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Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Pragmatic and optimistic


Q. What is your view on India’s people transportation scenario?

A. Buses have less capital outlay when compared to Metro and Mono-rail. Doing business with the government involves a lot of processes. There are the accompanying challenges. Looking beyond, both the modes of transport – public and private have so much scope for improvement. We are ready to meet the challenge. Speaking about public transportation, there is a need to modernise it. Public transport needs commitment and has to be labeled as a societal thing. It will affect the economy. While we sharply believe in the India story, it has been documented that people have left their vehicles and taken to public transport because of Volvo buses. In a span of four to five years we have come to have a presence in 30 cities.


Q. What is your outlook of the Indian market?

A. Both, private and public fleet transportation has to happen. They are independent, and we can’t simply say that let those who are travelling from Bangalore to Hyderabad have good coaches, and those travelling in the cities can suffer. No. that should not be the case. And it is therefore that there is ample scope for improvement and modernisation. This will be borne by new buses, and therefore the need for new buses. In terms of an outlook, I would say that we run a business. We are therefore pragmatic. When we sense that there is some triggering of the economy, we see the need for people to travel more. We align ourselves, and are ready to meet the demand that comes up. Personally, if you ask me, I am eternally optimistic. It is therefore, that we have invested so much. I would be happy to double, triple and quadruple capacity.


Q. So, you have invested the entire Rs. 400 crore in India already, starting 2011?

A. We have not said specifically that we are going to put Rs.400 crore in a certain timeline. We have started investing from 2011, and that is again a journey which is on going. So far, the number that we have given is, in this last four years, around Rs.400 crore or a bit more has already been invested. We continue to invest, and not draw a line. We are not drawing a line, and saying that its done with.


Q. Are you pinning your hope on 100 smart cities. Will they provide a drive for growth in buses?

A. It is a very good initiative. If you look the world over, when a city is termed as a smart city, there’s no smart city that has not included ‘smart’ public transportation, and has made it an integral part of the definition for a smart city. We are certain that the policy makers of our country have factored that, and that transportation is integral to the definition of a smart city. We are also anxious to hear from the government about what they outline a smart city to be like. There will be substantial part of public transportation in making that city smart. There’s a big opportunity.


Q. When do you see the market for heavier buses picking up?

A. It should have picked up three years back. So, we are waiting. We need to mix pragmatism with optimism. There is no reason why we should not start picking up. We need one small trigger. The smart city perhaps. In the next budget if they clearly say that this is the definition of the smart city, and smart city means public transportation, we will have emission and noise control; we will protect the environment, and will make it a very nice place, then the need will be to look at what kind of buses are needed. The first priority would be to avoid private transportation. Then we will look at various modes of transportation, and then decide upon the kind of buses that will be needed. We have been a part of such endeavours, and are a part and parcel of many smart city programmes in other parts of the world. We are ready, and whenever the government decides, we are ready.


Q. What is the feedback on UD buses that have gone on trial with the Bangalore city transport undertaking?

A. We continue to expect orders. Our job is to keep expecting orders from all those that we deal with. So far, the trial has been successful, and we have received a positive feedback. It may be vey early to speak because the life of a bus is one-million kms. The buses clocking 1000 km may make it too early to speak about them. We will continue with the processes. Two vehicles (UD buses) are undergoing trial with BMTC in Bangalore.


Q. When do you plan to ship buses to Europe?

A. We will begin shipping buses to Europe very soon.


Q. You are offering UD buses, and have begun exporting Volvo buses to Europe. How are you managing such synergies at the manufacturing level? How flexible is the line?

A. As long as we gear up all our capabilities to meet the high end then we don’t need to talk about flexibility meeting something at the lower end. Only when we have a low-end thing then stretching it to deliver something at the high-end is a problem, and where we have to speak about flexibility. Here we have designed, trained and equipped ourselves on the production line to be globally on par. The export oriented buses and those for domestic consumption follow each other on the assembly line. We do not have a parallel line.


Q. What interiors do the export buses possess? What kind of orders have you got?

A. The buses for export are customised. They are customised based on the specifications. In their development process we involved customers. It is not a surprise for them therefore. They have seen the build of the vehicle. They have seen the protos. Customers themselves have suggested. As far as orders are concerned, only because the customers ordered we made the bus. We have an order, which is why we made the export statement. It is not just that we have made a bus and want to export it is why we announced the export of buses to Europe. The segment that these buses will go to is spread across Europe. Possibly not Eastern Europe. The entire European marketing team is working on this as far as I know. So, its not confined to any specific country. The annual number of 5000 is a big number. The segment operates in the 100 to 300 kmph range.


Q. Who would be the competitors for the Europe bound bus?

Daimler, Iveco, and a lot of local European homegrown brands.


Q. Is the Europe bound bus a multi-axle design? Would they look different from the Volvo buses in India?

A. It is a single-axle design, and will look like the Volvo buses in India. We need to understand that we are on par with Europe in many things. There is no need to think that they are something different. The fit, finish and reliability are important.


Q. What was the feedback you received from the potential customers who came to see the bus?

A. We had some very good customers and stakeholders who are involved with the bus industry, who gave us feedback. We benefitted across various areas. And it is not that we have not taken an Indian customer to the factory and asked for his feedback. We will benefit from his feedback. Every new person has a perspective. If he is genuine, he gives us feedback, which is always useful.


Q. How localised is this bus?

A. The bus body is 100 per cent localised. The driveline is imported because it is a Euro 6 design.


Q. Are you looking at regions beyond Europe?

A. We are already into SAARC countries; into South Asia and South Africa. As and when we look at an opportunity we may want to reach out to a new market. There is a need to understand that markets differ, and there is therefore a need to develop and invest for specific market needs.


Q. What improvement have you seen in the Indian supplier base?

A. Our supplier base, I think, is grossly underestimated. The minute Suzuki came into this country, the auto supplier base started increasing. Today, we have almost all the global manufacturers making vehicles in India and exporting it to Europe, US, etc. Many suppliers in the auto space are common to supplying car and CV components. Some of the suppliers are doing more business with global companies outside of India rather than in India. For example, Bharat Forge, TVS Group, etc. TVS Group company, Sundaram Fasteners was the first Indian company to get ISO 9000 certification. They are the first company to have secured a 100 per cent supplier status with General Motors for radiator caps. Any GM vehicle made anywhere in the world will feature a Sundaram Fastener radiator cap. This radiator cap was made in India, and at Chennai. As a country we can be proud of our supplier base.


Q. Which other city transport undertaking apart from BMTC that you are dealing with?

A. 30 cities are using Volvo city buses. We recently delivered around 100 buses to Kerala. In Kerala, they connect every town and city.



We are also anxious to hear from the government about what they outline a smart city to be like.

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