be approximated Rs. 4750. In the longer run, LED light is beneficial, mentions Pandey. He states. “We want to be the supplier of choice for LED signalling, modularisation and projectorisation of front lighting in commercial vehicles. We are commencing our first phase of rear light production by October 2016.” Apart from lighting systems, Hella India is also into switches. “We are capable of supporting interior lighting. Volume-wise, trucks may amount to more, it is buses which are contributing handsomely. This is partly because the rate of technical adaption in buses in more than in trucks,” says Pandey.

In the Bus & Coach segment, Hella is catering to the requirements of almost all the bus manufacturers in India. It also catering to clients abroad. The client list of the company includes Volvo, Scania, Mercedes-Benz, Wright Bus, EvoBus, Vanhool, Yutong, Temsa, Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors, JBM, Solaris, VDL, and others. Serving off-highway equipment segments as well, Hella exports locally made LEDs to USA, Singapore, South Africa, Australia, Germany, UAE, and other markets. As a social responsibility, the company is contributing toward road safety. It is keen to see a 10 per cent reduction in road accident deaths in India by 2020. From its research, says Pandey, the company discovered that an important aspect, which did not catch the attention of most while addressing road deaths involving commercial vehicles is the ability to recognise moving traffic and objects on the road. “Lighting is playing an important role to ensure this crucial element of recognition to avoid fatal road accidents. It is very important ‘to see’ and ‘to be seen’ to avoid road fatality in emergency situations while driving on Indian roads,” avers Pandey. He signs off, “We believe that we should first have proper lighting and signalling system for proper vision and avoid creating millions of accident situations. We can then work on other safety features, which are also critically important when an unavoidable accident situation occurs.”

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ñ LED tail lamps enhance safety by lighting up quickly.

ð Signature lighting is made possible by Hella’s efforts to offer solutions that support greater design freedom.

ð As speeds rise, head lamp technolgy is changing in search of better illumination. Projector lamps could well be the answer.

ò Oue conventional bulbs, LED are cost effective and far more reliable.

Keeping up with the times

Delhi-based Guru Ram Dass Body Builders is expanding its manufacturing capacity with a view of increasing its market share.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

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With the Bus Code a reality, Guru Ram Dass Body Builders is gearing up to keep up with the times. It is expanding its infrastructure with a hope that the organised market for buses will rise sharply. Established in 1982, the company has been building bus bodies of various types. It has been catering to bus fleet operators in many north Indian states and regions of the country. Part of a automobile body structure market that was largely unorganised for long, and was looked upon as an extension of the massive SME sector, the implementation of Bus Code has brought about a disruptive change. Mayank Kukreja, CEO, Guru Ram Dass Body Builders, is however happy. He opines that the new (Bus Code AIS052) regulations will streamline the bus body building industry. “Bus body code will alter the customer demand as local bus body building will no longer be legal. This will not only benefit us, but also our customers. The entire system as well as the safety levels in the industry will increase,” he mentions. In order to cater to the ever demanding customer, Guru Ram Dass has developed 73 variants of bus prototypes with various combinations of components fitted in a typical bus. It claims to have already got clearance for them from the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) for a hassle-free customer experience. This, says Kukreja, will help them to serve the diverse needs of the customers.

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Tough nut to crack

The Bus Code certification procedure is a tough nut to crack avers Kukreja. He claims that it has already cost his company approximately rupees one-crore, inclusive of the R&D and bus body building costs. “It is good to adhere to the rules rather than to bypass them,” he states. He draws attention to the fact, that every bus made is subject to approval, which essentially translates into each bus being routed through approved certification agencies who would hold the right to alter or dismantle the bus body presented to them for certification and approval. Explains Kukreja, “One will be able to procure buses made from local workmen. However, during approval, the government will ask for the source of manufacture, which would ultimately be routed through approved bus body builders. Confident that the customer will not go to an unapproved bus body builder once he faces a hiccup, Kukreja mentions that except the paint every part fitted in a bus has to be as per the ARAI prescribed standards. Any deviation would mean additional procedures which would extend the time of approval. It could take up to a month more. It will also involve additional costs. “The paint code requires that there should be no corrosion for one year after painting; there should be no oil sagging, and the paint should not affect the bus body adversely,” Kukreja informs.

Capacity expansion

Anticipating a sharp rise in demand as the bus body building industry organises itself, and streamlines its processes, Guru Ram Dass is investing nine-crore rupees for expansion. It is doing so at its new facility at Bahalgarh, Sonipat. The company, according to Kukreja, has already pumped seven-crore rupees. A large chunk of the investment has gone into the procurement of 15 new machines. These include a tube cutting lunatic CNC machine, aluminium section cutting machine, hydraulic and pneumatic tube bending machine, reciprocating saw for cutting heavy channels, hydraulic power press for making dies, and for making lower panels seamlessly in order to achieve a high level of accuracy. The company is also aiming at creating a fixture system to improve the overall quality of the bus. “With the new assembly system, the work procedure will be fixture dependent rather than be technician dependent. The number of stages in the work procedure will increase. Work will however get distributed among a larger force; will be streamlined, and will need less time for execution,” states Kukreja. Currently operating with a workforce of 250, Guru Ram Dass is working towards increasing the headcount to 350 once the new plant goes on stream. Work is expected to begin by the end of this year.

From its two plants at Nangloi, Delhi, Guru Ram Dass is rolling out one bus per day on an average. This will double once the new plant at Bahalgarh goes on stream. Among the various northern states and regions, it is Allahabad and Delhi NCR, which lead the race for buses according to Kukreja. These two markets are instrumental in the growth of the company, and account for a changing customer profile as well. Mentions Kukreja, “The customer is very particular about the bus body. He often insists that work should be executed in front of him. He thinks that it presents him with an opportunity to alter the procedure if it is not going the way he thinks it should. This often makes it challenging for us. Even as we aim to serve the customer a high quality product, we make certain that we constantly communicate with him. Our location gives us the advantage of regularly conversing with the client.”

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Building the bus body

It takes up to 45 days, including all the quality checks, to roll out a bus body. To manufacture one, it takes up to a month. The process includes the lining up of the bus chassis in the production line and educating the workforce on the design and other peculiarities pertaining to the respective bus body structure. Production, explains Kukreja, starts 10 days after the chassis rolls in. It takes three days for the workers to bind the structure. The galvanised iron sheet work takes another three days. The aluminium work pertaining to the side panels takes another two days. The interiors, including the fabrication of the dashboard, fascia, roof sheeting, panelling, window cut outs, air-con ducts, etc., takes the rest of the month. Avers Kukreja, “The bus body is bolted to the chassis using chassis clamps and U bolts. Different types of packing are used. The rest of the structure is welded.” The warranty of the chassis is 10 years, and the warranty of the structure is seven years. “After seven years, a new structure is built, which extends the warranty by another seven years. The overall life of the vehicle thus goes beyond 12 years.

Claims Kukreja that the aesthetics of a bus body made by them, and approved by ARAI, can be changed. Any change in the safety feature will however need an ARAI approval, and is by no means an easy task. “All the documentation has to be prepared again and sent in to ARAI for review. Once any changes in the safety features are approved by ARAI, only then do we have the option of making both or any of the two body types approved,” quips Kukreja. He highlights the flammability issue. “The entire bus body building industry has shifted to using FRP (Fibre Reinforcement Plastic) over ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). ABS is a thermoplastic material and less costly. It is however flammable. FRP, at the other end, is costly but has a superior ability to mould, and is safe,” he mentions. Apart from the suppliers of FRP material, Guru Ram Dass is supported by close to 50 vendors. These range from the supply of seats, steel material, aluminium material, paint material, and vinyl. Up to 600 items are required in the construction of a bus body according to Kukreja.

Technological development

Technological developments is something that keeps the people at Guru Ram Dass on their toes. A lot of technological changes are underway in the industry, avers Kukreja. He even terms them as disruptive. The sleeper coaches that are emerging, states Kukreja, are out of the purview of the CMVR rules. “They get clearances easily at the RTO level. The day the CVMR guidelines are implemented, the market for sleeper coaches will be streamlined,” he adds. Like conventional inter-city buses, sleeper coaches also need permits. Most sleeper coaches operate at night. Their cost of permit per trip is therefore higher than a typical 2×2 seat coach that operates during the day. “Demand for 2×2 coaches and buses is higher. This will however change once the sleeper coaches get clearance from the agencies,” avers Kukreja. He states, “Even though rear engine buses offer higher comfort to both the driver and passengers, they have not seen a surge in demand. In a rear engine bus, the sound of the engine travels backwards. Carrying out repairs in a rear engine bus is easy. However, vehicle life is the same as that of a front engine bus. The seating capacity is the same. Price however is almost double than that of a front engine bus. This is perhaps the reason why rear engine bus demand has not gone up.” Guru Ram Dass has been offering an inter-city bus body built on a Ashok Leyland 12 m long rear engine bus chassis. Kukreja terms it as a unique blend of aesthetics and technical features. The bus comes with 45 2×2 reclining seats, electronic ORVMs, individual air-con vents and ample storage space.

Demand for bus bodies with provision for fitting an air-conditioner is on the rise. The decision of air-conditioner is done at the time of purchasing the chassis. However, a demand for providing the necessary plumbing and other bits, which will make it easy to fit an air-conditioner at a later date are growing according to Kukreja. “Technological updates are particularly asked for,” he adds. The demand for air suspension is also on the rise. A few years back only three to five buses were installed with pneumatic suspension. Today the number has shot up to 20. Comfort is assuming importance as the traveller is ready to pay. Demand for leaf springs is vanning, says Kukreja. The bus industry, he opines, is also progressing towards LED lighting systems. The market is flooding with Chinese LED lamps for buses even though they are not approved. They have to be approved by the ARAI. Concludes Kukreja, “Thankfully awareness in the bus industry is on the rise. Awareness for technology is on the rise. With the Bus Code implemented, and clarity of designs like sleeper coaches expected soon, the future looks promising. That is the reason why we are investing in a new manufacturing infrastructure.”

Determined to succeed

Karur’s bus industry is determined to succeed in the face of challenges. Story by:

Bhargav TS

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Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted to have said that ‘change is the only constant in life.’ In case of the bus body building industry of Karur this has been proved right, time and again. Located 371 km to the south west of Chennai, the city’s bus industry has kept up with the changing times. It has displayed much determination in building buses. Tracing its origin to the establishment of L G Balakrishnan & Bros (LGB) in 1956 by G Balakrishnan, the bus industry of Karur has kept growing. Organising itself under the Karur Bus Body Builders Association, and affiliated to the Association of Tamil Nadu Coaach Builders, many bus body builders in the city came into existence in the 1980s. Home to over 50 bus body building enterprises, Karur’s bus industry is estimated to be around Rs.1000 crore per annum. According to P Palani Samy, President, The Association of Tamil Nadu Coaach Builders, over 4000 coaches are manufactured at Karur every year. This number, he mentions, is slated to rise past 7,500 units once the cluster comes into play. The cluster, Karur Bus Body Builders Cluster Private Limited, was incorporated in 2008 as a private entity, and is expected to be operational soon.

Bus body code accreditation

Credited with building most buses in South India, the bus industry of Karur, a part of India’s humongous SME sector, which has received encouragement from the government from time to time for its ability to provide industrial employment to the people of the country and produce indigenously, is facing the toughest challenge in its history almost. The implementation of the Bus Code (AIS052) by the Government of India has put a big question mark on the industry’s ways of functioning. Aimed at streamlining the bus body building industry, and enhancing the safety of buses, according to an industry expert, the Bus Code has made it mandatory for the bus body builders at Karur to obtain an accreditation certificate from Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT).

Bus Code was formulated in 2001 as the ‘Code of Practice for Bus Body Design and Approval’ by a technical committee set up by the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways (MoSRT&H) in response to the fact that bus body builders were building bodies on drive-away chassis of poor design, and by using poor quality products. There was found to be no uniformity of construction. The (bus) body structures were thus hardly design optimal and safe; the cabin and seats were cramped, and the people were subjected to extreme heat, vibration, noise, poor comfort and protection. Bus Code accreditation by a bus body builder, it was highlighted, would confirm his ability to adhere to the safety norms prescribed.

The Bus Code implementation for April 01, 2015, was announced in December 2014. The deadline to implement the Bus Code was however extended by six months to August 01. 2015, so that those bus body builders who could not meet it were able to do so. The dimensions implementation took place in April 2016. A regulation is known to have been issued recently that, the bus code will be issued in total on October 01, 2016. According to industry experts, the Bus Code enhances safety features of medium and high capacity buses (Type I), buses for inter-urban transport (Type II), long-distance passenger transport (Type III) and special purpose vehicles — school buses and tourist buses (Type IV). Separate specifications have been provided for non-deluxe, semi-deluxe, deluxe, air-conditioned deluxe buses that come under all four types.

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The challenge

The idea behind the formation of a cluster by the bus body builders of Karur was to create a Common Facility Center (CFC) with a capital outlay of Rs. 9.5 crores. The central government would fund 70 per cent, and the state would fund 15 per cent. The rest of the amount (15 per cent) would be funded by the bus body builders as members. The cluster would require a minimum of 20 members to start with. Claims a Karur bus industry source that more than 20 member have been signed till date. He mentions that with the bus body builders here specialising in building stage carriers for private operators and government transport undertakings prominently, the formation of cluster was thought to be of much use to grow further. States another industry source under the condition of not disclosing his identity, that the situation over the last one year has changed drastically. Hopes of growth are lost, and there’s a growing fear if the industry will survive.

Stating that the bus code’s emphasis on safety is fine, an industry insider at Karur avers, the buses that have been built here are stronger and last longer than branded buses. He draws attention to significant orders for MTC in Chennai for semi-low floor buses executed recently by Karur’s bus industry. He also draws attention to orders executed for key private operators like SRS Travels and Parveen Travels. Expresses Palani Samy, “We are very concerned about passenger safety. Data from the studies on road accidents indicate that the coaches made by the Karur bus body builders are of high standards. Those that met with accidents, it was revealed, did not suffer structural failure. Even the roll-over protection standard was met. We use high quality materials is beyond doubt.”

According to Soundararajan, Director, Maaruthi Coach Builders, most bus body builders at Karur are in the business for more than 30 years. “We have come to learn of the customer’s mindset. Spread as far as Orissa and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, they rely on us for the quality we offer. We are however facing a serious threat. Despite making coaches according to the standards we have been asked to follow the Bus Code, which calls for several design changes. Each part, may it be the seats, electricals, steel channels, and the floor materials, need to be certified. The structure design requires roll over protection. The governing body asked us to prepare a bus that meets all the requirements on behalf of the association. We did it. After spending huge amount of money, they have asked us, each bus body builder, to prepare a bus for validation,” he adds. The challenge, it is clear, is about each bus body builder applying for an accreditation. No cluster or association is entertained, claims an industry source.

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The solution

The attempt to build a bus for bus code accreditation as an association has left the bus body builders of Karur wounded. They feel that their effort to build a bus by forming an association has been a waste. Avers Soundararajan, that such tantalising decisions are costing them dear. “Small players like us are the most affected,” he adds. To abide with the new (Bus Code) standards, Maaruthi Coach Builders has begun working towards developing a bus that will meet the requisite standards. States Soundararajan, “To meet the challenge, we feel the need to become a fully integrated bus maker. The task of building a chassis and a bus will allow us to be competitive. The threat here is from the chassis manufacturers. The government has to step in. It has to make the necessary changes in the regulation. We would otherwise be shutting down our facilities.”

In Karur, 13 bus body builders are known to have secured the accreditation. Many more are on their way to get it. Interestingly, avers an industry source, even STUs must get accreditation. The design aspect of the coach must be validated by the certifying agencies, and only then can a bus or a coach be registered. Mentions a Karur coach builder, that component makers can produce standardised material with the uniform code. This will lead to better efficiency and competent after-sales service. “Most significantly, it will help us to provide comfortable and safe buses which will not only delight passengers but also help to decongest roads and lead to a greener environment,” he adds. He draws attention to the fact that the buses built by Karur coach builders are stronger and last longer than branded buses.

Addressing sleeper coach demand

Demand for sleeper coaches in India is on the rise. Many bus body builders are responding to this demand. Claims an industry insider at Karur, that sleeper coaches are classified as special purpose buses. They are designed and constructed to let the passengers sleep, he adds. Sleeper coaches are claimed to be placed in the category “Type IV” as per the Bus Code. Opines Soundararajan, “In the case of sleeper buses, we are already following the code. According to the standards we provide the window panes with a sliding movement. We provide separate windows on sides of the bus for upper and lower berths. In sleeper coaches, the berth structures are welded, bolted or interlocked by suitable means so that there won’t be any rattling or dislodging of berths.” Aware of the growing response for sleeper coaches in Tamil Nadu, is Soundararajan informs that they are unable to satisfy the demand. It is because the sleeper coaches at Karur are built to high standards, he adds.

Pointing at the changing requirements of clients, Soundararajan avers that the bus industry is not what it was before. He expresses that another round of change at Karur has begun. Much of this is in part of the requirement to achieve bus code accreditation, he points out. Many bus body builders at Karur are investing in CAD facilities for design and engineering requirements. To develop a bus body design, informs a Karur bus body building company owner, CAD images and various chassis details are required from the respective manufacturers; the same have to be integrated and checked for roll-over protection. The need to buy a design software is adding to the cost of operation. Without getting a design approval, it is not possible to produce. Mentions Soundararajan, “In order to meet the roll-over protection standards we are working on an entirely new design of bus bodies. We are doing so because we do not want our bodies to have any scope for failure.” “The roll-over protection is one of the most important clauses which will rewrite the entire design of bus bodies,” he avers.

The Bus Code is looking like the toughest test the bus body builders of Karur have faced until now. Not to give up, they are investing in the requisite software and other requirements necessary. In an environment where the odds seem to stacked against them, it is clear that not all bus body builders are on the same page. Some are better positioned to invest and upgrade, others are not. Their attempt as an association to get Bus Code accreditation has failed, but their hope for a better tomorrow continues to drive them. If their expectation of government help sounds logical, their ability to keep changing with the times will see them in good stead. The new buses rolling out of Karur are certain to be even better.

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GNA Axles announces IPO

In anticipation of strong growth, GNA Axles Limited has announced its first ever Initial Public Offering. Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

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Jalandhar-based GNA Axles Limited was established in 1993. Specialising in the manufacture of rear axle shafts, splined shafts and spindles, the company has announced its first ever Initial Public Offering (IPO) in anticipation of strong growth. Made up of two business arms – GNA Duraparts (Gears division) and GNA Udyog Limited (Propeller Shafts division), GNA Axles Limited decided upon an IPO to fuel growth. Encouraged perhaps by the good performance of diverse IPOs launched in India in the recent past, the IPO that GNA Axles has announced is worth Rs.130 crore. On Septmebr 14, 2016, the company came out with an issue of 63,00,000 equity shares. Of this, the net public issue comprised of 61,00,000 lakh equity shares. The remaining 2,00,000 equity shares will go to the eligible employees of the company. Expressed Ranbir Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer of GNA Axles Limited, that out of the net proceeds of the issue, Rs.80 crore will be utilised for the purchase of plant and machinery. For the working capital of the company, Rs.35 crore will be allocated. An additional undisclosed sum will be utilised for other miscellaneous corporate expenses. The equity shares of the company will be listed on the BSE and NSE. Claim financial experts, that this move by the company will enhance the value of the brand apart from facilitating an inflow of capital.

Growth from rear axle

Expected to facilitate growth by infusing funds in working capital, corporate expenses and debt reduction exercises, GNA Axles, according to Singh, sees growth in the supply of axles to every second truck in the country. Admitting that this is a large market to quantify, Singh informed that the rear axle shaft segment in India is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13 per cent. “It is here that we want to grow big time,” he mentioned. In FY2015-16, rear axle shafts constituted 81 per cent in terms of volume, and 84 per cent in terms of sales. Expressed Singh, “GNA Axles has a well defined growth strategy. The focus areas include exports, diversification of product portfolio, expansion of customer base, quality and cost reduction.” “Focus will be also on rationalising the investment in new plant and machinery,” he said.

Manufacturing a diverse range of shafts, from 1.5 kg to 65 kgs, GNA Axles has the capability to scale the product portfolio up to 165 kgs. The rear axle flanged shafts the company makes are up to the dimension of 425 mm. In the case of splined shafts, the company caters to a variety of requirements. The hollow spindles find place in heavy-duty CVs where the company caters to OEMs like Volvo. According to Singh, the current capacity utilisation across the two (Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala) plants is 80 per cent. “Production can be scaled up to two million axle shafts annually if needed,” he added. The splined shafts and spindles find use in on-highway and off-highway vehicles. In FY2015-16, spindles contributed approximately seven per cent to the total sales in terms of volume. Apart from spindles and rear axle shafts, the company also manufactures drive shafts, power take-off shafts, hydraulic lift shafts, and transmission shafts according to Singh. These products, he mentioned, contributed 12 per cent to the total sales in terms of volume in FY2015-16. Apart from trucks and buses, GNA Axles caters to the needs of off-highway equipment like tractors, forest and agricultural equipment, construction equipment, electric carts, and mining and defense machinery. Apart from Volvo, OEM clients of the company include Mahindra, John Deere, and TAFE.

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Tractors and off-highway equipment

Close to two third revenue of the company comes from the tractor segment. In FY2015-16, GNA Axles manufactured 5.48 lakh tractor units according to Singh. It is a single source supplier to some tractor OEMs. The company also supplies to Tier 1 suppliers like Automotive Axles Limited, Meritor HVS AB and Dana Limited. In FY 2015-16, the domestic and export sales constituted 45.29 per cent and 54.71 per cent of the revenue according to Singh. Catering to the export markets of USA, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Japan, UK, France, China and Australia, Transaxle Manufacturing of America and Kubota Corporation are among the major global customers of the company. Averred Singh, “Exports last year grew exponentially at 54.1 per cent compared to 34 per cent the year before. What started as a production of two components a day has scaled up to three million units per annum for the domestic and exports markets cumulatively. Apart from focusing on production, we are ensuring that we give equal importance to every stage of the entire value chain. From packaging to dispatching the component.”

Automation

As part of the growth plan, the company is looking at increasing automation. This, said Singh, will also help with the capacity utilisation. Looking at leveraging its relations to keep growing, both domestically and internationally, GNA Axles is also looking at diversifying the product portfolio. It is working towards integrating its manufacturing setup and enhancing its engineering capabilities. New machinery as per the plan will be in the area of forging, heat treatment and machining according to Singh. He averred, “Going forward, we will focus on increasing automation in forging and machining in order to better utilise the resources and enhance efficiency.