14 April, 2015, Zeegnition
We get behind the scenes at the state-of-the-art Tata Motors’ bus plant in Dharwad, Karnataka, where the auto giant has lined up a slew of ultra-modern buses that will make commuting a lot more stylish, comfortable and safer
We are at the Tata Motors’ bus facility in Dharwad, Karnataka, where an array of modern, colourful-looking buses are lined up in an arc. A posse of enthusiastic officials are posted next to each of those vehicles to explain to the visiting journalists everything they need to know about the buses. “These are the latest buses from Tata Marcopolo built as per the new urban bus specifications laid out in the JnNURM – II scheme,” said an executive as I stepped inside one of the vehicles meant for dispatch to the Assam State Transport Corporation.
This certainly was nothing like the geriatric coaches we had become so accustomed to travelling in. Instead, we are greeted in by electro-pneumatically controlled doors that open at the press of a button. Inside, the seating layout and wider passageway gives the bus a roomy feel. An LED destination board syncs with an audio message to relay information such as the next stop. A sat-nav system placed on the dashboard maps the route of the bus as it moves about in the city. There’s also enhanced security thanks to high-resolution cameras to monitor the bus’ interior as well as to aid the vehicle while reversing.
In months to come, Tata Marcopolo plans to put a large number of these ultra-modern buses on our roads. The company has already bagged orders for 3,500 such coaches from various state governments with more orders set to come thanks to a slew of government initiatives. “The introduction of the uniform Bus Body Code in April 2015 and the government’s proposal to create 100 smart cities should accelerate the demand for buses in urban space,” said C Ramakrishnan, vice president (commercial), Tata Motors.
Currently, bus manufacturing in India is largely an unregulated affair. Local players procure the chassis from manufacturers such as Tata Motors and cobble together a body over it giving little regard to design, comfort or safety. For bus operators, though, it works out almost 10 per cent cheaper than buying a fully built bus. However, the new bus body code will require all bus manufacturers to follow stringent norms forcing the local builders to either step up their game or perish.
Tata Motors gave us a tour of their Dharwad plant to showcase the superior and stringent quality norms followed by them in its bus building process. Now, not many would know that the Tata Marcopolo facility, spread over a massive 231 acres and with an installed capacity of 15,000 units every year, is the largest fully built bus manufacturing plant in the world!
Typically, a bus goes through six stages of development at the plant: Getting the chassis ready, preparing the different structures, paneling, painting, trimming, and testing.
The first process involves preparing the chassis, which is manufactured in the assembly units of Tata Motors’ Pune and Lucknow plants. Next comes building the various structures, which are welded together to create a single cage-like structure. This is a highly specialized process and unlike the one followed by local body builders. While the floor structure is welded on to the chassis, the cage-like body is dropped over it to form the bus’ skeleton.
The structure is then coated with a zinc-rich proxy primer to make it strong and corrosion free. The hollow tubes of the structure are injected with a polymer to cut air or oxygen inside the pipes, which in turn, prevents rusting. It’s time now to add skin or the outer body to the skeleton, also called paneling. Once all the panels are affixed, the bus reaches the most glamourous stage of its production: painting. The bus undergoes a series of applications inside a paint chamber after which a final touch is given in the form of graphics and decals which are customized to customer requirements. With the outer surface almost ready, it’s time to add the final blocks and fixtures. Trimming involves various activities such as electrical wiring, windows fitment, installing passenger doors and the dashboard. The process also includes battery and engine hood fitment, windscreen and seat fitment, and vinyl pasting on plywood flooring. All of this gives the vehicle a complete makeover!
The bus is now ready for its final journey: testing. A full visual inspection is done of the vehicle to check for any defects, after which the buses undergo a shower test to ensure there is no leakage inside the bus or ingress of water into parts like headlamps, fog lamps, etc. The vehicle is then taken for a full-blown road test on a 350-km long stretch of road near the plant. Only once it clears all testing parameters, the bus is sent for dispatch.
One such model that Tata Marcopolo is ready to roll out in the market soon is the Starbus EX facelift. Going forward, the company aims to enter the luxury bus segment with its Magna range to compete with Volvo. Plans are also in the offing to run 30 articulated buses in the Hubli-Dharwad corridor aside from diesel-electric hybrid buses in some states.
According to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the bus segment is expected to grow by 10-12 per cent in 2015-16. And Tata Motors certainly looks ready to grab a large slice of this pie by meeting any surge in demand for buses the new regulatory regime is set to bring.