Partner completes Phase 1of Leyland-Nissan plans
The Indo-Japanese CV partnership plans to use the successful value-cost formula of the Dost SCV to achieve success with the Partner truck and Mitr bus. Sumantra B Barooah reports.
India’s economic slowdown may have thrown a spanner in the works of all commercial vehicle players but it hasn’t dented the No. 2’s product rollout plans. The Partner truck and its bus version – Mitr – are a part of the company’s strategy to tap different growth opportunities.
The launch of these two products also marks the end of the first phase of product plans. Using a literary metaphor, Dr V Sumantran, vice-chairman, Hinduja Automotive, says: “Well, it’s a bit like an author who plans a trilogy.” He was speaking exclusively to Autocar Professional.
The Partner truck, first showcased at the 2012 Auto Expo, marks the entry into a new segment. So the plan is to roll out the bigger and stronger six-wheel variant first. More importantly, it has to get the cost-value blend right. The strategy is based on what the JV did for the Dost small CV. “We had a good price-value mix for entrepreneur-owners offering 50 percent extra value in terms of load-carrying capacity for 20-25 percent more cost (over the leading small truck Ace),” says Nitin Seth, executive director (LCV and Defence), Ashok Leyland.
The Partner, based on the Nissan Atlas, has 98 percent local content and a 100 percent indigenised engine. It has been re-engineered to be cost effective. For example, the headlamp in the Nissan version has been replaced by a smaller version, keeping in mind cost issues to replace it.
The Partner debuts with the six-wheeled 6.6-tonne GVW version. A four-wheel version will follow. It offers power-assisted steering as standard and an air-conditioned cabin as an option. The JV is hoping that these features along with car-like interior trim coupled with the 3.0-litre 118hp engine will pull customers in the market.
The ZD30 engine will drive both the Partner truck and the Mitr bus. The ZD30 from Nissan comes as a very useful powertrain for Ashok Leyland, right in the middle of the gap it has in the portfolio. The Ashok Leyland engine line-up has the H4 which starts at about Rs 400,000, the P15 starts at 150,000 and so the 3-litre ZD30 helps the company to strengthen its portfolio.
PARTNERS IN PROGRESS
In the first phase, the Partner will see a ‘horizontal expansion’ in the market. So, expect the Partner to have a range of wheelbases, powertrains and payload applications which means it can be fitted out as an ambulance, dump truck, refrigerated truck or the conventional cargo body. “In the future, we will see a 4x4 version of the Partner that will have a very special application of an LCV,” says Dr Sumantran.
The Partner will eventually add different load-carrying variants and plug the gap between the Dost and the Boss. Starting with the 6.5-tonne version, the Partner range is likely to go down to 4.5 tonnes. The segment is pegged at around 1,200 units a month. Ashok Leyland will pitch the Partner as a ‘new-generation’ truck based on the Atlas platform, which had a global debut in 2010.
“It is interesting to see that there has been no all-new LCV in this segment for a really long time. Some OEMs have showcased new products, but the Partner will be the first all-new product in this segment to be commercially launched in over two decades,” claims a company official. The Partner will compete with the Tata 709 and the 407 with different variants.
Simultaneously with the Partner truck comes a bus version that has been christened Mitr. Based on Nissan’s F24 platform, it is a platform also shared by the Nissan Civilian. Like the Partner, the Mitr will also take a top-down approach. The 27-seater six-tyre version will be followed by a 16-seater, 4-tyre version later. Both the Partner and the Mitr are manufactured at Ashok Leyland’s Hosur plant.
On the distribution side, the JV plans to add 128 outlets to the existing 202 outlets by March. These are not the best times for India’s CV sector. The ALL-Nissan JV has got delayed in the first phase of the project as a result of delays in land acquired and given to the company. “But in this current economic downturn where demand is suppressed, I think we’re looking at making do with our current capacity for a little longer and at the right time kick start the original plan,” says Dr Sumantran.
The ALL-Nissan JV still has more planned and that could also include different body styles on the NV 200 platform, which currently has only the Stile.
INTERVIEW WITH Dr V Sumantran, vice- chairman, Hinduja AutoMOTIVE
You are taking a top-down approach in terms of the Partner. Can you also throw some light on the Nissan F24 platform?
It is a flexible LCV platform, so we configure from the very beginning both truck and goods applications as well as those for passengers. For the truck, we’ll have a range of wheelbases and a range of powertrains and payload applications, so it can be fitted out as an ambulance, dump truck, refrigerated truck or the conventional load carrying cargo body.
For buses, we will have multiple wheelbases to take passenger capacities of anywhere from 15- or 17-seaters all the way to 25- or 27-seaters. We are aiming to address what I would call cost-efficient segments in urban transport all the way to luxury, tourist applications. So luxury versions would have AC cabins, for example.
We will start off with heavier versions of the trucks as we believe that’s where we initially expect to see the higher volumes. The TIV (total industry volume) is higher in that segment but we will certainly move from there in both directions but initially probably downwards to address slightly lighter payload applications.
How big is the TIV and in terms of the tonnage what is the range you eventually see the Partner addressing?
The Partner will be somewhere in the 4.5-6.5- tonne gross weight applications. The industry volumes are typically about 80,000-120,000 vehicles annually when you cover the whole range of 3.5-7.5 tonnes. It has been growing but not as aggressively as the very small LCVs but it is definitely a growth segment.
The ZD30 engine is also a new introduction to the Indian market. What kind of applications would you look at with that engine?
The ZD30 gives us a very useful powertrain right in the middle of the gap that we have. It is a very contemporary engine drawn from Nissan. It’s a four valves per cylinder modern engine layout and we will launch with both BS IV and BS III versions. But it is also future-ready for going up to Euro 5 and Euro 6 as well.
Could the Leyland-Nissan JV manufacturing facility be a global sourcing hub for Nissan for the base engines, at least for Euro 6?
We have talked about it and some modest beginnings could happen in component exports but along the term, yes, we have talked about it as we start to see both the need from their side. India’s advantage is its very cost competitive manufacturing centre. So there will be lots of natural reasons why when those needs arise, we will be in a position to gear up to feed other markets apart from those in India.
In the overseas market, are there any areas where Nissan’s presence will help Ashok Leyland to expand globally?
The products of the joint venture are already beginning to find use in some export markets. We have made a start with the Dost in SAARC markets and subsequently some markets in Africa. We are now looking at South Africa and Malaysia. But clearly for the first couple of years, we are focussed quite rightly on the domestic market.
Could the Partner project also find a market in the Middle East?
The products will continue to be produced out of the JV but we may leverage some of our assets like the one in Ras Al-Khaimah for certain applications. The range of products including the Partner and the Mitra will begin to see more interest for export markets in the coming year.
Is the Intermediate Commercial Vehicle segment one to look out for in India?
We now have new global entrants in India. They would look at segments such as the medium, heavy as well as intermediate. I am of the opinion that for very small or light commercial vehicles at the low end of the range, below 3.5 tonnes, the domain is still very strongly dominated by Indian manufacturers for a very simple reason. They operate on a kind of cost economics that I think many global players would find difficult. Therefore, it’s natural that companies coming in from outside will look at MCVs, HCVs and ICVs.
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