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India’s rule on air-conditioned cabins is likely to disrupt the market for cowl vehicles

New Delhi (News Trust of India): India’s rule on air-conditioned cabins is likely to disrupt the market for cowl vehicles, constituting about half of the long-haul trucks in the country currently marketed without cabins.

The Indian market for large trucks used for heavy-duty hauling, which is mainly made up of vehicles without pre-installed cabins, is going through a significant change due to the government’s requirement that all new trucks produced on or after October 1, 2025 must have air-conditioned cabins. This action intends to not only provide relief to truck drivers during India’s hot summers but also represents the first step in a series of recommendations aimed at strengthening truck safety.

Around half of the medium and heavy commercial vehicle haulage trucks are currently sold in the cowl-chassis design, as stated by Jalaj Gupta, the business leader for the commercial vehicles section of Mahindra & Mahindra. While tippers and trailers have already transitioned to cabins provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Mahindra & Mahindra mostly uses cabins manufactured by the firm itself, with approximately 30% of them having built-in air conditioning.

Tata Motors, one of India’s top truck manufacturers, and Ashok Leyland, significant participants in the cowl truck industry, choose not to provide the percentage of cowl trucks in their respective product ranges.

A representative from Tata Motors confirmed their preparedness to adhere to the requirement of having air-conditioned cabins, highlighting the slight increase in cost. They stated, “Although there is a slight increase in costs, the overall advantages for both customers and drivers are considerably greater.”

Satyakam Arya, the Managing Director and CEO of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles, suggests that fleet operators who still use cowl trucks can have difficulties, but those who have switched to air-conditioned cabins will see improved driver performance and consequent business enhancements.

Around 60% of BharatBenz vehicles in India currently have cabins with air conditioning. Arya, considering the history of the industry, mentions the common belief that wooden cabins protected drivers from heat, whereas air-conditioned cabins added weight to trucks and decreased fuel efficiency. He underlines the increased awareness of the safety advantages associated with factory-fitted metal cabins, noting reduced driver fatigue, improved job satisfaction, enhanced driving capabilities, and shorter cargo turnaround time as benefits.

Despite broad support from automakers for the government’s demand, doubt abounds surrounding the future of cowl trucks. Jalaj Gupta from Mahindra anticipates that the rule won’t end the cowl truck market, highlighting that it just needs supplying cowl chassis with AC kits by OEMs.

Air-conditioned cabins, designed to provide comfort to drivers experiencing long hours on the road, are projected to contribute to reduced driver fatigue and increased operating efficiency, according to Harshvardhan Sharma, the Head of Auto Retail Practice at Nomura Consulting. Sharma suggests that lower driver weariness could potentially lead to longer driving durations, boosting overall operational efficiency and reducing turnaround time.

Daimler’s Arya concurs, claiming that AC cabins have the potential to drastically lower accident rates and hearing impairment among drivers. He says that constant exposure to high decibels of road noise through open windows contributes to hearing issues, particularly in the right ear.

While the new legislation promises enhanced driver well-being and safety, it comes with projected upfront expenses for truck owners. Vinod Aggarwal, the Managing Director and CEO of VE Commercial Vehicles Limited (VECV), predicts additional costs ranging from ₹30,000 to ₹50,000, depending on the vehicle size. Kinjal Shah, Vice President and Co-Group Head at ICRA, foresees a pricing impact of ₹40,000 to ₹60,000, corresponding to a 2-3% rise in the average truck price of ₹20 lakh.

In addition to potential fuel efficiency drop of 2-4%, AC systems introduce regular maintenance requirements, leading to increasing operational costs, cautions Nomura’s Sharma. Despite these hurdles, Sharma believes that the long-term benefits in terms of driver well-being, safety, and productivity will outweigh the initial downsides.