The driver to the truck ratio in India is an estimated 750 to 1000. The scarcity of truck drivers is no secret. Of the estimated 20 lakh truck drivers in the country, a large number of them have risen from the ranks of spotters and cleaners. They are thus products of weak economic strata with little education to boast of. Lacking in education, they are unable to command the respect they deserve. They also lack the discipline that is needed to survive and rise in their field. Capturing these very aspects surrounding truck drivers, Sanjeev Chandra, Promoter and Director, MaxPlus Logistics Ltd., took up the challenge to rope in ex-army vehicle drivers – pilots and controllers. Their disciplined and motivated nature, he calculated, would make them good truck drivers. He began recruiting ex-army drivers after their retirement at the age of 35. By then, these would have gathered a work experience of 15 to 20 years in a highly disciplined environment.

Entitled for pension, Chandra presented these men to the transport fraternity by training them in urban terrain driving. Rather than letting them return to their rural roots of farming, he gave them an opportunity to leverage their hard earned skills as disciplined men behind the wheel of trucks. Confident that these men would elevate trucking efficiency that was sorely missing, Chandra hired them on the roll call of his company, MaxPlus Logistics. He offered them in the region of Rs.24000 to Rs.25000 for an eight hour shift. Training them to work overtime on request at times without additional payment, Chandra also provided the ex-army drivers with ‘proper’ housing, the cost of which was borne by his company. Paying attention to their well-being, he put to good use the industry insights his friend, Chandan Bhandari owner of BIC Logistics, provided him. He also leveraged the insights that he gathered during his work for an insurance company between 2010 and 2015.


Discipline and security

Recruiting and grooming ex-army drivers to fit the role of highly motivated and efficient ‘civilian’ truck drivers, Chandra assured them of stability and security. He was aware of these men being approached earlier with a package of Rs.15000 and told to make more money from the rest of the trip. They refused for the want of stability and security, Chandra quipped. Learning that quality workmanship, punctuality and trustworthiness were lacking in CV drivers during his brief tenure as a consultant for BIC Logistics, Chandra first realised that ex-army drivers would fit the bill. His army background helped too. Watching SpiceJet struggle with the need for drivers with the right aptitute, Chandra seized the opportunity to place ex-army drivers. He helped SpiceJet to fuel their air-to-air or airport-to-airport package movement venture.

Floating Maxplus Logistics, he took to supplying drivers for trucks that SpiceJet bought at 26 locations to fuel its door-to-door service. Aware of the acute shortage of drivers in the country, Chandra, charged with minimising pilferage risk, saw a potential in ex-army drivers to be men of discipline behind the wheel of civilian trucks. It was not an easy task to groom them, but worth the effort. In May 2016, SpiceJet and MaxPlus together conceptualised the whole process and then June-July, 2016 they ramped it up to fill up all the requirements for 160 trucks nationwide for regions like Nagpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi-NCR, Punjab, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, and Indore. “The process benefitted SpiceJet and they were able to cut down misplacement or disappearance of packages apart from accidents,” said Chandra.


Challenges and opportunities

Of the opinion that SpiceJet was able to build a brand with the support of MaxPlus Logistics, Chandra averred that a mechanism was devised to not subject the ‘fauji’ drivers to the same environment as other drivers where trust, faith and respect are missing. To ensure that they had a comfortable working environment, MaxPlus Logistics put in place a process where clients did not communicate with the drivers directly. Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) were assigned as mediators. If the drivers faced any problem, they reported it to the JCO. The JCO would report it to a ‘Major’ at the top of the hierarchy. Overcoming the challenge of arranging accommodation for the ex-army drivers hailing from rural areas, the company saw an opportunity to increase productivity. There would be less absentees and more deliveries.

Rather than have their own fleet for the lack of bandwidth, MaxPlus Logistics, like an IT company, chose to concentrate on its battery of ex-army drivers as an asset. Stating that they are his, and on his company’s pay roll, Chandra quipped that the lockdown brought with it challenges. Drivers went back to their homes in the absence of work, he informed. “The whole lot dropped out due to the situation,” he added. Sustaining because of their pensions, the ex-army drivers have continued to be in contact with Chandra. Some have been placed by him whereas there are those that are waiting to be called back. Most drivers are over the age of 40, have a house and a bank account. If this makes it easy for Chandra to trace and keep in contact, the drivers too are in regular contact with him.

The cash flow challenges keeping Chandra from scaling up his company’s operations to the pre-Covid levels, much of which could be attributed to the lower utilisation level of trucks even today, the hope is not lost that the ex-army drivers would one day be welcomed by the Indian trucking space and given the respect they deserve. Revealing that companies are not ready to pay salaries for the gap of two months to the drivers, Chandra expressed that these drivers, unlike the other drivers, would not take the truck home if they are not paid. Stressing on their sincere and disciplined nature, Chandra mentioned that his company is in discussion with companies to place the drivers. Informing that the cooperation with SpiceJet has stalled since a new management took over, Chandra averred that his company put forth the ex-army drivers a fixed cost model. It was expensive but gave them the needed stability,he quipped.


Imparting training to the ex-army drivers he recruited so that they could pilot modern trucks with advanced features and technology, Chandra carried out the fixed cost model experiment at the inter-city level and later at the long-distance level. The experiment succeeded at Amazon, according to him. Highlighting the need to train ex-army drivers to handle and operate in a civilian environment, Chandra said, “The ‘fauji’ drivers are good trainees.” “They quickly match the TAT expectations in terms of time, fuel consumption, etc.,” he added. Expecting the partnership with Amazon to turn more futile in terms of specialised drivers and a training suite, MaxPlus Logistics, as per Chandra, is looking for an anchor partner which hires good drivers.

New inititatives and avenues

In discussion with Motherson Sumi, which has a sizeable fleet of its own, Chandra’s MaxPlus Logistics is looking ramping up the operations to pre-Covid levels sooner than later. Informing that Motherson Sumi is building a vaccine logistics model, Chandra said that his company is also discussing with Ramco Cements to support their logistics operations at their two plants in Odisha. Working on a new initiative, MaxPlus 2.0, which, according to Chandra, is the ‘Uber in trucks’, MaxPlus Logistics is seeking cooperation of financiers. The programme, of ownership lease type, is such that the drivers will be owners of their trucks under the MaxPlus umbrella. The other initiative that MaxPlus Logistics is working on, is MaxPlus Vedrive. It is a bill-based ‘Pay as per the miles you drive’ programme that is designed to work such that a fleet owner from Gurgaon wanting to send his truck to Chennai could engage a suitable driver by scanning the driver profiles and their availability.

Reaching the fleet owner in two to three hours, the driver will scan the paperwork of the truck and check the truck condition. Finding it worthy of an assignment, he will upload the papers on to the system. MaxPlus Logistics will confirm the same and approve his assignment. At the other end, the fleet owner will scan the driver’s papers, including his license, and send them to MaxPlus Logistics for verification. Depending on the route, the driver hired through Vedrive would charge around Rupees-seven to Rupees-eight per km. To help him to discharge his duty efficiently, MaxPlus Logistics, according to Chandra, has developed a system pertaining to critical trunk routes like Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Bangalore. This system would provide the driver information about a stoppage 500 kms down the route or 1000 km down the route. Creating a core team of five people for Mumbai, Chennai and other locations including special drivers to formulate driver training programmes, MaxPlus Logistics is regularly conducting seminars for drivers.

Reflection of economy

Of the opinion that the CV industry has to grow at five to 10 per cent at least, Chandra averred that it is only then that the economy will grow at 12 per cent. Stating that efforts are needed to increase truck utilisation, he mentioned that he is seeing good movement in the e-commerce logistics space. Expressing that the trucks have improved quite some, and in the interest of driver to empower him to clock more kms; to deliver the cargo on time, Chandra said that he does not have any update to share about his company’s talks with VE Commercial Vehicles regarding their new generation trucks. Striving to scale up the operations to pre-Covid levels, Chandra is keen to collaborate with his nephew in the US who runs a logistics business. He is also quite upbeat about the contribution of technology in elevating safety and efficiency in trucking.

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