Having established itself in the “overload” markets and the corporate end of the haulage segment, MAN Trucks India is now making a push into the mass market with its LITE series for rated load applications.
At the Auto Expo in January, MAN Trucks India showcased the first two models in a new series of cargo vehicles optimised for operation at plated gross weights.
In the five years since MAN entered the market with its Cargo Line heavy duty trucks “thoroughly engineered to perform under the demanding Indian road and load conditions”, the company has continually adjusted its haulage vehicles, which it first introduced with a European standard of specification, to make them more attractive for a retail market dominated by low-priced offerings from Tata and Ashok Leyland.
The CLA LITE series (an abbreviation for Long-haul Innovations for Top-class Efficiency), officially launched in April by Dr Frank Hiller, director of marketing, sales, and services for MAN Truck & Bus and director on the board of MAN Trucks India, “dramatically” closes the price gap to the competition, according to SanjeevKashyup, national head of sales.
More significantly, it represents this German-owned “Indian” company’s best attempt to date at reconciling its uncompromising standards of performance and reliability with the rather basic technical requirements of a segment that has evolved to 70 percent of a market that’s fast shedding its obsession with overloading.
The 31.220 8×2 cab-and-chassis and 49.220 6×4 tractor, both powered by a mechanically governed D0836 engine, will shortly be joined by a 40.220 4×2 tractor and 25.220 6×2 in that order. Their introduction strategically dovetails with a new phase of rapid expansion of the dealer network, from 47 full-service dealerships and 34 service-and-spares outlets (a total of 81 points) to sixty 3S dealers and 150 service points by the end of 2012.
MAN’s “most viable” models so far, for both dealers and prospective customers, will not only help expand the company’s geographical reach more uniformly across India, but also extend the brand’s unrivalled application portfolio of 100-plus to include the high-volume subsegments of petroleum and dry bulk haulers, platform trucks for cement bags, container vans, and reefers, for which the CLA was overengineered and simply too expensive. Except for the 49.220, each vehicle in the LITE series is an individually optimised version of the corresponding CLA model weighing up to 500 kg less, which makes for a half-tonne higher payload. Per trip, Kashyup is careful to point out. And each one benefits from MAN’s wealth of experience in severe-service applications — gained from its army of 8,800 CLAs that deliver the goods, day in and day out, in the toughest conditions in mines and heavy haulage.
That’s in stark contrast to the rest of the industry, whose entry into the “modern domestic” segment represents a step up in technology and specification. Having had no operating experience in India, even MAN’s illustrious German rival Daimler was forced to take the bottom-up approach to developing its own heavy trucks for this market. “We started at 49.280 and came to 25.220; our history has been doing it the other way round,” Kashyup smiles.
More critically for this extremely price-sensitive segment, each model will be priced at Rs 1 lakh lower than the corresponding CLA, he reveals. “If LITE succeeds the way we envisage it, MAN will be a much more serious player in the haulage space, while continuing to have a strong presence in the tipper and the overload space. And that will multiply our volumes.”
Transporters for whom overloading remains the preferred operating model can continue to buy the “heavy duty” CLA with extra-strong chassis and 220 hp electronic engine, the on-cost of which MAN has “heavily” subsidised ever since the changeover to Euro III.
And there was LITE
Having segmented its range according to “rated load” and “overload”, Kashyup is confident he has just the right vehicle for every customer’s application. Five years ago, MAN was the first in India to introduce a 25 tonne truck powered by a four-cylinder engine, the 4.57 litre D0834 with 180 hp, but he vehicle did not catch on, for various reasons.
For one, it was a Euro III product in a Euro II market, with a 55 percent import content (as in all CLA vehicles at that time), and consequently priced a good 45 percent higher than Tata’s bestselling 2515. This meant that buyers operated it at up to 32 tonnes gross — and while the engine power was adequate and the chassis was the same extra-strong design as in the other CLA models, the drivetrain had been optimised to haul 25 tonnes, no more.
“The philosophy of the Indian customer is that if he is paying Rs 2 lakh extra, he will load two tonnes extra,” Kashyup explains. While not a single failure was reported in any of the eighty-odd 25.180s the company eventually sold, the product began to be perceived as a poor performer.
“When the 220 hp D0836 Euro II was introduced, all those issues were resolved immediately. You had an overload possibility, and the pricing was not very different because the 220 hp Euro II engine was comparable to the 180 hp Euro III. Everything started working in favour of the 220, and the 25.180 got phased out automatically,” he says.
Meanwhile, Tata and Ashok Leyland, given their clout in the market, had been able to persuade many potential buyers that “six cylinders is the minimum requirement for a heavy truck”. There’s more than a touch of irony to this tale, because both OEMs are now reported to be working on four-cylinder engines for 25 tonners themselves!
To date, MAN remains the only manufacturer with a heavy duty truck powered by a four-cylinder engine. Nine months ago, to capture the demand it saw arising from the growth of the rated load segment, the company reintroduced the 25.180 with a revised drivetrain. At the moment the engine is being indigenised and the chassis LITE-ned, and the 25.180 LITE will be relaunched in a second phase, replacing the 25.220 LITE. (The “heavy duty” 25.220 will continue in the overload space.)
Vehicle of growth
CLA LITE figures prominently in Project 2020, an eight-year growth plan the now footloose MAN Trucks India has worked on together with Roland Berger. (Not to be confused with Project 2020 of MAN Truck & Bus AG, which is the parent company’s roadmap for global leadership in the truck business at the turn of the decade.) In its present form it is going to be the vehicle of growth for MAN in India till the Euro IV emission norm kicks in.
Beyond that, the rated load product will continue, but in a different guise. And if the ban on overloading is enforced more vigilantly, Kashyup imagines that LITE-spec vehicles could one day make up the bulk of MAN’s product range. But for a variety of “overload” applications like tippers and concrete equipment, the CLA will remain; there will be new product launches and the market will be given “every change that’s required”. The truck will likely even get the cabin from the first Trucknology Generation like Sinotruk’sSitrak in China already has.
This will most likely coincide with the introduction of the first trucks certified for Euro IV in 2015, at which time Kashyup believes a “dramatic” increase in the horsepower requirement of the vehicles is also probable. In fact, this event will be a watershed in the Indian truck industry because “mechanical solutions will finally be out” — the technology required will establish a level playing field and in fact give the European OEMs a huge advantage.
“The domestic players have to buy, test, build, assemble, and sell a new technology in India,” he concludes. “MAN already has a well-developed product line plying elsewhere in the world. We only have to indigenise it to a level at which it fits.”