The year 2009 will be remembered for long by the auto industry as the year of trying times. Sales fell across the board. In the period between April to September 2009, the commercial vehicle segment recorded a negative growth of -0.52 per cent compared to the same period a year before. While medium and heavy commercial vehicles (M&HCVs) registered de-growth at (-) 18.95 per cent, light commercial vehicles grew at 19.54 per cent. Sales improved in the third quarter of FY 2009 but the numbers continued to be weak. Despite this, the 10th Auto Expo 2010 held in January 2010 unleashed a range of new commercial vehicles and interesting concepts.
Big announcement came from Mahindra’s joint venture with Navistar. The joint venture company, Mahindra Navistar,
which has set up a plant at Chakan near Pune with a total investment amounting to Rs 4000 crore, launched 25- and 30-tonne trucks followed by 40- and 49-tonne long haulage solutions. The 49-tonne multi-axle solution is powered by the 7.2-litre MaxxForce BS III and BS IV engine, which is produced at Chakan as well. Apart from the Mahindra Navistar HCV and MCV range, the company used the opportunity to launch the Maxximo sub one-tonne mini truck. It is powered by a 25hp, 2-cylinder common-rail diesel engine, and is built at the same plant as the 49-tonner. Both the CVs represent the two extremities of the Indian commercial vehicle market. And if the sales figures are to be believed, the Maxximo is expected to record better numbers and earning. Light commercial vehicles grew at 19.54 per cent in the April-September 2009 financial year! The overall commercial vehicles segment registered positive growth at 30.39 per cent during April-January 2010 as compared to the same period last year. The year 2010 is expected to further boost sales, and if Surjit Arora of an analyst firm, Prabhudas Lilladher, is to be believed, the need for last mile transportation (hub and spoke model) is likely to drive the growth in the LCV segment with new launches by the existing players.
Clocking the most numbers, LCVs are addressing the needs of the operators like never before. While the hub and spoke transportation model is a driving force for healthy LCV sales, the practice of opting for an optimal solution that meets the exacting needs is said to be another strong driver. Light commercial vehicles bring the Tata 407, Force Excel, Ashok Leyland Ecomet and Mahindra Pik-Up range into the picture. Going further, it is the iterations of the Tata 407, which indicate the popularity of LCVs. LCVs smaller than the likes of 407 and Eicher 10.50/10.90 range are finding even better acceptance. Capable of tackling narrow city streets and crowded urban circuits, these LCVs, which include the Tata Ace, Piaggio Ape Truk, Force M4 and Mahindra Maxximo are driving a silent revolution. Found in diverse forms – from an ice cream or grocery van to a dump truck, the smaller LCVs clearly demonstrate their versatility.
Higher up, and the heavy and medium commercial vehicle segment, as part of the hub and spoke arrangement is ensuing new, better customer oriented solutions. Commercial vehicle manufacturers like MAN-Force and Volvo may eye the special applications market. This consists of pullers and heavy-duty multi-axle transportation solutions other than those that support infrastructure related applications like cement mixers and boom pumps, as there exists a considerable volume base for conventional highway and off-highway applications. Volvo, which sells its FH range of heavy-duty multi-axle solutions and tippers in India, displayed the FH520 Powertronic Puller at the 10th Auto Expo 2010. Designed to carry 200-tonnes GCW, the FH520 6×4 employs a fully automatic Volvo PT 2606 transmission with a built-in hydraulic torque converter to handle a whopping 2500Nm of torque. Not far from Volvo were the Ashok Leyland exhibits, which featured the U-truck platform. The U-Truck platform will span an entire range of tractors, tippers and haulage trucks in the 16-49 tonne segment, with over 25 models and a host of variants to roll out in 18 months starting April 2010. The range will be powered by BS III, BS IV and BS V (with SCR technology) compliant engines with power ranging from 160 to 380hp. Joining the ‘H’ series is a new Neptune family of engines with EGR technology, developed in-house, and are stronger and more reliable by design, with higher power and greater fuel efficiency. Featuring a standardised cab design, the U-Truck platform will be equipped with electronic clusters and advanced Telematics for real-time track and trace, on-board diagnostics and driver management features to ensure the safety of the driver and cargo. Volvo, which inked a pact with Eicher in 2007, announced the launch of VE range of commercial vehicles at the Auto Expo. The range includes heavy, medium and light commercial vehicle range, including interesting application examples like the Terra 25 6×4 rigid tipper powered by a Cummins 180hp engine. Nissan Diesel has done the quality checks, controls and improvements to the VE range.
Apart from manufacturing the Actros heavy-duty truck range at Chakan, Daimler AG is setting up a medium and heavy commercial vehicle manufacturing facility at Chennai. Starting as a joint venture with Hero Group until it withdrew in mid-2009, the venture, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler, is expected to go on stream by 2012 and would manufacture a India-specific truck platform under a new brand name. Expected to span a wide range including tippers and special applications, the Daimler venture reflects the potential the Indian commercial vehicle market holds. A look at the medium commercial vehicles will further endorse this fact. Apart from Mahindra Navistar, which launched the 25-tonne and 31-tonne truck range a day prior to the Auto Expo, the medium CV range has the presence of big names like Tata, Ashok Leyland and Eicher. All three have a wide range of modern medium commercial vehicles like the Tata 1613, Tata 2515, Ashok Leyland Comet 1611/1612/1613 and Eicher 20.16.
Competition to established names comes from first generation CV players like Asia MotorWorks. AMW builds medium and heavy commercial vehicles by sourcing components from world-class suppliers like Cummins, Eaton and ZF. Sourcing ‘built’ cabin from FAW of China, AMW recently launched a 180hp 8×4 long-haul model called 3118, indicating that it is possible to manufacture modern trucks without collaborations. AMW seems to follow the example of CV makers in United States, which are mere assemblers than manufacturers. An example that needs to be mentioned here is the Tata World Truck project. Run by Tata Motors in India and the (Tata owned) commercial vehicle division of Daewoo in Korea, the World Truck project, with the models termed as Prima, is one of the ambitious projects encouraged by Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors. Spread over four years, the project resulted in the development of an expansive, world-class truck range made at Jamshedpur primarily for the Indian market. Built in a new facility with a 55,000 capacity, the Prima range, according to Prakash Telang, Executive Director (Commercial Vehicles) at Tata Motors, will have a power spread of 150PS to 560PS.
Axle combinations include 4×2, 6×4, 6×2, 8×2, 8×4, 10×4 and 4×2. The base, 150PS model is powered by the B-Series engine made by Tata Cummins, Jamshedpur. This engine series can handle up to 230hp, and it is some time now that Tata Cummins has been manufacturing the ISBe engine in India. Rated at 275hp, the 6.7-litre ISBe engine is a fully-electronic, common-rail engine that features a single piece head, four valve per cylinder and a waste gate turbo. A Euro 4 compliant engine, the ISBe powers the Prima 4028S, 4928S and 3128T models. The beauty of this engine is its ability to accommodate an automated or automatic transmission with a communication between the transmission and engine ensured by ISBe’s electronic management system. Not stopping at that, the ISBe also features drive-by-wire technology.
Another engine on Prima’s list is the Fiat Powertrain Technology’s Cursor 9 with a power rating of between 270PS and 400PS. Powering the 380hp, 3138K tipper, the Cursor 9 engine is said to come from Fiat Powertrain’s China joint venture, SAIC Fiat Powertrain Hongyan Co (SFH). Going into the future, the Prima range is expected to get the Euro 5 complaint Cummins ISLe engine, rated at 400hp, the development of which is claimed to be progressing at Tata Cummins. In the meanwhile, a new 12.9-litre, 560PS Cursor 13 engine from Fiat Powertrain Technology is expected to power the Prima range. Supporting a variety of engines that power the Prima that are electronically controlled, are transmissions from ZF and Eaton. Both these transmission specialists are investing in India, reflecting a sound commitment and growth plan. Supplying to CV manufacturers like AMW, Ashok Leyland and Eicher other than Tata, ZF and Eaton are aggressively charting out their programmes and could be seen launching the best of technology that they have in the form of automated manual transmissions, automatic transmissions and hybrid solutions. Other component and system suppliers are not to be left behind. Cummins itself is investing in India, at Phaltan (Satara district, not very far from Pune), to manufacture CV and genset engines to support existing as well as new programs. The investment at Phaltan amounts to Rs 900 crores and the facility would be spread across 150 acres.
If the support of world-class suppliers like Cummins, ZF, Eaton, ArvinMeritor, Knorr Bremse, Wabco-TVS, TRW, Jost and many others reflects the commitment as well as growth potential, the best part of the equation is the application of modern technology and solutions.
With operators seeking faster turnaround times and efficient operations, interesting solutions like telematics and tracking are increasing preferred as OE offering. At the core, the common-rail diesel engines, which are regarded for their efficiency and less emissions, and which can accommodate hi-tech transmissions and driveline solutions, signal a focus on customer needs like never before. The commercial vehicle sector in India looks poised to take a giant leap into the future.