Commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturers such as Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra and Piaggio are gunning for a competitive play in the light truck segment, as it remains the only category still reporting respectable growth.
The goods and passenger (commercial) carrying light four-wheeler, made popular by the Tata Ace, clocks volumes in excess of 32,000 units every month, even as the rest of the CV market continue to struggle. The growth has, thus, attracted the attention of existing and new manufacturers, who believe the scope in the 'last mile' segment is substantial, considering the expectations on infrastructure and allied activities in the country.
Piaggio Vehicles, the Indian subsidiary of the Italian company, will be increasing its focus on the four-wheeler segment with the launch of a couple of products to take on the likes of Tata’s Ace and Mahindra’s Maxximo. The Pune-based company is introducing a new brand, Porter, in this space 0.5-0.7 tonne) to complement the existing Ape brand. Ravi Chopra, chairman and managing director, said: "Sometime at the end of this month or April, we will be putting into the market a vehicle called the Porter 600. In the market today, the Tatas have a vehicle called Zip and Mahindra have the Gio; in that category, the Porter 600 will be launched."
This will be shortly followed by a larger version of the same vehicle, the Porter 1000. The capacity of this carrier will be 800-850 kg.. “That product is also going to come out by the end of this month,” added Chopra.
Piaggio has a strong brand recall in the three-wheeler segment, being the market leader in the goods carrying segment. The Porter vehicle is being sourced from Europe, with indigenous changes. Engine manufacturer Greaves Cotton will provide a small capacity engine for the Porter 600; for the Porter 1000, Piaggio will provide its own. Passenger (commercial) carrying versions of the Porter could also be expected, in the same segment as the Tata Magic.
Chopra says his company has also developed a bigger engine with a peak power of 50 Hp, to be used when Piaggio decides to enter the sub-1.5 tonne segment where products such as the Tata Super Ace and Ashok Leyland Dost are retailed.
The competition, however, is not sitting quietly. Market leader Tata Motors will launch at least six variants of the Ace and Magic -- two or three each of the Magic Iris and Ace Zip, and two variants of the Super Ace -- over a year.
Chennai-based Ashok Leyland, the country’s third largest CV maker, is readying derivatives of the Dost LCV, including a passenger van and perhaps a commercial passenger vehicle.
First of several products born of Leyland’s joint venture with Japan's Nissan, the Dost is presently clocking volumes of 3,000 units a month.
Mumbai-based Mahindra & Mahindra recently launched a refurbished version of the Maxximo LCV to tide over the current slump in its sales.
It is also working on a number of products in the mini truck segment, which could be launched in the coming months.
Data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers show nine per cent growth in sales of such light trucks (including passenger vehicles) for the period April 2012-February 2013, at 325,750 units as against 299,022 units sold in the same period last year.