With an aim to crack the highly unorganized domestic intercity sleeper bus market, Volvo Buses India, a division of VE Commercial Vehicles (VECV), has launched the Volvo 9600 platform, which will underpin factory-fitted sleeper and seater coaches in 15-metre 6x2 and 13.5-metre 4x2 configurations. The new bus will be priced in the range of Rs 1.3 crore to Rs. 2 crore, depending on the specifications and the level of customization. State transport corporations and private fleet operators are the target customers of the new model.
While unveiling the model, Vinod Aggarwal, MD and CEO, VE Commercial Vehicles, said, “The size of the bus market before COVID was 55,000-60,000 units a year. Then it declined massively to 10,000-12,000 units per annum when the pandemic had struck . Now, as people are again going on personal and professional trips, I see a massive revival of the travel and tourism market. As a result of that, the bus market will go back to pre-COVID levels.”
Just like other Volvo Buses, the coaches on the Volvo 9600 platform will be manufactured at its Hosakote plant in Karnataka. At the heart of the Volvo 9600 platform is a Volvo D8K (8-litre) engine, delivering power of 260kW (350hp) @ 2200 RPM and a torque of 1350 Nm @ 1200-1600 RPM. The chassis includes the I-Shift automated manual gearbox, electronic braking system (EBS) Hill-start aid and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) systems.
When asked to share the sales target for the model, Aggarwal said, “It is very difficult to give numbers. But what I can share is that the size of the overall luxury market is 800-1,000 units currently and with our entry into the sleeper bus segment, we should have a significant share in that. There are a lot of transport entities which are either replacing or adding their existing fleet with new sleeper coaches from bus bodybuilders. But now, they now have an option to buy it from an OEM and therein we have an edge over competitors.”
While the 15-metre seater coach has a passenger capacity of 55 seats, the sleeper coach has 40 berths. The seater and sleeper applications incorporate 15.1 cubic metres (cu.m) and 9.2 cubic metres (cu.m) of luggage space respectively. While the 13.5-metre coach seats up to 47 passengers, the sleeper variant hosts 34 berths. The corresponding luggage space for the seater and sleeper variants are 13.6 cu.m and 8.1 cu.m respectively.
Volvo Buses India has maintained that it has no plans to come up with an electric drivetrain option for this model as the infrastructure doesn’t support such buses for long-distance routes. As Aggarwal from VECV points out, “Sleeper buses travel a distance of up to 1,000 km. And a typical electric bus can go up to 250 km on a single charge. So it is not feasible to consider that option.” He was also categorical that the product is meant only for the domestic market and the company has no plans to export this model in the medium term.
Akash Passey, President, Bus Division, VECV, said, “As the bus industry recovers from a very tough period, bus operators continue to count on us to deliver solutions that address the aspirations of inter-city passengers for safe, luxurious, and globally contemporary coaches.”
When asked about the hybrid version of the model, he said, “In 2015, we did bring a hybrid bus but had to phase it out as the government excluded the hybrid vehicles from FAME’s ambit. For this kind of a bus, the regenerative brake system doesn’t work for long-distance highways. So this option doesn’t make sense.”
Meanwhile, VECV has reaffirmed its commitment to spend Rs 2,000 crore under the performance-linked incentive (PLI) scheme and will be building e-buses for both Volvo and Eicher buses under this scheme.