Interview: Dr. N Saravanan, Chief Technology Officer, Ashok Leyland
Published On Jun 08, 2020
Dr. Saravanan in conversations with Trucksdekho talks about how his engineering team worked behind the scene for the last four years to bring Ashok Leyland's new 'AVTR' platform from lab to road in record time. Modernising the extensive product range, coupled with new technologies was anything but easy. He reveals how the R&D team overcome the challenges and pulled this off.
Your thoughts on the changes taking place in the trucking industry?
Post the COVID era, I see a shift in the customers' behavior as to what kind of truck they would like to purchase. Perhaps customers would ask for more customized trucks of particular applications, e-commerce, fragile goods, or some other. This changing trend makes Ashok Leyland easy to serve the customers better with the 'AVTR' platform. It is tough to predict what will happen in the market, but technology advancement and more customization are easier to offer on our new platform, thus giving us an advantage.
After 3-4 years of incredible work on the new platform, the trucks are finally getting into the customers' hands. How confident are you about the work that your team has undertaken?
I'm confident about the work that we have done, for example, the validations and testing we have been able to do with our Even with our suppliers the amount of testing we have asked them to do. Hence as a combination of work undertaken gives a significant advantage in two vital areas: the reliability and durability of our trucks.
Despite this, the market is likely to be challenging over the next 6-9 months; everybody knows this; however, when we are selling the new truck, the first thing our customer knows from us is that he can customize his vehicle. Furthermore, improvements have been made on almost every element that enhances truck performance, such as tyre life, fuel economy, or even truck servicing, adding a lot of value to the customers.
We can confidently tell our customers how much he/she can save by configuring the truck and overall total cost of ownership (TCO). We believe the value that our trucks are offering can give us a significant market share.
Considering the advanced technology with new emission norms and 'AVTR' modular platform, how did the balance between cost and product offering is achieved?
Let me be clear here: Our modular platform doesn't add any cost as such. The costs come from migrating from BS4 to BS6 engine, as a platform 'AVTR' is as competitive as the earlier generation trucks without any additional cost to the customers.
Can you elaborate on the whole customization concept? Ashok Leyland has introduced this to the Indian truck buyers. How will a truck buyer order this customized truck?
First one year, we will assist the customer because, ultimately, it is a journey. Initially, the sales configuration will be available on a tablet with a sales engineer. This engineer will engage with the customer with basic questions as to what is the applications etc. I believe the use of the configuration tool will get more and more details, and at some points, the Indian market will see a situation like what happens in Europe. The customers in Europe go online, configure the truck, and he gets exactly that truck from the vehicle maker. That is the ultimate dream for us, but in various steps, the first is to engage with the customer. However, there are always tech-savvy customers, for example, the large fleet-operators, who will do it themselves.
Do you think a section of the truck customer is ready for such a shift in India? Is customization is a compelling element to buy a truck?
Yes, we have received highly encouraging responses from our dealers' partners and select customers during our launch event. Customers are excited to explore the configuration that is on offer. So yes, there is a spectrum of customers, especially the younger, educated, and tech-savvy ones are more open for such a shift.
Today, our truck portfolio consists of over 500 model variants, and nobody knows exact configuration available, so this approach to be able to configure a truck makes a good idea and selling point for our dealers too.
How will the modular platform evolve in the LCV segment?
The modular platform makes a tremendous sense in a high mix of variants and lower volumes. LCVs is a little bit of high mix with the low variant game. So modularity is typically for the M&HCV segment where the customer preferences are different and lower volumes, and hence makes a lot of sense. So LCVs will have some modularity but not the level we anticipate in the MHCVs.
How challenging for the R&D team to get the new modular truck platform ready within stipulated time along with the BS6 emission powertrain across the entire range?
Ashok Leyland is among the few OEMs which develop and manufacture its engines. This means we have strong capabilities in-house, also we're aware that the EGR technology we have chosen is quite comfortable for BS6 trucks.
We worked internally, with our sister company in Europe and some independent agencies to understand the technology before we embarked on the journey. Yet, it was challenging to put the most competitive technology on roads, I'm sure every Indian OEMs will have initial teething issues, but they will be overcome as we move ahead.
The biggest challenge was getting the entire vehicle and engine platform right. Remember, most programs don't have a deadline like the one we had, where the new 'AVTR' platform and BS6 emission. There wasn't a choice, we couldn't afford to miss the deadline, this put a lot of pressure on our team, but our teams were motivated. We had 500 engineers working for the last four years, 24x7. Usually, an engineer works in one shift, but the last one year, it becomes two shifts, and that was the intensity to meet the deadline.
Lastly, did you get any initial feedback from customers on the new truck?
Before the COVID, we had delivered more than 50 trucks to customers; unfortunately, immediately, after that, the lockdown came into effect, and hence the customer couldn't run the vehicles. Few trucks started running on the road over the last couple of weeks, and it gives us confidence with our extensive validation with customers that the trucks will exceed the expectations, for sure!