Long-Haul Electrification In India Possible With Tech Improvements

Long-Haul Electrification In India Possible With Tech Improvements

Interview January 2020 Volvo Trucks Long-Haul Electrification India Possible Tech Improvements
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With access to advanced technologies from across the globe, Volvo Trucks has been slowly yet steadily carving out a dominating position in the mining segment in India, and is now eyeing expansion into other segments

On his first visit to India, Roger Alm, Executive Vice President – Volvo Group & President, Volvo Trucks, spoke to Auto Tech Review about the Indian market and how the Swedish giant intends to serve the Indian transport segment with its advanced portfolio.

Roger Alm is currently serving as the Executive Vice President at Volvo Group and is also the President, Volvo Trucks. He has been a member of the Group Executive Board since 2019, and has held senior positions at Volvo Trucks across various regions such as Europe and Latin America. Between 2016 and 2019, Alm held the position of Senior Vice President, Volvo Trucks – Europe. He has extensive experience of working in many senior roles across Slovenia & Croatia, Poland and Australia as well as a five-year stint as President – Volvo Trucks in Latin America. Alm began his career at Volvo Trucks in 1989 as a Design Engineer and carries extensive experience of almost 30 years with Volvo, from product development to service, parts, sales and general management.

ATR _ India is transitioning to BS 6 from April 2020. How is Volvo Trucks developing technologies that suit Indian duty cycles?

Roger Alm _ Volvo Trucks has access to global markets and has been developing technologies that suit diversified markets across the world. It is important to make products that are environmentally-friendly and industry stakeholders need to focus on sustainability for the world and ensure we leave a better world for our upcoming generations. When I look at India as a country, we are extremely positive about its entire transport sector. We need to respect the different cultures of India; the ways vehicles operate in the country as well as from the transport sector point of view. Volvo Trucks can do a lot of things not only from the emission point of view, but also from a safety and noise point of view, towards building a better transport sector and a safer environment for everybody.

What is Volvo Trucks’ positioning in India towards complying with BS 6 norms and how different Euro 6 norms are when compared to BS 6 norms?

Euro 6 and BS 6 norms are almost at par with each other. In fact, BS 6 is still at step one, whereas Europe has moved to the next level, which India will have to comply with starting 2023. And with step 3, it will be a different level altogether. The way India has embraced BS 6 norms clearly indicates that India can take less time than Europe in bringing such technologies as well as ensure affordability of the same. India is focussing on deploying advanced technologies at a rapid pace and be at par with global standards.

Volvo Trucks is looking at globalisation of product supply chain

India is a price-sensitive market and Volvo Trucks continues to operate in the premium segment. Do you intend to foray into the mass market that offers considerable volumes?

Volvo Trucks continues to play in the niche market in India and has been successful in the way it approaches the market, managing over 80 % of the market. It is important to understand that setting up prices depends on various factors – market demand & supply, customers and competition. I believe we are well positioned to grow our volumes step-by-step in the Indian market. Everything from productivity to fuel efficiency, optimising drive cycles and increased driver comfort are critical in this industry and we have products that can perform 24x7 even in stringent applications like mining. We carry a competitive price position that enable our customers to achieve profitability as well as reduce their total cost of ownership. When you look at technology introduction into different markets, in Europe we went from Euro IV to Euro V to Euro VI and then new generation of Euro VI and India is jumping over a complete emission standard altogether; thus, the progress is a lot faster. We can adapt to advanced technologies as per market demands since we have access to advanced technologies across the world.

Volvo Trucks continues to source its medium duty engines from India for its Euro 6 international commitments. However, it is still importing kits in India from its European set-ups. Isn’t BS 6 the opportunity to change gears for more localisation?

Volvo Trucks has a product and cost system in developing products and then we have a sourcing system. We will offer the best from a global point of view and have a number of technology sites as well as manufacturing sites across the world. Essentially, we are looking at the globalisation of our product supply chain and make it as efficient as possible. Our trucks are driving significant improvements in uptime, productivity, fuel consumption, as well as driver comfort, safety and environmental care. The general infrastructure needs to be improved so that we can attain better utilisation out of the trucks and generate more money for fleet owners.

Volvo Trucks is here for the long haul and we will introduce products across different segments and conduct testing, if the market is ready for a particular product. Maybe we will slow down if the response is not adequate, and wait for the market demand to surface again. We want to belong to this market and we are doing it in a successful way via our joint venture with Eicher. We will continue to build on the same in the Indian market.

It has been one year since Volvo Trucks ventured into the construction segment. How has the performance been thus far?

Infrastructure and construction offer huge opportunities in India as improvements in this sector will demand faster transit of goods and require more speed. This will help the market to upgrade technologically and in turn, will require higher horsepower engines, safer vehicles that will demand OEM-level cabins. It is crucial to build customer awareness to test Volvo Trucks across stringent applications. Even paying a higher acquisition price would not make much difference, as productivity will be higher since vehicle uptime is high. Logistics costs in India still remain high as compared to rest of the world, and that can be curtailed using advanced technologies.

Volvo Trucks has been working on various technologies such as vehicle electrification, ADAS as well as autonomous vehicles globally. What are the technologies that can penetrate into the Indian transport ecosystem?

Every technology that Volvo Trucks develops whether in European market or North American markets, are executed keeping in mind the global markets. We need to handle technologies step-by-step as per diverse market needs and introduce them, when any market is ready.

From a connectivity point of view, we can investigate different components of trucks, including their life. So, we are replacing them in preventive purpose before it breaks down. We are able to make remote software downloads (over the air updates) into our trucks possible, so that truck drivers don’t need to go to the workshop for software updates. We have also started carrying out vehicle electrification in the medium duty segment in Europe. And we start with serial production of trucks in the beginning of 2020 and we continue with that in North America by 2020-end. And of course, we will take these technologies to different markets in a gradual manner.

From an automation point of view, we have conducted a number of pilots in Norway with one customer and another in Sweden. Volvo Trucks is taking steps for commercialisation of autonomous solutions and we’re now building a separate business area for autonomous solutions at the group-level so that we can allocate more investment into this area. Automation will start from confined area operations and then eventually build up for open environment operations.

Every technology at Volvo Trucks is developed while keeping the global markets in mind

You talked about a step-by-step procedure for autonomous solutions. What about vehicle electrification?

As far as India is concerned, vehicle electrification is already happening in buses and there exists various opportunities for city transportation with the roll-out of the FAME II scheme. The next thing will be the civic application trucks – five tonne and below in the city – where you can see more electrification. Long-haul trucks will still take time as infrastructure is still a problem as there are challenges with respect to the payload. Other than electrification, alternate fuels will be the option for long-haul vehicles – CNG, LNG or hydrogen cells. With improvements in technology, long-haul electrification will also happen as costs today are high.

We also have LNG in the long-haul segment in Europe; we can opt for such technologies from a sustainability point of view as well as from the point of view of CO2 reduction. If you look at it from an environmental offer point of view, we have now offered electrical trucks into the medium duty segment in Europe.

What challenges are Volvo Trucks facing in the Indian market to penetrate into the mass market?

There are different kinds of problems, but we should focus on opportunities, as it’s not only about the transport sector, but also about the economy. If the infrastructure and the whole transport sector improve, the country’s transport efficiency will improve, leading to faster GDP growth and Volvo can play a big role. We can support the sector, not just as a truck manufacturer, but also because we have a wide range of products and knowledge from the Volvo Group. Together with our joint venture company, we can play an important role in making life better.

TEXT: Anirudh Raheja

PHOTO: Volvo Trucks