Ashok Leyland Boss aims to lord over rivals
With the new Boss ICV, Ashok Leyland breaks new ground in product specs and customer-centricity. Can it set new benchmarks for the competition, asks Brian de Souza.
That is Ashok Leyland’s latest facility and, perhaps, the best that India’s commercial vehicle sector has to offer. This correspondent was part of a select group of journalists given near-full access to the facility and to witness first-hand the rollout of a range of intermediate commercial vehicles or ICVs called confidently, Boss.
It’s a confidence that has grown out of a host of new initiatives that Ashok Leyland Ltd (ALL), one of India’s oldest CV manufacturers and second in the India sales pecking order, has undertaken to bring out a product that it feels will click with buyers now, and in the future.
The Boss was launched a few weeks before this correspondent’s visit, a typically low-key launch that Ashok Leyland follows as it is keen that "the segment that will use the product should see it first," in the words of managing director Vinod Dasari.
The Boss was launched in Madurai and followed a month later after the launch of the six-cylinder Neptune engine that the company designed and developed in-house and which will be a part of company’s high-end products. It is a globally-benchmarked family of engines that promise buyers better fuel efficiency, lower maintenance, greater reliability and superior NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness).
Ashok Leyland’s 192-acre Pantnagar facility houses the FSM shop, the axle and CWP facility, the cab paint shop as well as engine and cab assembly unit and the PDI facility. This fully-integrated facility is built amidst green surroundings – 50,000 trees, a gaggle of geese in a pond and wide roads – that ensures easy access to the various facilities.
For the formal launch, a clutch of trucks that include the two Boss variants – LX and LE – were on display, each packed with a host of unique features, some of which are actually industry firsts.
The LE variant is basically the entry-level variant into the Boss family, as of now and, according to the company, offers 5-7 percent more mileage than competitors. In order to offer the buyer an attractive product, the company has equipped the LE which develops 120hp, with wider brake linings, higher service intervals for oil change and a longer clutch life of 300,000km.
The LX is the more premium offering and offers 5-7 percent more mileage than an LE, has automated manual transmission – an industry first – and engine life of 500,000km. Under the hood is a 130hp common-rail engine, plus an AC cabin, and electro-deposited coating cabin with powder coated frame and a 36-month rust-proof warranty. It also has LED lamps made by Hella; these come with a five-year replacement guarantee.
In order to bolster its rugged credentails, ALL conducted endurance testing over 24 lakh kilometres and road testing over 900,000km. All this was done with 70 percent overloading, given that overloading is de rigueur for Indian truckers and Ashok Leyland was keen to ensure that the Boss would be fail-safe.
Comfort is of essence
What really takes the cake as far as the Boss goes is the cabin that Ashok Leyland has basically borrowed from Avia, the Czech company it acquired in 2006.
This ergonomically design cabin has been fully localised and meets frontal and roof crash requirements. Engineers say this was among the toughest tasks to be undertaken but clearly a state-of-the-art cab is a major USP for this truck.
Within the cabin, the manufacturer has offered a tiltable steering column and a two-point suspended cabin that will help ride over the roughest roads. In the cabin, quarter-vents – another industry first – providing better ventilation. This correspondent saw the impact it can have as we were driving around a small road network that functions as a testing track, in blazing 38deg C heat.
However, what gives the end-user the greatest benefit is the cab repair facility that Ashok Leyland says is a first for the CV sector. This repair unit, that will be established at select dealers and which will be able to replace entire panels, can go a long way in getting a quality job done quickly and affordably. Moreover, the company will also provide an accident repair guarantee of 15 days or pay the owner for a month’s EMI. Trained service personnel will do these jobs; Ashok Leyland has already commenced training at its Guindy centre.
The Boss range will have five GVW nodes which include 8-, 9.6-, 11.9-, 12.9- and 14.5-tonne offerings. What was launched on September 26 were the 9.6 to 12.9-tonners. Top sources hinted that a tipper offering could well be on offer when the second phase of the project commences. Tippers in 9.6- and 12.9-tonne configurations have applications in mining and clearly, once the current ban on mining in some states are lifted, this is a product that can potentially meet buyer requirement.
In a new growth phase
With the launch of the Boss range, Ashok Leyland will slowly phase out the decade-old Ecomet range. Seen along with the Dost small commercial vehicle (for both passenger and cargo operations), launched under its Ashok Leyland-Nissan JV, the company is ready with a brand new line-up for the CV customer.
While Ashok Leyland has been able to achieve several breakthroughs with the Boss, there are several others to its credit in the making of the vehicle. The company was able to cut weight by 300kg as against the previous-generation truck by working on the chassis; additionally, the Boss comes with a 208-litre plastic fuel tank and a new front axle. And the factory that makes the Boss has a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) that conducts checks on 546 points in the vehicle as well as panel accuracy, an industry first.
Finally, to top off its range of buyer-centric initiatives, Ashok Leyland will use the truck-on-truck delivery method rather than drive to the buyer to ensure that he gets a vehicle in perfect condition and can start from zero mileage. Alongside the Boss' launch, a range of Leyparts has been launched as well as a variety of AMC packages. These will be in conjunction with several financial institutions such as Cholamandalam Finance, Hinduja Leyland and Shriram Finance. India’s CV industry is going through a very rough phase, one not seen since the slowdown in 2000. Ashok Leyland registered a drop of 22 percent in the first half of 2013-14.
In this context, the company's commitment to being ready for the future is best expressed in Dasari’s words – “We, at Ashok Leyland, have remained focused on being future-ready by staying committed to our product development, network expansion and cost control programmes.”
As far as the Boss goes, the company clearly wants to tap a segment that has doubled in size since 2008. The ICV segment, which accounted for a 28 percent share in 2008-09, has more than doubled to 57 percent now. Better industrial growth and higher investments in the road and retail infrastructure will only help boost demand for vehicles like the Boss. Whenever that happens, Ashok Leyland is ready.
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