Business, Economics and Jobs

IndiaInc: Daimler to take on Tata for India's lucrative truck market


Germany's Daimler-Benz is bent on tapping India's lucrative market for heavy trucks. But can it succeed against entrenched competition from Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland?



Germany's Daimler Group is ready for an all-out assault on India's lucrative truck market, Forbes India reports in a fascinating cover story this month. The link won't be available until they sell a few magazines, so hit your local newsstand for the full read -- which is well worth it.

Here are some highlights:

The opportunity:

Cars may be sexier, but India already buys 270,000 commercial vehicles per year, and the market is set to double by 2020. No foreign company has been able to crack the nut, however, and Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland together hold a mammoth 80 percent share of the business. For Tata Motors, that means the company makes almost 6 rupees selling trucks and buses for every one it makes selling cars -- accounting for about 85 percent of revenue.

The plan:

Driven by a 45-year-old madman who actually worked for Daimler for free to prove himself -- as a salesman in some backwater, no less -- Daimler has spent the past five years developing new vehicles for the Indian market, where customers are typically nervous about going foreign. The company has invested some $800 million in its Bharat Benz commercial vehicle division, based in Chennai, its largest greenfield project outside Europe. (When CEO Marc Llistosella went back to HQ in Germany with his plan, they said he was crazy. "Yes," he said, "That's what you pay me for.")

The trucks: 

Daimler's trucks will cost 9 percent more than their competitors, but they'll also be at least 10 percent more fuel efficient, according to Forbes India. The company plans to launch a whopping 17 different models over the next two years, and to alleviate drivers' fears of being stranded without foreign parts or savvy mechanics, they're using 85 percent indigenous components and they've already set up a network of service centers that can respond to breakdown calls in two hours or less along the Golden Quadrilateral -- the highway network that connects Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

Tricks of the trade:

Researching India's road warriors, Daimler found some curious modifications -- such as a hole in the floorboards of the truck cab. "Ventilation?" engineers asked. "Toilet-on-the-go," was the answer.

Despite the danger, Indian truck drivers insist on throwing their trucks into neutral and coasting downhill to save fuel, Daimler found, so engineers designed an engine control unit that cuts off the fuel supply to the engine when the driver is coasting instead -- with no compromise on safety.