Chennai/New Delhi: A 23-year-old employee at Ashok Leyland Ltd, S. Venkat Subramanian, is among the brains behind I-bus, the concept vehicle that was unveiled at the Auto Expo in Delhi and costs a steep Rs60 lakh.
The manager for customer group (buses) and involved in new product development projects at Ashok Leyland said it is an outcome of the company’s young executives programme, which brought together 25 executives, all under 26, to create an innovative offering from the company.
“They (young executives) are not conditioned by past experiences. Thus, they come out with bold and innovative ideas,” says J.N. Amrolia, executive director of human resources at Ashok Leyland.
Members of the team say the project was born informally over cups of coffee and after-work chats. Team members, chosen from across functions, then convened a brainstorming session where they tried to zero in on what they could possibly build.
“We wanted to touch millions of lives,” says Subramanian, who joined the company in 2005 as trainee graduate engineer. The team ended up opting to design a bus because it had the potential to “create the maximum impact on the public.”
The “I-bus team” travelled by local buses of Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation, taking various bus routes and occupying different seats at different points of time as they tried to identify “pain points” for those who take—and avoid taking—buses. An email survey of 600, all between 20 and 25, people who don’t use public transport services for commuting was also commissioned. Some questions asked in the survey were: Is it the crowds?; Is it the climate; Is it body odours?
The outcome: many people didn’t use public transport because of sweaty conditions, an inability to use that commute time for other tasks and, surprisingly, because they didn’t see using buses as a dignified way of travelling.
But those surveyed also said they would pay more and use public transport if they got better services. For example, if user charges are Rs5 for a 5km-bus travel, people were willing to pay up to Rs15 for the same distance, according to the team’s survey.
“All this led us to think: how do we personalize one’s experience within the ambit of the mass transport system?” says Barat Rajgopalan, who works as a deputy manager.
The concept I-bus offers drivers who have to constantly shift gears in city traffic a clutch-free system for changing gears. Live television screens also double up as possible ad revenue opportunities, including ads that could run when the bus is approaching a particular mall, for instance.
The project took three months to plan and another eight months to execute. The ‘I’ in the I-bus stands for innovation, intelligence and Indian, the group says.