ZW spent a day out at the Volvo Bus factory near Hosakote, Bengaluru, where he had a chance to catch up with Akash Passey, Managing Director, Volvo Bus India Pvt. Ltd and talk shop as well as get a download on the latest 6x2 multi-axle B9R 9400 inter city bus that Volvo has recently launched.
ZW : How do you see the bus market shaping up in India at the moment?
Passey : The marketplace is definitely changing and I feel it's for the better. Customer demands are going up as you have the aspiring middle class who have some level of global exposure and now want to have such facilities in India. On the other hand there are environmental concerns which revolve around depletion of natural resources as well as the congestion of cities.
All of this is resulting in people opting for high quality products that can offer great mileage as well as provide excellent comfort, yet help in the decongestion of cities.
Having said that, infrastructure is improving, new expressways are being laid everyday and the need for high end buses is what we are witnessing. A completely built bus offered by a global brand like Volvo means that customers get quality, comfort and safety in one single package.
ZW : What about the demand from Northern markets? Volvo has had a delayed entry there and your presence is still not as strong as it is in traditional bus markets like South India.
Passey : The North does not have a strong private player penetration in terms of inter city transport. Furthermore, the North has been an area that we did not consciously enter when we set up shop in the country. With the Southern markets already being ahead on their demands for inter city buses as well as the fact that we ourselves are located down South meant that it would be easier for us to support and cater to these markets.
Let me add that the Northern market might not be as big as the South market is today, but it is growing and we see demand flowing in from tour operators, especially on the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit. Moreover we are gaining orders from state governments who are now opting for Volvo buses for state transport needs.
ZW : What do you have to say about the implementation of the various BRTS systems across the country?
Passey : There is still a need for an ideal BRTS system. By making two centre lanes in a road does not count as a BRTS system. A BRTS is a great system and can do wonders for in-city transport, but it requires a lot more than some bus corridors. There is need to integrate a complete IT based management system that can monitor signals as well as scheduled timings of buses on the route.
Incidentally Volvo has been a part of just about every successful BRTS system in the world and we will be a part of the Indian system as well. It's a challenge and there is much more that needs to be done.
ZW : Coming to Volvo buses in India. The company has been present for 10 years now. Where do you feel you stand?
Passey : Today we have 650 employees and are capable of manufacturing 440 buses a year. This figure is set to reach 1000 buses by 2010. We have grown steadily and have literally lead the market on luxury inter city buses and now are focusing on the in city bus business. Volvo has 38 service centres across the country, offers transport consultancy as well as runs a driver training program which has certified over 8000 drivers till date.
Volvo India literally changed the face of the bus industry in terms of offering a fully built bus, instead of a vehicle built on a truck chassis. Furthermore the concept of having a driver focus and optimizing that space has also been led by us. The ushering of safety and comfort features has also been driven by Volvo buses in India. As a brand we have brought in a sense of aspiration and feel that the possibilities that lie ahead are endless.
ZW : Could you elaborate on the product mix that Volvo has as of now?
Passey : Volvo in India offers two ranges of vehicle. You can either opt for a city bus or an inter city coach. The city bus, namely the BRLE, is a low floor bus that offers easy ingress and egress for passengers, plus it comes fitted with an automatic transmission, which makes it easy for the driver to manage in congested conditions. For inter city travel, Volvo offers the B7R which has dominated the luxury coach class in India till date. Now we have added the 6x2 Multi Axle B9R 9400 which is another step forward in the luxury coach market and just happens to be India's largest and most powerful bus till date.
Till recently we were producing around 90 per cent inter city coaches and 10 per cent city buses, but as of today and thanks to some government push the balance is more at a 50:50 mix of both products.