The Ape Truk marks Piaggio's rising concentration on Asia for growth and global sourcing
Piaggio India's new offering, the Ape (pronounced "ah-peh" - Italian for bee), Truk Mark I, is making inroads into the Indian small LCV market, which was essentially kicked off by the Tata Ace nearly two years ago and followed by others. Launched at Chennai in June 2007, the Piaggio Ape truk is claimed to have been ready even before Tata introduced the Ace. Piaggio for reasons not known to many (including us) waited, and waited some more to launch the mini-truck. And when it did launch the Ape Truk, it did it in regional pockets. It is from Chennai that the company has laid the thrust for a pan-India presence of the Truk.
Positioned in the sub-one tonne category, the Ape Truk Mark I (which is claimed to have better gearshift quality over the earlier model) is an elegant looking small truck that could give the sub-one tonne three-wheelers a run for their money including its own Ape three-wheeler. The big hurdle however is the Rs 2 lakh plus price tag, part of which accounts from the higher taxes a LCV attracts compared to a three-wheeler. The price tag puts the Ape Truk at a disadvantage in the fiercely fought sub-one tonne market place. It is however a matter of who prefers what, and what the business strategy of the buyer is.
A distinctive front end, marked by raked sides, is dominated by the matt black grille that flows into a well-formed bumper. The lamps with wing-like trafficators add an amount of plushness. The flutes running through the cab and the tray add strength to the sides in addition to presenting a certain visual getup. Drawing attention are the finned drums protruding out of the 13-inch wheels. They enable better heat dissipation in addition to presenting the Truk with an upmarket appearance.
Good ergonomics liven-up the interior that could be basic even for a small car but looks tasteful on a truck of this stature. A plastic dashboard that looks of good quality and is fairly stylish dominates the interior. While at the top of the centre console are the hazard and headlamp levelling buttons, at the lower end is a slot that could take a standard car stereo. Instrumentation is basic yet the readouts stylish. It is easy to read and the visibility from the large front window is very good. There is no blower even as the two-tone fabric of the door pads and the seats lends a touch of style.
The 482cc Lombardini in-direct injection liquid cooled diesel motor comes alive with a mild shudder of what appears like a tough monocoque-pressed steel long members frame. With a refined feel that is worth appreciating, the Truk runs true for the 8.4 kW and 23 Nm of torque that is generates. Acceleration, compared to a small car, is sluggish but the light-shift 5-speed transmission comes as a surprise. The steering feels steady even when going over undulations and potholes.
Suspension includes MacPherson struts at front and twist beam rear way different from the all-round leaf spring suspension set-up of the Tata Ace. Designed for a payload of 865 kg, the Ape Truk looks like a premium small truck with attention paid to small details like the windscreen washer.
Built at Piaggio's Baramati facility, the Ape Truk is supported by a group of prominent suppliers. Lombardini, which was acquired by US-based Kohler, is the supplier of the diesel engine and transmission. Both are an integral construction. Ceat is the supplier of 155R13 radials. Neolite is the supplier of lamps. Lumax is the supplier of external door mirrors. Atultemp is the supplier of windscreen and winding door glasses. Motherson Sumi is the supplier of wiring harness. Abhisekh Industries is the supplier of seat belts. Tata Green and Exide are claimed to be the suppliers of batteries to the Ape Truk. Mico-Bosch is claimed to supply the starter/alternator and diesel injection system. Remsons is said to supply the gear shifter.
If the Ape Truk marks Piaggio's rising concentration on the Asian markets, it must be taken into consideration that work is on at the new site at Baramati where the company will soon start the production of new engines-1000 cc naturally aspirated and 1200 cc TDi diesel. Piaggio is investing Euro 65 million in the development and industrialization of the engines and the construction of the plant. The Euro IV and V compliant engines will be used for the new generation small trucks that Piaggio plans to launch in India. The facility will have a scalable capacity of 50,000 engines in the initial phase, which will also be used for exports to Piaggio's global destinations. With near 100 per cent localisation the engines are expected to roll out by 2009. While the new facility is expected to make 150,000 scooter engines in addition to 50,000 diesel engines, sources close to Piaggio claim that the company is planning to hike the four-wheeler capacity to 36,000 by 2010. In 2007, it was 24,000 four wheelers. A fair part of these could be the under 2-tonne four wheel commercial vehicles that Piaggio plans to build in India.
Anticipating rapid growth in small commercial vehicle segments, Piaggio is also said to be planning to transfer hybrid technology to India once the engine plant is up and running and new model development gets underway. The small commercial vehicle manufacturer currently exports its products to markets like South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and neighbouring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.