CNG bus market

If it is laid down that diesel is a bad fuel on environmental grounds, TELCO's interests in the diesel car market would suffer. Hence it is reluctant to strongly enter the CNG bus arena, say market analysts

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

CNG bus market

 CNG bus chasses at the Ashok< The Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (telco), one of the two leading diesel bus manufacturers in India, is clearly not very happy with the cng solution. The company has been still looking for a chance to negotiate for diesel. Since April 1999, when the Supreme Court began to address the diesel versus cng issue for Delhi buses, telco used every opportunity to project diesel as a more viable option. On April 29, 1999, the court heard the Bhure Lal committee's suggestion of restricting the registration of diesel cars in Delhi. Fali Nariman, counsel for telco and a member of the Rajya Sabha, argued that if diesel pollutes, so does petrol, and that both should be restricted. He insinuated that the committee's recommendation smacked of a bias against diesel.

telco didn't give up even after the court refused to dilute its stand on cng . On January 31, 2001, the court clarified that Euro ii diesel taxis could ply in the Capital. The telco counsel was quick to take up on that and argue for Euro ii diesel buses. The plea wasn't entertained. When the matter began to look serious in March 2001, Nariman waived yet another study to contend that diesel emissions could be better than those from cng . These frantic efforts point clearly to a campaign of the diesel industry to promote diesel, even if this is at the cost of public health.

One might wonder: why is telco so opposed to cng ? One possible explanation to this is that the company is desperately trying to protect its shrinking share in the bus market -- at any cost. Though still the largest seller of buses in India, telco is losing its market share to its competitor Ashok Leyland, which is close to capturing half the market share (see table: TELCO's market blues ). The total sales of buses in the country declined by as much as 20 per cent between 1997 and 1998, and further by 5 per cent between 1998 and 1999. The year 2000 saw a marked rise in sales -- the total sales in January-September 2000 were more than the total sales in 1999 -- probably due to booking orders after the cng order in the capital. Again, there was hardly any difference between the sales figures of the two companies -- Ashok Leyland sold 11,471 and telco sold 11,889 buses in January-September 2000.

The court order of July 28, 1998, of augmenting the city bus fleet to 10,000 and moving them to cng offered a huge cng market on a platter to the two competitors. Ashok Leyland immediately saw a business opportunity. It is making a dent in the market of northern India that has traditionally been a telco stronghold. telco resisted the move towards cng and lost out on the beginners' advantage. Being a market leader at the last count, they have booked orders for about 4,600 cng buses as on April 5, 2001, according to their claim. Ashok Leyland claims to have booked 2,051.
Protecting the diesel car market Market observers say telco's reluctance in ceasing upon the cng market is due to the larger implication this would have for its share of the diesel car market, which telco entered only in 1999 with its model Indica. If it is established on environmental grounds that diesel is bad and should be discouraged, this would also affect the regulations for diesel passenger cars. telco realises that if a particular quality of diesel gets accepted as 'clean' fuel, this will keep the Indica going. It is probably because of these considerations that telco has been cautious on cng .

It is hardly surprising that telco's position on cng is cautious. Down To Earth sent a questionnaire to the two companies, asking them if they viewed cng as a key strategy to reduce air pollution and the risk it poses to public health. Ashok Leyland categorically said that it does. telco was more controlled in its response: "Our belief is that a holistic approach is required to reduce air pollution. Most advanced countries... seek to control vehicular emissions by advocating fuel balance aimed at reducing the harmful emissions from all fuels. Use of any one fuel alone would result in excessive emissions which are peculiar to that fuel."

TELCO's market blues
Ashok leyland,more positive about CNG,is gaining India's market share at the cost of TELCO,which has constantly promoted diesel
Year BUS MARKET SHARE(percentage) Percentage difference
TELCO Ashok Leyland
1995 62.38 37.62   65
1996 64.49 35.5 70.44
1997 55.86 44.1 26.56
1998 54.54 45.46 19.99
1999 55.70 44.30 25.74
2000* 50.89 49.11   3.64
Source:compiled from data provided by the Society for Indian Automobile manufacturers
*Data for January-September

Reluctant to convert
Both the manufacturers have decided not to convert old diesel engines to run on cng . They would rather retrofit new cng engines to old diesel buses. J N Amrolia, executive director of Ashok Leyland, says, "We have suggested replacement of the diesel engine by a new cng engine to derive the benefit of a factory-built and tested product, duly checked for power and emissions. Field conversions do not offer this advantage."

telco is also explicit on this. V Krishnan, vice president (corporate communication), says, "Our research and development wing does not recommend conversion of old 697 engines to cng as they belong to the older generation, which will entail substantial structural changes and modifications. The impact this will have on safety and reliability of these vehicles and availability of infrastructure for conversion are also issues that we have considered." telco is proposing retrofitment on the Tata Cummins Euro 16 BT engine to the Tata Cummins 6B cng engine. This would require considerable modifications on the frame, wiring harness, body and other aggregates. telco says retrofitment would cost about Rs 7.25 lakh per bus, apart from taxes. But Ashok Leyland quotes the price at Rs 6.4 lakh without taxes, and has received 180 retrofitment orders. For those opting for new buses, a new telco cng bus chassis will cost about Rs 10.29 lakh plus taxes and an Ashok Leyland bus would cost Rs 10.84 lakh inclusive of all taxes.

While telco and Ashok Leyland are reluctant to enter the conversion market, Telco's joint venture partner Cummins is likely to enter the conversion market on its own to do both conversion of old buses and retrofitment. Other detractors
Among those unhappy with the cng order are those who have been advocating high capacity, specially designed urban buses for Delhi. In 1997-98, when the Supreme Court passed the order on cng , the Delhi transport department was considering a proposal to get such buses manufactured by Volvo. Among the supporters of this project were Rajendra Gupta, the then transport minister of Delhi, and experts such as Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. Mohan, who believes that high-capacity urban buses are an answer to Delhi's commuting blues, is unhappy because he thinks such buses cannot run on cng as they have low floors that do not allow for enough space for cng cylinders. But, clearly, technology is developing at a fast rate, as is evident from the proposal from Optaire (India) Private Limited, which has offered to lease out specially designed urban buses running on cng for the Delhi Transport Corporation. But Mohan complains that these might still not be high capacity urban buses.

But by moving to cng today, emissions from buses can be brought down to lower than those from Euro iv -compliant diesel vehicles. The emission levels of buses manufactured by the Ashok Leyland have already shown to be lower than Euro iv standards, even when engine technology is not as efficient as the advanced lean-burn technology. In fact, the International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles has shown how emission levels of the cng trucks with more advanced technology are much cleaner. Particulate emissions from cng vehicles are so negligible that these are not even regulated.

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