Daimler Buses follows 2-fold product strategy in India

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India’s longest luxury coach further improved: new-generation Mercedes-Benz 2441 SHD coach with even more power and comfort was launched in Chennai recently. Thomas Fricke, Managing Director Daimler Buses India, who was present at the occasion, said “As the Indian bus market is evolving, we lead the shift with products that meet global standards of performance and safety. With superior technology, we aim to be the benchmark in terms of total cost of ownership, safety and comfort.”

With the presentation of the new-generation of its flagship product, the Mercedes-Benz 2441 SHD (Super High Deck) Automatic coach, Daimler Buses India raises the bar further in the segment. The coach, which measures 15 meters, comes with even more power and comfort thanks to an upgrade to higher power (+50 hp) with automatic transmission, which provides for further improved fuel efficiency and an even smoother and quieter ride for passengers at the same time.

The Mercedes-Benz 2441 SHD Automatic luxury coach offers a high seating capacity of up to 59 pushback seats and 14 cubic meters of luggage space. Built with a unique aluminique body, it is the lightest vehicle in its class. With an active steerable tag axle, it features a low turning circle diameter to effortlessly navigate sharp turns and bends. It also has an advanced braking system and a strategically positioned fuel tank for added safety. Additionally, a thermostat based fire detection system has also been provided for in the Engine compartment.

Apart from that, it has also been ensured that there is enough open space for movement. The wide door and a gangway gives ample space for comfortable movement in the bus and the floor construction enables easy movement in the spacious interiors of these buses. The seat pitch is 960 mm wide and offers great leg space for the passengers to stretch their legs during long journeys.

Daimler Buses India, a unit of Daimler Buses under the umbrella of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV), is moving ahead on its sustainable growth path. For 2018, Daimler Buses India expects a continuing positive development of unit sales. Daimler Buses India’s product portfolio comprises BharatBenz 9-tonne buses in the school, staff and tourist bus subsegments, Mercedes-Benz 15-meter multi-axle luxury coaches and bus chassis for the 9, 16 and  24-tonne segments. Bus chassis for the 9 and 16-tonne segments are also exported to markets in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South East Asia.

Automotive Script spoke to Thomas Fricke, MD, Daimler Buses India about their strategies in India and the importance of the Indian market for them. With BharatBenz and Mercedes-Benz coaches at its disposal, Daimler Buses India has a well-defined product strategy to cater to the diverse market segments in the country. “We are catering to the domestic market with a twofold strategy.  BharatBenz front-engine buses and bus chassis are designed to meet the needs of the 9t and 16t volume segments. For the above 20t premium segment we have Mercedes-Benz rear-engine coaches and chassis,” Fricke said.

The Mercedes-Benz 2441 SHD (Super High Deck) Automatic coach is its flagship product. “It’s a fantastic vehicle; initial customer response has been promising. With the new generation, we raise the bar further in the segment – more power, further improved fuel efficiency and smoother and quieter ride for passengers,” he said.

The company pins its hopes for further growth on the positive customer response. In 2017, Daimler Buses India sold more than 900 units in India, 80 percent over 2016 figures. “In addition to this, our exports to all relevant regions – Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South East Asia – accounted for 30 percent of our overall volume already,” he said. During this period, the total domestic bus market saw a decrease of 18 percent.

Daimler has been getting accustomed to the Indian fiscal and environmental regulatory systems.  “Last year’s transitions to BS-IV and the new GST were landmark developments in the regulatory landscape that required a lot of attention, I am very happy with the way we mastered those challenges. What we would like to see less are unexpected policy changes like a sudden hike in import duties. For businesses, it is important to have a clear planning horizon which they can rely on when making decisions that need to hold good for a number of years at the minimum,” Fricke said.

Daimler Buses has long-term plans for India as it is the second largest bus market in the world after China. “The long-term outlook is very positive, and we expect to benefit from further regulatory upgrades like the Bus Body Code. The market and the expectations of customers will continue to evolve, and we want to lead the shift with products that meet global standards of performance and safety,” he said.

In order to be competitive, the company is paying more attention to the localisation of components. “We are in a position to leverage the competencies of the highly capable Indian supply base that includes many excellent suppliers of chassis and body components. Overall, we stand at more than 80 percent, and this will grow further,” Fricke said. He said the established automotive cluster in India with skilled labour was a big advantage.

Daimler Buses India’s operations are located within the site of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles in Oragadam near Chennai. “Our modern manufacturing plant includes assemblies for frames and bodies as well as a paint shop where our customers can choose from about 200 exterior colours. Our vehicle testing operations on our modern test track which simulates various road conditions, is just next to the plant – that’s a real benefit,” he said.

Speaking about South India, being a preferred Automotive hub, Fricke said, “The South is not only our home base in terms of production, but also a region in which we source a lot and where many of our customers are located. The established automotive cluster with skilled labour is a big advantage. In terms of challenges, a deep-water harbour that can serve large RoRo vessels would be beneficial for our industry.”

Fricke is happy with the current portfolio, and the company has no plan for further investment before the transition to BS-VI in 2020. “In terms of production capacity, we are currently at 1,500 units for complete buses, which we can expand to 4,000 units when required. For chassis, we have additional capacities in place. So, we feel we are very well positioned for the next couple of years,” he said.

Answering questions about the plunge into electric buses in India, Fricke said, “we believe that in India in the segments we serve – 9t and above inter-city buses and coaches – clean BS-VI buses and coaches will deliver a better cost/benefit ratio in the next couple of years than electric vehicles. The success of electric vehicles will depend on massive upgrades of the general electric infrastructure. And the required power should come from renewable sources – otherwise the total ecological balance does not make sense. However, we have full access to all the know-how of Daimler Buses as a global technology leader also in e-vehicles.”

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