Volvo CV plant to make Volvo cars

In what is looked upon as an interesting development, Volvo Cars and the Volvo Group are said to have entered into an arrangement to assemble Volvo cars in India at Volvo Group’s CV plant at Hosakote, Bangalore. The arrangement will enable the Swedish luxury car maker to avail of lower duties. The first car, the XC90 SUV, is expected to roll out of the Hosakote plant at the end of this year. Volvo cars are currently imported as CBUs, and attract high duty of approximately 120 per cent. This puts them at a cost disadvantage when compared to their competitors, which have invested in a plant locally. Volvo Group’s plant at Bangalore assembles the FM and FMX range of Volvo trucks. The new generation heavy-duty Eicher Pro 8000 series trucks are also made at this plant. The bus plant, separated by a wall, produces inter-city, city buses under the Volvo brand for local consumption and exports. The Group also makes UD city buses for local consumption.

Volvo bus supply to BMTC

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Volvo Buses India has announced the supply of 100 Volvo 8400 city buses with the 330 hp, 8-litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine manufactured at the VE Powertrain facility, Pithampur. UBS II compliant, the buses are fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission, and an integrated retarder and optimised rear axle ratio. This is the first instance when the locally made 8-litre engine has been deployed in a Volvo city-bus according to sources close to Volvo. Optimised to ply on congested routes with frequent start-stops, the 8400 city bus, claim Volvo sources, provides quick acceleration, and supports rapid transit time. Promising optimal power-to-weight ratio, which translates in instant acceleration, air-conditioning performance and gradeability, the 8400 city bus is designed to do 17-hour duty shifts. Easy to drive, and comfortable to travel in, the 8400 city bus is air-conditioned. It is rollover protected, has powerful disc brakes on all wheels, roll stabilisers and a bus oriented suspension. The doors are equipped with sensitive edge to prevent passenger injury during accidental door closure. Said Martin Lundstedt, President and CEO, Volvo Group, “Volvo Buses has been at the forefront of introducing new technologies in India. Our partnership with BMTC has been integral to this journey. We delivered the first city bus in 2006, and are proud that BMTC has over 700 Volvo buses in its fleet. The order for next generation city buses is the start of the next phase of our shared drive to promote sustainable mobility.” With entry height of just 350 mm, the 8400 city bus is passenger friendly, for those with impaired mobility. It also features a kneeling feature. The clear door width at front and rear is 1200 mm.

Himachal Road Transport has 100 Volvo buses

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Himachal Road Transport Corporation’s AC bus fleet has come to have 100 Volvo buses. The corporation’s fleet size has swelled from 1,600 buses to 3,100 buses in the past years according to the state transport minister G S Bali. Flagging off the Palampur-Chandigarh and Palampur-Delhi Volvo bus services recently, Bali said that Himachal Pradesh would soon become the first state in the country to ply electric buses on the Manali-Rohtang route. These buses would later be introduced in other parts of the state to reduce air pollution, he said. Various steps taken by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation, its revenue has increased by Rs 8 crore. The corporation has been laying emphasis on improving its buses services and equipping the bus stands with better facilities. Bali announced that the Palampur-Chandigarh Volvo bus service will start from Palampur in the morning and reach Himachal Bhawan in Chandigarh such that it will facilitate the return of people coming to Palampur the same day

Volvo’s hybrid drive

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Volvo Buses India is offering the 8400 low-floor hybrid city bus to help cities fight the menace of pollution.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

It is drizzling for the last one hour. Any chance of it stopping looks slim. The Vardah cyclone that devastated Chennai is showing its after effect at Bangalore. The drive to Hosakote on the outskirts of Bangalore is uneventful with tiny droplets colliding against the car windows. As the wipers work to keep the unseasonal rain from obscuring the vision of the driver, an impression is had that urbanisation is fast overtaking any attempts by the local inhabitants to carry out farming. The lure of big money from the sale of fertile parcels of land is too precious to be ignored. Described as the IT capital of India, Bangalore is perhaps the best example of how urbanisation is spreading its tentacles in every direction, bringing with it the need for efficient modes of transport. One of the modern, if not the most efficient means of transport at Bangalore are the Volvo buses. They are found the moment one steps out of the Kempegowda International Airport. The plant that manufactures these buses is where I am going. I will be spending time with the new hybrid city bus the Swedish bus major has launched. Two 12 m hybrid low-floor city buses have already been supplied to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport against an order of five. The third bus will soon leave Hosakote for Navi Mumbai. It is currently undergoing trials and validation. Reflecting upon Volvo’s experience in producing hybrid and electrical buses (the first hybrid bus Volvo produce is claimed to be the 2008 B5LH low-floor city bus), the low-floor hybrid city bus that I will spend time with, is a diesel-electric. It adds to the count of 6000 hybrid and electric buses Volvo has produced till date. A parallel hybrid, the bus, in terms of appearance, looks no different than the diesel powered 8400 12 m long, low-floor city bus. The Volvo 8400 diesel bus is found in over 30 cities in India.

Smart proposition

Smart the 8400 low-floor diesel city bus looks. The 8400 hybrid bus mirrors the 8400 diesel bus in appearance. The body structure is 100 per cent local, and flaunts good fit and finish levels. The use of materials, paint, and build standards hint at world-class construction. They also hint at the need the company felt in investing in a captive body building plant at Hosakote in 2008.

Based on the Volvo B5RLE platform, the 8400 hybrid city bus adds to the premise, which VRV Sriprasad, Managing Director, Volvo Buses India, describes as instrumental in persuading people to leave their vehicles behind and take to public transport. The 8400 hybrid bus seats 32 people apart from the driver. Its low-floor height makes it easier to enter and exit. There are two pneumatically operated doors on the left side of the vehicle for the purpose. With 2×2 seating arrangement, the hybrid bus, says Sriprasad, has much of its content coming from Sweden as far as the chassis is concerned. “Since the 8400 qualifies as a strong hybrid, the customer,” adds Sriprasad, “is entitled to a subsidy of Rs.61 lakhs for the bus that costs Rs.2.3 crore.”

Building on the experience of deploying hybrid buses in Australia and Singapore, Volvo in India, launched the 8400 hybrid city bus after the central government formally announced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles (FAME) scheme in April 2015. The 8400 hybrid bus, it is clear, is not, about numbers. It is about providing a sustainable solution to cities battling with the issue of pollution. Claim Volvo sources, that the 8400 hybrid bus requires no supporting infrastructure. The parallel hybrid nature of the bus, they add, makes for a smart proposition. In the case of an electrical failure, the bus can still run, albeit on the diesel engine.

Smart tech

At the core of the 8400 hybrid bus is a 215 hp 5-litre Volvo D5 four-cylinder diesel engine (installed longitudinally at the rear), and a 160 hp electric motor. The engine and the motor produce a peak torque of 800 Nm each. The electric motor serves both, as a propulsion motor and as a generator. When the brakes are applied, their retardation effect is harnessed to recharge the batteries. This energy would have been wasted otherwise in the form of heat. Repeated braking, which is typical of a city-bus operation as it stops and starts, proves to be of operational benefit thus. Due to its considerable torque, the compact electric motor offers good performance at low speeds. It is at low speeds, and when the bus moves away from stand still, that the diesel engine is most taxed. It is then that it pollutes the most. Supplementing the diesel engine’s superior properties at higher speeds by producing maximum torque right from the start, the electric motor provides excellent starting characteristics and driveability. Electric power is also used when the vehicle is standing still. When the bus stops to pick up commuters or at the traffic light, the diesel engine switches off automatically. The bus, as a result, does not produce exhaust gases, and makes for a silent operation.

The motor of the 8400 hybrid bus is actually an integrated starter alternator motor (permanent magnet motor that also works as a generator and diesel engine starter motor) that runs on alternating current. The clutch and the 12-speed automatic transmission are an integral part of the driveline. The electric (electronic) unit is said to feature an energy converter for direct or alternating current and the batteries. The brain of the hybrid system is an electronic control module, which regulates the engagement and disengagement of electric and diesel power as per the need. The module also influences gear changes and battery recharging. On the 8400 hybrid bus, the power steering pump, air compressor and cooling fan are powered by separate electric motors. Each electric motor operates only when it needs to. This saves energy.

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Behind the wheel

Like the diesel powered 8400 city bus, the driving position of the 8400 hybrid bus is low, and with a good view of what lies ahead. The driver cockpit is simple and functional. It is ergonomically well sorted, and has the instrument console at the centre. The console is made up of a large speedometer and tachometer dials. To the right are the air brake pressure dials. The other dials include the turbo boost pressure gauge, temperature gauge, fuel gauge and an engine oil pressure gauge. A portion of the console is occupied by an LCD readout. To the right, and adjoining the console is the parking brake switch. To the left is the AC control. Below is what could be described as a ‘pad’. It contains the transmission buttons. There are three of them. One is the ‘Drive’ button. The other two are the ‘Neutral’ and ‘Reverse’ buttons. Next to the transmission buttons is a round exterior light switch. A round blue lamp at the end of the pad indicates that this bus is hybrid by nature. It has ‘HYB’ written on it.

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Turn the key, and the diesel engine wakes up to a distant growl. The management system gets down to conducting various checks. Once it is done, the diesel engine shuts down. Silence prevails. The only noise is the whine of a motor. It is indicative of an utility running. With the parking brake disengaged, all that is needed is to press the accelerator. The bus moves away, with the only indication, the rising speedo needle. It is exactly at 24 kmph that the diesel engine cuts in (the next time it cut in at 20 kmph). The tell tale indicators are a distant whine of the engine and the rising tacho needle. The motor propels the bus, and highly capably. It does so at a time when the diesel engine could be most relied upon in a diesel bus.

Speeds in the region of 50 kmph are easily achieved. The bus exhibiting good stability and a pliant ride in the process. While the air suspension is made up of sturdy air bellows, the steering provides good feedback. The auto transmission shifts cogs smoothly. No jerks are noticed as the 12-speed auto-box does its duty. The suspended driver’s seat and a fully adjustable steering position make for a comfortable driving position. The large mirrors offer a good view of what is around, and at the rear. Noise levels inside the cabin, even with the diesel engine running are low. When it is time to slow down and stop, the brakes provide a strong bite. The feel is linear and progressive. The electronically controlled disc brakes of the bus are ABS equipped. The moment the bus halts, the diesel engine goes to sleep. The muted whine of the utility motor is audible once again.

Smart, comfortable and eco-friendly

Smart the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus is. It is modern and comfortable. It is efficient and environment friendly. Volvo sources claim that the 8400 hybrid bus offers fuel savings of up to 30 per cent higher than a diesel bus. Speeds of up to 24 kmph are attained without the diesel engine waking up. The top speed of the bus, limited to 80 kmph, presents the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus with a good opportunity to deliver an efficient and comfortable ride. Claim Volvo sources, that the advantage a parallel hybrid bus offers over a series hybrid bus is the use of battery pack. The battery pack is not subjected to heavy use, and lasts long, they add. They also draw attention to the bus’ ability to run on diesel in case the electric (electronic) section develops a fault. It has been five months that the two hybrid buses at Navi Mumbai have been operating. The learnings will take some time coming. The buses will have to clock many more kilometers. With lower exhaust emissions during travel and zero emission when stationary, the 8400 hybrid bus makes an interesting reflection of how technology in buses is progressing.

It is afternoon by the time I depart from Hosakote. The rains have stopped. The weather has turned pleasant. The sun is out. It feels fresh. Quite unlike Mumbai where smog is often mistaken for fog, and where the room for a bus like this is only growing.

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Saving to win

The Asia-Pacific round of Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge 2016 finals was held in Sweden with a prime objective of saving fuel.

Text & Photos: Bhargav TS

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Anil Reddy worked hard to get to Falkenburg, Sweden, to participate in the Asia-Pacific round of Volvo’s Fuelwatch Challenge 2016 finals. If he won (in the off-road category), he would go to the global finals. One of the 11000 drivers sensitised by Volvo Trucks India for the Indian part of the championship, under the Asia-Pacific region, Anil drove past 230 drivers to the semi-finals. A hardy soul, he kept climbing, and made it to the team of 30 drivers selected for the India finals. Anil won the finals held at the desolate Besur coal mines, 70 kms to the south of Nagpur in peak summer with temperatures close to 50 degree Celsius. Under the watchful eye of Haribabu, who heads the Volvo Driver Training Centre at Bangalore, Anil used all that he had learnt over the years to make it to the top. He fought a fierce battle where each contestant did all that he could to win the challenge; to be the most frugal over a five-kilometre mining track at Besur’s Gokul Coal Mines. Volvo Trucks deployed Dynafleet, their proprietary fleet management system, to measure the performance of each driver. It measured the drivers on four key aspects – braking, speed adaptation, engine and gear utilisation and standstill. Data on fuel efficiency, driver’s uptime and overall productivity were collected to gauge contestants’ performances and identify specific areas for improvement.

Confident of winning the finals, Anil flew to Sweden, the first time he would ever step into the European Union, and into Volvo’s home country. Some trepidation did find a way to Anil as he got on the plane to Sweden. He simply shrugged it away, lost in the thought that he had to win the title. Conditioned by the desolate mining landscape and harsh working environment, he found his way to Falkenburg. At that point, he had no clue he would have a story to take back home to his fellow drivers, and all those who played a role in getting him to Sweden.

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Born out of the need to care for environment

The history of Fuelwatch Challenge dates back 10 years when Volvo’s Korean officials kicked off the event at the national level. They did so with a view of encouraging their customers and drivers to be more responsible towards the environment, drive frugally and reduce the carbon footprint. The Swedish major also saw a way of telling about their efforts to build efficient and technologically adept trucks through their customers and drivers. The message was clear: Volvo’s customers could build sustainable business and engineer high operational efficiency. Working tirelessly to increase the fuel efficiency of its trucks by infusing new technologies, the company has turned the Fuelwatch Challenge into a global event. It is divided into two parts, an on-road event for its on-road truck drivers and an off-road event for off-road (tipper) truck drivers. As part of the Asia-Pacific leg of the challenge, the challenge in India was kicked off by Volvo seven years ago. It was decided to limit it to the off-road category. This is about to change as Volvo shifts gears once again in India, and renews its focus on on-road trucks. The on-road challenge in the Asia-Pacific region is currently held in Korea, China, Malaysia and Singapore among other countries. In the last edition of the Asia Pacific Fuelwatch Challenge, P Ravi of S V Engineering Construction (SVEC) won the off-road category. The finals were held at Thailand. Following in Ravi’s footsteps, Anil, working for the same company, flew to Falkenburg, with just the thought of winning and retaining the title for India. One of the 14 drivers crowned at their respective national levels in the Asia-Pacific region in the off-road category, Anil would indeed have a story to take back home.

Expressed Per Bruun Hansen, Driver Development Manager, Volvo Group Trucks, at the start of the event on the Falkenberg Motorbana (FM) Racetrack, “In order to achieve good fuel economy the drivers will have to shift gears as less as they can. They will have to shift progressively to ensure better torque. They will need to plan, and be gentle on the accelerator and brake; use them as little as possible. They will also have to reduce idling and constantly check the tyre pressure to achieve the best fuel economy.” “The carriage of overload will increase fuel consumption by one to two per cent. If all the steps mentioned are considered, one could achieve better mileage and increase the operational efficiency,” he added.

The event

Anil and the 13 other participants drove a Volvo FMX 500 8×4 tipper across a designated track created especially for the purpose at the Falkenberg racetrack. The heavy-duty tipper was equipped with D13K500 VEB+, Euro 6 engine that develops peak torque of 2500 Nm, and is mated to an I-Shift AT2612F gearbox. The front of the truck was fitted with leaf spring suspension (FAL20). The rear contained an air suspension (RTH2610F). The tipper was also equipped with Volvo Dynamic steering.

The drivers did two laps in the FMX500. The maximum time they were allowed to drive was 18 minutes. Each driver took off from the start point, got on to the off-road track, climbed a gradient and descended it from the other side. After descending, the driver brought the truck to a complete halt for five seconds. He then drove into the next terrain consisting of mud and sludge. He also drove over a plain area before completing the second lap. During the entire competition, the inter-axle differential lock was engaged. The I-shift lever position was determined by the driver, except when starting. When starting the position was in the automatic mode. Traveling with the gear lever in neutral position resulted in disqualification.

Jangh Yun Son of Korea was announced as the top-most fuel-efficient driver in the off-road category. He is the owner of Moa ICT transporting aggregate, construction waste in Korea. Hsu Chin-Lung of Taiwan was announced as the top most fuel-efficient driver of the Asia Pacific region in the on-road category. He is a professional driver at a big Transport company of Petrol Chemistry, Industry indicators in Taiwan. Anil Reddy was announced the 1st runner up in the (off-road) challenge.

President of Volvo Trucks International, Heléne Mellquist, congratulated the winners. She mentioned, “The great performances offered by our contestants underline the importance of driver when it comes to achieving optimal fuel efficiency. This competition is all about sharing insights to improve drivers’ performance and benefit businesses in the long run.” “For the current edition more than 5800 contestants have participated, and the event is growing year on year,” she added.

Accolades for Anil Reddy

Competing with five contestants and being judged as the first runner-up having stood from the winner with a marginal difference in the off-road category, Anil Reddy attracted much attention for his efforts. GV Rao, Director – Product, Brand and Marketing of Volvo Trucks India, congratulated him. He averred, “It is a proud moment for India and its driver community. With each edition of Fuelwatch, the competition is becoming more intense. Indian drivers are becoming increasingly competitive in their quest to win a global competition like this.” “A competition like this signifies the importance of driver behaviour and its contribution towards achieving higher fuel efficiency, productivity and safety,” he added.

Reddy expressed that he was proud to be a Volvo truck driver. He said that he is looking forward to share his learning from the Fuelwatch event and spread awareness on the importance of fuel efficiency among fellow drivers in India. Mentioned Anil about the training rendered by the Volvo driver training centre in Bangalore. This centre continuously trains drivers, both in Bangalore and at customer’s mine sites. The centre point of driver training is

fuel efficiency.

While Volvo lays stress on fuel efficiency, and goes to the length of formulating, holding and expanding the scope of a challenge called the Fuelwatch Challenge, it may be interesting to note that transportation is responsible for 28 per cent of India’s carbon emissions, second only to power plants, which are responsible for 31 per cent of the emissions. Heavy duty vehicles in India are growing as infrastructure and transportation needs of the country change. This is having an effect on the environment. The drivers of heavy vehicles can contribute towards preserving the environment by saving fuel and ensure that the trucks they pilot, emit less. The task of building trucks that are environmentally friendly, Volvo is already

doing.

BOX

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Per Bruun Hansen, Driver Development Manager,

Volvo Group Trucks

Q. How do you rate the current edition of Volvo Fuelwatch 2016?

A. Without any doubt I would say that the current edition is better than the last edition. This year we saw that the drivers were extremely dedicated. They were highly competitive. In fact, after the results the ones that did not win should have no reason to feel bad. They are still among the best drivers in the world.

Q. In the off-road category, what was the deciding factor?

A. I think it was time management. Managing the time as you go around and make sure you control the throttle rightly as you climb the hill and climb down is important. This really makes a lot of difference in achieving better fuel economy. If two of the drivers are same in fuel economy then we will see the time consumed and finally the costing. This is how we decide the winners.

Q. The difference between the winner, the first runner-up and the second runner-up?

A. I cannot give you that figure, but I can say that the fuel consumption difference between them is less than three per cent. And, that’s quite exiting. That’s why I said that there should not be any hard feelings for the second and third runner-up. Next day, in a different weather condition and on a different track they can be the winners. They are all top drivers. It is because the Dynafleet can record very minute figures, that we have been so accurately able to gauge the performance of the drivers. It is the best tool so far in tracking all the parameters.

Q. How does the Dynafleet help the drivers?

A. Earlier I would need to spend more than four hours with the drivers to understand their driving behaviour and pattern. With Dynafleet my job has become much easier and simpler. With Dynafleet to assist, I am able to train the driver in the area that he should improve in. Dynafleet clearly indicates the area of improvement such that the driver cannot blame me as a trainer. Neither can be put the blame on any external factor. The result is in black and white.

Q. What would be your advice to the competitors?

A. I would tell them to stay calm, and be gentle on the accelerator. I would also tell them to not follow what others are doing. Concentrate on your own performance and the rest will fall into place is what I would tell them.

Q. Some drivers feel that driving premium trucks is difficult. Is it true?

A. In India we are located in Hosakote, Bangalore. There we have a training centre run by highly trained and professional trainers. There are no obstacles therefore in familiarising with new technologies. When drivers come to train, they think that they know everything. However, after a day or two, they realise how different and easy it is to learn new technologies. The day one stop’s learning, he is dead. That is what I believe. I therefore do not think that there’s an issue about premium trucks being difficult to drive.

Truck platooning demonstrated

On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Challenge 2016 finals, Volvo Trucks demonstrated truck platooning at Falkenburg. One truck led the way, and others followed it in a convoy, copying every move of the truck in front. Separated by as little as 25 ft., like a convoy of cyclists in Tour de France, each truck, except the one at the front, benefitted from a drop in wind resistance. Said Hyder Wokil, Mobility & Automation Director, Volvo Trucks, that such a formation could save six per cent fuel. He averred that platooning requires vehicle-to-vehicle communication and an amount of autonomous driving. Pointing at technological solutions that aren’t far from turning commercial application, the platooning demonstration endorsed the fact that incremental steps are being taken to make trucks efficient than they are today. “Truck platooning can bring significant fuel saving and reduce CO2 and toxic emissions. It can also help to reduce congestion through efficient use of existing infrastructure, thereby reducing pollutants and greenhouse gases further. In the long run, haulage companies in particular will benefit from faster transhipment of goods through fewer traffic jams. Roads will be used more efficiently. Through harmonisation of regulations, the automotive industry will be able to work on the smooth introduction of self-driving trucks,” mentioned Wokil.

Ravi and Anil lead the way

At the finals held at Thailand, it was P Ravi who won the championship. He and Anil Reddy works for S V Engineering Construction (SVEC), a company that participates in mining, infra and agricultural projects. Both, Ravi and Anil are leading the way in reflecting upon truck drivers that they should save fuel and care for the environment by doing their bit. There’s also something that SVEC is doing right, that has got Ravi and Anil this far. Established in 1973, SVEC transitioned from irrigation projects to mining in 2000. It has now transitioned into infra projects due to the slowdown in mining activities. Working on infra projects like the construction of second runway at the Bangalore Airport, SVEC has 110 Volvo tippers and 28 Volvo 48-tonne excavators. A loyal Volvo customer since the first truck that SVEC bought in 2000 continues to operate even today, N Vinod Reddy, Managing Partner, SVEC, informs that his company calculates the fuel consumption of its drivers and the best driver is sent to the Volvo Fuelwatch competition. Of the opinion that such a competition motivates the drivers and results in a huge improvement, both Ravi and Anil have been working for SVEC since 2014. Both had the experience of driving premium trucks, but the Volvo driver training and on-site training helped them to learn to achieve better fuel economy. “Anil and Ravi will be made trainers for the rest of the drivers at SVEC so that their journey motivates other drivers,” Reddy stated. Interestingly, for the fleet operator, a rise in fuel savings translates into more profitability. If he has 100 trucks for example, and each truck saves 10 percent fuel, the savings in monetary terms amount to Rs.2-2.5 crore per year.

A system named Dynafleet

Dynafleet make look like just another telematics-based fleet management tool developed by a truck manufacturer, it is however much more than that. According to Volvo sources, it helps to deliver on an important count of fuel efficiency. It measures the fuel economy of a truck, and is designed to provide an insight into the management of the entire fleet, truck-by-truck. Helping to pick up information for a deeper understanding the truck operator’s business, Dynafleet also helps to take corrective measures. It can generate reports from a wide range of parameters and discover why a particular driver consumes more fuel than the other when he is driving the same truck. Potential savings are easy to identify, and quickly. Enhancing profitability, Dynafleet reports vehicle data and driver times to both the driver and the office. This information assists in transport analysis and forms a reliable basis for the vehicle manager’s work and the office’s wage calculations. A complete transport management system, Dynafleet presents a range of logistical functions including the vehicle’s position. This makes the system the transport planner’s daily tool for planning, managing and following up transport assignments.

CAPTION

ò Volvo Trucks officials with Indian contestant and last year’s APAC winner.

ñ FM 500 being used for on-road competition.

ð After the competition all the data are acquired from the Dynafleet by the Volvo official.

Volvo truck to self-drive in an underground mine

Volvo Trucks is gearing up to test what it claims will be the first fully autonomous truck in operation in an underground mine. To be self-driven at the Kristineberg Mine in Sweden, Volvo Trucks, Torbjorn Holmstrom, member of the Volvo Group Executive Board and Volvo Group Chief Technology Officer has said, that his is the first company in the world to attempt such a feat. Part of a development project aimed at improving the transport flow and safety in mines, the truck is expected to cover a distance of seven kilometre. In doing so, it is claimed to reach a depth of 1320 metre underground. The truck will make use of sensors that continuously monitor the truck’s surroundings to avoid fixed as well as moving obstacles. An on-board transport system will gather data to optimise and coordinate the route and fuel consumption.

Pierre Jean Verge Salamon, President, Volvo Group Truck Sales, India

 

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Technology and growth

Interview by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Q. How do you find the Indian commercial vehicle market?

A. The move from BS IV to BS VI. It is a very strong signal. Then, there’s the potential implementation of GST. There’s also the construction of infrastructure. If these three events are attained, I firmly believe, it will lead to a more robust transformation of the transport industry in India. One factor that is difficult for me to assess is the ‘Internet Of Things’. There’s a lot of investment; big players are coming. People are buying more and more through ecommerce. Its difficult to capture the potential. An impression is had that the ecosystem is on the verge of transformation. There’s a need for us to be pro-active; to bring solutions, and to see what the customer will require. I firmly believe that India is transforming. We need to look at the long-haul.

Q. What do you mean by long-haul?

A. Look at our mining approach, we have the most robust offer for the customer. We start from a very simple solution and go up to the most technologically advanced solutions including the I-Shift and Dynafleet telematics. We have a wide spectrum of solutions to offer. Supporting the solutions is a fantastic infrastructure. Even when operating in remote areas of India, we have made arrangements so that parts are available. Such an operation requires a lot of investment. We are ‘mining ready’ for India; we have been for years. We were present in the on-road business. For price point issue, and because of the currency exchange issue, we have not been able to capture that market. We will come back for sure. In Asia, we have had a breakthrough in China because of the eeconomy. We are looking at such a breakthrough in India too.

Q. What scenario do you foresee as you look at on road business?

A. India is a very buoyant country. Couple of years ago it was opening up to the world. Earlier it was not as connected with the world when it came to trade. Today, there’s a rising emphasis on investment, local manufacture, and more. There’s also a shift in terms of appetite for technology. The normal pattern of rise will not be followed. The country will carve out an immediate passage to the most modern. Look at Europe for instance, and it took time to change. In India, the platooning of trucks and connectivity have the potential of changing rapidly. Through our conversation with our customers we came to find out that their main concern is the driver. Not because of the cost, but because of the attrition rate. Shortage of driver is pushing our customers to opt for technology driven solutions. It is not the cost but the need to operate in an optimised environment. We expect that this will trigger technology, simplicity and an ability to get ride of the human factor.

Q. Medium and heavy truck segment has been growing. There’s a move to higher tonnage vehicles. Freight rates have risen. What does that indicate to you?

A. I see it as a sparkling signal for transformation. The one limitation is see is the customer’s ability to invest in modern, expensive and efficient solutions. The absence of an expensive and efficient solution is because to achieve optimal turnaround time, efficient utilisation level of a truck and derive a certain fuel economy has not been possible yet. The non implementation of GST means there’s stop and go between states. Lack of double lane or triple lane roads is a limiting factor. If such hindrances are dealt with, the customer will opt for a modern, expensive and efficient solution. We are very happy to see a change in the mindset in terms of engaging and contracting transport. It was short-term and assignment driven earlier. It is now starting to be ‘long’-contract driven, which ranges for over five years. This will give the customer more room to look at a sophisticated solution without impacting profitability. The life expectancy of the truck in Europe is 10 years and beyond. In India, I am given to understand that it is less. Transformation has started in India. There’s however a need to be careful and cautious.

Q. Does your premium positioning limit your ability to attract buyers?

A. When India will be able to afford expensive, elaborate and sophisticated solutions, it will make for an excellent choice. It will mean that the country is emerging at a level where the approach is more elaborate, intensive and profitable. Until now India has been compensating with cheaper local solutions. If things happen in the right way, a change will come about. It will not come at the European level. It is a mistake to take an European product, localise it a bit, and hope that it will work.

Q. For higher localisation, you would need volume. Does it not look difficult?

A. We have driven localisation and built volume viability in mining trucks. There’s a recipe; there are ways, and I think it is exactly the same (as in the mining segment). We are thus finding ways to make it work in the on road segment. Industry professionalism is rising. New players are coming in. Big retail chain stores are focusing upon India. Logistics companies are showing interest. I see it coming, but then, we need to be innovative.

Q. How’s been the response to I-Shift automated manual transmission?

A. Some 18 months ago we had a 20 per cent penetration. Today, we are at 60 per cent. We have taken a strategic decision for India that next year we will stop manufacturing manual gearbox. Emphasis will be on the I-Shift because it is the most advanced technology. It enhances fuel efficiency and has the potential of addressing the driver challenge.

Q. You are banking on I-Shift technology for on-road segment penetration. What is the reason?

A. To understand why we are banking on I-Shift technology there is a need to reflect upon the strategic worldwide direction of Volvo Trucks. “Volvo Trucks will stop selling manual gearbox on a worldwide basis.” We are getting into a journey where the machine, the system, and the ECU is here to assist and deliver expected performance to our customer. If we don’t embrace the technology quickly someone else will do it. We will lose the competitive edge. Talking about countries like China and India, old fashioned technology was being offered some years ago. The need today is for the most up-to-date technology. Especially in markets like India. The need is for the most advanced technology to be offered at an affordable cost. We are looking at providing such solutions. I firmly believe that there will be a need for such solutions. Recently I had a discussion with one of our board members in India. He is very much into the retail business as well. He wants to pursue a retail experience of delivering at the buyer’s door step. Problem is, in India there are external logistics companies that do not know where exactly the location of delivery is, and that if the driver will deliver the goods safely, and in time. There’s a risk of the customer’s buying experience taking a hit. The need today is for a well perceived experience for the customer from the computer to home. Trucks will play a major role into this. We are not pursuing the last km because of the city profile. We feel that in the massive flow, we have a big role to play. We have the system, and we have the technology. If I am able to deploy a performance monitoring system at a frugal cost, I think we have a competitive edge in India. We did it in mining with the Dynafleet solution. We have had customers walk up to us and ask if we would be offering this feature or that feature. They are ready to buy should we offer them. India is the engineering country of the world, and people are highly receptive to new technology.

Q. You mentioned about frugal cost. Isn’t India a price sensitive market?

A. Every market has price sensitive customers. The price point in India is a bit lower. But then we sold 1,222 trucks that are expensive when compared to others in the market. We have proved that it works in mining, and it is therefore that people have bought from us. I believe there is a way to educate; to explain, and to prove that it works. It is a matter of confidence and understanding the needs of the customer. It is a matter of adjusting the business model accordingly. I do not believe in cutting costs. I think instead that it is about the ‘full-time’ value proposition and whether it meets the customer expectations. There will come a time when people will look at efficiency over time rather than cost. They will look at peace of mind.

Q. How do you look at driver shortage in India as you pursue the on-road segment?

A. I have been in India for one year, and I am a bit surprised, and sad as well, to see such a thing. There are countries where access to competence and to train people is even tougher. We have been successfully correct the trajectory. We have solutions; we have modules, it is just that they have to be deployed. I see it as a work to be done by three parties; by us, our partner and our customer. We have everything that is needed to fix the wheel. There’s CSR. Our trucks are operating in remote mining areas. We have a responsibility to the society. For on-road it is a different story. We have a role to play. What worries me is that over 300,000 people in India die in road accidents every year. It is an issue that is hardly discussed. We have the responsibility to offer solutions and systems. The need is for education. It is possible to make a progress. All the players should raise their voice.

Q. The changes that you have brought about in the last one year?

A. We believe in not challenging the customer, and instead in supporting him. To make sure that our trucks are on the road. Speed of execution and customer support are the changes I think I have brought about in India. My task has also been to raise the voice of India into the organisation for the people there to realise that something big is happening. To make them realise that a huge transformation is underway and there is a need to tackle it. In Asia, all the markets are shrinking except India. There are a lot of opportunities in India, not only linked to selling of our products but also about leveraging the competence. Out of the 100,000 people in the Volvo Group, some 4000 people are at Bangalore alone. There are not many companies who would have four per cent of their people in one location. India makes a sizeable engine in the Volvo Group; in engineering, in financing, and in IT. The need is to continue to capture the potential. India is quite likely to bring new business ideas and patterns. We believe that countries like India and China are disruptive. The forces at play given their size are too big. One is looking at a different approach, different costs, different way of thinking and different speed of execution. Our an organisation like ours, this is extremely challenging. The rules are different, approaches and different, and expectations are different. The challenge is in doing things differently. For me it is a challenge to tell at Sweden that in India this will not work that way. That a different approach is needed.

Q.Do you plan to expand the dealer network?

A. Our trucks are distributed through our joint venture (Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles). The capability of the Eicher network is fantastic. We would use the opportunity to leverage this capability for our on-road thrust. We have great synergies for our mining operations – both in terms of Eicher as well as Volvo. We have hubs at five major locations. In cities, to support the buses, we already have a network. Distribution network, given the size of India, is not a concern for us.

Q. A big change is underway at your joint venture. How do you look at at it?

A. The joint venture has been successful. We will be celebrating eight years of it. Except Maruti Suzuki, it is the only joint venture that has lasted so long. Look at the engines produced in a Volvo environment (at Volvo Eicher Powerstrain), and I think the joint venture is extremely successful. They are also bringing in a lot of ideas; conveying customer level changes, which in-turn also translate into partner-level changes. Both these are helping us to adapt to changes. Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicle is helping us to understand (the market) better, to grow better, and to work closely.

Q. Along with the joint venture what developments do you foresee in terms of sourcing?

A. The technology (between Eicher and Volvo platforms) is different; there are very few commonalities, and it is difficult to leverage an opportunity. The grade of the supplier industry in India is such that we are sourcing more and more components from India to Europe, USA and other parts of Asia. We continue to grow on that count. The fact that a component is used in a Volvo truck means the quality, performance and price is at the expected level.

Q. How do you look at your journey in India?

A. India is the third largest heavy-duty truck market in the world. It is already showing the potential to be the number two. There are strong local players. The profile is similar to that of China. There’s potential for the market to modernise and grow. There is a lot of dynanism. We are a part of this market for the last 15 years. The prospects for us are extremely positive. As a Group with the inclusion of Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles, we are selling close to 50000 trucks in India. Last year it was 46000 trucks. India is a huge market that we are participating in. It is a strategic market. Profitability is going in the right direction. It is necessary that we become more robust. Dynamic growth pattern is not the case in Asia. The case in Asia is patience. Plant the seed; put some water, let it out in the Sun; develop relations and stabilise, and it will happen. Countries like India are subject to forces that are extremely strong, and can create a huge swing.

Q. By forces, are you in some way hinting at the ability to engineer frugally, locally?

A. After a point in time, frugal has to become innovative. It can be low cost, but has to bring under it new territories. India is capable of sending a space shuttle and developing an atomic bomb. Considering such capabilities, the need is to bring in different levels to make the ‘Make in India’ proposal successful. The need is to engineer the India way, at a competitive performance set, frugally, and innovative in a way that it brings more value and more innovation to the world.

Q. Has ‘make in India’ touched you?

A. It is difficult to say if it has touched us, and how. We entered India 15 years ago. We could claim that we had the vision of ‘make in India’ then. Things are at another dimension today. The need is to put India at the right position in the global organisation. For many, ‘make in India’ seems to be about leveraging exports and seeking profitability outside India. We are in India, and we need to look at the market in India, for India and outside India. And, not from the customer perspective, but from the product perspective, from the solutions perspective, and for the development done here.

Q. Has the entry of Volvo Financial Services been successful?

A. It has been successful in easing the financing difficulties. In March, our penetration level was at 38 per cent. The presence of Volvo Financial Services gives the customer a reason to trust. It takes care of the overall profitability, which has everyone happy. Its been seven months after Volvo Financial Services entered India. The need would be to be innovative, smart and propose different products; different scenarios and different setups to help our customer. Attention would be need to be given to bring added value, and not just a cheaper interest rate. So to be attractive, it is the engineering, duration and bits like the service agreement that will make a difference. What looks like a robust and attractive finance solution today may not hold water tomorrow.

Q. What you do think about commercial vehicle regulations?

A. More clarity about regulations, about the ease of doing business will come over time. The implementation of GST will be very good. It will simplify business. GST will send a very strong signal that transformation is possible. It will be a good enabler; it will be a step towards transformation.