Ashok Leyland's managing director talks about the soon-to-roll-out Jan Bus, the smaller Connecticity bus, and CSR initiatives. An email interview by Shobha Mathur.
How do you foresee the way forward for Ashok Leyland?
Ashok Leyland’s growth in the coming years will be driven by the continued success of some of its top-performing models and a whole set of new products waiting to enter the market. In April, Ashok Leyland will introduce the Jan Bus which is the world’s first single-step, front-engine, fully flat floor city bus for which patents have been filed for 16 various innovations. It was showcased at Auto Expo 2012 in New Delhi. Several special features have been packed into the Jan Bus, including the floor that is 650mm from the ground and uniformly flat right from the driver’s workstation to the rear. Passengers, therefore, do not have to climb any steps after entering the bus while the side-mounted seats and seat-mounted stanchions offer ample hindrance-free leg room, which also makes cleaning very easy. The single-step entry and wide doors will ensure less stoppage time at bus stops due to easy entry. The bus offers a high degree of customisation with multiple options for door placement (available at five locations) and seating layouts. The Jan Bus can thus be configured for various applications like BRTS (Bus Rapid Transport System), airport tarmac and normal city travel. It is also equipped with Ashok Leyland’s trade-marked automated manual transmission (AMT) – LEYMATIC – that saves the driver from strenuous gearshifts and clutch operations. The Jan Bus will be powered by a 235 HP turbo-charged BS IV-compliant CNG and MPFI diesel engine. A smaller version of the Jan Bus – Connecticity – will also be rolled out in April. It is currently under development and will be a feeder bus that can be used as a shuttle service as well. Both will be supplied to state transport undertakings and will be manufactured at the company’s Pantnagar plant at Uttarakhand. The integrated plant has an installed production capacity of 50,000 units per annum and manufactures both trucks and buses.Among other models, the Dost has already proven to be a winner by emerging as the number one brand in its 2.0- 3.5-tonne category in the eight markets where it has been launched thus far. Ashok Leyland is confident that the Dost will continue its winning run even in the new markets that it plans to enter in the coming months. In terms of new offerings, the company has recently launched multi-axle vehicles with twin-speed rear axle technology that promises up to 10 percent fuel saving for the customer and the 5-axle rigid truck.
How does Ashok Leyland's market share stack up compared to competition?
The first half of FY 2012-13 was indeed a good one for Ashok Leyland. In volume terms, the company gained in a falling market. While the total industry volume in the M&HCV segment fell by 13 percent, Ashok Leyland’s market share increased by 2.9 percent to touch 26 percent as of end September, 2012.
What are your plans for expanding capacity?
The company is always seeking to expand, establish new facilities and partnerships to fast-track growth but there is nothing that can be shared at the moment.
Do you expect any initiatives from the government to help tide over the slowdown in the industry?
We are confident that the government is well apprised of the present scenario and will take whatever steps necessary to correct the situation.
Will the enforcement of the GST regime facilitate growth for the sector?
GST will usher in a uniform tax structure across the country, eliminating the cascading tax impacts and replace the existing multi-level and complex tax structures in India. This will definitely trigger growth and improve productivity in the long run.
How is Ashok Leyland faring in the overseas markets and how are global CV markets performing compared to India?
Many of the global markets are still struggling and some like Sri Lanka, one of the company’s erstwhile strong markets, are performing very poorly. Ashok Leyland has, therefore, turned its focus to other global markets of potential like Africa, the Middle East, Russia, CIS and ASEAN and we have started making significant inroads here.
What marketing initiatives is the company taking to drive sales?
The signing of cricketer M S Dhoni as brand ambassador and aggressive brand campaigns have gone a long way in increasing Ashok Leyland’s brand awareness and market presence. Further, since Dhoni is recognised across the country, the introduction of his face in communication has given the company greater traction in several new markets. Overall, these brandbuilding efforts have immensely helped Ashok Leyland to make significant progress towards achieving its vision to be globally among the top 10 truck and top five bus manufacturers.
Ashok Leyland had set up a training centre at Namakkal for training drivers. Any plans for setting up more such centres?
Ashok Leyland has been a pioneer in the realm of driver care, especially driver training. The company has two Driver Training Institutes (DTIs) at Namakkal, Tamil Nadu and Burari, near New Delhi which are among the most comprehensive in India’s private sector. More than 500,000 drivers have been trained at these institutes thus far. Ashok Leyland is planning for more such DTIs at Khaital (Haryana), Chindwara (MP), Rajasmand (Rajasthan) and Bhubaneswar (Odisha). The one at Chindwara is coming up next month. The others are not decided yet.Recently, Ashok Leyland introduced a placement scheme for trained commercial drivers that promises affordable high quality training and assured employment to the drivers, while the fleet owners get access to better trained and skilled drivers to manage their fleet. Further, as part of the efforts to introduce global best practices in driver training techniques, the company dedicated to the driver transport community a state-of-the-art, six-degree motion-platform driver training simulator at the Namakkal institute on which a driver can be trained on a variety of simulated operating conditions that are impractical in normal circumstances.
What are the major challenges being experienced by the CV industry today and how can they be addressed?
The automotive industry is closely linked to the economy and its major challenge at present is the lack of buoyancy in the economy. The industry awaits a kick-start and speeding up of several infrastructure development as well as mining and construction projects that will provide the much-needed fillip for enhanced economic activity to create a more positive outlook.
Recently, the GM-SAIC-Wuling partnership put its plans on hold for bringing its LCV models to India and Volkswagen has also said it has currently no plans to introduce LCVs in India. On the other hand, Tata Motors reached a milestone in its Ace sales. So what does this portend in terms of new players mulling entry into India?
Historically, incumbent brands have been successful in India owing to a superior understanding of customer requirements and unique operating conditions that have, in turn, enabled them to engineer products that are best suited to India. Going forward, suitability of the product and strength of network are going to be the key in defining the success or failure of a commercial vehicle player in India.
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