In an industry talk session, B Dinakar, Executive Vice President of Volvo Trucks India – VE COMMERCIAL VEHICLES speaks to Ashish Bhatia about pushing the envelope with relevant transport solutions.

Q. How are you pushing the envelope to meet the demands of relevant transport solutions with the heavy-duty FM and FMX range? How content is team Volvo Trucks India with the outcome and market acceptance?
A. Our products launched late last year (2021) concentrated on how we increase productivity, improve operational efficiency and meet the growing demands of the applications. The new range of trucks launched, worldwide, has us improving many features. To give an example, the entire cabin is new. So, it comes with larger operator visibility. The main focus was on improving driver comfort in order to bring down fatigue and extract the best possible productivity by offering the best drive experience as a whole. In the case of exteriors and interiors, we’ve pushed productivity to the next level by giving the requisite greater comfort so the driver in turn can focus on the job. The engine management systems as the software layer within the transmission unit are upgraded to the next level and are at par with the global benchmarks.
The braking system is improved and we’ve introduced the downhill cruise control as a new feature for the driver to manage heavy loads. The driver can set the speed for himself, for example, 10 kmph and so on which he can reset by pressing the accelerator or the brake pedal to bring it back to 20 kmph or lower as may be desired. So, it is an absolute safety feature. This is in addition to already existing features like an Electronic Braking System (EBS). In the case of Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) trucks, there is a heavy load at the back and the market has solutions like only stretch braking. So, when taking a turn, it follows a certain pattern and on braking, there is a swing away from the centre. In this context, these are the very important feature inclusions as a means to enhance productivity and take it to the next level. An estimated 6,000 trucks are already pressed into the operation worldwide and in Europe, for example. The kind of response received by Volvo Trucks across the globe was fantastic. The R&D team are a happy lot.

Q. Tell us in-depth about the offerings in this new product mix? Which of these is a flagship and are there any segment-first offerings? The last time you mentioned, it was the FMX 460 BSIV.
A. So now what has happened in last year’s introduction of six trucks is what we have concentrated on each segment. It is split between the mining segment, the construction and infrastructure segment and the on-road segment. So, each segment has got a new flagship vehicle. The concentration is on expanding beyond the mining segment where we will continue to sustain our leadership with the new introductions. At the same time, we would like to extend to other segments like express logistics, express cargo logistics, ODC solutions and road construction to give an example. Most importantly, for road construction, we have introduced a truck with 22 Cu. m. FM 420, a 4×2 tractor powered by a 30-litre engine and the FM 500 which is the puller. In combination, for mining, we have introduced the FMX 460 20.3 Cu. m. and the FMX 500 with 23 Cu. m. besides the FMX 460 with 33 Cu. m. particularly for coal transport. So, we have arranged the set for each and every segment to enable customers to benefit from the highly productive and operational efficiency focus points of the new range.

Q. Is the payload for crawling still restricted to about 150-tonne in India? How does it compare to the global 325-tonne benchmark?
A. As you know, the axle weights have improved. While this is still applicable here, in the case of the ODC truck there is a need for a combined weight. This can go up to under 195-tonne on technical distinguishing. The combination with whatever is applicable right now from the Indian regulatory authorities, we understand that customers will follow the law of the land including taking special permissions and designated routes for such loads. They will be able to get the best out of our offerings.

Q. You had crystal gazed how privatisation (MDOs) would translate to the demand for multi-axle dump trucks. Like most OEMs did you also have to re-engineer products and aggregates to bear the higher loads under the revised axle load norms?
A. Our trucks have aggregates that are already designed for higher technical weights. So when we introduce a flagship 8×4 truck, to comply with the CMVR on road is one thing but the axles and the capacities are built for off-road applications. So our trucks delivered to customers, when it is plying on road, they are required to restrict the load to CMVR norms. In the case of off-road, the technical weight can be higher than that. That’s why people who have seen the trucks are well accepting it in the coal mining segment where these trucks ply pit to surface and not surface to surface a reason behind us gaining the market share in the niche segment. We already factored it, unlike other manufacturers who felt the need to re-engineer.

Q. You have also focused on enhancing driver comfort! I have driven the previous generation FMX 440 8X4 in a mine. What room for improvement has been addressed in the new models?
A. The truck through the cabin is enhanced. For example, we have improved visibility by 10 per cent. The side view from the glass has been enhanced with encapsulation. In all, there are five views covering blind spots. We reduced the A-pillar size but strengthened it. This helped in enhancing the entire front glass with a curve design for better visibility. The noise levels have been reduced by ~20 per cent compared to the predecessor. The console has been designed to hand hold the driver through the entire coaching. Each truck comes with three trip meters. Say, the truck is driven by three different drivers, each driver will have a login password to enter before he starts the truck and customised coaching will commence.

This will look at excess acceleration, how he can reduce it, and the braking pattern. Some trucks are fitted with a side indicator display and allow the driver to connect their mobile. This is to encourage the driver to just hold the steering by being mobile hands-free. The side view mirror comes with a dedicated camera to alert the driver. It gets activated when the driver turns the left or right-hand side indicator on. It gives a complete view for example of the left side when the driver is seated to the right. Each truck comes with four additional cameras. Especially for trucks like the FMX 500 with the heavy 23 Cu. m. load body where the drivers value the enhanced surround visibility. The steering is the Vehicle Dynamic Steering (VDS) which is an ultra-responsive steering designed to offer precision and eliminate fatigue.

Q. Why was it possible for you to introduce these when acquisition costs are a weighing point for fleet owners in a tough economic environment? Have these additions become more affordable compared to the past?
A. We don’t give the product but sell a product transport solution to customers on a total accumulated cost basis. The initial cost might be high but the total value proposition will be higher. For example, the FMX 500 comes with a 38-tonne rear axle load of six times the earlier generation. The front axle loads are increased by one-tonne and so the total vehicle comes with an additional eight-tonnes. So the kind of productivity is improved and the kind of cost per tonne calculation by using this vehicle is phenomenally higher. The cost increase is justified as a result. Every HD customer is graduating and conscious about the productivity on offer. So, to reiterate, our trucks are best meant for productivity and the TCO considerations.

Q. There is a belief that passenger vehicles are gadgets loaded. How far behind or ahead are CVs?
A. It is in CVs that more focus should be on the driver interaction How focused is the driver? Or how fatigued is the driver? These are the focus areas for us. That’s the reason this interaction with the console is very important for us. Through ‘Volvo Fuel Watch’ it is known how the difference between the best drivers who compete, the difference between fuel efficiency attained by the first and last driver is 20-30 per cent. You’re choosing among the 15-20 sites wherein we take the best drivers from each customer. That means, a lot depends on the driver when you drive this particular vehicle and it is as you said responsible for the high TCO. You’re giving that entire cost into the hands of a driver who has to deliver the goods for you.

With one just one press of a button, the console gives the pretrip measurements. Eight or nine features that include fuel level or adblue level or the oil pressure, everything comes there. So otherwise the maintenance guy undertakes a vehicle surveillance and then takes each and everything on a dipstick to gauge the difference. He will note all of it and takes around 30 minutes for each vehicle. Now we reduce it to one minute. So then, you know, this is the productivity level improved. So the driver is at peace once the process is complete. He is just left with concentrating on road. Driving is not just driving it is planning and driving. So you plan the route, you have to plan the road, you have to see where to accelerate, where to brake, where to turn and as a result of all of it, the efficiency goes up. So the driver can concentrate on planning his trip when all other things are taken care of by the vehicle.

Q. How have you tweaked the offerings to meet a vast spectrum of duty cycles?
A. The Volvo Trucks 8×4, our flagship 20.3 Cu. m. are well accepted and well placed, positioned in the mining segment. They have proved the distribution of the best TCO when it comes to express logistics launched earlier for customers like Delhivery. Initially, these express cargo logistics providers were clocking 12,000-15,000 kms per month, today on our truck, they’re able to clock 25,000 kms which was a dream. Now, with this truck and the comfort levels, I’m hoping for 30,000 kms to get the best out of this truck. So, the Turn Around Time (TAT) is the most important thing for us. For example, in road construction, we have introduced a new truck aimed at improving the efficiencies. The operator can look at completing the road project in 18 months compared to 24 months earlier. These work contracts are bound contracts. If they fulfil it ahead of time, its a bonus. Like that, in each segment, we have ensured customers stay connected with their business using our highly productive trucks.

Q. How is Volvo Trucks India looking to diversify even in segments like mining itself?
A. A lot of marble quarry owners and granite quarry owners are taking our trucks. They are reaping the benefits out of this range. In blue metal particularly when road construction is graduating from 23 kms per day to 33 kms per day and up to 37 kms per day. We are making history on that front as a country. So there are the new metal requirements which will always drive higher loads demand where we expect our trucks to offer higher productivity levels.

Q. Tell us about the order progress on Delhivery where 25 Volvo FM 4X2 tractor-trailer combinations (road trains) were to be delivered? Have you fulfilled that order and how is the partnership progressing?
A. We have already delivered the initial 25 trucks. Subsequently, we are giving more trucks to them. The engagement is continuous and they are also getting the best out of our trucks. Together we are in this journey learning from one and other as partners in progress.

Q. How are you upskilling customer driver pools for piloting such sophisticated vehicles?
A. With such sophisticated vehicles there is always a burden of questioning whether I am doing the right thing or not. We want to lessen that burden. So what we’re doing is the very simple that the 12-inch intuitive console relays all inputs as the hub of activities. With the ‘Volvo Connect’ and ‘Dyna Fleet’ using driver trainers we ensure that a constant training is put in place over a one-off initiative with the customers. It is a continuous process and we go to the customers and give them a program in such a way that all these drivers are trained further and improved further in their efficiencies.

Q. What is the current TIV for the premium HD trucks?
A. 400+ hp trucks are at an estimated 1500-1600 units. We expect to reach near the highs of 2015 close to 1800 units as we further diversify in to the construction segment etc. It is a growing market for us.

Q. What are some of the efficiencies that you have added both upstream and downstream in your value chain?
A. The entire network was geared up for the rollout of these trucks in terms of meeting after sales requirements and upskilling competency requirements of technicians etc. It’s a continuous development process for us. On the retail front again, we manage our sales end-to-end minus a dealership model. The Sales touch points are given a feel of the trucks for them to be convinced ahead of convincing the customers. Our last launch was a very good platform to build upon.

Q. Have the systems to gauge demand changed drastically?
A. Worldwide, there is a gap between demand and supply. Everything in combination means that lead levels have increased. Previously, the overseas logistics had also been impacted. They had to rework routes leading to delays etc. All of it was modulated courtesy of excellent synergies between Sweden and India with respective teams continuously monitoring the external environment. The programme planning is such that it is able to meet the demand. Even after ensuring all measures are in place, the supply-demand gaps can always surprise. The semiconductor issue will spare none but we have a well-oiled system in place to address these issues at a granular level by placing orders with a five-month and beyond lead time. We are not reducing our order placements by any means just extending the lead times if need be. This covers the production spares to ensure manufacturing isn’t impacted. The assembly lines in India are rolling out the new and improved cabins which is also a feat for us. We are also hand-holding our service dealers to ensure transparency. I would especially like to laud our technicians who did not leave customer sites even during the peak of Covid-19, staying within the confines.

Q. How are the 12 Uptime centres playing their part in customers reaping the benefits?
A. Nobody else can boast of such a strong network of uptime centres in the industry. We are the first on Volvo Trucks and the VE Commercial Vehicles side to come up with it. The centres work very closely with customers on five packages. It ensures the maximum fleet utilisation with the predictive failure alerts and interventions for the benefit of the customer and the driver pool on the training front. The fuel efficiency services with ‘Volvo Connect’ map ~7000 vehicles with a dedicated team to analyse the big data. Reports are sent out to the customers to act on it and thereby improve their competencies.

Q. How is the plant utilisation and has there been any capacity augmentation at the Hoskote facility We know that VECV has done so with the Bhopal plant?
A. We are operating one shift in a five day working week at Hoskote, and the capacity meets our current demand with a room for scaling up.

Q. Any alterations to the on-site servicing and the parts availability arrangements?
A. Today there is impetus on ensuring safety to whomsoever that may come in contact with the Volvo Trucks at the customer site. From a project leader to a project manager has to follow certain safety protocols. We are engaging with customers to secure that entire ecosystem beyond current levels. It is a core principle at Volvo Trucks along with quality and environmental care. We are also introducing modular workshops as part of this improvement exercise.

Q. How have recent government interventions for the industry impacted business?
A. Interventions like commercial coal has encouraged private players to enter coal mining. MSME qualification barriers have been removed to reduce the entrant barriers for them. E&B clause removal has ensured healthy competition. It has improved tender participation eligibility. A tremendous improvement has been realised for road construction and greenfield projects. It has brought the impetus on productivity and TATs. We find ourselves to be a custom fit for these requirements.

Q. In the recent changes to the mining laws, the Ministry of Coal finalised an agenda document for 2021- 22. It emphasises on minimising human intervention at the unloading and transportation stage. Could we expect autonomous haulers to be deployed in mining pits as a result?
A. Autonomous solutions and cleaner solutions on alternative fuels and BEVs are available with us globally. The moment the market is looking at it as an option and one of the beneficiaries is the customer we are prepared to introduce the market fitting products. There is no gap in development and introduction of market desired products. Most importantly, its not sufficient that just my truck is autonomous to explain further. The entire ecosystem has to facilitate it. Be it automatic braking or platooning and beyond mining we are closely watching developments of ports another suited environment for such advanced technologies. Cost of introduction and the benefit to customer is paramount here.

Q. Does the ongoing LNG pilot in heavy earth moving machines excite you?
A. It excited from the very beginning when there was an inkling. It also puts me in a stage where I have to gauge the prospect of it transforming into business. If it makes a business case going forward we would want to be present in it.

Q. Your thoughts on voluntarily scrapping vehicles despite the fitness of the vehicle?
A. There are different school of thoughts in different segments. Say, in ODC where the vehicle has aged, operators don’t mind progressing to new generation vehicles. In regions like Mumbai, vehicles older than 10 years are not allowed within city limits compelling customers to opt for scrappage. It is one of the reasons driving my ODC sales up. In other segment fleets, if our trucks are utilised 24×7 for a period of say 5-7 years, customers are able to realise the cost benefit out of the truck and realise their RoIs. Then these operators will use the aged fleet as ancillary equipment. Customers in that segment shouldn’t be unhappy to voluntarily retire such a fleet.

Q. Does the increasing adoption of rail freight threaten conventional surface road transport especially the long-haul? Rail is claimed to have a carbon footprint of one-third of surface transportation?
A. Yes, it has been a crucial development. However, since we are into segments where productivity matters the most be it express cargo logistics etc, We are confident of preventing erosion of margins. We are also crucial for the operator loading and unloading points especially where there is an interchange of tractors. It is one tractor-trailer combination versus one tractor that can off load a trailer and return. If that is the case, rail freight can’t match our speeds. In my opinion we are largely insulated being in super niche segments.

Q. The growth and challenge areas for Volvo Trucks in India?
A. We are highly bullish on our mining prospects. We would also like to expand to road construction, and the express cargo logistics industry. Coal transport is another growth driver that we have been able to identify. So beyond coal overburden we are also expanding to coal transport and irrigation segments. The challenging area is the availability of skilled drivers and continuous financial stability of customers. If the customer is willing to risk with a short term view using less productive vehicles, it could be challenging to persuade them. For customers in it for the long term, the total transport solution will be the best from Volvo Trucks India to meet their needs of highly productive and efficient operations.

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