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Soon, it will be really ‘cool’ to drive a truck in India

G Balachandar | Updated on January 16, 2018

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Mandatory AC cabins from April 2017 will attract more drivers

With the truck industry going through a makeover in terms of new technologies and products, there is also an increasing emphasis on the men who navigate these machines across India’s diverse landscape.

The government’s push for mandatory air-conditioning in trucks from April 2017 is expected to be the best piece of news to these unsung heroes. While this will increase prices of trucks, which is not the most reassuring news in a price-sensitive market like India, fleet operators concede that mandatory AC will go a long way towards higher efficiencies and road safety levels.

Cooler cabins will also help drivers stay fit and focused during long hours on the road and in unwelcome environmental conditions. This is especially critical when it is only too well known that driver fatigue is one of the main contributors to accidents.

AC cabins also translate into a comfort feature which, in turn, will help attract a new crop of people to take the wheel drivers at a time the trucking community is up against a severe shortage of drivers. The grim realities of this thankless profession where they are constantly up against a series of obstacles does not make this an attractive job option.

Mileage issues

While the AC factor could now change perception, there is a fear among the trucking community that this feature will mean less mileage, which could hit their overheads. This is the last thing they would want in a segment which is just limping back to normalcy after two successive recessionary years.

However, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV), which retails BharatBenz trucks, does not subscribe to this commonly held perception. “Non-AC trucks are typically driven with open windows, which significantly drives up wind drag and hence consume fuel,” says, Erich Nesselhauf, MD and CEO of DICV. “In direct comparison, efficient AC trucks can even offer better mileage.”

In his view, AC trucks cover more kilometres everyday due to less driver fatigue. This adds to the overall profitability for truck customers. With GST, logistics will become even more efficient and transporters will benefit from these extra miles accrued daily.

Echoing his views, Vinod Aggarwal, MD & CEO of VE Commercial Vehicle, the joint venture between Volvo and Eicher, feels the cabin is the work space for the driver, where he spends maximum time. Hence, ensuring his comfort can directly lead to higher levels of productivity and safety.

Yet, there are some cautionary asides which are being voiced within the industry. “While air-conditioning helps to improve the comfort of the driver, we need to address safety from a holistic perspective, rather than being feature-specific,” says Ravindra Pisharody, Executive Director, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors.

Additional costs

The other challenge that industry is gearing up for is the reality of additional costs, which will make trucks dearer. “Manufacturers will have to incur capital expenditures to make structural changes to their product range. However, this will be set off against the long-term benefits that will improve the standards of the trucking industry,” says Aggarwal.

However, Nesselhauf cites the recent instance of mandatory ABS (anti-lockbraking system) to drive home the point that a complete rollout can lead to economies of scale and bring costs down for all industry stakeholders.

From Aggarwal’s point of view, features like ACs will make truck driving more acceptable and help raise the social status of drivers. “Commercial driving is gaining more demand and popularity with the rising number of cab aggregators,” he says. “India needs more skilled drivers and a greater push for low-cost driver training will helps us achieve the required target for the industry.”

Woes of drivers

Icra’s Group Vice- President – Corporate Ratings, Subrata Ray, also feels that tough operating conditions is one of the key reasons for shortage of drivers. The mandatory fitment of ACs in trucks will help address this to some extent. Beyond this, there are a host of other factors that need to be addressed to alleviate the woes of drivers.

These include constant harassment by cops en route where money needs to be doled out, failing which the trucks find themselves stranded for hours on the road. In addition, restrooms are always a luxury in India and in the case of drivers, they need to make do with unhygienic and sparse options in long and dreary journeys in their trucks.

Getting back to the AC fitments, Ray expects actual implementation to be gradual as most cabins are fitted outside truck makers’ plants. This will create a whole lot of technical challenges for truck body developers in terms of effecting changes in cabin design, safety and other issues.

DICV has been selling AC options for its entire range of nine to 49 tonne range from Day 1. At present, one out of five BharatBenz customers opts for AC. VECV’s Pro 6000 and Pro 8000 range are equipped with cabin air conditioning. Presently, the ratio is quite low and AC versions are mainly used in construction/mining tipper and very few customers use it for haulage trucks. Also, Tata’s Prima range of trucks come with AC cabins and so is Ashok Leyland in its new range.

It is a long overdue bonus for truck drivers who will no longer be deterred by the prospects of driving through Rajasthan or Gujarat in the peak of summer.

Published on December 15, 2016

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