Solapur-based Precision Camshafts is targeting India’s sub-three tonne segment for the retrofitment of electric vehicles, its whole time-director, Karan Shah, Business Development, told Autocar Professional. According to Shah, the focus on LCVs in India is based on an extensive market research by PCL which indicated good demand in the sub-3 tonne LCVs such as the Leyland Dost, Tata Ace, and the Suzuki Super Carry.
On an annual basis, sub-3 tonne vehicles sold in the region of 500,000 units and have been deployed for mid and last-mile-connectivity. As per Shah’s estimates , nearly 2 million of LCVs are already running on Indian roads, a significant part of which are used by companies in the e-commerce space, logistics and retailers.
PCL is considering setting up a plant in Pune, or may just establish one in Solapur initially. The entire process is expected to last for about three months, with the company hoping to roll out its retrofitted vehicles by the end of 2022 itself. The management says it is in talks with prospective customers from the e-commerce, logistics and retail sectors.
The adoption of electric mobility for the LCV segment is more likely given the comparatively lower upfront cost of conversion from a diesel powertrain aver industry experts. A back-of-envelope calculation suggests that the Dost, for instance comes for around Rs 6.6 lakh but if retrofitted to electric can take the final on-road price to the Rs 10-12 lakh bracket, which the fleet owner can recover in about just over a year to 18 months.
In comparison, a Force Traveller mini-bus that costs between Rs 11 and Rs 14 lakh may need an upfront cost which may go upward of Rs 20 lakh just for conversion alone. " This conversion cost for LCVs will not act as a deterrent for the buyer, Shah remarked, citing the same market research suggesting that LCV fleet owners are much more open to conversion than those using heavier vehicles.
The company's market strategy, Shah told says is to offer two options for conversion deals – one in which the owner hands over the fleet to the company for conversion, and in the second option, PCL is considering purchase either used or new LCVs on fleet owner's behalf and retrofitting it with an electric system.
PCL recently invested around Rs 20 crore for a new project awarded by Maruti Suzuki. The company explained that the development entails changing to a newer technology wherein engines from old variants of chilled cast iron camshaft also called as gray iron gets changed into modular (ductile) iron camshafts which require induction hardening.
Besides Maruti, PCL’s customer profile includes OEMs such as Ford Motor, Mahindra & Mahindra, Volkswagen, Tata Motors, and General Motors, amongst others. It has currently put on hold all its major capex and expansion plans due to the uncertainties arising from Covid19 and semiconductor shortages.
While PCL’s EV retrofitting business in India is still at a nascent stage, its EV business in Europe on the other hand has worked out well. The company had identified EMOSS Mobile Systems, a Netherlands-based EV company that facilitates the retrofitting of ICE trucks and buses into electric. According to the company, its European arm has orders for the next 2-2.5 years
PCL first acquired a controlling stake of 51 percent in EMOSS in 2018 before acquiring the remaining stake two years later in 2020. Before the acquisition, the performance of EMOSS had been a roller coaster ride of sorts. Sensing potential in it, PCL installed an all-new local management with clearcut deliverables outlined to them.
The company was able to bag more business and EMOSS soon took off clocking close to Euro 20 million (approximately Rs 170 Crore) during 2021 which was about 4X, the revenues which the company earned before its acquisition in 2017. With benefits that hindsight offers, Shah noted that EMOSS's focus in Europe is now built upon productionizing and commercialization of all its technologies that have been developed, tried, tested and performed really well but did not get the right market for sales.
Elaborating further on EMOSS's strategy, Shah revealed that earlier the company's primary business came from retrofitting of fleet, government vehicles and others, which though effective did not bring in sufficient volumes to scale up the business.
An important step which the EMOSS's new owners and management did soon after taking over was shifting their focus more towards smaller OEMs across Europe. These OEMs which are into manufacturing of vehicles in niche segments were not be churning out vehicles in huge numbers but it did help EMOSS in getting new and repeated orders. " We were able to bag names that manufacture niche application vehicles. We design, develop and source the entire electric driveline for them and then build it into a modular kit and supply it to the OEMs which then have them fitted at their own plants," explains Shah pointing out that in the process, EMOSS not only owns the design and its components but the software which underpins all the systems. The share of corporate business has now gone up to about 50 percent from just around 20 percent in 2018, the company said.
As Shah puts it, the current times warrant acting with a lot of caution, especially since market situations are changing dramatically. He said that a few months back in October-November last year, when Covid19 spread was taking businesses were rebounding again, everyone in general began believing that the worst of the pandemic was over until a new variant in the form of Omicron came calling.
"The decisions we take consider the situation we are in whether it's pandemic or the semiconductor shortages," observed Shah echoing the views of several others of his peers from the industry who have decided to hold on to their cash reserves. While the pandemic continues to play around with its successive waves and no one clearly knows when the world will completely be out of it, the semiconductor shortages that have hit the automotive and other sectors and the situation is expected to last for at least another six odd months, if not more.
PCL’s product portfolio includes more than 150 different types of camshafts, primarily to the passenger vehicle segment, and has a capacity of 11 million units per annum for its camshafts castings, and another 4 million units per annum for its machined camshafts capacity. Almost 65 percent of the total output gets dispatched to more than 17 different countries around the world, even as the company continues to enter into new markets through organic growth and even by acquisitions. According to Shah, the slowdown in global demand had a cascading impact on its exports in recent years though he remains optimistic about the future.