Mumbai: Vehicle manufacturer Hino Motors Sales India Pvt. Ltd will start selling its inter-city luxury buses from April after a four-month delay, a company official said.
The joint venture between Hino Motors Ltd, the commercial vehicle arm of Toyota Motor Corp., and Japanese trading firm Marubeni Corp. had to defer its December launch because of a delay in the so-called homologation process, said Amol J. Sandil, executive vice-president, Hino Motors Sales India.
Homologation is the certification process for imported vehicles to ensure these are roadworthy and match government criteria.
“We should have sold at least 20 buses by now, ” said Sandil.
Hino plans to import the buses in semi-knocked-down form from the parent firm’s Thailand factory. JCBL India Pvt. Ltd, a coach building firm at Mohali, a Chandigarh suburb, will assemble the buses.
Sandil said the company plans to introduce up to 20 units initially, and import more depending on the response.
The launch will put Hino in the ranks of global and domestic manufacturers such as Volvo India Pvt. Ltd, Mercedes-Benz India Pvt. Ltd, Tata Motors Ltd and Ashok Leyland Ltd which are increasing their presence in India’s luxury coach segment.
Sandil expects the segment, which currently sells 1,200-1,500 units a year, to grow to 5,000 units by 2014. The inter-city bus segment is dominated by Volvo, which sold 120 units in 2009.
The government’s National Highway Development Programme has given a push to long-distance travel by road. Bus makers are launching high-end models that offer greater comfort, to take advantage of improved connectivity.
V.G. Ramakrishnan, senior director (automotive and transportation) at research and consulting firm Frost and Sullivan India, said while the pace of infrastructure development will be critical for the segment, “the affordability factor will outweigh the rest” as railways are a strong competitor on these routes.
Hino Motors commenced its India operations in 2008. It currently sells the FL8J and FM8J chassis models, which can be used for hauling heavy cargo and in tippers used by the mining and construction sector. Hino Motors does not have assembling facilities in India and relies on third-party assembly firms.
Sandil admits the sales of trucks—180 units since their launch in November—has been slow. He attributes it to the misreading of a market in which tippers are in greater demand than tractor trailers used for hauling heavy cargo.
“We are currently in the process of re-planning its product mix,” he said, adding that Hino India would now focus on tipper applications. A slowdown in demand from Andhra Pradesh, which was identified as one of the firm’s key markets, was also a reason for truck volumes not picking up, he said.