Part of a group of customers and dealers of Hap Seng Trucks Distribution, Datuk Kumar Prabakaran, Managing Director of Giga Shipping and Nexus Carriers (Pictured fourth from left), joined a visit to Daimler India Commercial Vehicles. In an exclusive interview he spoke to Asian Trucker about his impressions during the visit, the need for reliable trucks for his operation and plans for India involving trucks.
Chennai has long been a trading post for goods send out to other parts of Asia. Even the East India Company felt that they needed to be close to the Straits of Melacca for their spice trade and Fort St George is the first English (later British) fortress in India, founded in 1644 at the coastal city of Madras, the modern city of Chennai.
Now home to what could be described as a mega factory for Daimler, it has grown to a bustling city where “Brain is cheap”, making it a preferred location for industrial companies.
Trucking and Shipping Giga Shipping and Nexus Carriers are part of a group of companies that is providing transport services for motor vehicles. Cars, trucks and buses are sent to the port via trucks, then shipped between east Malaysia and the Peninsular by ship. “As such, the trucks and ships are equally important.” Prabakaran described the services offered as complimentary with freight forwarding, land transportation and car terminal operations.
Reliability of the trucks is crucial. Ships sail on specific dates and the goods need to be at the port in time to be loaded. Daily, Nexus Carriers moves between 200 and 300 vehicles. “So far, we have not have any issues with trucks breaking down and causing problems with the ship leaving.” A car carrier can move eight Myvy-sized cars.
FUSO Puts the Incredible into Trucks Although having been to India, this was Prabakaran’s first visit to the Daimler India Commercial Vehicle plant. “I have been very impressed by what I have experienced here. For starters, I have been able to gain a lot of product knowledge,” he told Asian Trucker. Being able to see the production flow and how the trucks were made allowed him to better understand the brand’s DNA. “I would not have expected that the vehicles made here are exported to about 30 countries, including Europe. That speaks for the quality of the trucks made here.”
Testing the Drive Not normally driving trucks himself, he enjoyed taking the wheel to drive a FJ model around the test track. “I felt quiet comfortable in the FUSO truck.” One problem he faced was to know which gear he is driving in as manual gearboxes do not have an indicator for this in the dashboard. He stated that “This just shows that a professional driver needs to be skilled in order to drive fuel efficient. Just imagine you are always driving in the wrong gear.” A testament to the driver’s skills in Malaysia. According to him, the test drive was part of an evaluation as the car carrier is considering the FJ model to be integrated into the operations.
Planning the Next for Nexus Critically reflecting on what he saw at the plant, Prabakaran said that the current state of developments makes it very hard for transporters to plan ahead. “Over the next five to ten years we may see the emergence of new technologies, new fuels and ways of doing things. There is no doubt that there will be significant changes, but what and how, is unknown.” A truck purchased for Nexus Carriers is usually lasting ten years. According to him, the business is at a crossroads: Buy more trucks now or wait and see what new technology comes next.
With electric vehicles for instance, the operating cost could be reduced as there is less moving parts to be serviced and with zero fuel, costs could be reduced drastically. “Obviously, this is crucial for us as we don’t want to get stuck with an out of date fleet, which costs us more than it should.” In his view, the fuel cost is the defining factor, not the initial capital investment. Secondly, service and maintenance provided by the OEM’s after sales teams is crucial as the trucks would be sent back to the manufacturers for service. This is necessary as today’s trucks use a lot more computers and any in-house workshop may not have the expertise to do so.
Shipping and Trucking from Malaysia to India Prabakaran has been in India before, on a mission to evaluate the market for the expansion of Giga Shipping. “In Malaysia, we are already shipping motor vehicles between East Malaysia and the Peninsular. We saw an opportunity here in India.” Citing the size of the country, he saw that the automotive industries are situated in the east and west and vehicles need to be sent across the heart of the country. Using a ship to deliver big quantities of vehicles from one side to the other was an option the group considered. “You may even get some back-cargo,” he said.
At the time, about ten years ago, the infrastructure and port facilities were “pretty bad”. To make this work, each shipment needed to be about 2 500 units of vehicles while at the time, the ports were the bottlenecks. Adding to this was the low rates paid for road transportation. The fierce competition among the transporters themselves made it difficult to justify the exercise of using a ship to move vehicles.
As an anecdote Prabakaran told us that vehicles at the time were usually sold on Ex-Factory basis. Which meant that between the factory and the dealership anything could happen. For example, truckers would also carry passengers inside the cars they moved. Naturally, once a family of five had lived in a car for a few days, the vehicle is in a mess. “Eventually, we dropped this idea because of these three issues that we found.”
Incredible Project by Daimler Daimler Trucks is a major contributor of revenue to the Daimler AG (the listed holding). With over 80 000 employees, it generates some 38 Billion Euro in Revenue. When the brand looked for a strategic location to serve Asia and the rest of the world, it found a new home in India.
Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) was established in 2009 and the operations is headquartered in Oragadam near Chennai and sits on 162 ha (~400 acres) of land. What started as a greenfield project has now evolved into a major export hub with more than 4 000 employees. It is noteworthy that the first installation completed was the test track, which was opened in 2010. Addressing concerns about the branding, Daimler decided to label the vehicles made for the local markets “Bharat-Benz” whereby the brand was unveiled in 2011, one year ahead of the plant inauguration and introduction to the market