Nationwide availability of BS 6-compliant fuel continues to be a challenge for every OEM. However, manufacturers, including Mahindra Truck & Bus, are gearing up to adhere to new emission norms
With implementation of BS 6 emission norms just a few months away, automotive industry stakeholders have gradually started unveiling their plans as well as rolling out products that are compliant with the stringent regulatory mandate. Mahindra Truck & Bus (MTB) has also announced that it is on track to comply with stricter emission norms and will initiate the process of supplying new diesel models to dealers by February 2020, closely followed by retail sales starting April 2020.
The first half of FY20 has not brought any good news for the commercial vehicle industry as sales of heavy commercial vehicles (HCV) declined by 51 %, sales of light commercial vehicles (LCV) contracted by 20 %, while sales of intermediate commercial vehicle (ICV) declined by 18 %. MTB’s sales figures over the same period have been close to the industry numbers, registering an overall 34 % plunge in sales. Despite downbeat sales, the company is convinced that there are enough headwinds for customers to deal with (given the sales slowdown in the industry) and a tentative 10-15 % price increase in newer models will only add on to their burden.
MTB has sold over 26,000 Blazo trucks till date and now enjoys 4.8 % market share in the HCV segment. Unveiling plans to comply with newer emission norms, MTB has stressed that it will carry forward as much as 80 % of the hardware from its BS IV vehicles to BS 6-compliant ones. The hardware commonality will not only allow for easy maintenance for the fleet owners, but also reduce training time required to upskill suppliers as well as instil confidence into workshop personnel designated for truck maintenance at the dealership level.
With the trucks increasingly becoming more sophisticated, vehicles are getting packed in with a lot of technology. However, MTB will carry forward its D72 electronic 7.2 l engine deployed in BS IV-compliant Blazo towards new emission norms, along with transmission, gearbox, front & rear axle, steering, frame and cabin. On the aftertreatment side, the major changes will include introduction of Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (DOC), Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and Ammonia Slip Catalysts (ASC) along with Delta P, temperature as well as NOx sensors to comply with BS 6 emission norms with a focus on performance, technology packaging and fuel efficiency. As much as 80 % of the vehicle-level changes will be at the aftertreatment side, with the rest being attributed to the engine level.
However, there will also be multiple increases in the number of sensors as well as number of labels on the software side, increasing from 4,000 in BS IV norms to 40,000 in BS 6 norms. Obviously, a huge amount of data is involved even as the ECU grows bigger, as it has to deal with multiple scenarios. Such a scenario makes it more challenging for manufacturers as to how the vehicle needs to be calibrated for optimal performance, said Dr Venkat Srinivas, Principal Engineer & Product Development, MTB.
The power-to-weight ratio in a vehicle is “pathetically low” in India, and to match international emission standards, there is a strong need to upgrade other vehicle peripherals, especially the engine to be competitive, said Vinod Sahay, CEO, MTB. The company is already offering as high as 274 hp electronic engines for its trucks and Sahay underlined that progression towards BS 6 norms with third world situation (in-cabin safety adherence) in the vehicle must be avoided at any cost.
A typical commercial vehicle that costs Rs 25 lakh in BS IV portfolio could witness a price range increase between Rs 1.5-2.5 lakh for the BS 6-compliant portfolio. However, the company stresses that such an increase has 1 % impact on ROI for an operator. MTB is also aware of the fact that fuel efficiency will go down with implementation of the new norms. Thus, it is working closely with Mahindra Research Valley in Chennai to reduce any further impact of increased fuel costs as a 10 % higher fuel efficiency raises profit by 8 % for fleet owners.
The fuel efficiency drop will be much higher in city vehicles and tippers as against highway vehicles, as the duty cycles are completely different. Regeneration frequency will be much higher, as diesel needs to be burnt to remove deposits in the aftertreatment system, said Srinivas.
As far as thermal efficiency is concerned, if a vehicle is in crawling operations, the requisite temperature for vehicle to operate efficiently would not be achieved and there will be more fuel spent to clean up the emissions, he noted. Manufacturers are trying to calibrate it with lots of software involved depending on the region of operations and optimise their respective vehicles.
Fluid efficiency will also be of critical importance with stricter emission norms, as vehicles will have to optimise diesel consumption as well as using urea in the SCR system. MTB has developed on-board diagnostics to detect any possibility of urea cut-off in the system post which the system sensors will bring the vehicle to a ‘limp mode’ and move at maximum speed of 20 km/h for up to 70 km. In such a scenario, the truck will have to be serviced at the workshop. MTB is currently undertaking final stages of validation and vehicle testing in close association with Mahindra’s Automotive division (responsible for SCVs, pick-ups and passenger vehicles) before the portfolio is sent for homologation.
New axle loading norms have brought in 20 % excess capacity to the current trucking industry and the Indian government has allowed the registration of older GVW trucks as the upgraded ones. Taking a safety-focussed initiative, MTB has responded to the challenge by upgrading its 37 tonne GVW Blazo to 42 tonne GVW vehicle as it feels that there are safety issues concerning driver and other road users. Various peripherals, including steering and brakes have not been tested for a heavier GVW vehicle, which may be a safety hazard for road users, said Sahay. The company is already operating 10 bar brakes against 8 bar brakes for better vehicle control.
It is also clear that conversion of a BS IV-compliant vehicle into BS 6-compliant vehicle is not possible. MTB is also mindful about managing its inventory well; the company makes Rs 1 lakh on selling a vehicle, but also loses Rs 2.5 lakh by not selling it. The company believes that fire sales that happened during the transition from BS III to BS IV norms won’t happen during the next emission norm transition, as the speculative pre-buying is not expected to pick up momentum. Genuine pre-buying is expected to happen, but not to a great extent, largely witnessed during a transition period, amidst slowdown in the economy, observed Sahay.
MTB recently introduced a 49 tonne Blazo X Rigid truck with Blazo’s inherent advantages of higher mileage and payload. In H1 FY20, the company emerged as the number three player in the haulage segment (multi axle vehicle & + tractor trailer), across major markets such as Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east region and is now vying for the same spot in the mining segment as well. But one of the biggest challenges that MTB is facing along with the industry is the availability of BS 6-compliant fuel. The BS 6 fuel availability situation has been gradually improving; however, non-compliance of the long-pending demand for nationwide availability is also enhancing challenges for manufacturers to test vehicles, as the vehicle needs to perform robustly across diversified geographies. The industry is keenly awaiting the government’s support for BS 6 fuel availability.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja