S.M. Kanappa focus on sturdy and safe luxury buses


New production facility set up at Mandya

By N. Balasubramanian

S.M. Kanappa (SMK) is known for its pioneering skills in making luxury buses under the ‘Prakash’ brand since 1968. The Bangalore-based company has consistently set benchmarks in the luxury bus segment by introducing new features for passenger convenience and safety. Despite slack industry growth, the company recorded its best-ever numbers during Q1 of 2012, and with a new plant up and running at Mandya, SMK is gearing to meet the body-building requirements in the country’s growing bus market. Mr. Vaibhav Narang, Director, SMK, talks to MOTORINDIA about his company’s plans.

SMK has some of the best facilities, including state-of-the-art paint booths and machineries for bus body building. The company has its registered office and main plant in Bangalore with two plants in Peenya and the latest one in Mandya.

In FY11, it made 1,150 buses, most of which were sleeper coaches. With a total capacity of making 1,700 buses annually, the company is targeting the 1,400-mark in FY12. It employs 1,200 people across all its locations.

Q1 in FY12 saw SMK record its best-ever numbers in a single quarter. Besides, the company has been buoyed by the setting up of a new plant in Mandya. Says Mr. Vaibhav Narang: “Usually the first quarter is the slowest, but Q1 this year has been the best ever for us.

We have also opened our new plant at Mandya with an installed capacity of 500 vehicles per annum. It will start functioning in full swing by September this year.” The new plant is expected to make 120 vehicles in the next six months after which the capacity would be scaled up.

Focus on quality

The bus-body building industry has been virtually revolutionized over the last few years. The percentage of air-conditioned buses which SMK makes has gone up from five to 50, which is a clear indication of the industry uptrend.

“Nowadays, people are more quality conscious, and though travel costs are rising, customers are willing to pay more for better quality and comfort.

With the entry of multinational bus manufacturers, bus operators in the country have more options and hence demand better buses”, says Mr. Narang.

Growing use of air-suspension systems is another very interesting fact. The concept of air-suspension became popular in the Indian market, thanks to the JnNURM scheme, and though the overall penetration of the concept is still slow, currently around 90 per cent of SMK buses come with air suspension.

One of SMK’s latest buses is a sleeper coach on a Mercedes-Benz multi-axle shell. The coach comes with individual screens, fans and plug-points for each berth, to give a better experience for customers.

SMK continuously strives to improve the standard of safety and comfort for passengers, its two focus areas.

For instance, it has recently switched over to faux leather in its vehicles upon customer request, for better passenger comfort.

SMK offers around 42 different variants, including sleepers, sleeper-cum-seaters and semi-sleepers, in different seat configurations and wheel-base options.

The company buses have been approved by the Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) and are known to pass the roll-over tests with excellent ratings, an indication of the high safety standard of the vehicles. The company also has facilities for simulating roll-over tests and crash tests.

The company banks on high quality body building material and a dedicated workforce which are its USPs, according to Mr. Narang. “At SMK, we do not compromise on price because we believe in providing the best quality for our customers.

We are standardizing most of our variants to improve overall quality and safety for customers. We are also working on reducing the dependence on manual labour and lay more emphasis on systems and procedures, which helps improve quality”, he says.

Most of SMK’s bodies and sub-assemblies are built on jigs and fixtures. There are three to four variants, like the P8000, which are completely made out of jigs and fixtures. These variants form about 40 to 45 per cent of the company’s total capacity.

SMK is keen on working directly with leading OEMs and State Transport Corporations (STCs) for bus-body building. Currently, 90 per cent of its bodies are built on Ashok Leyland chasses for private customers, with the remaining ten per cent constituted by five per cent each from Tata Motors and Eicher. It has an efficient R&D team which does the design and development of new structures.

Rapid growth

The bus industry keeps its fingers-crossed as it eagerly awaits a second JnNURM scheme from the government. The first scheme was implemented in 2008 and ever since, the Indian bus industry has taken rapid strides in terms of quality, comfort and safety standards. The scheme came as a welcome business opportunity for bus manufacturers and bus-body builders.

STCs are slowly but surely moving to fully-built buses from the traditional chassis-body combination. This move has been complemented by the introduction of fully-built buses from leading OEMs in the country. The bus body code which provides regulations for bus body building is also likely to improve the standard of buses. If commissioned, it could possibly see market consolidation, as a result of which bus body builders might start assembling chasses and end up rolling out fully-built buses.

All said and done, the Indian bus industry is set for tremendous growth in the coming years, offering a great opportunity for OEMs and body builders to leverage on.