Managing Director & CEO, Mahindra Trucks and Buses Limited
Interview by: Bhushan Mhapralkar
Q. What led to the creation of the Blazo?
A. We saw a clear indication that different applications required different fuelling cycles. We had a common-rail diesel engine with us. We were using it in a 40-tonne tractor-trailer. We were certain that to move to BSIV, we had to move to common-rail technology. Customer demand was to have flexibility. It could be such that he would travel without load. Even some of the very good transporters may run 20 per cent of the operation without load. Applications like tankers often return empty. There are different road conditions and load conditions. Car carriers are about volumes. There are those that load more; the ODC requirement for example. We thought of leveraging the electronic engine to cater to different requirements in the same product line. We had a 170 hp and 202 hp mechanical engine. We decided to address different preferences in one product line. We created drive cycles, which were appropriate to various applications. The challenge was to switch from one cycle to the other without causing trouble. Vehicle should not be stopped, and cycles changed on the fly. The driver should be able to press ‘Turbo’ mode when he encounters a gradient. He should press ‘Light’ mode when running empty. It took us one and a half year to optimise the engine. We tested the engine by installing it in some of our customer trucks. The outside world did not know that this was a multi-mode truck. Once we were confident we decided to launch the product.
Q. Apart from the engine, what other changes does the Blazo carry?
A. We light weighted the truck as it would improve the payload. We optimised the rear axle ratio. We specifically looked at two or three applications. We created a model for concrete mixer and a tipper. We reduced the wheelbase of our tractor (prime mover) to help our customers meet the new regulations for car carriers. We launched a 49-tonne tractor. We worked on the look of the truck. We worked on the air flow. The Blazo not only looks different, it also behaves differently. We did extensive fuel efficiency trials under the observation of CIRT and auditor E&Y. The Blazo was bench marked against competition trucks for fuel efficiency. The results gave us the strength to offer a guarantee.
Q. What was the prime customer requirement that was incorporated in the Blazo?
A. Roughly, 50 per cent of the cost an operator incurs is on fuel. The prime requirement was to provide fuel efficiency in different working conditions. Earlier the trucks were efficient in one particular condition. We felt the need to give flexibility to the transporter to improve turnaround time. If he is carrying perishable goods, or goods under refrigeration with the use of a slave engine, the need would be for quicker travel. He could choose to drive completely in ‘Turbo’ mode. Addressing such requirements of the customers, we felt, would give us a lead over others.
Q. Who helped you with the digitisation of engine?
A. Bosch did an excellent job of helping us to achieve the right calibration. It helped us with the three drive cycles as per our needs. We had collected a lot of road-load data. They (Bosch) did an excellent job of calibration for us. Senior Mahindra engineers drove the truck day and night to calibrate the vehicle. They drove around two-lakh kilometers. Since we took some of our customers in confidence and changed the engines in their trucks to the electronic multi-mode engine, we had a few thousand trucks running with the technology the Blazo offers even before it was launched.
Q. Did you work on NVH?
A. The electronic engine has translated into less vibrations. We did not do much in the direction of sealing even though we carried out some general improvements. We carried out ‘running’ improvements in the wiring harness, the propeller shaft, the chassis, the suspension, etc. We took much effort in making the Digital Information System (DIS). The fuel efficiency indication on the DIS is plus or minus two per cent. DIS can provide 5-7 per cent error. We did not want it to be such off the mark. The customer can depend on our DIS.
Q. The Blazo is not a single truck, but a range. What was the thinking behind it?
A. The Blazo stands for multi-mode. We would want people to remember the Blazo for its multi-mode. The ‘Fuelsmart’ technology of the Blazo (that offers three modes – turbo, heavy and light) is a Mahindra brand. We could continue with the ‘Fuelsmart’ thought process. ‘Fuelsmart’ technology is common to some of the Mahindra small commercial vehicles like the Maxximo, which has an Eco mode. We saw that the customer wants to differentiate technology, and not the GVW. The Blazo is a flagship offering.
Q. What about the Traxo, Torro and Truxo?
A. They will remain, and get phased out with BSIV implementation.
Q. So, the Blazo is BSIV compliant?
A. For BSIV emission compliance, we will have to add some after treatment. We will add it. Otherwise the Blazo is BSIV ready. We are the only organisation with 2000 trucks that has everything that a BSIV compliant truck will have. They are already running. Our competition will still have to prove their electronic engine in the market. We have a proven electronic engine in the market, which will only need an after treatment and some re-calibration.
Q. How costly is the Blazo over the older truck range?
A. The electronic engine is expensive. It gives superior value, and better fuel efficiency under different conditions. The cost difference is approximately a lakh and a half rupees.
Q. How do you plan to deal with the recent directive on AC truck cabins?
A. The intent to improve driver comfort is welcome. It comes at a time when BSIV development is on. BSVI implementation is also coming up by 2020. Nowhere in the world is an AC cabin mandated. Heating is mandated, but not AC. With 60-70 per cent of the sales amounting to cowl chassis, AC regulation would have done well to have come with the truck code. Fitting an AC on a cowl will be highly challenging. We are offering HVAC in our heavy trucks. The point is, is the industry at large ready? The second question is, what about the cowl chassis? At the supplier end, the supplier base will have to be alerted; will need to be made aware of. The driver needs an AC, long-haul trucks especially. The AC mandate could have been implemented in phases.
Q. Demonetisation has been challenging for transporters. How do see the road ahead for operators?
A. The first to hit the transport industry was the cash crunch. As good managers, transporters have managed. People are not spending money. Demand has gone down. I think, it is a temporary phase. Cash is short, and because of the lack of spending, consumption has come down. Transport industry has been hit. As a (CV) buyer, I would postpone my purchase. I will only purchase what is essential.
Q. Will pre-buying be affected?
A. Pre-buying will happen. There is a lot of time left; there are four months left. Typically pre-buying would have happened only in March; at the last minute.
Q. How many Blazos have you sold?
A. Blazo accounts for about 35 per cent of the trucks we sell. We have a fixed price policy on the Blazo. There’s a list price and a transaction price. The transaction price is fixed.
Q. What future do you foresee for the CV industry?
A. I have always said that if the country will grow, CV industry will also grow. If you produce, you have to transport. Policies in this have a limited role to play. The need is to transport. Road transport will continue to play a role in the growth of the country. If one believes in the India story, then he or she has to believe in the CV story. GST may change the structure of transportation, but it will not hamper the growth of the CV industry. India is a growing economy, and the CV industry will have a good future. GST will re-define the hub and spoke model. ICVs will play a bigger role. Consumption in rural areas will influence the role of ICVs. Spending on nutrition (perishable goods) will influence the scope of ICVs. As the economy grows, people movement will increase. India is a vast country. Railway cannot reach everywhere. The need for buses will be there. There will need to move much population in semi-urban and rural areas. ICVs – we are investing in a world-class ICV, will play an important role. This will be especially the case as consumption in the interior areas will increase.
Q. For ICVs, are you looking at trucks and buses? You already produce buses on LCV platform.
A. Our strategy will be to do buses where the same technology and chassis, with minor modifications can be used. We may look at producing longer and bigger buses on the ICV chassis. We are not going into multi-axle buses, or luxury buses. It is about different scale and technology. We are going into buses that are an extension of our current range. Once we do this, will we think. The ICVs we are working on will be completely new. The lineage will show. There is a lot of learning we have from the HCV range. There is a lot of learning we have from our current LCV range. That has been incorporated. We will field a new range of LCVs along with the ICV range. We will have a full range from 3- or 3.5-tonne up to 16-tonne. We will also have a MCV range. We would look at unveiling the new CVs in two and a half years.
Q. Would you be investing in new engines?
A. For ICV, we need new engines. We are going in for a 3.5-litre engine. This engine could be useful in other Mahindra products too. We are package protecting our range for BSVI and beyond. For the LCV range, you would see a new chassis, and a new driveline. The new LCV range will be definitely better than the current range that we offer. Despite being an aged product, our LCV has been highly successful. We command eight-to-nine per cent market share in the LCV segment. We are reasonably well entrenched in buses. With the ICV chassis, we will be able to offer a wider range of buses. We may not be a full range bus player, we will have a wider range for certain.
Q. What growth is Mahindra Trucks and Buses looking at?
A. We are hovering at around 3.5 per cent market share. I will be happy if we double our market share in two to two and a half years. We could look at further doubling our market share in another three years. It would amount to brilliant success even if we get close to these targets.
Q. Where others seem to find it tough, you have kept on going?
A. Our strength is that we are geographically well spread. We are well-spread segment wise. We are also well-spread product wise. It is not that we are doing extraordinarily well in tractor-trailors and terribly badly in some other segments. We have been growing our market share in a balanced way in the segments we are in. We are steadily growing our market share. We are steadily growing in all geographies. Our strength lies in the good spread we have managed to build, in terms of geographies, segments and products.
Q. A tough market that is attracting the attention of global players, what future do you see for the Indian CV market?
A. What happened in one particular decade in the car market will happen in the next ten years to the truck market. Global players will come in; there will be brand wars. There will be digitisation, and more. There is no stopping that since India is a promising market.
A. Many global CV players are looking at India as an export hub?
A. There are ways to look at it. One is a fully built truck. Such a product has got some logistical issues. So, one would look at neighbouring countries for export. A little further out, and it could be the African markets. It is necessary to see how different is the truck in those markets. The amount of work necessary to meet the market requirements. SAARC is more or less the same truck. Some parts of Africa are likely to require the same truck. We are at the moment concentrating a lot on the domestic market. We are selling substantially well in the SAARC markets; nine per cent of the HCVs we build are exported to these markets. In the case of LCVs, 14 to 15 per cent of them are exported to the SAARC markets. We are looking at Africa as a continent. We currently have right-hand drive configuration with us.
Q. Would you be looking at a local assembly operation for Africa foray?
A. It is too early to comment at this juncture. Our current priority is to grow in the domestic market, and to be a complete range player. We don’t want to divert our energy at this moment. There is a lot of engineering work to be done for India. Foray into Africa or the Middle East markets will call for more engineering. We will gradually venture out, but to comment on it at this moment will be premature.
Q. Are you looking at tapping into new developments like LNG and other alternate fuel mediums?
A. We will work towards electric buses. We demonstrated a hydrogen bus. We have the Mahindra Reva electric vehicle business in the Group. We have the capability to do electric vehicles. Here we are essentially talking about drive motors and battery packs. In bigger vehicles, battery packs are modular. We will be there in electric buses. Since they make an expensive proposition, they will be for the future. What I would like to state is that we are ready, and moving in that direction. It is difficult to judge how far this future lies. It depends on how the government will subsidise, or if the country is ready for it. The customer should be ready to pay for it. It will depend on how expensive pollution will become. It is difficult to be able to judge how the market will pan out. The environmental issue is serious, and we all owe the responsibility to curb pollution. It is necessary to research the extent of pollution caused by automobiles. There’s also the issue of traffic management. There may be a need to look at how much are the automobiles emitting, and if this can be eliminated by managing the traffic. A study is necessary to understand if CVs that are not loading or unloading should be allowed into a city. GST could also change the pollution scenario. To be precise, it is a complex issue. As an engineer, I feel that environment is an issue that needs to be tackled. However, it is not simple. It is not just one aspect, but a multitude of aspects. In the case of fuel, there could be an adulteration issue. There could be an issue with the quality of fuel we produce, with the distribution of fuel, with traffic management, driving habits, etc.
Q. With the Blazo you have been training drivers. Do you plan to establish a driver training institute?
A. There are two aspects to driver training. One is to create a new pool of drivers out of those who don’t know to drive. Second, is to create drivers out of those who have been driving by improving their driving habits. As of now, we are tackling the second aspect where there is a driver, and how do we make him a better driver. This is irrespective of whether it is for the Blazo. We conducted driver training for ex-army drivers. These drivers are not well verse with frugal ways of driving. They are trained for driving over rough terrains. These drivers need to be taught civilian bye laws. Over an army truck driver, a civilian truck driver has to deal with the situation on the road differently. We hold a five day program for training the drivers. We hold training programs when the army welfare society engages us. The driver training concerning the Blazo is about using the multi-mode. For the customer, the first few trips we are doing. We make certain that his fleet of drivers are trained. We sit with the driver and show him which mode to use when. As the Blazo penetration goes up, the need for driver training will decrease. A transporter will have his Blazo driver train the other drivers. Drivers don’t know their rights. A driver is often told of his duties, but never about his rights. We have stabilised the Mahindra transport awards. We have brought out some interesting elements like the ‘Mahindra Saarthi Abhiyan’ where-in we are providing scholarship for the driver’s daughter. The awards look at the transport industry. Through the awards we discover excellence. Consider the case of women truck driver Yogita Raghuvanshi. We are very happy to have given her a Mahindra truck. We also tie up drivers who come to own a truck with operators. We will earn from this industry, and therefore feel the need to forge long standing relationships. We see a need to build a win-win relationship.