Government nod for higher axle loads on M&HCVs a double-edge sword: Industry

by Kiran Bajad 20 Jul 2018


It’s all official now. A couple of days after Autocar Professional revealed that the government was all set to announce an increase in axle loads in commercial vehicles, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway Centre (MoRTH) on July 18 notified the increase in maximum load carrying capacity of medium & heavy commercial vehicles (M&HCVs) by a significant 20-25 percent.

The amendment lays down that the gross vehicle weight (GVW) will not exceed the total permissible safe axle weight as above and in no case shall exceed 49 tonnes in case of rigid vehicles, and 55 tonnes for semi-articulated trailers and truck-trailers except modular hydraulic trailers. It further lays down that modular hydraulic trailers can carry goods of indivisible nature of any load subject to the regulatory approvals.

For the CV industry, which is currently clocking solid growth of over 50 percent – M&HCVs 83% and LCVs 36% in April-June 2018 – the notification comes as a double-edged sword. While demand will grow further for higher-tonnage trucks, it could also fleet buyers delaying truck purchases by a few months. But, what comes fraught with danger is that the new hike in axle loads will help legalise overloading which a number of transporters continue to do.      

Speaking on the decision on July 18, Nitin Gadkari, minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, said the decision to increase axle load has been taken with a view to help in increasing the carrying capacity of goods transport vehicles and bring down logistics cost. He said the amendment will increase the carrying capacity of goods vehicles by about 20-25 percent and lower logistics costs by about 2 percent.

Gadkari added that while automobile technology and road construction quality have improved greatly over the years, axle loads have remained the same since 1983 and that there is a need to harmonise axle load with international standards. “Overloading rules will be implemented very strictly. State governments are also being requested to enforce the provisions against overloading very strictly and not allow vehicles to move till the excess load has been removed,” he said.

As per the new norms the permissible limits are:

If a vehicle is fitted with pneumatic suspension, one tonne extra load is permitted for each axle, the notification says. Also, the GVW should not exceed 49 tonnes in case of rigid vehicles and 55 tonnes in case of semi-articulated trailers and truck-trailers, except modular hydraulic trailers. Tolerance up to 5 percent in the GVW shall be allowed.

SIAM cautions about safety issues, pushes for April 1, 2020 implementation  
Apex industry body SIAM while welcoming the new notification as a move that will help improve the efficiency of commercial transport in India, cautions that in the absence of adequate enforcement of rated load compliance, prevalent practices of rampant overloading could pose serious a road safety threats, which may necessitate government issuing suitable advisories for better clarity.

Dr Abhay Firodia, president, SIAM, said: “Globally, higher axle loads are permitted which enables higher efficiencies in the goods transport industry. In India, historically, we had allowed lower axle loads as well as lower vehicle speeds due to the inability of our road and highway infrastructure to support such higher loads or speeds. With the modernisation of India’s roads and highways, it is natural for the government to look at higher load carrying capacities in trucks. SIAM, in principle, has supported an increase in axle loads up to the European levels.”

Dr Firodia said the notification does away with the present CMVR table of tyres and axle combination against permissible GVW. This allows easier and more flexible development of new vehicle configurations of different tonnage by OEMs as it provides freedom of selection of any tyre and axle combination within the CMVR permissible dimensions.

However, the notification also raises some concerns related to safety, applicable date of the change and the readiness of the supply chain. Dr Firodia said that the existing vehicles on the road are not certified for safety with the higher axle loads. Hence, this provision should not allow the existing vehicles with higher loads or else it will tantamount to legalising the wrong practice of overloading of the vehicles. Such overloaded vehicles may or may not be able to meet the mandatory braking and steering performance requirements, leading to safety issues on the road. The new norms should be applicable only to the new vehicles which are certified by the test agencies from the safety point of view.  

Higher loads on vehicles will also require upgraded tyres and new specifications of the axles for which the supply chain also needs to gear up. Also, the notification does not mention any date of implementation. As BS VI vehicle development is in full swing, many OEMs as well as the supply chain would need some time to upgrade product designs and certify these new vehicles; therefore, a clear date of implementation of April 1, 2020 aligning with introduction of BS VI vehicles would be more appropriate, said Dr Firodia.

Speaking to CNBC TV18, Vinod K Dasari, managing director, Ashok Leyland said, “The centre’s decision on increasing truck loading capacity is confusing for the industry. The increase in axle load proposed by the government is much higher that markets like the USA. Also, it is not clear whether our roads could take such high loads.”

“A six-axle front axle needs 295 tubeless radial tyres and if it goes to seven- and-a-half tonnes, it requires 305 tubeless radial tyres which are not available in India in high volume. To develop that will take a year. There is not enough tyre capacity in India, which will become an issue to the manufacturers,” said Dasari.

Commenting on MoRTH’s new axle load notification, Erich Nesselhauf, MD and CEO, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles, said: “With robust, proven aggregates and higher horsepower engines, BharatBenz is well prepared to meet these new load requirements. At the same time, we share the concerns voiced by SIAM regarding media speculations about an unconditional inclusion of older vehicles, many of which are in fact technically unfit to carry additional load safely. From our point of view, all owners of vehicles certified under the old norms should be able undergo an efficient, shortened re-certification process before being permitted to carry more load according to the new limits. This will protect the investments of those customers who have opted for modern, capable trucks before and safeguard the residual value of these vehicles.”

Pirojshaw Sarkari, CEO, Mahindra Logistics, has a different point of view. “We welcome the central government’s decision to enhance the maximum axle load of heavy vehicles. This hike will increase loadability by 20-25 percent. The timing is also perfect as now the highways as well as arterial roads have improved considerably. Today, most trucks in the country are running with lower capacities. Their engines are equipped to carry much more. This move will help in capacity utilisation and will provide a huge fillip to the logistics sector. We and our business partners are looking forward to its successful implementation. This measure will undoubtedly reduce the cost of logistics and improve the overall logistics performance index of India.”

The CV industry overall feels the government has rushed the decision to implement higher axle loads and that it should have taken all stakeholders into confidence before announcing the notification. Given that growth has returned to the CV industry in spades over the past 8-10 months, the hike in axle loads could prove to be a sales speedbreaker, albeit a temporary one.