MG Group, one of India’s largest bus building companies, has recently unveiled its first special application coach (tarmac coach) – ‘Columbus’ and the flagship premium coach ‘Mammoth’.
Columbus is the first-of-its-kind, fully monocoque ultra-low flat-floor tarmac coach developed currently for international markets with a passenger entry floor height at as low as 290 mm (after kneeling). With its smartly designed cabin space, the coach offers swift passenger entry and exit with five passenger doors (three at LH side and two at RH side). The reliable drive line aggregates from ZF and Cummins, a fully composite and leak-proof roof panel and soothing interiors beautifully lit with LEDs, make it a product of global standards.
MG Group forayed into bus building in 1996 with MG Automotives Pvt. Ltd. in Zaheerabad, Telangana, spread over 21,000 sq metres with an annual installed capacity of 12,000 buses. The company employs over 1100 people and its clientele include Mahindra & Mahindra (Truck and Bus Division) Ltd., Ashok Leyland Ltd., Tata Motors, APSRTC, TSRTC and others.
Anil Kamat, Managing Director, MG Group, told AutoParts Asia about the new launches, their unique features and the company’s plans to market them globally.
Q: What was the trigger to develop Columbus with a monocoque design?
A: We were reaching the milestone of 20 years of operation in bus building and of the production of one lakh buses, a record in its own right. We wanted to commemorate this occasion in a manner that brought out our passion for this industry. As a medium-size company, we decided to select a niche, which would be affordable and globally relevant. The aviation segment seemed attractive and we chose to build our own tarmac coach.
For building our own coach, it made sense to go in the monocoque route as it offered the flexibility in packaging the aggregates. It also made interior designing flexible in the way we wanted. That is where the monocoque thought came up. We were very clear that we needed a large wheel-base.
Q. Why did you have to give a larger wheel-base?
A: ‘Columbus’ has a wheel-base of 7450mm. We have given this expanse to optimise the passenger capacity. In one travel of the 12-meter coach to the aircraft and back, it is able to carry 70 passengers each, (eight seating and 62 standees). The coaches that ply now in India can carry about 45 people. Equipped with the latest technologies such as ECAS, ABS, and CAN bus systems, the new coach fully complies with the regulations of the Airport Handling Manual.
Q: Will you make the aggregates fixed or will you give options to your customers?
A: We will move up the ladder a little slowly; we have done a fairly good bid in body manufacturing by producing over one lakh buses, which is a sizeable number to prove our capability. The next thing for us is to integrate the coach and bring it to the level that we feel is truly international. We think that level-3 will probably be the situation where we allow the customers to customise aggregates.
Q: Are you at level one or two or in between?
A: We are at level two now. We don’t have the bandwidth for level four; but it will be manufacturing own aggregates. It is nowhere in the horizon.
Q: Is `Columbus’ being targeted only for the domestic market?
A: Actually `Columbus’ is not made only for the India market. We are pitching for the international markets as well. The bus is planned for diesel and CNG powertrain; but we intend to go electric.
Q: Will you be looking at super capacitors as an option?
A: I am not able to narrow down to that extent. So much is happening in this space – hybrids and electric vehicles. We really have to be very careful in the choice we finally make with respect to the electric powertrain.
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the interiors that give a new feel?
A: It just came out of the intent to express our passion and taste. It is nothing but putting our heart in to it.
Q: Tell us about the mass manufacturing of Columbus?
A: We are going highly lean as far as manufacturing of this coach is concerned. It is designed in such a manner that it is easy to manufacture and assemble. In tarmac applications, there is no need to make thousands and thousands of coaches, as they cater to a very niche segment.
The tarmac coach requirements are about 50 units a year in India. The parc of these kinds of vehicle is around 800 now in India. This might go up gradually. Therefore, it may not need mass production. We have designed it in such a way that it can be manufactured very quickly.
Q: In a niche segment, would you not lose out on standardisation of aggregates?
A: While we brought this product to life and made it ready for display to the customers, we were still taking feedback to move closer to the exact requirements of the customers. As we move along the phases of testing and homologation, we would also keep narrowing down on to our manufacturing strategy.
Q: What are the unique features of Columbus in terms of materials?
A: The roof is a single piece composite part made in-house. Other interesting aspect is the packaging of the air-conditioner at the rear end of the coach, unlike the roof-mounted stock. This gives a sleeker look.
Q: How do you plan to market the new product?
A: A lot of decisions in business, while they sound strategic, are made purely on gut feel. We know, of course, we need a marketing strategy to promote this product and get into the market. So far the whole focus has been on how to create the best product, which will be a live example of ‘Make in India’ initiative. We need map out the marketing strategy and we are at it.
Q: Tell us about the 20-year journey of producing over a lakh of coaches?
A: The biggest honour that we hold is having earned the faith and trust of our esteemed customers such as Ashok Leyland, Mahindra & Mahindra, MAN, Tata Motors and VECV. We procure the chassis from them and build the coach on it. It is unique for the MG Group to work with the industry giants in India.
Q: Can you share some insights on the ‘Mammoth’ that you manufactured recently?
A: This is the flagship premium coach built on MAN chassis. It is completely designed, engineered, developed and built by MG Group and certified by MAN Germany. While Columbus has engine at the rear, offering total flexibility, Mammoth is a front-engine bus where the degree of freedom is limited. The biggest challenge was to give the passenger the saloon space in the coach, without him realising whether the engine is in the front or the rear. The focus will shift to the ambience that we have provided inside the bus.
Q: What are the unique features of this coach?
A: It is ‘Made in India and Built to International Standards’. The chassis from MAN, Europe’s leading OEM Commercial Vehicle Manufacturers, is rugged and robust, which caters aptly to the Indian operating conditions with increased driving safety, while significantly reducing body movements for the best ride comforts. With eight emergency exits, the bus has various other safety measures such as no sharp corners, seat belts for every passenger and the ‘EM – Secure’ Rear Emergency Exit, which is patented by MG as the world’s first.
Q: Why is the emergency exit for Mammoth at the rear?
A: In an emergency situation, it would be horrific to break the glass panel of the emergency window. Besides, jumping out of the widow, which is about five feet above the ground level, will be traumatic. This was the reason for us to develop the ‘EM – Secure,’ having stairway and handrails.