Executive travel

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To address the need for executive travel, SML Isuzu has introduced an executive coach based on its highly popular S7 platform.

Story & photos: Anirudh Raheja

With a 7500 kg gross vehicle weight, the SML Isuzu Executive LX Coach seats 19 people in high levels of comfort. If the push back luxury seats are replaced with semi-reclining seats, the coach can accommodate between 28 and 30 people. Based on SML Isuzu’s S7 platform, which has sprang numerous derivatives including a range of school buses, the executive coach incorporates the updates the Ropar-based commercial vehicle manufacturer has subjected its S7 platform too. The Executive LX Coach is thus a combination of new and familiar.

Appearance

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In terms of appearance, ‘modish’ could well be the word. A large windshield that extends way down dominates the front fascia. It also signals a clever use of glass to ensure good visibility ahead as well as add a dash of style to what would otherwise have been a boxy structure. Designed and engineered to accommodate as many people, the Executive LX Coach looks modern and smart. Its front FRP fascia, seems to strike a resemblance with an Executive LX bus built on the same, S7 platform, but with a shorter wheelbase of 2815 mm. The streaked, twin-beam head lamp assemblies add a touch of style, and as does the bumper. It is an integral part of the front fascia. SML Isuzu sources claim that the Executive LX Coach is aimed at tourist and staff transport. The good fit-finish levels will provide this coach an ability to attract both, the tourist and the staff bus commuters. Seeming to carry an amount of influence of the bigger Isuzu FR1318 bus, the Executive LX Coach flaunts fixed side windows. They are glued and provide a pillarless look, like that of the Isuzu FR1318! Measuring 8,291 mm in length, 2,262 mm in width and 3,060 mm in height, the Executive LX Coach looks well proportioned. Its wheelbase measures 4,240 mm. The body structure of the front-engine bus is made of reinforced steel. Riding on 16-inch wheels, the coach has an emergency exit door at the rear-right. Complying with the bus code, the rear fascia of the coach, sports a hatch with the tail lamp consoles on either side. There is a small windshield at the rear. Its functional value is however not clear. Opening the hatch hinged at the top provides access to the storage space. It is big enough to store the bags of all those who could ride this coach.

Air-conditioned

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If the fixed windows provide a clue, the Executive LX Coach is fitted with a Trans ACNR 25 kW roof top air-conditioner. Entry into the coach is through a pneumatically operated door on the left. The low step entry makes it easier to get into the bus and get down from the bus. The first impression upon climbing inside is the good fit-finish levels. This particular coach came fitted with 2×1 push-back seats. These were arranged across five rows. The seats have been procured from Harita Seating Systems, and come with padded arm rests and footrests. Each row of seats is provided with two mobile charging points to address the needs of commuters. The hat racks have air-con ducts running through them. Above each row are a bank of adjustable AC vents and reading lights. Also built into the hat rack are the speakers. A 19-inch, foldable LCD panel is built into the roof. For emergency evacuation, a red button has been placed in the passenger compartment. On the pillars is a hammer painted in red. This could be used to break the window glass in case of an emergency.

In-line with the other S7 (platform) variants, the Executive LX Coach does not have a full driver partition. The front passenger seat could be reached by stepping past the lid, which provides access to the engine compartment below. This lid is flush with the floor! Even the driver could choose to take this route to his cockpit or climb in through the dedicated door provided to him. Built at SML Isuzu’s bus building facility at Ropar, the driver cockpit of the Executive LX Coach will look familair to those who have been in an S7 (platform) bus, or have piloted one. It is not a complicated place to be in. It is not a place that is buzzing with a lot of electronics; digital stuff, that is.

At the wheel

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The driving position of the Executive Coach is commanding. The large front windshield provides a good view of all that lies in front. Ergonomically well engineered, the dashboard, as part of the driver’s cockpit is functional and simple. It flaunts a faux-wood and black surface finish. The instrument console is made up of a large speedometer, front and rear air pressure gauge, and fuel and engine temperature gauge. A strip at the bottom of what could be defined as a simple looking conolse, is a strip that contains the warning lamps. To the right of the instrument console is the head lamp height adjustment switch. The center console has an array of buttons followed by a music system and the AC controls. The three spoke steering wheel is a carry over from other S7 buses. Below the steering wheel, and to the left, is a blue coloured knob that switches on or off the pneumatic control system of the passenger door entry. Above the driver’s seat is a large mirror to help him quickly glance at the pasengers. For him to watch the traffic behind his bus or in the vicinity are the large external mirrors. The gear shifter is well placed and is within easy reach of the driver. In terms of ergonomics and comfort, the Executive LX Coach scores well.

On the road

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Turn the key; the SL T3 diesel motor fires to life. Available in BSIII and BSIV guise, the engine is located longitudinally at front with the drive going to the rear through a five-speed synchromesh manual transmission and a hypoid live axle. The 3455cc diesel engine produces 101 hp and 310 Nm of peak torque at 1500-1750 rpm. Good response translates into the coach smartly moving away from standstill. The SL T3 unit produces good torque from lower rpm. This helps to enhance tract-ability. Good insulation adds to the refined natire of the engine. The Executive LX Coach is a good place to be in. It is quiet and devoid of harshness. Switch to second gear, and the action, though not quite car-like, is smooth and predictable. Engage third gear, and the coach picks up speed. The lower ratios feel taller a shade taller than the higher ones. They ensure good supply of torque. With speeds in the region of 50 kmph attained easily, the coach displays good refinement. The driver area is not very noisy or a tough place to be in. It is reflective of the good sound insulation the company has deployed. The recirculating ball type power steering is light and offers good feedback. It helps to manoeuvre the coach with ease. The semi-elliptical multi leaf suspension along with hydraulic double acting and telescopic dampers at both, the front end and the rear end, support a pliant ride over a variety of surfaces. It does have a firm edge to it, but is pliant. The dual circuit vaccum assisted pneumatic brakes offer a good bite. They retard the coach, and provide a progressive feel. The air-conditioner cools the large area inside the bus effectively, and without robbing the engine of its ability to propel the vehicle at good speeds.

Bright future

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The Executive LX Coach follows the 11 m-long FR1318 in a territory were customer preferences are changing. Expectations about comfort, efficiency and safety are rising as much as they are changing. For SML Isuzu, which posted a growth of 18.8 per cent in the first half of FY2016-17, the Executive LX Coach does not signal a new territory. It has had a presence in the executive tourist and staff bus transport segments, albeit with its small wheelbase Executive bus. The Executive LX Coach promises better operating economics no doubt. Meeting the AIS 052 bus body code specifications, the Executive LX Coach from SML Isuzu points at a modern build and high standards of fit-finish. With the BSIV and CNG versions of the Executive LX Coach under certification, the future for this particular example looks bright. The Executive LX Coach extends the company’s possibilities to gain a greater pie of the market that is growing in.

Shuttl partners SML Isuzu and JCBL to offer customised buses

Bus aggregator Shuttl has announced that it will partner with SML Isuzu as an OEM, and with JCBL as a bus body builder, to offer its vendors an opportunity to upgrade to the new fleet of buses. The company will also provide financial assistance of the vendors for the purchase of new buses. The buses, claimed industry sources, will be equipped with reclining and ergonomically designed seats, charging points for each row, powerful air-conditioning and pleasing interiors. The buses, based on SML-Isuzu bus chassis will be fully built and customised to address the specific needs of its commuters, keeping in mind the Indian road conditions and climate. According to Amit Singh, Co-founder, Shuttl, the plan is to add 50 customised buses to the fleet by the end of this quarter, and to simplify the process by providing financial assistance.

Deciphering Cvs

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Eiichi Seto, Managing Director & CEO, SML Isuzu Ltd.

Interview by: Anirudh Raheja

Q. What is your view on the Bus Code, and its implementation?

A. Bus body code is a good regulation for the industry which has been dominated by unorganised bus body builders for long. They are still not ready to accept the new regulations. We are however ready to meet the new challenges. The Bus Code is primarily for vehicle and passenger safety, both of which are important. The government needs to be appreciated for implementing the Bus Code.

Q. About your bus portfolio; any new products that you will be launching soon?

A. We will be soon showcasing three new products. These would include the Ecomax minibus for school, staff and tourist application. The Executive LX model is based on the S7 platform. The Ecomax will compete with Force Traveller. The Executive LX will aim at luxury and staff transportation. We have also introduced a new front fascia for trucks and standard bus models as an interim solution to improve the product image. We will soon start operation of a brand new pre-treatment and cathodic electro-deposition coating line for cabin and cowl at our paint shop based on Japanese technology. This will enhance anti-rust capability of our products. We have also introduced a new paint line at the bus body plant. This would help us to enhance the bus building capacity; that of S7 buses especially. We will be also increasing the production of Isuzu buses to 400 units per month.

Q. With so much activity underway at SML Isuzu, how do you rate the performance of the company?

A. The planned Rs.220 crore capex is still on. It is being implemented in a phased manner. In the last one year, we sold 8320 units of buses, which marks a 20 per cent rise over last year. Truck sales increased by 33 per cent. While bus sales have recovered, growth has largely come from trucks. With the view of growth, we are expanding our capacities by 25 per cent to 2000 units from the current 1500 units per month per shift. Our target is to achieve 7200 units for the second half of the year, and to achieve a total of 15,300 units for the year. We recently organised our dealer meet to understand the ground reality. The dealer meet was also held to understand the current market position. This would help us to analyse demand forecast of the bus market, and the sales prospect in the second half of this year.

Q. How is SML Isuzu gearing up for the upcoming emission regulations?

A. The demand for commercial vehicles in India is huge. Global players are expanding their operations in India. This will entail more competition. The BSIV vehicles will come with a price rise. There will be another, and substantial price rise when BSVI emission compliant vehicles are introduced. The motivation for operators to upgrade their fleet is likely to take a hit. There is a need to understand at this point, that the after-treatment devices for BSVI emission compliant vehicles are very costly. They could cost more than the engine. A matter of concern is the fuel. Also of concern is the urea fluid necessary to carry out SCR. If not of the prescribed quality, the vehicle will refuse to run. A huge infrastructure will be required to make available the prescribed quality of Adblue urea solution for BSVI emission compliant vehicles. The good thing is, the component suppliers in India will get a chance to expand their horizons and develop competitive product portfolio for BSVI emission compliant vehicles.

Q. What is the supplier involvement that you are witnessing?

A. The development of BSIV emission compliant vehicles is providing component suppliers a chance to upgrade themselves, to localise products, and to keep the costs down. We have already geared up for BSIV emission compliance. Pan-India implementation of BSIV emission norms has been pending for nearly five years now. Availability of fuel is still a big question, and remains unanswered. It depends heavily upon the government, which mainly owns the oil companies. For BSVI emission norms, a lot of products need to be imported from Europe. It is good that many component

and device suppliers are localising them.

Q. What about the short lead time to BSVI emission norms from BSIV emission norms?

A. We need to improve our environmental standards, there is no doubt. The time to move to BSVI emission norms from BSIV emission norm is however short. It therefore seems too ambitious. Isuzu already has technologies similar to EuroVI in Japan. The basic technology is available. It is however not localised for India. The big question is not the basic technology. Basic technology is already available. The question is fuel. The other is regarding the after-treatment devices like SCR and DPF, which nobody in India may be able to make by the set deadline of 2020. Meeting the deadline will call for importing. For suppliers it is very difficult to trust the government at this moment. Localisation of related products was delayed because BSIV emission norms took five years to be implemented. The same thing can happen for BSVI emission norms. Importing is against the ‘make in India’ concept. A big concern is the testing of vehicles. We will need to use new fuel to validate the vehicle. It is necessary that the validation is done by BSVI fuel made locally. The fuel has to be commercially available. If the fuel is different from what is made in Europe, it could pose a big challenge. A vehicle has to be tested for over a million kms across all seasons. This will take two years almost. I don’t think that the government will be able to provide BSVI fuel by 2018 for such periods of testing. To meet the 2020 deadline looks difficult.

Q. Wouldn’t it be difficult for suppliers to localise if there is no fuel available? How are you addressing supplier concerns?

A. It has been talked about for long in the industry. We are always discussing with our suppliers. We are discussing with them to make the vehicle compact and light in weight. After I joined SML Isuzu, supplier meets have been a regular feature. There is a meet scheduled for next month. At these meets, we communicate what we are going to do. We understand what the suppliers expect from us. They also get an opportunity to understand what our expectations from them in terms of quality, cost and delivery are. A lot of movement in the LCV business has occurred as ecommerce companies have picked up pace in India. I see a major change in costing due to the implementation of GST. Companies incur a lot of cost in the logistics. GST will also change the way products are distributed.

Q. STUs are procuring buses. What do you think of this trend?

A. STUs have begun working on the public-private partnership model. Growth can be had with this model too. Most STUs have their own bus body business. Redundancy will happen now that the Bus Code has been implemented. They are not hiring new people, and since they have a huge stock, they cannot stop abruptly. The STU business will slowly shift to private markets for both, inter- and intra-city buses. Fleet replacement has been on the cards, and once the norms to replace 10 to 15-year old buses comes into play, there will be a market shift. The number of buses will not shrink; buses will be bought by STUs or by their partners. On the contrary, numbers will increase, and the ownership pattern will differ. Government has also announced various rural connectivity schemes for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat whereby we will have smaller buses coming in from smaller centres to bigger district centers. Such movement will also see our class of buses being inducted into STUs which

other wise was only limited to bigger buses.

Q. Is the permit system limiting the growth of buses?

A. I don’t think so. For example, school buses fall under the Type IV of CMVR regulations for buses, and the permit-system is not limiting their demand. The safety of children travelling in the school bus is very important. At many places, autorickshaws are being used for school commitments. Delhi Government seems committed to prohibit old vehicles. Such a move can fuel growth moving forward.

Q. What is your opinion about alternate fuel CVs?

A. For CNG, we have a very good footprint in Delhi NCR where duty has to be paid for entry of diesel powered vehicles. Since it is regulated, CNG powered buses and those that are a part of the LCV segment are showing good growth. Demand for M&HCVs is not picking up pace yet as far CNG is concerned. Fuel availability is an issue. For electric vehicles, we are studying the ecosystem. It is not that easy. Cost and availability of batteries is a major factor apart from the non-availability of supporting infrastructure like charging stations. Our promoter Sumitomo in Japan, from where I have come, has a lot of experience in this segment. It has the biggest electric vehicle charging station network in Japan. Even then, there are limitations that we know of; mainly due to distance. In India, electricity is largely generated using coal. For school buses, there may be a good chance. People are showing interest.

Q. What changes will the implementation of GST bring?

A. For the car segment, GST rate has been fixed at around 18 per cent, but nothing is clear as far as the commercial vehicle segment is concerned. If it is fixed at 28 per cent, then it will be a big difference over 18 per cent for cars. At 28 per cent if one were to consider, there will be no big difference in the tax rate. With BSIV emission norms expected to be implemented from April 2017, overall vehicle cost will increase by almost Rupee-one lakh per vehicle, inclusive of taxes. A spike in demand is expected before the implementation of BSIV emission norms. In the case of GST, if the rate is kept at 18 per cent for commercial vehicles, then the price increase caused by BSIV emission norms will be absorbed. Hoping that this happens, many people will be willing to wait till April 2017 to upgrade their fleet.

Trendline

The development of BSIV emission compliant vehicles is providing component suppliers a chance to upgrade themselves, to localise products, and keep costs down.