It was in 2008, Ashok Leyland announced its intentions in getting into growing Light Commercial Vehicles segment, with a joint venture with Nissan. Predominantly, Ashok Leyland is strong in medium and heavy duty trucks and buses and it was a logical step for expanding the product portfolio. The first product was a 2.5T Small Commercial vehicle, Dost, was launched in September 2011. Dost enjoyed a great reception and the mini truck, in its first full fiscal year of sales, had sold a cumulative 34,917 units in the 12 states where it was marketed. The Dost had a market share of 19 percent in the 2-3.5-tonne category during that time and subsequent to Diesel version, Dost was launched in CNG as well. Dost also quickly crossed a 1 lk milestone in 2015 which included exports to 11 countries.
Subsequently, Dost network was expanded and continued to see at around 2500 units monthly with a pan India market share of ~15%. Post buying out the stake from Nissan, early this year Mr.Vinod Dasasi, Managing Director, Ashok Leyland committed to launch one new LCV product in every quarter and set an ambitious target of selling 5000 LCV’s every month. With refreshed Partner a 7.5T truck and Mitr – Bus, launched this year, time for upgrading Dost – Dost Plus.
Need for Dost Plus
The LCV segment which constitutes to nearly 60% of Indian Commercial vehicle Industry is sub segmented into various price and product nodes. Current Dost is operating in 2.5T category and is used in both Intercity and Intracity application. Thanks to its frugal engine, Dost was very popular long distance application, say vegetable transportation from Cochin to Coimbatore a distance of 200 kms. Though Dost was homologated for 2.5T and had a payload recommendation of 1.25T, Dost was very much used in over loading applications in the Intercity application. With 170,000 units of Dost currently running in roads, there is a need for higher tonnage of Dost to cater to specific application and to bring in new Customer base. So instead of selling a same product for various application, Ashok Leyland sensed the product gap and developed Dost Plus with a GVW of 2750 Kgs and a payload of 1475 Kgs.
Interestingly Dost, which is sold in Export markets including Srilanka is already available in 2850 Kgs, for the Independent front suspension variant and 3000 Kgs for rigid front axle variant. There, its actually no much of change in the specifications, but its more related to homologation.
The main competitor for Dost is the market leader Mahindra Bolero Maxi Truck and is widely used in overloading and in high range application. By developing a variant in Dost, Ashok Leyland is targeting a new set of Customers at the upper end of SCV Market who wanted to have higher payload and still wanted to have a mini truck instead of pick up trucks. Also by bringing out a variant, Ashok Leyland will have a increase in overall sales volume as well, though there might be cannibalisation from existing sales as well.
With the two Dost variants, the company will be able to address a bigger customer base in the LCV segment, which is poised to grow with the improving economy, focus on hub-and-spoke transportation, and growth in the organised retail, ecommerce and related industries. With a GVW of 275o kgs, Dost Plus is the only mini truck in this side of SCV space ie near to 3T. Compared to pickup’s mini trucks are smaller in length and have a better turning circle radius and have its own level of comfort in operating inside tight space in markets, village roads, and hence Dost has an advantage as well – Dost Plus has a TCD of 4.8m which is equivalent to that of Maruti Swift.
Dost Vs Dost Plus
Dost Plus will essentially share the same engine and drive line with slight tweaking in the power ratings and drive ratios. The 1.5L Turbo Direct Common Rail engine in Dost Plus, will now be developing 60 hp@ 3300 rpm of power and a torque of 170 Nm @ 1600 rpm to 2400 rpm as against a power of 58 hp @ 3300 rpm and torque of 157.5 Nm @ 1600 rpm to 2400 rpm of outgoing Dost.
The major work for Dost Plus has taken place at the chassis level. Ashok Leyland Dost which was initially launched with independent front suspension was further strengthened with rigid front axle. This is now carried forward. The front suspension will now have 3 Nos parabolic leaf spring and rear suspension will have 6 Nos semi elliptical leaf spring up from 2 nos parabolic leaf spring and 3 nos semi elliptical leaf springs of Dost.
Dost Plus wheel base is extended to 2510 mm from 2350 mm of Dost, making more room for larger load body. Load body of Dost Plus now measures 2645 mm x 1620 mm x 380 mm (LxBxH) which is better than the ongoing Dost which has load body dimensions of 2500 mm x 1620 mm x 380 mm. Infact now the Dost Plus load body is bigger than the market leader, in this case Bolero Maxx Truck. Dost is offered with 185 R 14 LT, 8 ply rating radial tyres while the Dost Plus is migrated to 195 R15 LT, 8PR radial tubeless tyres.
Visually there are minor differences like, you see an extended wheel arch over and above the cabin to prevent mud splashing, as the tyres are now wider. The most striking difference is the dual tone front panel which is actually neat and gives a strong visual difference to Dost plus from its sibling.
Engine and drive line
Considering the application of this mini truck in both Intra city and Inter city, we planned our test route within the city as well as in the outskirts of ECR, Chennai. We loaded the truck to a good 2000 Kgs slightly higher than the payload of 1850 Kgs and it helped to understand the performance of Dost Plus in a much better way.
The strong USP of Dost is its engine and Dost Plus has clearly monetised the same. The truck was good to drive with full load and definitely was not stalling the traffic in the city, with full load. In the highways, we were clearly reaching easy and quick top speeds. Though the torque band slightly starts at a higher 1600 RPM but still stays till 24oo rpm. As seen, there is minimal increase in power and torque from the existing engine but still, with rightly matched gear ratios, truck easily pulls, from as low as 20 Kmph in third gear. The 5 speed fully synchromesh overdrive gear box has matching ratios which are neither too shorter nor wider and hence gives optimal performance.
The engine is neither refined nor so smooth, and you will still hear a good clatter when you start the engine and run in it idle rpm. But when you pick up speed and continue to run at higher rpm’s, you don’t feel its strained. Moreover the refinement don’t go from good to bad and then to worst at higher rpm but maintains a constant level. The best of this engine was seen in the highway, and we understood why these trucks are giving tough fight to medium sized cars.As we know in India, the truck engines are never built for high speeds and their drive line is more suitable for long haul. But in case of Dost Plus, we felt more comfortable even when we revved to top speed.
The Dost delivers a best in class fuel performance of 19.9 Kmpl which is atleast 15% higher than the nearest competitor. Ashok Leyland has worked on this new engine with a boundary condition of delivering rather retaining best in class fuel performance.
Chassis, Suspension and Brakes
The major work is done in the chassis, considering the fact that Customer will further overload the truck when its available at 2750 kgs GVW (Infact we have already seen an Ad in Olx with Dost Plus, for passing load of 4T in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry) Providing a rigid front suspension was a major upgradation in the Dost and has helped a lot in this variant.
Wheel base is now stretched by 160mm to 2510 mm and increase in wheel base means more stronger and rigid frame and subsequently should be durable. This is taken care with additional stiffeners and working on chassis parts.
A comparison with parabolic springs and coils springs will show, only the coil springs are more comfortable than parabolic springs. However, coil springs which are often attached only to a single point of the chassis, at times have the disadvantage when it comes to load distribution. While Xenon Yodha and Bolero Maxi truck offers semi elliptical leaf springs, Isuzu D max and Genio offers independent front axle setup with coil springs.
The increased number of parabolic springs in front suspension and semi elliptical springs in the rear suspension, did increase the height of truck. But still, Dost has the best in class lower loading height of 2.7 ft and largely helps easy loading of goods.Dost Plus has a vacuum assisted hydraulic booster brakes with Load Sensing Proportioning Valve (LSPV). LSPV is located in the brake system for the rear wheels, and it functions to control the brake fluid pressure from the master cylinder, in response to the vehicle load, and prevents early locking of the rear wheels. Dost Plus has ventilated discs at front and drums at rear. The 15″ tyres with 195 section tubeless radials is a welcome addition to the Dost and will further augment its strong chassis.
Dost Plus retains the same cabin from Dost and with same features. It means, the dual tone dash board, Air conditioning and wider Co.driver seats are retained.By flipping the driver and Co. driver seat, driver can sleep inside the cabin. Plastic quality, fit and finish, gap and flush of plastic parts are much better in standards of truck. The cabin has a sliding rear window, 12v mobile charging point and a lockable glove box. The base model LE has a single tone dashboard while the other two variants has beige and grey dual tone dash board.
AC effect was good, though we had a raining weather on the day of test drive. We noticed a problem of higher noise inside the cabin when we drive with AC on. The cabin had barely thin layer of floor mat and we were almost sitting above the engine, hence large amount of noise filtered into cabin. Add, AC blower noise with that and at times we felt it was slightly high that we need to unwind the window. Though the volume of AC in overall sales is slightly less, a good sound deadener in the cabin will ensure a comfortable journey to Customers who buys AC variant. View from the cabin was good with minimal hindrance from the A Pillars.
Dost Plus has three important safety features. The Load sensing proportioning valve with booster brakes aids better braking, the front impact absorption bar helps reduces frontal collision impact and ELR (Emergency Locking Retractor) seat belts ensures drive safety.
City and highway Driving
Overall we drove for around 120 kms of which around 40 Kms was within city in peak hours at 10.00 AM in Chennai. What we wanted to know, was how Dost takes off from signal, and how frequently we need a gear shift and most importantly the quality of gear shift including clutch pedal effort. The take off from Zero is definitely worth mentioning and similarly in gear acceleration is also good. Optimal power band from engine and matched gear ratios ensured ease of driving in city . Overall it was quite good to drive in city traffic with 240mm, diaphragm type single plate clutch, with minimum down shifts. In fact our support vehicle was another Dost and it wasn’t loaded, but still we kept driving comfortably without much lagging in city as well as highway.
Subsequently we hit highway in the ECR. The idea of driving at high speed is essentially not to check the top speed but to understand the steering and suspension capabilities. Loading the truck to 2000 kgs and pushing it for a top speed should have been a tough job. But it wasn’t. Once the road is clear, you shift gears, then you start to sail over 75 Kmph and little push, then you touch 90 Kmph. Normally driving these small trucks at high speeds has its own challenges, that too when fully loaded. The first will be hard to accelerate, and next will be even more hard to brake. Having ventilated discs at front and large drums at rear, we didn’t plan heavily to brake and had safe cornering and adequate braking.
One reason for a driving comfortably and confidently at higher speeds was Parabolic suspension at the front. Compared to conventional leaf springs, parabolic springs are able to resist more compression and have better flexibility. The flexibility results to better ride quality. The vertical speed movements are also easier to adjust with these types of springs. Due to the structure and components involved, parabolic springs are also lighter. This is an important factor when the priority is for maximum performance.
Product Pricing and Pricing
Ashok Leyland has priced Dost Plus starting from Rs.5.54 lks, Ex Showroom Chennai for LE variant with manual steering. The power steering variant LS is priced at Rs.5.74 lks and AC variant with Rs. 6.04 lks. With a incremental price of Rs.30,000/- compared to Dost, Ashok Leyland is offering Dost Plus with 18% higher payload, 7% more loading space. Its to be noted that Dost was priced higher than any of its competitor but still is selling good, a equivalent spec’s Bolero Maxi Truck is priced between Rs.5.27 lks and Rs.5.47 lks.
Ashok Leyland though has a 15% overall market share with Dost, has a higher market share of close to 44% in Telangana, and similarly in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka has close to 30% market share. With the launch of Dost Plus, Ashok Leyland aims to strengthen its presence in these states and reach a considerable share in other states especially in the eastern parts. The mini truck is good in many aspects, and will have considerable sales volumes, but the only problem for Ashok Leyland is it should not cannibalise the existing sales. The LCV sales team should clearly suggest Dost and Dost Plus for their intended applications like how their counterparts in M&HCV do. By creating awareness among Customers and making a strong entry, new volumes will definitely flow in. Dost Plus, has come in the right time of GST implementation and hub and spoke goods movement and is definitely worth a buy.