Ashok Leyland: Meeting BSIV with iEGR

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Ashok Leyland has developed iEGR for its CVs to comply with BSIV emission regulations.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Ashok Leyland achieved the feat of complying with BSIII emission regulations when they were enforced in 2010 with an in-line mechanical fuel pump. The fuel governing system of the engine was suitably tweaked. To meet the BSIV emission norms that came into force pan-India from April 01, 2017, the commercial vehicle manufacturer has taken the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) route. It has developed what it would like to term as intelligent Engine Gas Recirculation (iEGR). Rather than adapt a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system, the company chose to tweak the engine combustion management system and EGR of both its engine families – H and N, that range between 130 hp and 400 hp. Announced Vinod K. Dasari, Managing Director and CEO, Ashok Leyland, that the technology was developed over four years, and with the view of eliminating challenges pertaining to SCR system in terms of weight and operational costs. Claiming that his were the only company in the world to comply with BSIII emission norms using a mechanical pump, Dasari mentioned, “Better fuel efficiency (of up to 10 per cent), and reliability from the absence of SCR associated electronics are the two outcomes of the iEGR endeavour.” With the elimination of POC, and additional sensors, the BSIV trucks, the company offers, promise to deliver higher payload because of the weight saved. Stating that they have been offering SCR since 2010, and came to conclude that it is useful in long runs at constant speeds, Dasari averred, “India is a value conscious market.” What makes iEGR interesting is the low acquisition cost of the vehicle as compared to the one that is equipped with a SCR system.

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Impact of SC order

Like other Indian automakers, Ashok Leyland was also affected by the Apex Court’s order to stop selling BSIII vehicles beginning April 01, 2017. Not the one to push inventory on to its dealers, the company, according to Dasari, was left with 10,664 BSIII CVs. “It was panic”. “The successful development of iEGR over the last four years helped us to retain our confidence,” said Dasari. A decision to swap the BSIII engines in BSIII CVs was taken. The engines taken out will be sold in the aftermarket, mentioned Dasari. He claimed that no major financial impact was had, and even though the development was painful. “It is a pain, not fun, but we will get over it,” averred Dasari. Till date, 220 BSIII CVs have been converted to BSIV. The cost of swapping the engine per vehicle is roughly Rs.20,000. The BSIII engine costs Rs.1.4 lakh according to Dasari. In the aftermarket, it is expected to fetch a price of Rs.2.2 lakh. Ashok Leyland vehicles, expressed Dasari, are virtually sold on cash and carry basis.

Risk aversion

An endeavour to invade new markets overseas has proved to be of much use to Ashok Leyland in its effort to averse risk. With the Indian market showing signs of much cyclicity off late, the company, which according to Dasari, is the ninth largest truck maker and fourth largest bus maker in the world, is looking at increasing its export thrust. Said Rajive Saharia, President – Global Sales and Distribution, that the company is keen to export one CV for every two CVs sold in the domestic market. Expressed T Venkataraman, Senior Vice President – Global Bus, that the domestic and export sales ratio as far as buses are concerned is 58:42. Buses are exported, he averred, to the Middle East, SAARC, and African markets. Stressing upon the next quarter looking tough, Venkataraman expressed, “We are supplying Euro 5 vehicles to Ukraine, and are going to Latin America.” Quipped Saharia, that more trucks were sold overseas last year than buses. “ Close to 60 per cent of export sales was through trucks,” announced Saharia. The company is looking forward to export LCVs. When it does, the exercise would help it to inch closer to the target of exporting one CV for every two CVs sold in India. Apart from the Middle East, SAARC and African markets, Ashok Leyland is looking at Russia and Ukraine too. In an effort to arrive at streamlined manufacturing processes and higher efficiency, Ashok Leyland has replicated the Ras Al Khaimah plant at Bangladesh. A 200 to 300 unit market will make an attractive export market (in Bangladesh) according to Saharia.

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If Bangladesh is the largest truck export market for Ashok Leyland, the company has began exporting the Boss to Russia. Said Saharia, “Supply of bus kits to Ukraine is on, and local converters are building bodies on them.” Ashok Leyland’s strategy to averse risk and grow faster than the industry reflects from its decision to exit some of the STU businesses. This, for a leading bus player in the country was not an easy task. Said Dasari, “We exited some STU businesses for low profitability.” In its quest to put the Dollar where the returns are, Ashok Leyland made it a point to concentrate on innovative products. The result of this is the introduction of Captain, Guru, Circuit electric bus, Sunshine school bus with roll-over protection, and the Oyster (safest) school bus in the Gulf. Due to its growth potential, Ashok Leyland paid attention to the coal tipper and construction truck market.

Tapping growth

Selling over 200 Guru ICVs till date, Ashok Leyland witnessed good uptake in 10×2 and 8×2 mining tippers and construction trucks. It sold over 1500 units according to Dasari. The share of Ashok Leyland’s mining tipper and construction truck market, claimed Dasari, grew by 50 per cent over the industry average of 30 per cent. From the time it was launched, the company has sold over 3000 Sunshine school buses. There is a waiting list of 500 vehicles. Despite a single product (Dost), Ashok Leyland’s LCV portfolio, said Dasari, witnessed a growth of 4 per cent. Expressed Nitin Seth, President, LCV and Defence, “We are now looking at running faster. We will launch the passenger version of Dost followed by the bigger version of Dost called the Dost+. An eight-metre long bus on the Mitr platform will be introduced. We will also address the demand for 32-seater school bus and a CNG vehicle. These would be developed in left-hand drive variants as well by keeping in mind the export markets.” Ashok Leyland is keen to tap world’s 80 per cent LCV market that is left-hand drive oriented. To cater to the market for smaller buses, the left-hand drive Mitr will be Ashok Leyland’s ace card.

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Apart from expanding the three LCV platforms the company currently has, the plan, according to Seth, is to develop new LCV platforms by 2019-2020. Well aware of the domestic LCV market turning eight-per cent positive for the first time this year, Seth is looking at hitting a six-lakh volume by 2021. Seth is also hoping the LCV to be a bigger player with the coming of GST. In the export markets, Seth is keen to leverage the fact that Nissan LCVs are marketed in many markets making them a familiar sight. With stress on filling up the gaps in the LCV product portfolio by developing new platforms, Ashok Leyland is looking at quadrupling the sale of LCVs with the Nissan joint venture behind it. Keen to sell one LCV for every two LCVs sold in the Indian market, the company is banking on Dost+, which offers a 1400 kg capacity and rides on 15-inch dia. wheels to further increase its LCV market share in the near future. The Dost+ comes equipped with six leaf spring suspension at the rear, and a four-leaf spring suspension at the front.

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Defence business

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Providing further impetus to its defence strategy, the supply of Stallion vehicle kits grew 7.4 per cent, from 3076 numbers to 3304 numbers. With an ambition to cater to 25 per cent of the defence budget, the company has invested in a new defence vehicle facility at its Ennore plant. Special focus is on catering to defence vehicle market. Close to 95 per cent of the UN peace keeping forces in Africa, informed Dasari, use Ashok Leyland vehicles. The company has received 4×4 mine protected vehicle order from the Indian Army, he revealed.

Investing in the right solutions

Happy with the genset volume growth of six per cent on the back of new product variants, Ashok Leyland has begun selling automotive engines. It has received first customer order from USA. Said Gopal Mahadevan, Chief Financial Officer, Ashok Leyland, “We have been doing away with all those inside processes, which do not add value to a shareholder, vendor, customer or a large investor. We are automating a lot of them, eliminating, and streamlining them. With limited resources, we have been judiciously investing employee cost in product development and marketing. Much focus is being paid to achieve a high rate of success.” Claiming that Ashok Leyland is one of the few companies in the world to possess sub-BSIII capabilities since it caters to such markets, Mahadevan averred, “We have BSIII in-line and common-rail tech, and we have BSIV EGR and SCR.”

Owning German SCR specialist Albonair, which supplies Euro6 SCR systems to Volvo, Ashok Leyland, it is surprising, chose to develop iegr rather than to deploy SCR. Said Dasari that stress was laid on offering what would best suit the Indian market. He gave an example of trucks being washed by the river-side with buckets of water. Expressed Mahadevan, “We are attributing growth to addressing the exacting needs of the market. We are the only manufacturer to increase the price of our products in January 2017 by four per cent. We are the only one to gain maximum market share in March 2017.” Averred Dasari that the company’s market share grew from 24 per cent to 32 per cent. Of the view that they have seen good growth despite hiking product prices, Gopal averred, the solutions we offer are about total cost of ownership. Working on multiple channels, Ashok Leyland, to tap growth, worked on increasing the points of presence. “50 to 1,600 is a disruptive force,” said Mahadevan. Putting money on channel expansion rather than discounts, the company concentrated on efficient breakdown services, he added. This, mentioned Gopal, was necessary because the vehicles sold by them are often misused, and are therefore prone to a breakdown.

Apart from investing in the channel, Ashok Leyland has also invested in new products. The Boss, Captain, Partner, Janbus, Mitr, Guru, and others are a point in case. The company leveraged technology to address the requirements of the customers at any given time. This helped the company to secure an order from USA. Claiming that dealers appreciated company’s policy to not push inventory, Gopal opined that a clear focus is on return on investment at Ashok Leyland when it comes to technology. He explained, “As far as technology is concerned, ours is the only electric bus that climbed the Rohtang pass without a breakdown.” Ashok Leyland is building its capabilities in parallel. It is digitising. Mentioned Rajive Saharia, that Ashok Leyland is banking on digital initiatives for growth.

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Digitisation

Digitisation for Ashok Leyland, apart from common-rail engines, means telematics and a slew of ‘support’ technologies. Mentioned Dasari, “We developed a new way of providing telematics in the form of a single device that works on any Ashok Leyland vehicle, and without any kind of engine or associated architecture. It provides driver information, diagnostics, etc., and is found on BSIV CVs.” Ashok Leyland has developed a scan tool for onboard diagnostics for a fraction of a cost, and sans the need for a laptop. The company has also developed Ley Assist, which according to Dasari is a Bluetooth operated phone based tool to diagnose error without any physical connection. Looking at autonomous vehicles and vehicle platooning technologies as the future, the folks at Ashok Leyland are working in that direction, albeit with limited resources. Expressed Mahadevan, “I have limited Dollars, and I am spending them efficiently.” “Our net price realisation in March was better than in February, and it is something that is hard to believe but true,” he added. Ashok Leyland is paying attention on logistics and supply chain. It is also paying attention to improve the capabilities of tier 2 suppliers. Revealed Mahadevan that stress is on pertinent technology; technology that will sell. “We are thus keen to build an engine portfolio, and turn it into a separate line of business. A lot of our engines are used for marine applications besides gensets,” he signed off.

Indian CVs: The road ahead

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After a tumultuous last year, the CV industry is looking at a rare new period.

Story by: Ashish Bhatia

Supreme Court’s judgement to stop the sale of BSIII emission compliant vehicles on April 01, 2017, led to an unprecedented situation. CV manufacturers and dealers were left with an estimated inventory of 96,700 (and 40,048 three-wheelers) BSIII emission compliant CVs as on March 30, 2017, amounting to a sum of Rs.2500 crore approximately. With the Supreme Court order clearly stating that on and from April 01, 2017, such vehicles that are not BSIV compliant shall not be sold in India by any manufacturer or dealer, led CV industry stakeholders to look at quick ways of off-loading as many BSIII emission compliant CVs as they could in a short span of three-to-four days; from the time the Supreme Court gave the order and from the time BSIV emission norms came into force on April 01, 2017. The scope of the Supreme Court judgement can be had from the fact that it ordered all the vehicle-registration authorities under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, to not register such vehicles on and from April 01, 2017, that do not meet BSIV emission standards, except on proof that such a vehicle has already been sold on or before March 31, 2017. It was no secret that BSIV emission norms will come into force from April 01, 2017. The CV industry knew it. What the CV industry did not know, claimed an industry source, was if they should discontinue manufacturing BSIII vehicles such that there will not lie a single unit with them or their dealers on April 01, 2017. He drew attention to the fact that manufacturers were entitled to manufacture BSIII emission compliant vehicles till March 31, 2017. He also drew attention to the Centre’s response on pleas filed by Bajaj Auto and Environmental Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) in the Supreme Court, that the sale and registration of BSIII vehicles can continue after March 31, 2017, and the cut-off applies to manufacturing only. During the March 24, 2017, hearing, claimed an industry source, the court had considered allowing registration of BSIII vehicles by imposing a compensatory cess. The Centre’s response is said to have been based on two earlier instances of upgrading to BSII and BSIII emission norms respectively. Then, the sale of existing stock was allowed.

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Bone of contention

Mentioning in its order that the health of the people of India is of greater importance than the losses the auto industry would suffer (sic), the Supreme Court was not impressed by the argument that manufacturers be allowed to sale BSIII vehicles even after the BSIV regulation was implemented.

Claimed an industry source that the ministry of transport issued a notification on August 19, 2015, to switch to BSIV emission compliant vehicles on April 01, 2017. It did not however clarify whether production of BSIII vehicles would have to be stopped, or also their sale. Interestingly, the Supreme Court did not fail to observe the fact that an expenditure of Rs.30,000 crore was incurred by refineries to produce BSIV grade of fuel. The Court in its order stated that manufacturers failed to take pro-active steps despite being aware of the timelines. Much confusion prevailed until the Supreme Court issued an order on March 28, 2017, to stop the sale of BSIII vehicles on March 31, 2017.

Dealing with the impact

Left with no choice, CV industry stakeholders came up with the prospect of fire-sale. With the Court order coming out three-to-four days before April 01, 2017, the auto industry, and not just the CV industry saw fire-sale as a promising prospect, which is not surprising. Many two wheeler manufacturers too resorted to fire-sale of their BSIII vehicles as well.

Expressed Vinod K. Dasari, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Ashok Leyland, and President, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), that they are looking at exporting the leftover (BSIII vehicles) inventory to emerging markets, currently complying with BSIII norms. Claimed an industry source that those (vehicles) that are left behind will be dismantled. Some of the aggregates could be rescued. Alternatively, the vehicles could be upgraded to BSIV if possible. A statement issued by Mahindra & Mahindra announced that the Group is ramping up BSIV vehicle production. The OEM, the statement read, is also exploring options within the framework to minimise the impact. The brisk discount sales and incentives CV makers offered to off-load BSIII vehicles in the three-to-four days costed them in the region of Rs.2500 crore, claimed an industry source. According to a report by research firm Crisil, companies sold a little over half of their BSIII inventory by March 31, and have lost Rs 1,200 crore on discounts and incentives. They are expected to lose another Rs.1,300 crore to dispose off the unsold inventory.

Mentioned a Tata Motors source that the ban would have a material impact on all the CV industry stakeholders. They are, he mentioned, assessing unsold inventory that lies with the company and the dealerships. According to the Tata Motors spokesperson, the decision to ban the sale of BSIII vehicles was unprecedented and unexpected. Erich Nesselhauf, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV), expressed that they planned a year in advance to meet the BSIV deadline. The company, he added, has sold its 1000th BSIV truck in the state of Kerala recently. Kerala migrated to BSIV emission norms in November 2016, much before the pan-India BSIV regulation came into force last month. Despite prior planning, DICV has come to have an unsold inventory of 200 BSIII CVs, said Nesselhauf on the sidelines of the launch of BSIV BharatBenz HDTs at Chennai. DICV had its CVs shed 400 kgs to accommodate BSIV apparatus. The company has adapted SCR technology to meet BSIV emission norms unlike Ashok Leyland, which has adapted intelligent EGR technology to meet BSIV emission norms. DICV is supplying AdBlue solution to its dealers (and to petrol pumps) to ensure quality and reliability. The price of BharatBenz BSIV CVs is the same as the price of the

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BSIII CVs.

Dealer impact

The impact on CV dealerships was considerable. Dealers came under immense pressure to off-load BSIII CVs. If slow moving inventory made for a higher impact, dealers panicked at least in the beginning. Averred Piyush Jain of A V Motors, a SML Isuzu dealer, that the ruling is hard hitting, and has rendered dealers helpless. Jain compared the development with that of demonetisation. Demonetisation too hit us hard in the third quarter of FY2016-17, he said. “A strong (and clear) judgment should have been passed about discontinuing the manufacture of BSIII vehicles in 2016 itself,” opined Jain. “Had such a ruling been passed in 2016, it would have not resulted in the quantum of losses that we are staring at today,” he added.

Jain also touched upon the fear of electronics among CV buyers and operators. “The customer here is far from being accustomed with the high level of sophistication (electronic engine) BSIV emission regulation will call for,” said Piyush. He informed that he had an inventory of 20 BSIII vehicles. Apprehensive of the volumes in the first quarter of FY2017-18, Tej Ghatge of Chetan Motors, a Tata SCV dealer from Kolhapur said that he held an inventory of 55 vehicles as on March 31, 2017. Of these, he managed to fire-sale 20 vehicles. Huge discounts were offered. Discounts of Rs.50,000 on a Tata Ace was offered. Vimal Gujral of Cargo Motors, a Gandhidham-based Tata CV dealer, expressed that the development was shocking. He held an inventory of 500 vehicles as on March 31, 2017. If his regional centres would be accounted for, the count would go up to 700 vehicles. Not a happy prospect for certain, opined Gujral. With unsold inventory accounting mainly for Small Commercial Vehicles (SCVs) and pick-up trucks, Gujral revealed that they have hiked the discounts considerably.

Stating that the higher price differential between BSIII and BSIV emission compliant CVs is yet to result in a clear picture as far as the demand in CV industry goes, Gurjral said, “We are yet to witness demand for BSIV CVs.” Mentioned a prominent CV dealer, that they have been advised by their principal to register (BSIII) vehicles in their name. “There is a limit to the number of vehicles we can register in our name,” he said. Suresh Jain of Veerprabhu Marketing, a CV dealer from Jodhpur, expressed that inventory levels are usually higher at the end of the financial year. This is done to realise depreciation benefits by billing the inventory over the financial year end. With customers expecting unrealistic discounts, and at times below the cost of goods sold, it is not a happy prospect since the dealer has already been billed for local transportation, local taxation and sales tax among other charges, averred Jain. Jain’s dealership held an inventory of 200 vehicles as on March 31, 2017.

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As a desperate measure CV dealers are known to give an extended credit of up to 30 days to some of their large fleet operator clients to off-load BSIII inventory. Said a dealer on the condition of anonymity, that the impact of Supreme Court’s order and the slow demand for BSIV CVs will reflect in the sales statistics for the first quarter of FY2017-18. The CV industry, he averred, will perform worst than when it was impacted by demonetisation.

Expert analysis

With the Crisil report pegging the CV industry loss at Rs.2,500 crore, the total impact of the Supreme Court order is claimed to be 2.5 per cent of the annual revenues of listed CV manufacturers. According to the Crisil report, an expense of another Rs.1,300 crore will be incurred to dispose off unsold inventory of BSIII CVs. The effect of this development, claimed an industry source, will be spread across FY2017-18. The discounts offered during the fire-sale of BSIII vehicles is also expected to negatively impact EBITDA margins by 100 bps (one per cent) in FY2017-18. Expressed Rakesh Batra, Partner and automotive sector leader at Ernst and Young Services, that it is necessary to consider that the CV industry works globally on 20 to 30 days of inventory. This is within the distribution channel, and should have been accounted for as part of the plan to transition from BSIII to BSIV emission norms. An ICRA report pegged unsold inventory of BSIII CVs to between Rs.4600 and Rs.5800 crore approximately. Despite being caught off-guard by the SC ruling, SIAM’s latest report states the overall commercial vehicle segment to have registered a 4.16 per cent growth in FY2016-17. Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCVs) grew by 0.04 per cent over the same period last year. Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) witnessed a 7.41 per cent growth while CV exports registered a 4.99 per cent growth.

Looking for clarity

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The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a meeting, claimed an industry source. The letter, he mentioned, speaks about the auto industry wanting to thrive in an environment where there is policy clarity and certainty. Especially, due to the long gestation period involved. Claimed a source on the condition of anonymity that the recent Supreme Court ruling contradicts the 2015 notification by the transport ministry. He mentioned that this has been mentioned by SIAM in the letter it wrote to the Prime Minister. The  fact is, the die has been cast. BSIII CVs are history. The road ahead lies on the frame work of tightening regulations starting with BSIV. With the crash regulations said to come into force from next fiscal, the road ahead for the Indian CV industry is going to be as challenging as it has been for sometime now. With GST round the corner, the CV industry, it is looking like, is already anticipating big changes. In 2020, the bridge to BSVI emission norms will have to be crossed too.

Ashok Leyland bets big on Jharkhand

Ashok Leyland has announced that it plans to consolidate its presence in the state of Jharkhand on the back of substantial growth over the past one year. The commercial vehicle major, claim industry sources, has witnessed a 50 per cent jump in sales in the last one year. From around seven per cent to 16 per cent initially. Anuj Kathuria, President, Global Trucks, Ashok Leyland, is known to have said that the growth has provided a big boost to expansion plans in the state. Kathuria is also known to have pointed at a significant rise in demand for tippers. The company is said to be looking at doubling production in the next two years in anticipation of growth brought about by government’s focus on big ticket infrastructure projects. Tippers especially. With 32 per cent market share, the company has recorded a two per cent increase in the sales volumes of M&HCVs, and four per cent in Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) for FY2016-17.

Army Stallion

 

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Despite the dissent of his parents, Karan Shergill, played by Hrithik Roshan, enrolls in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in the Hindi movie ‘Lakshya’. Released in 2004, ‘Lakshya’ (goal in English) was a war movie that focused upon Karan Shergill, a young lad attracted to the Indian Army after learning of his friend having joined the army. Karan finds a place at the IMA. A few days into the training, and he drops out. Once opposed to his decision of joining the army, Karan’s parents express their displeasure about him quitting. Karan’s girlfriend deserts him. Shaken by the turn of events, Karan rethinks his decision. He rejoins the course and completes it successfully. He joins the army ranks as a Lieutenant, and is posted at the base camp leading up to the war grounds of Kargil. Upon the news of armed Pakistani infiltration at Kargil, Karan’s battalion receives orders to move to the Line of Control (LoC). His battalion begins their journey to the LoC across the hostile mountainous terrain in jeeps and army trucks. A part of this convoy are the Ashok Leyland Stallion four-wheel drive 4×2 trucks. When the Kargil war broke out in 1999, the Indian Army pressed numerous Stallions that it had in its fleet to transport soldiers, ammunition, cargo, and more, to the war zone.

Ashok Leyland Stallion is claimed to have entered into the Indian Army service in 1997. The Indian Army was looking at replacing its aging fleet of Shaktiman trucks based on an old MAN truck design. Derived from a civilian version of a light-duty truck that Ashok Leyland introduced in 1987 in association with Iveco that traced its roots to the Ford Cargo, the Stallion range resulted out of Ashok Leyland’s ambition to pursue defense business. The Stallion was inducted in the army as a 5-tonne 4×4 high ground clearance truck. On hard surfaces the truck could carry up to 7.5 tonne. With an impressive payload-to-weight ratio in its class, over 70,000 Stallions are said to have been inducted into the army till date.Assembled by the Vehicle Factory Jabalpur (VFJ) from CKD kits provided by Ashok Leyland Defence Systems (ALDS), the Stallions are serving multiple logistical and tactical applications. The standard troop and cargo carrying body is fitted with drop sides and tailgate, removable bows and tarpaulin. The vehicle is fitted with a two-person sleeper cab, similar to the previous Stallion Mk.3. Powered by a Ashok Leyland W06DTI 177 bhp, 5.7-litre turbocharged diesel engine, the Stallion’s operation range is between -40 degree Celsius and +55 degree Celsius, and at altitudes of up to 5500 m. Transmission is a five-speed synchromesh unit with a transfer case. Propeller shafts route power to a full-floating, single-speed Hypoid drive front and rear axle. The hypoid drive allows for unique gear configurations. Cabin and the superstructure are bolted to an all steel and ladder type frame. Apart from the baseline Stallion, which is capable of accepting a wide variety of body types or shelters, the military truck has also come to have a 6×6 (Stallion HMV) version. The payload capacity is the same. Powering the vehicle however is a 260 hp diesel engine with improved mobility over difficult terrain. A 12×12 Super Stallion version is said to be in the works.

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As for Karan, and if he achieved his ‘Lakshya’, it may be well worth to watch the movie. It is thrilling as well as interesting for certain.

Guru to drive Ashok Leyland’s ICV aspirations

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Ashok Leyland has launched Guru in the ICV space. It is in-line with the company’s aspiration to carve out a bigger share of the CV market.

Story by: Bhargav TS

Ashok Leyland has launched the ‘Guru’ truck in the ICV space. It marks yet another significant launch for the company after the Sunshine school bus in an effort to carve out a bigger share of the CV market. Ashok Leyland missed industry expectations for the third quarter (Q3) of the current financial year. Profit After Taxes (PAT) declined 13 per cent Year-on-Year (Y-o-Y) to Rs.185.88 crore. With the CV industry exposed to the effect of demonetisation, that did not affect the cash flow as much as it disrupted the supply chain, the introduction of Partner truck in the LCV space apart from Guru hints at a smart strategy. If the sharp decline in M&HCV sales post demonetisation is considered, the launch of Guru ICV and Partner LCV mark a smart move indeed. The two trucks are claimed to have been designed and built on four important pillars – mileage, payload, reliability and comfort. Available in BSIII and BSIV variants, the Guru can cater to a wide range of applications in the 12-tonne and 13-tonne category. The truck comes with different load body options to choose from. Powered by a new ‘H Series’ three-cylinder 2800 cc common-rail turbo-diesel engine that develops 115 hp of peak power at 3700 rpm and 320 Nm of peak torque at 1500-2200 rpm, the Guru, fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, is claimed to deliver best-in-class fuel efficiency and the most payload in the segment.

The Partner, at the other end, marks the arrival of India’s first air-conditioned LCV. Promising best in class comfort, the LCV, with a 7.2-tonne GVW, builds over the earlier version of the Partner. Tracing its roots to the Nissan Atlas, the Partner originated out of the company’s joint venture with Nissan. The joint venture is no longer active, and the rights to Partner have been retained by Ashok Leyland. Powering the Partner is a BSIV ZD30 2953cc common-rail turbo-diesel engine that produces 115 hp peak power at 2750 rpm. Peak torque is 320 Nm is produced at 1600-2400 rpm. Aimed at applications like parcel goods, durables, perishables and FMCG products among others, the Partner enters a segment that is estimated to amount to 35,000 units per year. The target, according to Ashok Leyland sources, is to carve out a 15 to 20 per cent market share. Transmission is a five-speed manual unit. Speaking at the launch, Vinod K Dasari, CEO and MD, Ashok Leyland Ltd., expressed that his company has upped the ante over the last few years. He described Guru and Partner as two indispensable products that will further strengthen the company’s position in the market. “We are closer to our vision of emerging as one of the top 10 truck makers, globally,” said Dasari. Anuj Kathuria, President, Global Trucks, Ashok Leyland, mentioned that the ICV segment is one of the key focus areas. With Partner, we have offered the Indian customer a contemporary product that delivers best-in-class user experience and exceptional efficiency, he added.

The ‘Guru’ is priced in the range of Rs.14.35 lakh to Rs.16.72 lakh including Value Added Tax (VAT). The ‘Partner’, six-tyre, 14 feet and High Side Deck (HSD) body, BSIV variant is priced at Rs. 10.59 lakh. The four-tyre, 14 feet and HSD body, BSIV variant is priced at Rs.10.29 lakh, ex-showroom, Chennai.

Ashok Leyland plant at Dhaka

Ashok Leyland has announced the setting up of its assembly plant at Dhaka, Bangladesh. Built over a period of 15 months, the plant, spread over an area of 37 acres, is a strategic joint venture between Ashok Leyland and IFAD Autos Limited, Bangladesh. An important market according to Vinod K. Dasari, CEO and MD, Ashok Leyland Ltd., the new plant is expected to enable the Chennai-based company to carve a larger share of the CV market. A part of the company’s vision to strengthen its overseas presence, the Bangladesh facility will have a capacity to roll out 600-800 vehicles each month. Supporting the plant activities will be a bodybuilding and vehicle testing facility. The two are expected to be functional in the next two years. IFAD Autos has been selling Ashok Leyland vehicles in Bangladesh through 12 dealers.

Globe-trotting

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Anuj Kathuria, President, Global Trucks, Ashok Leyland Ltd.

Interview by: Ashish Bhatia

Q. After acquiring the Nissan stake, what is the strategy going forward?

A. Information about Nissan and other joint ventures is out in the public domain. As far as our global business of trucks and buses is concerned, we have now started an international office at Dubai. It will be a hub for our international operations. We have identified our target markets internationally, and continue to work towards enhancing our offerings there. We would develop satellite manufacturing plants in some of these markets to establish a local presence. It will also help in the easing of tariffs and the duty structure. A decision will be taken on a case-to-case basis. We are in advanced stages of development in places like Bangladesh. Again it is not an investment Ashok Leyland is making solely on its own. We are open to investments from another dealer or through a joint venture.

Q. What about regulations? They are tightening up in India too?

A. As far as BSIV is concerned, we are ready. There is nothing that we need to be worried about. As far as the customer is concerned, we expect the volumes to go down. Today the environment is so volatile, that saying anything doesn’t mean much because we don’t know which way the market is going to swing. The general expectation is that there will be a pre-buying demand. It may get dampened by demonetisation. However, to what extent, remains to be seen. We hope that this is a temporary phase, and will get over soon.

Q. What role does a subsidiary like Albonair GmbH play in the wake of tightening emission regulations?

A. Albonair is a 100 per cent subsidiary, and we are working with it on both BSIV and BSVI emission regulations. They have the systems, and are supplying them to global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). It is a huge added benefit as we get to experience the systems before other Indian OEMs could. We had showcased a Euro6 product at Auto Expo 2016. The transition poses a huge challenge since no country globally has gone from BSIV to BSVI in a three year span. It takes 10 years generally. It’s not just about OEMs, but also about tier-1 suppliers getting ready; about the overall infrastructure. BSVI will completely change the vehicle and the way it looks. For BSVI, different countries have adopted different ways. In Europe and US, they had their own solutions. Here, it will most probably be a combination of EGR or SCR plus a DPF, Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC) and Total Organic Carbon emission (TOC), etc. In western countries, the trend is to use technology that is both, sophisticated and expensive. A lot of precious and rare metals are used in catalysts. In India, we will have to figure out a better way. We have been doing that in the past. We have started work on BSVI and we are working on a solution that meets the Indian requirements in terms of both performance and cost. The major challenge will be the development of network to support the vehicle in the aftermarket. I see it both as a challenge, and an opportunity. We would need to educate the entire chain, and right down to the customer and the driver. Much would depend on external factors like availability of upgraded fuel.

Q. Given the EBITDA margins of second quarter FY2016-17 (Q2), how do you look at your product portfolio?

A. Last quarter was good. We have been having a good run over the last seven to eight quarters where we have reported double digit EBITDA margins. It is supported by a right product mix. We are not just going after the market share. We are offering the best product to the customer and ensuring that he also gets what he wants. For us its a delicate balance between how much market share we go after and what margins we must maintain. Also, the working capital needs to be maintained. Otherwise the interest cost and other costs would go beyond control. It is a cautious approach towards attaining growth that is both profitable and sustainable.

Q. How do you see the third quarter (Q3)?

A. Very difficult to say. We are getting a mixed response so far. Where the transactions have been more or less cashless, customers are not affected. Where transactions have a substantial cash component, customers have been affected. So, its a mix bag. By the end of the month we will get to know whether the impact lasts for the short term or prolongs further. Definitely the next two months (November and December 2016) will show the impact. Everybody has become cautious. If one person is deferring his decision, others may follow. Dealers are not comfortable with adding stocks. We will have to wait for further clarity to emerge. Withdrawal from the current account has been hiked to Rs. 50,000. Banks are however not able to service that limit due to cash crunch. Diesel purchase with old notes, and toll exemption adds to the convenience. It however doesn’t cover the operator requirements, which are 10 times the limit prescribed.

Q. Globally, which are the key market segments Ashok Leyland is targetting?

A. Globally we are number four in buses. In trucks we are number 14. Our vision is to be in the top 10 in trucks, and top five in buses. In buses, we are already there. In the case of trucks, we need to focus on volumes. We should be able to get there over the next four to five years. Again it has to be both, sustainable and profitable. Since the domestic market is cyclical, we need to ensure that we have a good presence in the export markets. We have therefore identified clusters. One is the SAARC countries where we enjoy a major presence. The other is GCC, West-Africa and East-Africa. In ASEAN countries we see a lot of potential for LCVs too. Globally, there is an emerging trend in the tipper and tractor segment for higher horsepower engines. The new engines we are working on will be closer to 300 hp rather than the prevailing 230 hp mark. We are anticipating a requirement for 400 hp and higher power engines, especially for applications like deep mining and 49-tonne tractors. It is a segment that will emerge over the next couple of years, and is in line with what is happening in the international markets. Power-to-weight ratio is bound to move closer to international levels in India.

Q. What are the truck and bus models you are banking upon for domestic and international thrust?

A. In international markets we have a good presence in buses. For buses in the Middle East we have a plant in Ras al-Khaimah (RAK). We have almost the entire market to ourselves there. We have another bus which is designed, manufactured and developed for that market called the ‘Oyster’. In India, we have launched the ‘Sunshine’ school bus. In trucks, we have the ‘Captain’ platform. Prior to it we launched the ‘Boss’ platform. These two are contemporary platforms, which are meeting international performance standards. The results are evident in the market share gained over the last couple of years. We showcased ‘Guru’ at the Auto Expo. It will enter the market soon. These are ways and means of giving products to the customers to ensure profitability, a fact that the customer acknowledges.

Q. Tell us about the set-up in the international markets?

A. Plans to set up some satellite plants are in advanced stages of discussion. Bangladesh would be getting ready by early next year. Kenya would follow next. With the success of RAK behind us, this is a very good business model to follow. We will deploy it in other markets too. However the specifics remain to be aligned with the local demand.

Q. How much growth revenue are you targeting from global operations?

A. The emphasis is on growing the international business from its current level (10 to 12 per cent) of the overall volumes to atleast one third of our overall business.

Q. Which are the key commercial vehicle segments where you see growth coming?

A. The tractor-trailer segment is primarily driven by cement movement. October was very good; it was one of the better months for us in the segment. Cement movement is however driven by infrastructural development and will continue to do well. Another potential segment is the container movement; to and from the port. Despite its slow run in the first half of the year it is showing good potential. Tippers have shown immense growth potential too. The Total Industry Volume (TIV) growth in tippers has been 60 per cent, and we have gained market share. The challenge is on the multi-axle vehicles where it has fallen. TIV is down 22 per cent. It has neutralised growth in tipper and Intermediate Commercial Vehicle (ICV) segments. The overall growth in TIV was flat in first seven months of this fiscal. We grew by three per cent. We have gained one per cent market share over last year.

Q. How are you gearing up for growth in FY2018-19?

A. BSIV and GST are expected to come into effect in FY2017-18. The need will be to first familiarise with these new developments. The first six to nine months will be challenging for the industry. We don’t even know when GST will roll out as of now. Only after it is implemented will things start settling down. As far as commercial vehicles are concerned, with certain other policies on scrappage of old vehicles, and continued focus on infrastructure apart from building 100 smart cities, the market I feel, will come back to good levels. Today, a large part of the fleet on road is more than 15 years old. There are people with 1000 vehicles in their fleet and these have been retained since the initial purchase. In such operators, we see a huge opportunity. It again depends on the timing.

How do you anticipate price impact across the domestic and export product segments because of GST?

The (GST) rates announced do not make for cheaper vehicles. In some cases prices may increase. There is no benefit that will come to us. If the rates are going to be capped at 28 per cent, rates are 27 per cent currently. Commercial viability is unchanged. Operating costs would come down as a result of better turnaround times and higher efficiency. One perspective is that the requirement of vehicles will come down. The other perspective is that because efficiency will go up, more freight will move by road and over longer distances. Today you don’t move your goods to the best market because of unforseen delays. Perishable goods simply don’t move to the best market. If that happens, the distances of commute may increase. Another area of growth could be inter-city transportation.

Q. How do you differentiate from competition with market share down to 32 per cent from 39 per cent?

A. Differentiation cannot only be done on the basis of the product. Product is a differentiator, but it is the relationship and connect with the customer that matters. When we meet customers, we look at how we can increase their profitability. How can we free up their time so that they can focus on their customers. We are working closely with our customers to give them the product that they want and not the product that we have. We are working on improving the reliability of our vehicles. So, we are offering a complete package and not just the product. We were the first ones to start a containerised workshop. If 50 to 60 tippers are operational on-site, we are deploying our own container workshop there. It stays on-site till the operations continue. We have also come out with novel concepts like workshop on wheels.

Q. How do you look at Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) growth?

A. The demand will come back. It always lags Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCVs). I feel the headroom over there is huge. The last couple of years of downtrend did not help. It will surely pickup going forward.

Q. Do you see your growth projections being impacted with dedicated freight corridors likely to come up by FY2020-21?

A. There are talks about waterways and other rail corridors coming up. In roadway transportation, the biggest advantage is point to point transport which other modes of transport won’t be able to replicate. With cargo specifically suited to a particular mode of transport, it is not that 100 per cent of cargo has to be moved by road. The quantum of cargo to be moved is huge, and I feel, India has a long way to go. With the population we have, the volumes will only increase.

Q. What synergies are you looking at between your defence products and commercial vehicle products?

A. Defence is a very specialised field. Being an organisation we will look at synergies. There will be modules that would be available on the truck platform that will be used there as well. Customisation is however done by the defence team in close co-ordination with the defence heads. We have 6×6 and 8×8 platforms. If a rear axle on a tipper suits a defence vehicle, we will use it. It however has to be developed keeping the specific requirements in mind.

Q. You won the Deming prize at Pantnagar. What next?

A. The (Pantnagar) plant touched its maximum operations capacity only last year. We attained the milestone of 50,000 vehicles for the year in March 2016. The plant is going to be the mainstay. The Deming prize adds to the conviction of doing well. All our new products, the Captain, Boss, and Guru are being manufactured there. We will cotinue to invest in the plant depending on the requirement. As of now we are finding ways to maximise utilisation at other plants. The Pantnagar plant caters to the domestic market, mainly the northern and the eastern zones. The growth in these regions is a testimony of the respective plant’s contribution. Growth in East has gone up to 25 per cent over single digit figures attained previously.

Q. There is a buzz around Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) CVs. What is your take on it?

A. LNG as a technology in the Indian context is in its early stages. We were the first to get CNG so we have never really been averse to getting new technology into the market. But it has to be a viable business case. As of now the clarity of it being a prospect alternative fuel is yet to emerge. Earlier CNG was being pushed for by the government and the industry but all of a sudden it is losing popularity as a fuel. In the case of LNG trucks, unless it is a pan India preposition, it wouldn’t make for commericial viability. It also depends on how the crude prices, the dollar-rupee conversion rate, etc., define the acceptability of diesel as a fuel. If that happens people will stop looking at alternative fuels. As the next best alternative to diesel, LNG certainly has the potential. It has worked in smaller countries, and on smaller routes.