India’s truck industry is emerging from a cyclical but particularly severe downturn, and is expected to grow considerably over the next few years on the back of pent-up demand, rising consumer confidence and a forecast 7-9% economic growth that could last for up to a decade.
Adding to this general recovery-led growth is a host of initiatives which will serve to further improve the Indian truck market. The list includes the new Automotive Mission Plan (2016-2026); the ‘Make In India’ campaign; a recently announced ban on trucks over 15 years old from April 2016; the ongoing reopening of the mining sector; and – if it happens – the implementation on 1 April 2016 of the long-awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST), which would free up long-distance trucking routes the length and breadth of the country.
These issues, and others, were debated on the commercial vehicle day at Automotive Megatrends India 2015. The two-day conference in Pune – organised by Greenstreetsoftware.info – was attended by over 350 delegates from the Indian and global trucking and light vehicle sectors.
Chaired by Greenstreetsoftware.info Editor, Martin Kahl, the day’s opening panel debate featured A Ramasubramanian, President of Asia Motor Works, Vinod Agarwal, Chief Executive of Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles (VECV), Pierre-Jean Verge-Salamon, President, India Asia & Oceania at Volvo Group Truck Sales, A K Jindal, Head Technical – CV, Engineering Research Center at Tata Motors, and Per Aleby, Scania India’s Director Buses & Coaches.
Following the debate, the event moved into three stream, covering Powertrain Innovation, Road Freight Efficiency and Truck Lightweighting and Manufacturing.
Powertrain Innovation in review
The majority of speakers in the CV Powertrain Innovation track presented views on the potential future development for internal combustion engines (ICEs), with a particular focus on diesels.
“India will be among the top three auto industries in the world by 2026, and diesel will play a key role, especially within the truck market,” observed Ashish Moholkar, Senior Manager – Product Development, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles.
A number of varying customer requirements will govern the ongoing development of India’s trucks, he continued. “Operating cost, on-road assistance, spares availability, reliability, durability, and price are among the most important,” he suggested, while cabin comfort, display operations and exterior design “will be least important.”
As for trends specific to the powertrain area, “fuel economy is expected to continue to be number one top priority for India’s truck market,” Moholkar said. Paul Sowerby, Chief Technical Officer, Cummins India, echoed this statement, adding: “Every new technology that we introduce must have an impact on fuel economy. Therefore, the downsizing of diesels is inevitable, and will absolutely happen. But we are also looking for efficiency in every area of our products. For example, we’re working with lubricants companies to positively impact fuel economy.”
The need to improve fuel economy will act as a catalyst for technology evolution and an area of opportunity for companies within the Indian CV market. Kishore Rao, Managing Director, MathWorks, explained, “There is not just one technology ahead of the rest when considering the future of the powertrain. Instead, there are a number of technologies that will fuse together. We believe this will create new opportunities for companies to look at new products and lines of businesses.”
The fusion of these technologies will be highly reliant on improvements made in the design process, added Bosch’s Shunmuga Sundaram Nellaiyappan, and Nagaraj K.R thinks software will play an increasingly important role as OEMs look to optimise powertrain performance for the Indian market, with “new and advanced solutions revolutionising the efficiency of the process, from concept to production.”
Although many speakers implied the improvement of diesel engines will govern the future of India’s CV market, Jinal Shah, Manager South Asia Operations, Power Systems Research, thinks opportunities could be harder to come by, as “modern diesel engines have already become highly efficient and powerful.” With this in mind, he stressed the possibility of complimenting improvements in diesel engines by incorporating alternative engine architectures into the Indian CV market.
As well as the discussion on the future of India’s truck segment, Michail Voigt, Sales Manager, Siemens, spoke about the trends governing public transportation, focusing on the growth of megacities, and the impact of rising urbanisation.
“Air pollution is a topic that has been readily explored,” he observed. “One of the most obvious solutions to improving air quality in cities is the inclusion of hybrid and electric buses. There are many possibilities that the technology offers, and although hybrids offer certain benefits, I think that the city bus of the future will be emissions-free.”
Road Freight Efficiency in review
One thing that came out of discussions at Automotive Megatrends India 2015 was the distinction between global megatrends and Indian megatrends. As seen earlier, India’s truck industry stands to benefit near-term from replacement demand and government policies, and longer-term from issues affecting trucking globally, such as electronics, emobility and automation.
Speakers in the Road Freight Efficiency stream tackled some of the core non-powertrain trucking areas: traditional hardware (braking, suspension and transmission), innovative electronics (fleet management, telematics), trailer technology and logistics. Essentially: How do I move my stuff? How do I know where it is? And how can I unload it quickly? In developed markets, efficiency is all about honing well-developed strategies. In India, it’s generally about getting those strategies in place.
“I love India’s bad roads and overloaded trucks!” said Sanjay Sinha, Chief Executive of Taco Hendrickson Suspensions, a joint venture between Tata AutoComp and Hendrickson. Bad roads provide him with an almost endless market for suspension systems. And it’s not just about comfort: “advanced, robust suspension” can help fleets increase speed and power, improve fuel economy, increase axle load and reduce driver stress.
Those poor quality roads are also rarely flat, and many emerging market trucks have poor brakes; as a result, they spend considerable time off the road waiting while overheated brakes cool. Kunal Sharma, Country Manager of Jacobs Vehicle Systems, outlined the benefits of engine – or secondary – braking, which acts not to stop a truck, but to provide additional braking control, particularly during hill descent.
Representing the truck manufacturers, Shamprasad Ponkshe of Asia Motor Works discussed the role that an OEM can play in reducing lifecycle costs of a typical trucking operation. There are only certain costs the OEM can influence, he said: fuel (47% of a typical operation), tyres (7%) and maintenance (5%). Effective road utilisation (multi-axle vehicles, higher power-to-weight ratios), improved vehicle utilization (essentially, smart logistics operations) and enhanced operational efficiency (offering automated manual transmissions, or AMTs, options for driver guidance systems, telematics and tyre management) can help to improve efficiency, fuel economy, reliability, durability and – crucially – cut operational costs.
Suresh KV, President of ZF India, also raised the efficiency benefits of AMTs, in a presentation which focused on three global megatrends: efficiency, safety and autonomous driving. In addition to AMTs, efficiency can be improved by using lightweight components, he said, and employing an anticipatory driving strategy using something like ZF’s PreVision GPS.
With the truck on the road, operators want – need! – to know where it is. Anand Bhandari of Maven Systems, Sudhir G of GoodsMover Technologies and ZF’s Suresh outlined the benefits of fleet telematics. From driver-operator trust issues to fuel and goods theft via general GPS monitoring and route planning, it’s difficult to find a case for not using fleet management telematics, and its growth in India is expected to be rapid.
Overloaded trucks and insecure, unprotected goods cost fleet operators dearly and unnecessarily. “The best truck-trailer combination is useless if the distribution and handling of the goods is not efficient,” said Roger Remmel, Brand Manager at Edscha Trailer Systems. Edscha TS supplies flexible and modular trailer systems that prevent overloading and offer vastly improved load protection. Significantly, they speed up the loading and unloading processes, further improving the speed of the supply chain of which the trucks are such an important part in India – at least 60% of India’s freight moves by road. Fleets should see a trailer body as an investment, said Remmel, not a cost.
Watching all of this was Fabio Sacchi, Vice President Sub Sector DHL Customer Solutions and Innovations at DHL, and – it hardly needs saying – a keen advocate of improving freight efficiency. As one of the world’s largest logistics services suppliers, and the largest logistics services provider to the automotive industry worldwide, DHL has a keen interest in India in particular, where the company is focusing its efforts.
Truck Lightweighting and Manufacturing in review
The development of lightweight commercial vehicles would progress in India regardless of regulatory pressures, advised most of the industry specialists at Automotive Megatrends India 2015, pointing toward alternative material selection as the way forward.
The Indian market does not have to cope with such stringent regulations as seen in the US. However, this has not stopped Indian companies from pushing for lighter vehicles for other reasons.
Markus Pfefferer, General Manager, India at Ducker Worldwide, remarked that there is “a business case” behind a swap to lightweight forged aluminium wheels for heavy-duty CVs, as running costs can be reduced by as much as 28% compared to steel wheels.
Speaking to Greenstreetsoftware.info, Rajeev Singh, Partner, KPMG, added: “The benefit for transportation is that cost-per-tonne goes down, and the OEM becomes more competitive.” Janardhan Thokala, Senior Project Manager at Satyam Venture Engineering Services, also noted: “For those looking for improvements in fuel efficiency and even reducing vehicle maintenance, lightweighting is in their best interest.”
Steel vs. aluminium
Subhabrata Mukherjee, Country Manager, India & Thailand, SSAB, tackled the ongoing debate of steel versus aluminium. “High strength steel is definitely more expensive than aluminium,” he admitted, “but you should not just look at the cost of the raw material, you should look at the total cost. You are going to buy less steel and fuel efficiency will increase.” This is a value proposition that “cannot possibly put it into numbers,” he added.
And there is a battlefield arising between aluminium and steel suppliers, Mukherjee agreed. “This is certainly a fair statement,” he told Greenstreetsoftware.info, adding: “I don’t see commercial vehicles moving toward aluminium… We have to look at high strength steel first.”
Material mix? Take your pick
However, according to Prashant Mahindrakar, General Manager of Tata Autocomp Systems, there is no single approach to vehicle lightweighting. “The idea behind our multimaterial concept was to design a vehicle for lightweighting purposes, which means a combination of metal, plastic and composites at the initial design stage.”
He added that most new vehicles that Tata Motors plans to launch within the next five years will feature an “advanced modular platform.” Mahindrakar explained that this would be a single platform that can be varied in length, width and materials, and will go by the codename ‘X451’.
Christoph Gruellich, Sales Director India, Dreistern noted the rising volumes of India’s rapidly developing CV industry. As such, “requirements for more complex products are becoming more demanding.”
With lightweighting approaches becoming more complex, many companies are looking to upgrade their operations with new technologies to help manage such processes.
As Abhishek Sharma, Key Account Manager, Automotive, KUKA Robotics, pointed out, there is a significant opportunity to utilise robotics to update the manufacturing process itself. Compared to manual labour, “Robots are lightweight, can work faster, and are more energy efficient,” he said.
What’s more, robotics can assist OEMs such as Tata to carry out various joining techniques for a multimaterial vehicle. “With composites – where you can’t have conventional spot welding – we can allow for different joining processes,” noted Sharma.
Sachin Sanghi, Industry Solution, Manger, Automotive at Siemens, pointed out that lightweighting to reduce the overall energy demand on the powertrain is key. As such, there are close-knit conversations between powertrain development teams and lightweighting specialists to share information.
Siemens’ “immersive decision making environment” will allow every user access to “exactly what information is needed, when, and in the correct context in order to make these far reaching decisions,” explained Sanghi.
Manage growth, improve road freight efficiency
Barring any unexpected and near-catastrophic events, India’s truck market will grow sizeably over the next few years – decade, even – starting with growth in 2016 of around 20% according to industry analysts. The challenge, though, lies not in meeting that near-term demand – it lies in managing long-term, sustainable growth. The challenge was summed up perfectly by Edscha TS’ Roger Remmel: “There’s no way of meeting the needs of 8% [GDP] growth without improving the efficiency of road freight.”
Freddie Holmes, Martin Kahl and Michael Nash