Eicher, in partnership with Polaris Industries, the US maker of all-terrain vehicles, is building a vehicle with a 600cc diesel engine, said people with knowledge of the matter. It will be targeted at small traders and marginal farmers who can carry their produce, as well as use it for travelling with the family. Commercial production is expected to start as early as May.
The product is currently under homologation and is expected to come in two versions — a double-cabin micro pickup and a multi-purpose van.
Thanks to Polaris' expertise in making off-road vehicles, the automobile is capable of traversing even places where there are no roads.
Tata Motors' attempt with the Nano — with a 600cc petrol engine — has so far not yielded the expected result. But the Ace mini truck, made on the same platform before the Nano was launched, has been one of the most successful products ever by India's largest maker of commercial vehicles.
Unlike Tata Motors, which had placed a price ceiling of Rs 1 lakh on the Nano while it was developing the minicar, Eicher-Polaris hasn't decided on the price yet. But the plan is to make the vehicle affordable, the people said.The vehicle is built on a tubular platform — a common architecture that can easily be modified for making multiple products — and not the more common ladder-on-frame construction where the body is welded on the chassis. The joint-venture partners have already committed Rs 250 crore to the project. The vehicle is expected to use a lot of composite materials — as much as 20 kg of plastic is expected to go in.
The strategy is to make the vehicle extremely affordable — both to purchase and run. Higher amounts of composite materials will make it lighter and therefore more fuel-efficient. The developers are expecting it to return 25 km to a litre.The JV will be sourcing the 600cc engine from three-wheeler engine specialist Greaves Cotton. The vehicle is expected to do the validation build next month, before actual production begins at a new facility in Jaipur. For the first year, the plan is to make about 10,000-12,000 units, which will be scaled up to 1,00,000. There is also a plan to export.
"The company plans to target individuals such as bakers or small distributors in cities and small marginal farmers in the hinterlands, who during the day can use the vehicle to ferry goods or produce and take the family out in the evenings or on weekends," said one of the people in the know of the development. Without defining what the vehicle is, an Eicher-Polaris spokesperson said: "We are working towards creating a personal fourwheeler that will carve out a new category in the Indian automobile industry. The project continues to meet strategic milestones and on course for the launch in 2015."