Volvo has introduced new FH and FM range of trucks under the guise of high-performance trucking.
Volvo has launched the new FH and FM trucks in India. Compared to the earlier models the difference on the outside is minimal and nearly non-existent. The big change is the area of engine and transmission. The trucks get a new 13-litre engine, which according to the sources at Volvo India improves upon various aspects affecting transport economy, reliability, durability, fuel efficiency and performance. The investment behind these models is Euro 300 million.
Speaking at the launch, Eric Leblanc, managing director, Volvo India, said, "The new product range helps further reinforce the company's position in India when it comes to high-performance trucking. The new Volvo FH and FM are undoubtedly the best trucks we have ever launched in terms of fuel economy, safety and productivity." Leblanc is keen to lay stress on high-performance trucking, and this makes it obvious that Volvo is well aware and preparing itself for competition. Asked about competition, Leblanc is quick to retort: "We welcome competition. Competition will help to expand the market." The market that Volvo has been operating from 1998 is at the top-end of the commercial vehicle sector. Then, it does not matter if Volvo India is selling multi-axle solutions or tippers".
Volvo's stress has been on specialised applications with the claim of "high-yield". Volvo launched the FH12 range in 1998 and followed it up with the launch of FL and FM range of trucks as it embarked on product rationalisation and better utilisation of resources. Exports, too were on the radar. Growth of the high-end market has been slow and more or less connected with infrastructure, especially when it comes to multi-axle transportation solutions. With Tata and Ashok Leyland having a strong presence in the medium and light commercial vehicle sectors, Volvo had to struggle its way to create a benchmark in the Indian commercial vehicle market by offering high-end solutions which accounts for a mere 3 to 4 per cent of the commercial vehicle market.
While Volvo has been creating a presence by offering promising business equations and high-technology products, the growth in infrastructure and coming into shape of the hub-and-spoke transport model, competition is already tapping at the doors of Volvo. Tata has brought Daewoo technology and expertise in high-performance trucking to India in the form of Novus. MAN of Germany announced its entry into India in association with Force Motors, recently. Ashok Leyland is in the process of introducing high-performance trucking solutions to India even as it is looking at active participation in the light commercial vehicle sector. Eicher has got aggressive about participating in the high-end commercial vehicle sector. Not to be left out, Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) recently announced its collaboration with International Truck & Engine Corporation (ITEC) of the US to manufacture commercial vehicles above the 6 to 10-tonne sector and this includes a big possibility of the JV looking at the 44 to 49-tonne range. While answering a question from the Media at the announcement of the M&M-ITEC JV, Bharat Doshi, executive director of M&M said, "We could be looking at 44 to 49-tonne market as well." DaimlerChrysler India has launched its Actros range of trucks that are aimed squarely at the commercial vehicle sectors Volvo is operating in.
Leblanc's emphasis on high-performance trucking therefore hints at Volvo India creating a niche for itself in the Indian market before other players step-in in a big way. Says Leblanc, "We initiated the movement towards high-performance trucking in India - a process that has seen us continuously introduce new models, concepts and technology in the past years. What is important is that not only do we have the ability to provide our customers with high-performance trucks, but we also have the abbraking system. Sachs is said to supply the shock absorbers including those used to suspend the cab. Tail lamps are Hella. Going a step further, industry sources claim that various other components like brake components, flanges, camshafts, lamps, etc., are sourced from India. The Actros is built at the Worth plant of DaimlerChrysler in Germany.
Aware of the shifting paradigms of the commercial vehicle industry, Leblanc draws attention towards stricter implementation of loading norms, rising diesel prices and emissions. Pointing at the vast knowledge available with Volvo when it comes to commercial vehicles, Leblanc says, "We are world leaders in heavy duty trucks and leaders in heavy duty engines. We produce the industry's most powerful trucks and integration with Renault and Mack has given us the knowledge to produce value. We provide complete solutions for our customers, set new standards in productivity and work towards the benefit of our customers." Stressing on the fact that high-performance equates to profitability, Leblanc opines that the new FH and FM provide higher horsepower and meet Euro III norms.
When it comes to the new 13-litre engine, sources at Volvo say that the engine, which is called D13A, employs the latest technology and is backed by the experience gained by producing 2,60,000 engines. They add that the engine has a long stroke, which provides it with exceptional torque even at low engine revolutions. The D13A generates a maximum torque of 2500 Nm at 800 rpm. The top-of-the-line FH "puller" pumps out an immense 520 hp while the FM range generates up to 400 hp. In addition to the D13A, the I-Shift transmission makes it to India. The I-Shift transmission is the latest transmission system from Volvo and features a 12-speed non-synchromesh range and splitter gearbox with an electronically controlled shifting system. Gear shifting is fully automatic with brief breaks in the torque; the driver still has the option of choosing manual gear changes. This system is approximately 70 kg lighter than the corresponding manual gearbox. The I-Shift control software is available in different versions for various transport requirements. I-Shift is used for gross combination weights of up to 60 tonnes and offers high comfort with low fuel consumption. The automatic transmission introduces auto-gear changing system supported by a technology where optimised gear changing strategy and program package can be tailored to suit various applications like basic distribution and construction to long haul transport.
The I-Shift transmission was earlier seen on the batch of 150 FM 12 tippers that Volvo India exported to South Korea last year. Volvo India is keeping a low profile on the activities that it is investing in at its Hoskote facility in India. Spread over 122 acres, the Hoskote facility is Volvo's significant export facility after Sweden, Belgium and Botswana and has the capacity to produce 1,200 trucks and buses annually in single shift. Cabs are welded and built at this facility. The Haskote facility, which exports buses to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, trucks to South Korea and is looking at opportunities to enter other Asian market, predominantly, is Volvo's fourth global export hub. This has also helped the trucks and buses gather an amount of localisation. "The localisation content of the trucks is 30 per cent of the value of the trucks," says Leblanc.
Sources close to Volvo claim that major localisation is in the area of trailers. Sources further claim that Schmitz licensed Volvo to build trailers in India when Volvo entered the Indian market in 1998. Following the signing of a licence agreement between the companies Volvo AB and Schmitz Cargobull, Schmitz semitrailers started production at Hoskote. However, over a period of time, the semitrailer assembly line at Hoskote, which is claimed to have been designed with Schmitz production know-how in accordance with the Schmitz assembly layout concept, has undergone localisation of more than 90 per cent according to industry sources. The Hoskote-line, claim sources, makes two designs for the Indian market and these are European-standard trailers and are designed for a particularly sturdy construction to meet the usual rough Indian operating and loading conditions and the roughest road conditions.
one 40-feet or two 20-feet containers. The other is a flatbed trailer with a corrugated steel floor welded to the chassis. It has container tie-down fittings to double as a container transporter. As an option, it is available with a bolted, easily removable steel end wall. Both trailers have modular structures and identical components and can be built in either two-axle or three-axle versions. The front section of the trailer around the kingpin and the approach plate, claim sources, are designed to assure damage-free coupling and uncoupling as is standard in developed countries but rare in India, the height of the support legs can be adjusted using a crank lever.
When Volvo India started production in India, the trailer components were assembled in kit form in Schmitz's home plant in Altenberge, Germany, and shipped to India, claim sources. Sources claim that the Schmitz and Volvo agreement is no longer valid. Sources also claim that in trucks, the usage of Indian components include wiring harness parts, a few trim parts, cab-body panels, switches, U-bolts and centre-bolts. While the sources proudly announce that the cabs welded at Hoskote are exported to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, they also claim that Volvo India sources a few critical components for its trucks from India. According to industry sources, Sundaram Clayton, which has collaboration with Wabco, supplies the brake system components. Sundaram Clayton is also claimed to supply a number of brake system components, including anti-lock braking systems imported from Wabco to Tata, Ashok Leyland and various other manufacturers including Volvo India. Automotive Stampings & Assemblies Limited, a TACO Group enterprise is claimed to supply cab-panels and exhaust pipes.
Bharat Forge is claimed to supply axles for the tippers and ZF India supplies the steering mechanism. Hyva, claim sources, is the supplier of tipper bodies and the hydraulic kits through its facility at Bangalore. MRF is the supplier of tyres. When it comes to suppliers on the global level, Michelin is claimed to supply tyres to the trucks. Durapart Industries AS is claimed to supply various electrical cables. Holset is claimed to be the supplier of turbocharger. Jost of Germany is claimed to supply the fifth wheel coupling. Tyco is claimed to supply wiring harness and various other electrical and electronic components like the power module of the engine. Wabco is claimed to supply the ECU of the I-shift unit. While Bosch sensors are claimed to be employed on the engine management system, Bosch Group company, Rexroth is claimed to supply the clutch solenoid valve of the I-Shift unit.
With industry sources claiming sourcing of critical components like steering gear from Indian components suppliers like ZF India, it is clear that the Indian operations are looking at playing an important role in global sourcing of components. Endorsing this is Leblanc's statement that "This year we are looking at exporting Euro 70-million worth of components, mainly castings, forgings, engine block components and IT services." Volvo inaugurated its IT Centre in Bangalore at the beginning of this year. The IT Centre caters to Volvo Group activities in the areas of IT and Truck product development. It is part of Volvo 3P, a business unit within the Volvo Group focusing on building India as a base for Truck Product Development aimed at supporting strategic expansion in Asia. Volvo IT will increase its local sourcing from India as well as support its growing customers business in the country, say sources at Volvo. The Volvo IT division in India focuses on providing IT services to the Volvo Group, Volvo Car Corporation and other external customers and is also the hub for Asia for competitive sourcing. Volvo IT provides extensive application management and infrastructure support across Volvo's business areas including global dealer business support functions, build up of SAP competence, IT infrastructure and Product Lifecycle Management.
Volvo India is also looked upon as a production base for Nissan diesel engine, a division of Nissan that Volvo took over recently. Volvo acquired 13 per cent of shares in Nissan Diesel from Nissan Motor, which is an important step in the further strengthening of Volvo's presence in Asia, a region of high priority for the Volvo Group. The transaction comes after Nissan Motor's decision to strengthen its focus on cars. For Volvo, acquiring a 13 per cent stake and becoming the top shareholder of Nissan Diesel will give it better access to the Asian market. After selling its passenger car division to Ford Motor Co in 1999, Volvo has steadily expanded its truck business in Europe and the US, but it has lagged behind in cultivating Asian markets. Volvo bought Renault's truck business in 2001.