Ten years back, there wasn’t JNnurm funds for bus procurement, Urban Bus Specification wasn’t formed, there was nothing called AIS 052. But there was a need for fully built buses, and Tata motors understood the crux, and formed a JV, Tata Marcopolo Motors Limited. Tata Marcopolo Motors Limited (TMML) is a 51:49 joint venture company between Tata Motors Ltd. (TML) India and Marcopolo S.A. Brazil for manufacturing of buses in India. Guided by the vision to be “Growth with Quality”, the JV has simply transformed the way Tata is building buses.
This JV has been taking help with technology and expertise in chassis and aggregates from Tata Motors, and know-how in processes and systems for bus body design and body building from Marcopolo, Brazil. Established in 2007, over 80000 Tata Marcopolo buses ply on Indian roads, since the first bus rolled out from Lucknow. The Company’s manufacturing base in India is spread across Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and Dharwad (Karnataka). Both companies actively participate in the management.
The buses conform to Indian and International standards in quality and safety, and are marketed not only in India but also in all Tata Motors focused markets globally.
The foundation of the Company’s growth over the last 5 years is a deep understanding of customer needs and the ability to translate them into customer-desired offerings through leading edge Engineering, New Product Introductions with the help of Tata Motors and Marcopolo.
The only Bus JV sustained for ten years
When Volvo entered India, Volvo partnered with Azad Bangalore for bus body building. B7R Mk1 was built by Azad and soon after that Volvo started making bodies in house.
Ashok Leyland was futuristic as well and partnered with Irizar, Spain for body building, a similar announcement and plant was inaugurated in Trichy. But the partners didn’t use the strengths of each other to move forward. While there was a JV and a plant available, Ashok Leyland indeed was developing its own body building plant in Alwar. The JV soon got dissolved and Irizar packed its bags to Europe. Daimler launched Mercedes Benz coach with a partnership with Sutlej, Punjab in 2010. With mounting issues in body and chassis, the product didn’t live upto Customer’s expectation.
The JV only helped Sutlej to develop its own range. Similarly for producing city buses, Mercedes Benz partnered with MCV and a company MCV Bus and Coach Indian was formed in 2010. Apart from manufacturing a handful of buses from Pune plant, the JV didn’t take forward.
But Daimler’s didn’t give up and invited Wright Bus from UK in 2013 to India to built buses and coaches in Chennai. Soon after the launch and building few buses the Wright Bus left India, making Daimler to take control on bus plant.
With so much failures in the bus related partnerships and joint ventures in India, Tata and Marcopolo have slowly, steadily moved forward and today is a successful JV.
The only other company which is fairly doing well in terms of partnership is ACGL, though this is yet to match the levels of Tata Marcopolo
Developments in Chassis
Tata Marcopolo has helped Tata motors, to concentrate more on the chassis, which essentially means a concentrated effort towards new product development.If not there wasn’t a JV, Tata would have struggled managing the volumes of JNnurm 1 and further orders it received from various cities as a part of BRTS implementation. India is now in the eve of electrical bus transportation and public transport will be the first to ‘become electrified’ even before private transportation.
More work is happening towards, alternate fuels like CNG – Hybrid, Hydrogen Fuel Cell etc. The technology for this is not available off the shelf and needs to be developed.
Tata is spending its resources towards these kind of chassis development making it nimble footed in the present scenario. Through the JV, TMML has acquired skills of product innovation, process innovation in introducing world-class buses, with the most relevant global technologies. The advanced engineering and design facility with automated machine shops at TMML delivers accurate dimensions of bus parts, with a focus on developing world-class buses. Tata Marcopolo’s Dharwad plant has an installed capacity of 15,000 buses per annum while its plant at Lucknow has a capacity of 3,000 buses per annum.
Unlike passeger car manufacturing, bus body building is more of fabrication industry. Most of the parts including, dash board, foot steps, doors are fabricated. But being a organised player, Tata Marcopolo ensured most of the parts are tooled up. When the parts are tooled up, the quality and repeatability are consistent.
When parts are tooled up, in case of any repair and replacement in the field, the parts availability is ensured. This made things looks easy, when dedicated bus sales and service centres by the name ” Bus Zone” was launched by Tata. Also, thoughtful features like vertical sliding windows in city buses, ensured more air flow for the given window aperture size.
Quality and Critiscism
Though the JV has lot of credits, there exists a criticism as well. Firstly when the semi low floor 900mm floor buses were manufactured, drivers complained about the poor visibility through front windscreen and driver side windows. The accessibility and window aperture sizes weren’t helping either. Same issues were reported when the buses were supplied to HRTC as well.
Also some STU’s like Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC), Chennai insisted for metal front facia, but wasn’t provided and Tata has to take a penalty for the difference in value. These are smaller issues in comparison to the huge levels of consistent quality in the body the JV have delivered. Especially there is no major failures in the body supplied in the buses funded through JNnurm1.
Within a decade, the Indo-Brazilian JV has delivered over 80,000 buses in India and abroad as it continues to drive growth in the domestic market. The recent development (though a year old) at TMML is the new 12 m luxury intercity coach Magna which is a reflection of the company’s effort to bridge the gap between the value and luxury segments by offering an attractive and feature-rich proposition at costs, significantly lower than the premium space.
Multi axle coach is one segment which has got a huge attraction and carries a high brand perception. If not with Paradiso G7, the attempt from Tata to develop Multi axle coach would have got criticism. Though the chassis is getting validated, the body looks alluring.
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Though we understand the JV is limited to building on Tata chassis only, there exists a huge opportunity in the open market as well. Unlike West, Indian bus market does’t have any organised player in the bus body building. With tougher bus body building norms like AIS 052 around the corner, there exists a huge opportunity, if Marcopolo plans to make bus bodies for open market. In next couple of years, the bus volume is likely to be doubled and only bigger companies will be able to meet the market requirements in terms of quality, timeline and regulations. Its to be mentioned that Tata – Cummins has a plant which makes engines only for Tata but Cummins has independent plant in Pune and sells in open market. A similar approach can be looked at if there is no legal issues.
With so much variants and body options from Tata Marcopolo, there isn’t a second word than to call “Marcopolo is the face of Indian buses”.