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.

Engineering & technology

Interview

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Dr. A K Jindal,

Head – Engineering Research Centre, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors

Interview by: Ashish Bhatia

Q. How has technology evolved at the Engineering Research Centre (ERC) over the years?

A. We have come a long way. Both in terms of technological depth, and areas that we cover, right to the extent of product breadths that we cover. Till 2000, the number of products that ERC was working on were limited. The frequency of new product development was low. This has increased, in terms of output almost asymptotically. Especially in case of large commercial vehicles. The number of commercial vehicle products, like in the passenger vehicle space, have expanded. They have almost doubled. Within the same product space, the number of variants has increased. The days of having a one-fit solution are passe. So, from an ERC perspective, work, both in terms of depth as well as width, has expanded. In 2005, for example, we were roughly 2000 people. We now amount to 4000 people. We also have a lot of external linkages to ensure the capture and incorporation of new technology.

Q. You have laid stress on frugal engineering and local development. How has it worked?

A. Unlike before, we are today creating everything ground up at the plant. We are creating as well as co-creating. In many instances, it is in conjunction with the suppliers. The fact is, everything is being manufactured ground-up.

Q. How do you respond to changes quickly?

A. We maintain agility through different strategies that we have adopted. We are working on a platform approach. We are also working on the re-use of existing basket of components. Over the last four to five years, we have used the platform approach to the hilt. We have ensured that the same architecture helps us to come out with a large number of products. The ‘Ultra’ and ‘Prima’ platforms are examples of this approach. We now want to take it to the next level. We want to increase process agility through modularisation. Rather than to have a discrete set of components, we are now looking at creating modules. In this approach, the entire vehicle is split in 30 to 36 modules. The interfaces between these modules are standardised. As a result when one of the modules requires a change, one doesn’t end up changing the entire vehicle. This helps tremendously in reducing the development time; in reducing the re-engineering of products. This also helps in testing and validation among various other processes. We are converting our Bill of Materials (BoM) into modular forms. We are aiming at a day when the products we manufacture are defined by the customers.

Q. How would these strategies reflect through the 15 new launches and 200 variants you plan to launch?

A. Consider the Ace, SuperAce, Xenon, the entire Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) range, Ultra, Signa and the Prima, and it will be these seven product families that will give rise to new launches and variants as part of our modular approach.

Q. Does that indicate a change in the tear-down processes at Tata Motors?

A. The format continues to be the same. We first tear-down, and then take the performance footprint. Then, we see how the aggregate engineers will join to take stock of the key learnings. What is changing is the set of requirements. For example, the weight of the vehicles. Earlier, the weight of the vehicle was not a priority, today it is. We therefore have to link everything in terms of its impact on fuel efficiency. Everything has to be measured in terms of the impact on the overall reliability of the system. The major change in the CV space, in the light- and medium-heavy vehicles especially, are the changing requirements of the customers. Customer expectations have undergone a huge transformation. The mindset from a point of view of maintaining it at regular intervals is changing. People are not really keen to maintain or carry out recurring interventions. This is having a big implication on design, and the way we design. The way we look at component design, component testing and their integration. The integration of aggregates. It may be at a micro-level, their severity does not diminish. They are of critical importance for the future.

Q. What challenges do you face to achieve sustainable mobility solutions?

A. I would like to divide it into two parts – emission and regulations. Stress on hybridisation, and fuel efficiency is high. These rank high on the priority list. We have a very clear objective of improving the fuel-efficiency year-on-year. It contributes directly to sustainability. There are other enablers like light-weighting among others. The BSIV emission compliant vehicles will feature high level of electronics. We have an opportunity to fine-tune fuel efficiency. We are looking at five-to-seven per cent higher fuel efficiency than was attained by BSII and BSIII emission compliant vehicles. The target is to outdo it with BSVI. It will all be achieved gradually, and with focus on light-weighting, driveline optimisation, duty-cycle dependent calibrations among others. Our objective is to increase fuel efficiency through all possible means. We are working on new technologies by keeping in mind vehicle aerodynamics, rolling-resistance, etc. Hybridisation can substantially boost fuel economy. Electrification also signals a move towards sustainability. Our aim is to have technology at an affordable cost. We may refer to an European bus in the case of Starbus Hybrid. In the case of electric bus (9 m and 12 m), that does not apply. If the market migrates to a sophisticated bus, we will provide it. If we simply provide a hybrid bus as an electric variant, the costs will escalate to an extent that there will be no buyers for it. Solutions therefore have to be tailored for the market. They have to meet the market’s perceived price points. Both our electric buses are testimony to our efforts to minimise the cost impact en-route to achieving sustainable mobility solutions. We will give a product that suits a particular application of the customer, and at their price point.

Q. What is the thought process behind cross-platform interchange?

A. Engines for instance, at a broad level, are agnostic in nature. How you really integrate them is where the skill lies. For example, Toyota uses its 2.4D engine in a huge number of platforms. Keeping the base the same, how you package is what the entire game plan is all about. It is not necessary that every time we work ground-up.

Q. How is a vehicle deemed fit for its appropriate haulage type?

A. Energy balance of a vehicle is a highly precise study. On an expressway, for example, a bus runs at a fixed speed almost. Braking frequency is less. The portion of braking energy as compared to the portion of overall energy consumed will be small. The driver will cruise at a constant speed, and at an optimum rpm. There is little scope for energy redistribution. When the engine is supplying power, the losses in top-gear include aerodynamic losses, rolling losses (tyres), and losses born out the extent of energy difference between the engine and the axles. Change the engine, and one gains. In the case of an intra-city bus, energy is used in acceleration and braking. Braking makes a substantial portion of the overall consumption. As per an old study, typical of an Indian driving cycle, the braking energy was 24 per cent of the overall drive-cycle, which is a waste. Also, energy is wasted when accelerating and decelerating. It is here that the potential for improvement lies; it is about how that energy could be recovered. Till a few years back there was no knowledge available on this. With a vehicle like the Starbus Hybrid, it is possible to regenerate the lost energy. Recovered energy is fed back to the battery. This energy is used for acceleration. Ultimately, the engine will run on a constant load. This philosophy is extended to all vehicle types where the vehicle drive-cycle is studied. The use of technology is highly cycle dependent. If it is Delhi where a stop is mapped at an interval of one-kilometer, a hybrid bus makes an ideal solution. A cost analysis is necessary if one were to decide if it would be a series hybrid or a parallel hybrid. A series hybrid turns out to be expensive whereas a parallel hybrid has its own set of advantages. The latter (parallel) will be effective when there are frequent starts and stops. Where a reasonable cruising speed is achieved between starts and stops. On roads with substantial straights, a parallel hybrid is most suitable. With less scope of cruising, a series hybrid would fit the bill. A series-parallel on the other does not fit the CV space. It is used in passenger vehicles. The world will eventually move towards electrification. Hybridisation is an interim solution.

Q. With Economies of Scale (EoS) lacking, what timelines could one look at for penetration of advanced technologies in CVs?

A. In the CV space, change in technology is taking place at a slow pace. The CV industry is cyclic, and the renewal rates are longer. Mindsets are conservative. The change in technology in the CV space is therefore slower than that in the passenger vehicle space. There, the renewal rates and technology upgrade rates are higher. Volumes too are far greater. One can very quickly ammortise technological development costs on a large base. In the CV space, the same is not possible.

Q. What are the challenges when it comes to ‘Fuel-cell’ technology?

A. There are challenges, and they are surmountable. In case of the ‘fuel cell’ bus, we had to use welded joints to reduce susceptibility of leakages. We had to use stainless steel – double steel joints, to avoid leakages.

Q. How much progress has been achieved in vehicle control strategy?

A. A lot has been accomplished, and a lot needs to be accomplished. If one wants to model the cell level in a battery to predict the performance for example, it is yet to be finalised. If one wants to predict the performance of a vehicle, it is do-able. It is a function of technology, its maturity, its database internal to the company, or external to the company. Maturity comes slowly, and one has to work towards improving the fidelity of these models. On how they can be made more predictive. Any simulation model today is as good as its validation.

Q. How does the Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) cell technology facilitate light-weighting?

A. The most prevalent and safe technology is Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) followed by Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC), and LTO cell technology. These three have attained a high level of maturity. The shortcoming of LTO technology is the need for many more cells to be put in series to achieve the desired voltage. The good part is, the cycle life is high. In light-weighting context, because of the high lifecycle, one could do away with putting smaller battery packs and in-turn reduce weight. This leads to the concept of opportunity charging, or fast charging as we know it. A 400 kV charger can fully charge a 50 kV battery in about 10 minutes. If 5 kV has been utilised after running on one route and has to be replenished, charging will take a few seconds.

Q. Do you think LNG will cannibalise CNG as an established alternate fuel?

A. It is only the fueling method that changes. We foresee no cannibalisation therefore. Our thought process is that places where CNG was not available will be catered to by LNG. The strategy is to have multiple products for multiple places, and with multiple peculiarities. It is about what is available locally. In my opinion, both will co-exist. The only difference is in the way fuel is acquired and stored. There is no difference between a LNG or a CNG engine.

Q. What are the challenges when it comes to Intelligent Transport System (ITS) modules?

A. The current ITS is basic as far as my understanding is concerned. Bus stands are notified of the bus location, and it is about track and trace. It is good but not complete. The scope of ITS includes overall traffic management and improvement in traffic efficiency among others. Features such as these need to be integrated for the smooth functioning of traffic.

Q. Given the various fronts on which the ERC works, how do you gauge resource requirements?

A. We do not go on a resource shopping spree. What we do is prioritise. We do gap analysis to ascertain the area with a bottleneck, and how we can address it. We call for external help if the need be; from entities like Tata Technologies Limited (TTL) and others. We indulge in work-share with our suppliers too. This helps us to optimise our resource utilisation.

Trendline

One can very quickly ammortise technological development costs on a large base. In the CV space, the same is not possible.

Gazing into the future

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The display of people movers by Tata Motors at its Pune plant provided an opportunity to gaze into the future of public transportation mediums.

Story & photos: Ashish Bhatia

To gaze into the future is not easy. To gaze into the future of technology that will influence the transportation of masses is not easy. Tata Motors, at its Pune plant, provided an opportunity to look some of the most exciting buses that will define the future modes of transportation recently. It displayed its people mover range, starting from the alternate fuel Ace Magic to the flagship Starbus fuel cell bus concept. Guenter Butschek, CEO and Managing Director, Tata Motors, announced the launch of the Starbus Hybrid city bus on the occasion. A series hybrid city bus, modelled closely on the 10 Tata CNG hybrid city buses that are running on a route in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, the Starbus Hybrid will soon hit the roads of Mumbai, at the Bandra-Kurla Complex. They will ply between BKC and the nearby suburban rail stations of Sion, Kurla and Bandra. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has placed an order of 25 hybrid buses with Tata Motors under the FAME program. These buses will be operated by BEST. With the municipal elections in Mumbai drawing close, the first Starbus Hybrid, is expected to hit the BKC roads only after the elections are held and a new governing body comes to power.

For a democratic country like India, that is the second most populous in the world, and spread over an area of 3.287 million sq. km, the need is to move people in a manner that is well integrated. To ensure an integrated and efficient travel is a challenge. In his inaugural speech at the Busworld 2015, P S Ananda Rao, Executive Director, ASRTU, expressed the need to inculcat one-million busses immediately in addition to 7.5 lakh buses present (in the system) to address the need for people in the vast country to move. Highlighting the potential for rural connectivity, he mentioned that there is a need for 50,854 buses at 600 buses per 10 million rural population. According to a survey, claimed to be conducted by the government, over 50 per cent of the workforce continues to work at home or travel to their workplace by foot in the absence of adequate transport facilities. Many are largely dependent on private transport as the share of public transport is just 18.1 per cent of work trips. The data collected by the survey indicates that citizens are largely dependent on private modes of transport, such as bicycles (26.3 million) and motorcycles (25.4 million) in rural and urban India. In 2015 the number of daily trips using a motorcycle for commuting was 35 million (excluding personal trips).

Fuel cell bus

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With a typical city bus expected to do 200 runs a day, it made for an interesting display of six most modern buses by Tata Motors including the BKC-bound Starbus Hybrid. All five buses were prototypes, and provided an opportunity to gaze into the future. The most interesting was the ‘Tata Starbus Fuel Cell bus’. This bus is said to be the country’s first ‘Fuel Cell’ bus. Touted as a zero emission mass transport solution for city travel, it was developed in partnership with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), and combines hydrogen gas and oxygen. The bus measures 12 m in length and is claimed to have a power output of 114 bhp. If the use of fuel cell technology results in 40-60 per cent efficiency in energy conversion over conventional diesel buses, the bus, based on the previous-generation LPO 1625 Starbus Fuel Cell bus concept, shares the platform with the Starbus Hybrid and Starbus Electric. Four hydrogen cylinders of 205 litre capacity each are placed in the roof casing. A longitudinally arranged hydrogen fuel cell power system at the rear produces electric energy (equivalent to 114 hp) via the Lithium-ion battery pack. The battery delivers power to a rear-axle mounted propulsion motor through a summation gearbox, resulting in a combined output of 250 hp and 1,050 Nm of torque at 800 rpm. Featuring independent pneumatic suspension with hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers, the fuel cell bus features pneumatic dual-circuit s-cam braking system, which is ABS assisted. The full low-floor bus can seat 30 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Top speed is 70 kmph, and maximum gradeability is 17 percent.

Vestibule bus

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The Tata Marcopolo urban 9/18 FE vestibule bus measures 18 m in length. It can carry 120 (including 50 seated) passengers, which is almost equivalent of two 12 m buses. Powering this bus is a Cummins 6.7-litre, 280 hp engine located at the front. Aimed at moving more people in less space (in a typical urban landscape), the vestibule bus has a compact turn circle and can be manoeuvred with ease. The turning radius of this bus is claimed to be no different than a regular bus. What makes the vestibule bus significant is the order Tata Motors bagged recently to supply 30 vestibule buses for the BRT corridor at Dharwad-Hubli. Each bus is said to cost Rs.1.6 crore, and will ply on a 22.2 km-long corridor.

Mini people movers

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Standing out of the crowd of buses, the electric Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris made for a portfolio of mini people movers that Tata Motors is working on. Albeit in an electric form, they are looked upon to play the role of a feeder vehicle and last mile transporter. Already a word in last mile connectivity, the electric forms of Super Ace, Magic and Magic Iris could well set a precedent in last mile connectivity for others to follow. Powering the Super Ace electric is a permanent magnet AC motor. Electricity is fed by a 20.7 kWh lithium-ion battery. The top speed of the CV is 80 kmph. The travel range is in the region of 100 kmph, and the rated payload is 600 kg against a GVW of 1750 kg. Magic electric contains 12.6 volt, 180 Ah batteries. Equipped with regenerative braking tech, the vehicle has a power rating of 15kW. It can reach a top speed of 40 kmph, and cover a distance of 50 km on a single charge. Battery takes eight to 12 hours to charge. The Magic Iris is powered by lithium-ion battery modules of 48 volt and 110 Ah capacity. Capable of ferrying four passengers, the traction motor of the Magic Iris is rated at 9 kW. Peak torque is 42 Nm. Capable of travelling 100 km on a single charge, the two battery modules of Magic Iris take eight hours to charge fully. The vehicle can be had with a 120 watt solar panel on the roof for supplementary charging, making it a first of its kind in its segment.

LNG bus

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It was late last year that Tata Motors showcased a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) powered city bus based on its LPO1613 platform at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It did so in association with Petronet LNG Limited (PLL) and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Displayed here, the bus, painted in an attractive shade of orange, was powered by a 5.7-litre BSIV engine that produces 130 hp of peak power at 2500 rpm and a peak torque of 405 Nm at 1250-1500 rpm. The LPO1613 chassis is built at the Lucknow plant, and the body is built at Marcopolo’s Dharwad plant. Dr. A K Jindal, Head – Engineering Research Centre, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that Kerala is keen to place an order for 10,000 buses, with 10 per cent of them, LNG powered. He added, “The supply constraints posed by CNG infrastructure makes LNG a logical extension. To increase the range of a CNG powered bus (from 300 km), more storage cylinders will be needed. This will adversely affect the power to weight ratio, payload capacity and seating capacity. LNG has a two-and-a-half times more per litre capacity than diesel. The range therefore will be between 600 to 700 km.” RT Wasan, Vice President – Sales and Marketing, Tata Motors, mentioned that cities are growing, leading to traffic congestion, in-turn bringing out a need to design different modes of public transportation. “The Urbanisation in India is skewed as compared to countries like China,” he added.

Buses for a greener tomorrow

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As countries the world over seek greener ways of move people, putting impetus on alternate mediums of propulsion, it did not come as a surprise when Dr. Jindal stated that, there is a need to adopt a viable combination of fuel and vehicle technology. Stressing upon rapid urbanisation, Wasan said that there was a need to look at the mode of transport that would best suit the needs. This would call for lower investment in infrastructure, and relate to issues like direct health-cost of urban pollution, transport mortality, air quality, climate change and depleting natural resources, he added. With the rate of electric and hybrid technology penetration to be dictated by the pace of technological breakthrough and federal policies, it is essential to take into account a study conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), which projected average speeds across cities are falling. Said Wasan, “The government’s approach to building more roads looks contradictory to the need for facilitating an eco-system where sustained mobility coexists.” Wasan cited the example of Jakarta, the most populous city of Indonesia. He explained, “Families traveling in private vehicles are charged a levy for using the infrastructure. In such an instance, public transport provides the answers.” Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, expressed that December sales figures are a testimony to buses doing well. “We are doing well in buses,” he added. Pointing at State Transport Undertakings (STUs), Pisharody stated, “Buying is coming back and a lot of tenders are being floated as we speak. It is after a long time that buses have come into a space they deserve. The Indian economy does not support them.” Announced Butschek that the company’s aspiration is to be among the top three global CV players by FY2018-19. “The objective is to transform the Indian commercial vehicle landscape, and to offer the customers cutting edge auto technologies, packaged for superior performance and low lifecycle costs,” added Butschek.

Gazing into the future

Taking a holistic view, and as far as the application of technology is concerned, Dr. Jindal said that the reduction in battery costs is a positive sign. “Electrification does make an ideal choice for long haul or for heavy-duty application. The technology model is simply unsustainable, and would eat into the vehicle payload,” he mentioned. Electromobility, according to Dr. Jindal is suitable for vehicles that travel over shorter distances. Hybridisation, he added, is suitable for a medium-duty vehicle that travels over a medium distance. While the lifecycle cost is lowest in hybrid and electric vehicles, the major challenge for operators is the acquisition cost. It is two-to-three times higher than conventionally powered vehicles. A ray of hope according to Dr. Jindal, is if the government intervenes to make it feasible for new technology to embed itself sooner than later. Driving a frugal strategy, technology development at Tata Motors spans across diverse areas like vehicle control strategy, electric and hybrid vehicle battery development, traction system development, high voltage components and safety, Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH), durability testing, light weighting, and customer trials. A part of the strategy is also to build key components in-house. Fast charging batteries are being worked upon by using Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) technology. According to Dr. Jindal, the advantages of LTO are significant. This battery technology is considered to be a game changer. Working on a future ready product pipeline, Tata Motors, said Dr. Jindal, has already exceeded the 20 per cent fuel reduction target set by the FAME scheme of the Government of India towards encouraging electric vehicles. “ The need of the hour is to achieve a sustainable hub and spoke public transportation model for new technology mediums to find a place and grow,” signed off Dr. Jindal.

The art of designing

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In what could be a rare occasion, Tata Motors provided an opportunity to peep into its design studio at Pune. It is the nerve centre, which brings a CV to life. A visual rendering undergoes several reiterations in a bid to refine the final layout of the vehicle before going into production. The entire process of the development of Starbus Hybrid was shown at the studio in steps that revealed the journey from the drawing board to a production model. Step one showed how the primary sketch of the bus was turned into a more definitive form. In consultation with different verticals at the OEM, it was further refined. The bis turned two dimensional. The next step saw the two dimensional form being shared with the three dimensional modelers to achieve a full scale three dimension model. This process, includes consulting the engineering team to work on areas like manufacturing, production and other. It is at this step that the creative team and the technical team come together. The rendered form begins acquiring details. Step three involves building a dummy model, which is handed over to the clay modelers. The clay modelers refine the surface. Stage four involves the task of transforming the clay model into data using a laser beam and camera based equipment. Refined surfaces are accurately captured. Controlling the hardware is Pollyworks’ software. Scans are transferred to a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) modeller. It is then sent to a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine to replicate the image of the model. The design process further evolves with the help of a Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). CAD is three-dimensional in a bid to bring more details on to the ideated sketch. Designers are encouraged to carry out an in-depth field research on public transportation in the country before they ideate a new concept. Designers also ensure that the new elements merge seamlessly with the standard design elements. This ensures that the result is in sync with the brand identity.

Tata Motors reshuffles senior management for a lean structure

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Tata Motors has reshuffled the roles of its top executives as part of its restructuring exercise. Done with an aim to achieve a lean structure, Girish Wagh, who currently heads passenger vehicle business unit project planning and programme management, has been appointed as the head of medium and heavy commercial vehicle business. Ramki Ramakrishnan, who is vice-president of the CV business, has been appointed at the head of customer care and after-sales services for CVs. Anil Sinha, head of manufacturing operations for passenger cars, will now head the quality function of the company’s CV business. Under the new structure, the top two levels (L1 and L2) of managers will be responsible for execution of strategies formulated by an executive committee, comprising the managing director, function and business heads. Executive committee members, Mayank Pareek (president, passenger vehicle business unit) and Ravi Pisharody (executive director of commercial vehicles at the firm), will be sole custodians for the PV and CV businesses. They will be responsible for the execution of strategies.

Tata Motors and Castrol announce global strategic partnership

Tata Motors and Castrol announce global strategic partnership

Tata Motors and Castrol have entered in a three-year strategic partnership agreement for supply of commercial vehicle oils to Tata Motors globally. The agreement covers over 50 markets including SAARC and ASEAN region, Middle East, Africa, Russia and Latin America. With Tata Motors looking to expand their international footprint, Castrol with its established presence in these markets, will support Tata Motors’ channel partners with high quality products and services to enhance their market share and profitability. Mentioned Guenter Butschek, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Tata Motors Limited, “We are delighted to extend this partnership to a global level and look forward to leveraging our complementary strengths to offer our channel partners high quality support.” For Castrol, the new agreement is a step forward in the partnership which goes back three decades. As a preferred partner of Tata Motors, Castrol will work closely with the Tata team to co-engineer products suited to meet specific requirements of new engine technology and environment regulations. Mandhir Singh, CEO, BP Lubricants said, “Tata Motors is a valued key global strategic account for Castrol.”  “As Tata Motors explores new markets, we are committed to supporting them with our pioneering technology products, superior service offers and expertise in retail marketing and promotion, to add value to this partnership,” he added.

Tata Motors eyes third slot in CV segment?

Tata Motors has set its sights on the third position in commercial vehicles sales globally by 2019 claim industry sources. They draw attention to a recent statement by the company’s managing director and CEO, Guenter Butschek, that the company’s vision is to be among the top three automakers in the respective markets (CVs and passenger vehicles) by 2019. The company, as part of its customer-centric approach, held a three day service camp recently. With Butscheck known to describe the company to be undergoing transformation, industry sources claim that the products that are introduced by the company in the next two years will include commercial vehicles that bank on innovation and new technologies. More stress will be laid on the development of alternate fuel technologies, they add. The CV strategy, sources claim, hinges on the plans to set up local manufacturing units in Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and other markets in Africa and West Asia. Butscheck is known to have said that they hope to double commercial vehicles sales in international markets in two years.

Tata Motors signs MOU with Indonesia’s PT Pindad

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Tata Motors and PT Pindad of Indonesia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore the market potential of Tata Armoured Vehicles in Indonesia and other ‘agreed’ ASEAN regions. The two will also explore the possibility of locally assembling Tata armoured vehicles at PT Pindad’s facility in Bandung, West Java province of Indonesia. An Indonesian state-owned enterprise, PT Pindad provides the main weapon systems required to support independence in defence and security of the Republic of Indonesia. PT Pindad (Persero) produces several industrial products for other aspects such as transportation and commercial explosives. Tata Motors’ armoured vehicle portfolio includes 12×12, 8×8 and 6×6 vehicles among others.