VE Commercial Vehicles (VECV) will be investing Rs.400 crore to Rs.450 crore towards capacity expansion, claim industry sources. They cite that this is part of the company’s plan to invest a similar amount year-on-year towards development of new products; BSVI compliant products. Seeing a good rise in the 14- and 15-tonne segment due to buyers downgrading from 16-tonnes, the company is looking at good demand to emerge from various businesses as they re-arrange their strategies and assets to align with the GST. In the 14- and 15-tonne, VECV is claimed to enjoy a good demand for its Pro 1000 series and Pro 3000 series trucks from ecommerce companies among others. Sources draw attention to the company having a slew of products in the 5- to 16-tonne GVW. These product offerings are also expected to help the company find a strong foothold in the rising last mile connectivity market. VECV recorded 12.5 per cent growth in FY2016-17 by selling over 58,000 units as against the sale of 52,000 units in FY2015-16. The industry grew at four-per cent. Experiencing improvement in all the segments, and exports in particular, VECV, through capacity expansion, will continue to have products across every price point and application areas. It will be able to address every customer need too, with a wide range of engines on offer.
Q & A
Head – Sales & Marketing, Value Trucks, Mining Business, VE Commercial Vehicles Ltd.
Interview by: Ashish Bhatia
Q. How has the Pro 6000 tipper series evolved in line with the BSIV norms enforcement?
A. The Pithampur plant has been exporting EuroIV and EuroV engines to Volvo Trucks and other (Volvo Group) brands since four years now. In terms of technology, Eicher engines were upgraded to comply with BSIV emission norms much before the respective norms came into effect. In the case of Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 series tippers, we are using Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to meet BSIV emission norms. At VE Commercial Vehicles (Eicher), we have already sold 100 units catering to different applications and across segments.
Q. Was it just the inclusion of SCR technology that made the trucks BSIV emission norms compliant?
A. We adopted globally proven SCR technology to meet the BSIV emission norms. SCR technology is one of the most advanced and fuel-efficient technologies that can reduce diesel engine emissions (PM and NOx to near zero levels). In the SCR system, the exhaust gases are treated outside the engine and in the exhaust system. This paves the way for the engine to run in an optimised manner, and leads to enhanced reliability and significant improvement in fuel efficiency as compared to a BSIII engine. The SCR after-treatment works such that a liquid-reducing agent is injected through a special catalyst into the exhaust stream of a diesel engine. The reducing source is usually automotive grade urea, also known as AdBlue or AUS32. AdBlue (urea) sets off a chemical reaction that converts nitrogen oxide into nitrogen, water and tiny amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is later expelled through the vehicle tailpipe.
Q. Have the prices risen due to the upgrade to BSIV emission norms?
A. Compliance to BSIV emission norms means the exhaust gas emitted by the vehicle should adhere to the specified limit (3.5 g/kWh) as per the Central Motor Vehicle Rules. To comply with the norms, certain design and technology changes to the engine, fuel injection system, catalyst, filters, sensors, etc., were necessary, and have been done. We are looking at a five to 10 per cent price increase across the Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 series tippers.
Q. Was there any inventory impact due to the transition to BSIV emission standards?
A. It is not unusual or abnormal to be left with an inventory at a certain point in time. There will always be some inventory in the channel. It is a regular phenomenon – to have three weeks to a month worth of inventory. We were left with around 2,000 units. It will be easy for us to export at least 50 per cent of our inventory and convert the remaining to BSIV standards.
Q. How have you leveraged the synergies with Volvo Group as you export engines?
A. Pro s eries is designed and developed with the Volvo Group processes and technology. It also seeks synergies with Eicher’s frugal engineering abilities and local expertise. The VEDX5 and VEDX8 engines have been designed and developed in collaboration with the Volvo Group, and use the latest Engine Management System (EMS) and after-treatment system.
Q. In terms of customer support, what preparations did you do as part of the move to BSIV?
A. At Eicher, we are constantly increasing and upgrading our service network. In our dealer development program, we create awareness as well as ensure necessary steps are undertaken to increase competency levels may it be the move up to BSIV emission norms or for any other service requirement.
Q. How useful are the customers finding the Eicher Live fleet management solution?
A. The ‘Eicher Live’ fleet management solution offers class leading features with uptime management as one of the core services. It plays a crucial role in providing proactive uptime support to the customer. The uptime services in turn enable the service team to proactively schedule and plan repair and maintenance activities. The truck is thus optimised for higher revenue generation. The proactive services enable us to identify faults generated by the vehicle and schedule preventive maintenance. This leads to fewer unplanned stops. The service team is also better prepared to attend to the customer needs. In an unlikely event of breakdown assistance, the service team is well prepared. Availability of specific diagnostics information (fault codes) enables it to arrange for the right parts, tools and the right technicians to minimise downtime. The dynamic service reminders in case of mining trucks ensure a change in vehicle utilisation in-line with the customer needs.
Q. How was the performance of Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 series in FY2016-17? What is your expectation for growth in the current fiscal?
A. With Pro series tippers, in the mining segment, we increased our market share to 21 per cent in FY2016-17. Growth has been phenomenal till date, and in-line with the robust performance of the tipper segment. The Eicher market share stands at five per cent across different tonnage, power range and segments (applications). Our market share varies between 10 per cent to 12 per cent. The tipper segment drove heavy commercial vehicle sale last fiscal. The Total Industry Volume (TIV) grew by 27 per cent on account of construction, quarry, infrastructure and core sector projects such as road, ports, irrigation, railways and smart cities. However, demand on mining side was little subdued due to lower off-take of coal coupled with skewed demand for cement. In mining trucks segment, we have increased our market share to 21 per cent in FY2016-17. Eicher achieved a growth of 12.5 percent in volume terms, at more than 58,000 units against 52,000 units during the last financial year. The industry, in comparison, grew four per cent. Over the short-term, we see some challenges, and mainly due to pre-buying and customer postponing the decision to purchase due to the need for clarity of taxation upon GST implementation. Over the long term, demand is expected to pick up on account of the on-going infrastructure development initiatives, stricter enforcement of regulatory norms especially related to vehicle length for certain applications and the overloading ban. We expect to witness a growth of eight to 10 per cent. With wide range of tippers (from 16- to 31-tonnes), and tailor made offerings for various segments (applications), we are well placed to tap the rising potential in the construction and mining (tippers) industry. With the massive infrastructural push announced by the government for the financial year 2017-18, and the highest ever budget allocation of four-trillion across infrastructure sectors announced in the union budget, we expect the tipper market to touch 65,000 numbers in FY2017-18. We will continue to strengthen our position in the heavy-duty truck market,
Q. What are the export volumes like for the Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 series tippers?
A. Our exports volumes have improved over time. In FY2016-17, we recorded the highest ever export volumes at over 8000 units as compared to the export of 6512 units in the last fiscal. We command a strong presence in South Asia, and in some countries in Africa and the Middle East. We plan to leverage the distribution network of Volvo Group in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and in Latin America to drive exports. The new products that are being revealed now will also be adapted for export markets.
The tipper segment drove heavy commercial vehicle sale last fiscal. The Total Industry Volume (TIV) grew by 27 per cent.
Meeting BSIV emission norms with EGR and SCR technology, VE Commercial Vehicles has launched the Pro 5000 Series.
Eicher Trucks & Buses, a part of VE Commercial Vehicles Limited, has employed Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to meet the BSIV emission norms. The SCR technology has found its way into the heavier Pro 6000 Series and Pro 8000 Series trucks. The Pro 5000 Series trucks that the company recently launched in Mumbai employs EGR technology in combination with Volvo’s EMS 3.0 electronic governing architecture. Filling the gap, and turning VE Commercial Vehicles into a full range player according to Vinod Aggarwal, Managing Director & CEO, the Pro 5000 Series trucks range from 16-tonne to 49-tonnes. Found in 4×2 tipper and rigid haulage guise; 8×4 haulage guise, and in 4×2 tractor guise among others, the Pro 5000 Series, is powered by a common-rail 5.7-litre six-cylinder (E694) engine that produces between 170 hp and 192 hp depending on the application type.
Sporting the Pegasus business grille and twin round head lamp design, which marks a departure from the single unit clear-lens assembly design found on other Pro Series trucks, the Pro 5000 Series is claimed to offer unmatched reliability and optimised operational cost. Expressed Aggarwal, “With the introduction of Pro 5000 Series, we have come to offer the widest range of heavy-duty trucks. The Pro 5000 is available at different price points, and is equipped with intelligent features like fuel coaching and cruise control.” Stressing upon competitive acquisition cost of the Pro 5000 Series trucks, Aggarwal mentioned that they recorded good growth last fiscal. It were more than the industry average.
In FY2016-17, VE Commercial Vehicles performed well. Despite being a challenging year, the company recorded a 12.6 per cent growth against the industry growth of four per cent. Tight planning on inventory, said Aggarwal, helped minimise the impact of the Apex Court’s order to stop the sale of BSIII vehicles from April 01, 2017. VE Commercial Vehicles produced only 2500 units after demonetisation. It was left with 1000 BSIII units in the plant and some 400 to 500 units with the dealers when the court order was issued. A decision to export or convert the BSIII vehicles has been taken, averred Aggarwal. Posting 50 per cent growth in HCVs, 33 per cent growth in MCVs, and 17.5 per cent growth in buses, the company exported 8,500 vehicles last fiscal, an increase of 25 per cent. Informing that the company has introduced a 180 hp bus powered by the E694 engine also found on Pro 5000 Series trucks, Aggarwal opined, “The market feedback we have received is that our bus gives higher fuel efficiency.” It has been sometime now that VE Commercial Vehicles has been increasing its STU exposure. It has supplied buses to KSRTC, BMTC, MSRTC, and Gujarat and Telangana transport undertakings according to Aggarwal. If the captive bus body building plant at Pithampur is proving to be advantageous, access to Volvo technology is also proving to be of much help. The VE Commercial Vehicles joint venture between Eicher and Volvo will turn nine on July 2017, and the EMS 3.0 governing system found on the Pro 5000 Series trucks is a reflection of Volvo technology percolating into VE Commercial Vehicles.
Powering the heavier Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 Series Eicher trucks are 5-litre and 8-litre engines that are produced by VE PowerTrain (VEPT), a joint venture company between Eicher and Volvo with a plant at Pithampur. The plant replicates the production systems that are in place at the Skovde engine plant of Volvo in Sweden. The engines produced at VEPT plant are also supplied to Volvo locations the world over, and in a form that makes them Euro6 compliant. The engines made at VEPT also find their way into Volvo’s other group entities like Volvo Penta.
Volvo tech for superior performance
If the EMS 3.0 governing system in the Pro 5000 Series trucks is reflective of Volvo technology percolating into VE Commercial Vehicles, the technology is also helping the CV maker deliver products that promise best in class efficiency. Expressed Aggarwal, “Technologies like EMS 3.0 present the company with a big advantage.” Quipped Gill, that they were the first to introduce cruise control in 2014. When VE Commercial Vehicles was established nine years ago, the Eicher product range that was transferred from Eicher Ltd. to the joint venture company were essentially CVs that employed Mitsubishi technology. With the participation of Volvo, these legacy products were upgraded and turned around to offer a superior experience, reliability, efficiency and low cost of operation. The E694 engine interestingly employs a bit of legacy technology, a bit of UD technology and a bit of Volvo technology claimed sources close to the company. If that provides an interesting insight into the ways of working at VE Commercial Vehicles, it is easier to understand the claim made by Gill that technology and emission norms are not new to them. “We looked at trucks running more, and earning more. As technology leaders, we have installed Eurodip paint tech and robotic welding line for the manufacture of cabins at Pithampur,” mentioned Gill, The Pro 5000 Series of trucks are available with a fully built cabin (long-haul trucks like the Pro 5031 come with a sleeper cabin), and a rolling chassis (cowl). Telematics is optional, and also the M-Booster technology, which is claimed to further enhance fuel efficiency according to Gill.
Increasing efficiency and performance
VE Commercial Vehicles overhauled the parts distribution network to up efficiency and performance even as it continues to launch new products with the view of addressing the exacting needs of the market. Said Gill, “Over 97 per cent of the parts are shipped the same day. Over 98 per cent of our trucks have delivered on the fuel efficiency promise.” “Our vehicles offer 97 per cent uptime,” he stressed upon. Offering features like fuel coaching and cruise control, which are claimed to reduce driver fatigue and inform the driver and the operator about fuel efficiency, the Pro 5000 Series, it is clear, is a step forward by VE Commercial Vehicles to increase medium and heavy commercial vehicle market penetration. With GST expected to roll out in July, and if delayed, by September 2017, the year ahead looks challenging for the CV industry. VE Commercial Vehicles continues to be confident of growing faster than the industry. To achieve greater market reach, the company, said Gill, has invested in 250 GPS connected breakdown repair vans, and a dial-a-part call centre. The company has 151 3S dealers, 13 2S facilities, and 23 SPD and 160 EGP facilities as part of its network to support its clients.
With BSIV CVs expected to call for better dealer support, what with OBD systems on board, VE Commercial Vehicles is looking at addressing the exacting needs of the CV market. In the wake of rapid changes the market is experiencing, customer expectations are changing. As a full range player, for VE Commercial Vehicles, AMCs and re-built engines, and gearboxes, will matter as the need for up-time rises. The Pro 5000 Series trucks reflect not just upon VE Commercial Vehicles’ capabilities, and its journey into the future, they also reflect upon how the Indian CV industry is changing.
Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles (VECV) has divested its entire stake in its US-based subsidiary. Eicher Engineering Solutions, to Spain’s SegulaTecnologias Espana for a sum of USD 1.85 million. The company has sold 100 per cent shares in its subsidiary to the Spanish company. According to Vinod Aggarwal, MD & CEO, VECV, the divestment is part of VECV’s plans to drive modernisation in commercial transportation, both in India and globally. The company’s immediate business outlook, he said, continues to be positive. “We remain firmly on track with all our strategic plans and initiatives,” mentioned Aggarwal.
Anticipating a strong uptake in domestic sales, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles (VECV), is said to be gearing up to launch three new Pro series models. These, claim industry sources, will be variants of existing Pro models. The company, expecting to grow faster than the industry average, claim industry sources, is also said to be working on an expansion plan. With the Pithampur plant running at full capacity, the company is claimed to be looking at developing its land parcel at Bhopal to ensure operational efficiencies. With heavy and medium CV market showing signs of moderation, the Volvo Group joint venture company is expected to increase concentration on LCVs, whose market continues to grow. VECV has been increasing its thrust on buses too, claim industry sources. It has bagged orders from STUs, and will be introducing new bus models, they add. While work is on to expand the Pithampur plant capacity from 5,500 units per month to 7,000 units per month, the company, claim sources, has dedicated a sum of Rs. 400 crore for the activity. A portion of this sum will also be used for product development, they add.
B Anil Baliga, Executive Vice President – Bus & Application, VE Commercial Vehicles Ltd.
Interview by: Bhushan Mhapralkar
Q. The Pithampur plant is running at full capacity. How does that augur for buses?
A. We have geared up for a production run of 5500 numbers. We are doing about 6000 to 6100 units. We will be expanding the capacity to take the figure to around 7000 units. We will also be hiking capacity at our bus plant, which is about 25 km from the Pithampur plant. We make bus chassis at the Pithampur plant.
Q. How has been Volvo Eicher’s performance in the bus segment?
A. We have been doing well in the school and staff bus segments. We have been the market leaders in school buses for the last ten years. The staff segment, we have managed to built, and have a 29 per cent share of. Our share of the tourist bus segment and the road permit segment is 10 to 11 per cent. We want to take this share up to 28 per cent. That is the next growth story that we are looking at. Our share in the school and staff bus segment is almost at the level of 28 to 30 per cent.
Q. Aren’t the current permit structures limiting the growth of buses?
A. The (bus industry) is something like a hotel industry. You can’t do without it, and still need it. It does not get affected significantly by the economic downturn. You will find a lot of players jumping into buses. Not that they have a lot of love and affection for it, they are here because it provides great support during the downturn.
Q. Many players have not been able to enter the bus segment. Is it a tough industry to crack?
A. People at Volvo say that if you haven’t got buses you do not know how difficult it is to sell them. Buses as body with chassis are a complex phenomenon. There is a need to look at the chassis part, and the body part. Cumulatively it has to deliver. It is easy to make a truck. To make a bus calls for twice the effort. The challenge lies in meeting the parameters of the customer; the comfort parameters – seating comfort, ride comfort, NVH, etc. The bus should deliver on fuel efficiency. The operating conditions of buses are highly different. A school bus, for example, travels 150 km at different speeds than a route permit bus does. A route permit bus travels at 90kmph until it stops and regains the same speed. Route permit operators ask for quicker acceleration, which changes their fuel consumption pattern significantly. The efficiency pattern changes significantly under such operating conditions. Tyre wear and brake wear are some of the issues that gather significance. Subjected to overloading, the road conditions at times are not good. At 90kmph, a route permit has got its own set of issues, and has to be designed accordingly. In the case of a staff bus, the requirement is for low noise levels. Each bus is so distinct from each other, that the chassis at times differs a good deal. Drivetrain is different. Demand for air-conditioned bus is rising. These buses call for more horsepower. Where 90kW used to suffice, the demand is now for 110kW. Some even want higher output – 120 hp, 130 hp, 140 hp, and more. The market dynamics are changing quickly, and the marketplace is fiercely competitive. The players are grasping for breath.
Q. How do you look at the inter-city bus transport scenario?
A. In the lean period the occupancy level in an inter-city bus would be less than 60 per cent. The ones that are affected the most are the overnight coaches. Route permit buses and others continue. As soon as the economy goes down, the Volvo bus gets affected. Players like Neeta Travels struggled during the downturn.
Q. Does it make it tough for operators of Volvo buses to have a good ROI?
A. Mass market continues to be attractive. ROI is available in the Rs.40 lakh range.
Q. Does it make it lucrative for you where Volvo buses are unable to cut in?
A. Our sleeper coach we are targeting at the Rs.40-45 lakh range.
Q. Aren’t the sleeper coaches an ambiguous territory?
A. The sleeper coach (code) draft has come in. It should be out in the next two months.
Q. Is the socialist agenda relating to buses somewhere affecting their ability to bloom?
A. With the advent of ‘AMRUT’ scheme, the ‘JNNURM’ scheme has gone away. They have made it clear that the allocation for buses has to funded from smart city budgets. Even ‘AMRUT’ does not seem to be moving. Luckily, the STU numbers are going up. The ‘AMRUT’ scheme may not lead to the bus numbers going up, the STU numbers are going up. The needs of STUs are becoming higher. In the last one year, over 14000 STU tenders have been floated. Another tender of 3000 buses is on its way.
Q. What about the city bus undertakings?
A. City bus corporations are in a bad shape except for those like BMTC, which is doing well and getting money from other revenue sources like their malls. They have been efficient and smart. They have been smarter in using their money.
Q. Do you have to educate buyers towards the buses they should buy?
A. From some of the STUs we end up learning from. They know what they want, the performance they want. It is interesting to do business with them. One does not mind giving them two extra features free of cost. Consider GSTC, and they are quite sharp. APSRTC is quite okay. There are others who do not know what they want. Nothing has moved in some states. In one state, nothing has moved for the last two and a half years because there’s no confidence that money will be recovered from the customers. We have a (firm) order for 1500 buses under JNNURM, which is still pending from that state. They have now called us for 528 numbers. For the last two years no private contractor has agreed to come and pick-up the contract. We met some contractors, and their problem is to get the customer to pay. There’s nothing that can be done if the customer does not want to pay.
Q. Are you not looking at the inter-city rear engine bus market?
A. Indian CV manufacturers have been trying to make headway into the high-end rear engine coach market. They have not been successful however. They have made two to three manoeuvres, and will eventually succeed. They have the strength. Volvo is also aware that someday someone will get it right. They are also trying to come out with another range.
Q. In the inter-city arena, how optimistic are you about sleeper coaches?
A. We are highly optimistic about sleeper coaches. Sleeper coaches are selling in huge numbers. I found it hard to imagine that Volvo gave a bodyshell and told the customer to fit it with sleeper coach hardware. Pressure is very high owing to the huge demand for sleeper coaches. We are selling more sleeper coaches than the conventional ones. Sleeper coaches are being registered. The only two states that have been stringent are Punjab and Delhi. The OEMs have had to change to meet the Bus Code. The private buses continue.
Q. How far has the Bus Code penetrated?
A. Bus Code was to be implemented in April last year. They have implemented the dimensions in April (2016). A regulation has been issued a few days back that the Bus Code will be implemented in total from October 01. This shows that the government is clear. We are already helping coach builders. We have accredited them. We give him the design; there’s no Bus Code connection for him. We certify and guarantee that what he makes is as per the specifications. We are accountable.
Q. Are you driving in a new converter (body builder) culture?
A. Some converters have a strong engineering ability. Sometimes their engineering abilities are better than that of an OEM. Some of them are brilliant. Alma Motors, for example, is at the upper end. It is a converter who can convert; has an amount of engineering abilities. We worked with them for a long time. We have done Sri Lanka buses with them. Also, with JCBL.
Q.How many buses do you do?
A. In the peak season we do about 1300 buses a month. We make some 700 of them in our plant and the rest are made by the body builders.
Q. How do you look at the upcoming regulatory change; its effect on the ecosystem in terms of engineering, operation, ownership, etc.?
A. I think that we are grappling with electronics, and internally as well. With electronics reliability goes up, provided the system is designed well and managed well. Regarding the demand for higher uptime, we are already projecting 50000 km as the first target. Eventually it will have to move to 100,000 km.
Is there an amount of Volvo technology trickling into Eicher buses?
Yes, it is. Currently it is limited to engines. Whatever support we need, may it be manufacturing or any other specific requirement, we can avail from them. We discuss issues with them. They provide us with inputs. We closely coordinate with the Volvo bus business. We do their aftermarket work.
Q. How does Eicher maintain its own identity? Especially in the presence of Volvo brand?
A. We have a clear demarcation. We (Eicher) will sell below Rs. 5.5 million, and Volvo Buses will sell above Rs. 5.5 million. There’s a clear understanding that we will not exceed this value and they will not climb below this value. Our benchmark is Rs. 4.5 million, and that of Volvo is Rs. 6 million. Brands like UD are part of Volvo.
Q. Will UD cannibalise Eicher high end products?
A. It is clearly segregated and demarcated. The presence of UD will only aid us to grow.
Q. Are you planning any new product at the lower end of the spectrum?
A. You may see a five-tonne product. Talking about the top-end and the low-end, we have the pipeline full. Focus first and foremost will be on heavy-duty buses – sleeper coaches. AMRUT buses and route permit products. The route permit bus products will take our market share to 25 per cent by 2020. Our focus will be on front-engine bus. We are going to bring NVH on front-engine buses.
Q. Are you not looking at a rear-engine bus?
A. Volvo already has a rear-engine bus. We would like them to leverage that technology. Also, when we look at it from the STU perspective, they are very happy with a front-engine bus. There is a drop in fuel efficiency and the maintenance costs may be higher. Rear-engine placement calls for a bigger water pump and radiators, which have an effect on the performance. Fuel efficiency comes down, and an Indian bus operator is well aware of it. The drop is approximately one to 1.5 km per litre. STUs are aware of this, and they don’t find merit in buying a rear-engine bus unless its an inter-city coach that gets them a huge amount of load. Where private operators carry loads, the STUs don’t do it. They don’t gain by that.
Q. Does ferrying of an amount of cargo make a good supplementary income source for operators?
A. To have 10 cu. m. of storage box on a front-engine bus makes for a tricky design manoeuvre. Our endeavour is to come up with a front-engine bus that offers almost the same amount of cargo space as a rear-engine bus. Storage space in an Indian bus matters. A lot of the operator profitability comes from cargo.
Q. Why do Indian operators seem to take an amount of time to look up to premium offerings?
A. Indian operators are smart. They know their ROI very well. The trick lies in selecting the right route and the right bus. If either of it goes wrong then it could spell trouble for an operator. Unfortunately, there have been instances were the operators have selected a bus and then started looking for a route. Good operators are very clear about selecting a route; if its a human populated route or a cargo route. They are clear about where the money is going to come from. If it is a human populated route, the turnaround has to be high. It is not possible to earn the kind of money a cargo route can deliver.
Q. How do you look at the permit system in buses, and its use by the operators?
A. We recently had a Volvo team visit us. We asked them if the 13.8 m long multi-axle bus was more profitable than a 12 m long bus. They said that there are some routes where the 13.8 m long bus will make profit, and there are some routes where the 12 m long bus will make profit. The problem is when an operator were to buy a 13.8 m bus for a route that is suitable for a 12 m bus. As we got into the heavy-duty bus segment we found out all the merits and demerits after speaking and listening to so many people, we now know where to peg the figure. Figure comes from ROI, and Rs. 4.5 m is the deadline. The period is three to four years. The maximum is four and a half years. An operator will be very keen to get the most fuel efficiency. Everything must be measured, and everyday.
Q. Where do technologies like AMT matter?
A. I look at AMT as the future of buses. An AMT will give better fuel efficiency than a manual transmission. An automatic transmission in comparison is very costly, two and a half times more almost. It also has its own loses. The fuel efficiency of an AMT will be better than a manual transmission any day. We are developing AMTs. You could hope to see them by 2018. An advantage of AMT is that the life of transmission almost doubles. There’s no misuse. We are working with Wabco to develop AMT technology. We are also getting inputs from Volvo. Volvo has I-Shift Amt technology.
Q. How much more would an AMT cost over a manual transmission?
A. If a manual transmission costs Rs.50,000 for example, an AMT would cost around two-lakh rupees. An auto transmission would cost five times more than a manual transmission. The trick is in getting the costs down. The lower we can bring it, the more attractive we can make it.
Q. How are your relations with the suppliers helping you?
A. We have very good relations with our suppliers. We depend on them. Almost 90 per cent of the suppliers are one off. You may be surprised, but the supplier industry for buses does not exist. We have had to create a supplier base from scratch. Today we have about 110 suppliers. Even in a front-engine bus, the similarity of components and sharing has been changing. We have a completely different range of chassis. These come with parabolic suspension; with pneumatic suspension, which is not there in the trucks at all. The chassis is absolutely different from that of a truck. The brakes are different. Operator preferences indicate that they don’t like brake noise. Because of the noise that comes with asbestos free linings, we have had to move over to an imported lining material.
We are highly optimistic about sleeper coaches. Sleeper coaches are selling in huge numbers.