Eicher eyes SA future
Indian firm launches 36-seater bus as part of drive to strengthen roots in local market
SA is one of the most important markets for Volvo-Eicher Commercial Vehicles (VECV) over the next five years, says Anirvan Banerjee, vice-president and head of African operations for the business.
The global joint-venture between Indian firm Eicher Motors and Sweden’s Volvo Group was started in 2008. Volvo Trucks SA and VECV are separate entities.
Locally, VECV has 18 dealerships and 27 service touchpoints, while a warehouse in Kempton Park supports parts distribution. Though the Eicher brand has had a presence in the market before, its current guise under direct VECV control marks its seventh year.
Banerjee was speaking during a round-table discussion ahead of an annual dealership conference at Irene Country Lodge in Tshwane. Additional executives from VECV included Vikas Uchil, vice-president and head of customer service, and Johan Richards, formerly MD for UD Trucks Southern Africa, providing expertise as a management consultant.
Asked about challenges around local growth, Banerjee said the Eicher brand name is not yet well known, though it is a giant in its domestic market of India.
He noted that last year, VECV recorded 425 Eicher units imported from the Madhya Pradesh plant, but when factoring the other UD-branded vehicles sourced from the facility for the SA market, VECV could lay claim to over 900 units in 2023.
“Africa’s story and journey has picked up in the last five years or so. Covid-19 was a dampener, but last year we saw our highest numbers.”
Banerjee confirmed that its first import destination on the African continent was Ivory Coast, 20 years ago.
“We have to fast-track product introduction, we currently have five, our aim is to have a bouquet of 11 in the next two to three years.”
He believes that the Indian facility is well poised to cater to growth on the continent.
“India is in a very good space, which partly has to do with the China Plus One strategy. Our economy is growing fast, last year VECV recorded its highest sales in history, close to 80,000 units. Next year we are aiming for 100,000.”
A light commercial electric vehicle offering was scheduled to be shown at the conference, but congestion at the Durban, KwaZulu-Natal port, was blamed for delays. The company still plans to showcase the model, promoting its suitability to last-mile delivery needs. Its current truck model line-up as displayed on the local website comprises the Pro 2080 (8.75-ton); Pro 6016 (16-ton); Pro 6016T and 6025T tippers (16-ton to 25-ton) and Pro 6018TT (34-ton).
The company also caters for special applications such as cement-mixing, garbage collection, liquid transportation and refrigerated body needs.
The conference played host to the launch of the Skyline Pro 3009 bus, a 36-seater model. Banerjee said the company is setting its sights on large fleet operators. Part of this growth strategy will involve strengthening the dealership network, attempting to increase throughput in the network.
He said it was a positive that most Eicher dealerships were affiliated with established operations, such as Combined Motor Holdings (CMH). Observing the quality-conscious nature of SA consumers, Banerjee lauded the manufacturing standards of the VECV Indian plant under Volvo Group’s production system and guidance.
“One of the biggest achievements is that for the last 10 years, we have been making 5- and 8-litre Volvo engines for Volvo, Renault, Mack, previously UD and Eicher. This is a global engine, there is no compromise on standards.”
For the Indian market, Eicher traces its roots back to 1948, a year after independence. The original, family-owned entity named Goodearth, began importing Eicher tractors from Germany to serve the agricultural boom the country was experiencing.
In 1959 operations were set up in the country. Over the decades, the company had short-lived partnerships with Mitsubishi and Polaris. In its current structure, VECV has five units: Eicher Trucks and Buses, Volvo Trucks India, Eicher Engineering Components and VE Powertrain. Eicher Motors is also the parent company of motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield.
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