While most manufacturers feel the pinch of the global recession, Tata gears up its bus production.
Having recently revealed the future direction of its goods vehicle product plan by way of the new World Truck series, Tata Motors Limited has completed a major investment to increase the tempo of its bus production at three dedicated manufacturing operations.
The first of these, Tata Marcopolo Motors Limited, is a 51/49% joint venture, with Marcopolo SA of Brazil as the (marginally) minor partner, which started production in November, 2007, of fully built, low-floor buses and coaches in Lucknow. A second facility, located at Dharwad in Karnataka state, was started up one year later, and extends the Tata-Marcopolo influence into the small and medium bus arena. Current production capacity is 15 000 units per annum, but plans exist to double this number, which would bring this plant into contention to be Asia’s largest dedicated bus manufacturing facility. Dharwad has also recently extended its production programme to include low-floor city buses.
The third facility is the Automobile Corporation of Goa Limited, which is jointly owned by Tata, as the majority shareholder, and the state of Goa. This plant, which has built more than 26 000 buses since inception, manufactures Tata Hispano intercity coaches, semi-low floor (900-mm, floor-height) city buses, and export buses, and its production capacity was recently doubled to 8 000 units per annum. After purchasing a 21% stake in coach-builder Hispano Carrocera SA of Saragozza, Spain in 2005, Tata imported some 50 prototype/demonstrators to generate interest in high-end intercity and tourist coaches in India. Since 2008, production of Tata Hispano products, incorporating some local modifications, has been proceeding in Goa, and has now reached a tempo of 15 units per month.
The recent increase in production capacity has been in response to India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme which was established to fund 15 000 new buses for Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Chennai. To date, slightly more than half of these vehicles have already been ordered, and Tata, which has achieved nearly 50% penetration of the orders placed so far, has positioned itself to maintain this momentum as the scheme rolls out. Tata also predicts that there will be an increasing shift towards fully built buses, where the chassis and body emanate from the same source and are supplied as a complete unit, in preference to operators’ traditional modus operandi of selecting products from independent chassis and bodywork suppliers.
Marcopolo’s new train
The first Marcopolo Gran Viale bi-articulated city bus, making use of a Volvo chassis, has been delivered to the TransMilenio bus programme in the South American city of Bogotá, Colombia. This three-element bus train is 27.2 m in length, and has a capacity of 243 passengers. The bi-articulated version of the Gran Viale was developed by Marcopolo’s engineering team in Brazil, in conjunction with Colombian subsidiary, Superpolo, which has supplied more than 700 buses to the TransMilenio project since its commencement in 1999.
Marcopolo has also announced the suspension of production at its European factory located in Coimbra, Portugal. This plant produced 165 units during 2008, contributing just 0.8% of Marcopolo’s total global production of 21 811 buses. Despite the plant closure, technical and after-sales assistance will continue to be provided by the company to European users of Marcopolo’s products.