Considering that Indians hold on to their trucks longer, manufacturers are stretching themselves to offer comforts.
BY TEAM CW
A few years ago, Los Angeles-based photographer, Dan Eckstein, on a visit to India drove 10,000kms over the course of two years documenting the trucks, drivers and roadside culture of India. Never before had he seen anything like Indian trucks before — colourful, personalised and trucks with ornamentations. Many of the decorations on the trucks, Eckstein says in his book, Horn Please, are meant to bring good luck and ensure safe passage. For a job so full of potential hazards, they’re considered important safeguards—especially at night when animals fall asleep on the road and some vehicles travel without lights.
For drivers, their trucks are like second homes. They spend all day and night in them, eating, sleeping, and driving across the country. As a result, the trucks are subjects of constant care and attention.
The commercial vehicles (CVs) segment is ready for the long haul. In fact, though this industry has been in the doldrums for some time, the government’s push on infrastructure is expected to rekindle demand for medium and heavy commercial vehicles (M&HCVs). According to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, demand for commercial vehicles in the domestic market is expected to increase to one million units a year, mainly driven by M&HCVs, according to VG Ramakrishnan, MD, South Asia, Frost & Sullivan. The research firm believes that lower diesel price will help improve profitability and cash flow of transporters and can kick start fleet replacement. The goods & service tax (GST) implementation will provide a long term boost to CV sector.
In this bid, CV makers too are lining up enough ammunition to meet demand when it arises. Rama Rao AS, senior vice president, sales, marketing and aftermarket, Volvo Trucks, says, “With the renewed focus on infrastructure development and mining, we see this segment growing in the coming years and the need for such premium and high performance trucks will only go up.”
Volvo Trucks has been constantly updating its products and services with technology and innovative offerings to keep ahead of the competition. Embracing new challenges with an open mind and finding solutions is at the heart of everything it does. It’s a commitment to continuous improvement that drives them forward. As a technology leader in the CV industry, the company continues to explore new frontiers and develop innovative solutions not to impress themselves or others but to meet the real life needs of customers and drive progress for everyone. In spite of launching an entire new range last year, the company has been constantly working on bringing in new technology and more relevant products for the market.
The MNC-based CV makers are also looking at increasing localisation of components and most of them already have a strong supply chain for procurement of components. Daimler AG, the German auto manufacturer’s Indian arm Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) along with Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, Japan (MFTBC), recently launched its robust India made trucks in Trinidad and Tobago. The trucks will be sold through an exclusive dealer in Trinidad and Tobago.
Similarly, Bhuj-based AMW Motors, in a bid to tide over the cyclical nature of the business, plans to reduce dependency on tipper trucks and strengthen its presence in the cargo trucks segment. The company plans to participate more actively in government defence projects and increase exports. It is banking on the revival of the mining sector and its own diversification into new categories to script a turnaround and reduce debt. The company is heavily dependent on tipper trucks used in mines and the construction sector. The Supreme Court’s ban on mining in Odisha, Karnataka and Goa, and slowdown in the construction sector hit AMW, with sales falling from a peak of 10,000 units in 2011-12 to 4,606 units in 2013-14.
The Indian CV market is also changing to look at total cost of ownership and a maturing logistics model of hub and spoke are redefining the industry. The stringent emission norms are also making the CV makers look at options to meet the demands. While implementation of emission norms will likely increase the cost of the vehicle, implementation of Euro IV and Euro V norms will compel manufacturers to adopt high-end technologies like advance exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR), thus resulting in increase in vehicle cost. It is for this reason that Indian manufacturers are looking at global truck platforms to reduce regional distinct platforms.
Tata Motors’ Prima range of trucks, for instance, offers several applications to meet varied user needs. It relies on know-how and technical expertise from across the world – Italian cab design, engine technology from the USA and Europe, gearbox expertise from Germany, chassis frame know-how from Mexico, sheet metal dies from Japan and Korea combined with Swedish precision on a robotic weld line. The higher hp nodes help achieve higher turnaround time, thereby increasing productivity. There’s also been a shift of powertrains to new technologies like hybrid and electric in CVs, though slow. In another move, the company has also forayed into Bangladesh, Kenya and Vietnam.
Another company that has been at the forefront of introducing new technologies is Scania Commercial Vehicles India. Anders Grundströmer, MD, Scania India and senior VP, Scania Group, says, “Our mining trucks are now localised to 40%, same as our coal 8×4 tipper trucks. The plant aims at 90% localisation, and has 30-35 vendors catering to it. With the gearbox, engine, chassis, axle, and driveline coming in from Sweden, assembly operations here also include busy body building.”
Rao of Volvo Trucks says, “We believe that sustainable truck transport is within reach. As we see it, no single innovation or energy source is going to solve everything. This is why we are focusing on the development of a range of fuel alternatives and drive systems, each designed for a specific purpose. Volvo Trucks participates actively in the development of alternative fuels. We are focusing primarily on alternatives that meet the toughest standards in terms of both high energy efficiency and low environmental impact. Already back in 2007, we presented trucks that could be driven on seven alternative fuels to highlight both the viability of these solutions and the need for a coordinated effort to promote them.”
One of the main reasons for pushing hybrid and electrical powertrains is to reduce CO2 emissions. If the electrical power is taken from the grid such as in the case of plug-in hybrids, then it is vital that electricity is produced from renewable power. Since this is not the case with the Indian electricity, which is produced out of coal, it is not a sustainable option.
While the Indian market is evolving towards more sophistication, better ergonomics and higher driver comfort and safety, Volvo’s core values and driver productivity is a key deliverable. “We conduct the extremely tough cab crash tests at our collision centre in Sweden. All cabs meet the Swedish cab strength standards. The vehicle is equipped with features to ensure high level of active and passive safety e.g. better visibility, powerful headlight beam, sun-visors, and extra footsteps,” says Rao.
The company has also introduced two technologies in its Volvo FMX, FM & FH, which are red safety belt and electric parking brake. Red safety belt brings focus towards the driver to use safety belt without miss. The parking brake activates automatically when the engine is turned off to ensure high safety even if the driver misses it. Also I-shift adds to safety factor as it reduces fatigue and the driver now has to focus only on manoeuvring the vehicle.
With such advancements, there are rising ambitions among manufacturers who are now waiting to see an increase in demand.