Nitin Gadkari claims that trucks must have AC cabins, which might mean the end of the road for cowl vehicles in India.

Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), has declared that his department will issue a mandate by 2025 requiring that all vehicles sold in the nation have air-conditioned cabins.

Speaking at a Mahindra Logistics event in Delhi, Gadkari acknowledged the importance of the driver community in keeping the economy going.

We must consider the conditions of our drivers while they operate vehicles in sweltering 43 to 47 degree heat. After I was ordained as a minister, I was eager to offer the AC cabin. However, some opposed it, claiming that the price of trucks would increase. I signed the document today stating that all truck cabins would have air conditioning, he remarked.

This decision may very well be the first significant step towards bringing Indian vehicles up to level with those found in industrialized nations. Currently, trucks in India can either have a company-built cabin and body or be cowl vehicles.

Cowl trucks are basically trucks without a built-up cabin that have a coach built by a separate bodybuilder around the vehicle chassis.

With India just catching up on emissions rules, there is a pressing need to adopt an equivalent (if not more) stringent approach to enforcing vital safety regulations. In reality, even the ECE R29-02 standard is still not required, making India's crash safety regulations for truck cabins very deficient. This standard covers truck cabin crash safety up to the lower edge of the windscreen. The entire cabin is covered by ECE R29-03 in Europe, which has been in place for years to provide crash safety, according to Satyakam Arya, MD and CEO of Daimler India Commercial Vehicles.

We applaud this move since it will not only give drivers a comfortable working environment, but it will also improve road safety by lowering driver tiredness and the prevalence of hearing damage among drivers who work long hours in uncooled cabins. With the addition of air-conditioned cabins, fleet productivity will also benefit, he continued.

This decision will provide comfort, increase safety, and reduce accidents for truck drivers who are behind the wheel for more than 12 hours frequently in extreme temperatures, stated Rahul Dhoot, MD, of Dhoot Transmission. While the addition of air conditioning will give truck drivers, whose jobs are among the most exploited in the nation, a sense of dignity, the truck manufacturers will incur additional costs because the cost increase will be in the neighborhood of Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. Since drivers are the main force behind the supply chain business, the sector must embrace the change from their point of view.

Truck cowls and security

While this decision could somewhat increase the upfront cost of the vehicles, it's vital to remember that larger operating margins would result from improved operational efficiency. In fact, according to industry watchers, the proportion of cowl trucks has decreased over time, from a peak of 70% in 2012 to just around 40% at the moment.

Second, completely constructed trucks provide more safety than semi-built cabins (cow trucks) that leave factories.

The government's move to mandate air-conditioned cabins is a welcome step, but it also means there will be an increase in the acquisition cost of the trucks, as well as an increase in operational cost as a result of higher fuel consumption, stated Bal Malkit Singh, Chairman - Core Committee, AIMTC. Since the trucking industry won't be able to fully cover the expense, freight rates will rise as a result.

The requirement of air-conditioned cabins in trucks, according to Vinkesh Gulati, Chairman of the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association (FADA), is a very wise move. The added comfort for drivers will aid in improving their sentiments and will also help reduce the availability of truck drivers who have been leaving the profession, he says. On the other hand, better driver comfort will also contribute to better vehicle mobility and efficiency. As the driver's efficiency increases, the turnaround time of a trip will also improve.

However, Singh also voiced his worries, saying that while the measure will undoubtedly increase productivity and give truckers more comfort, the government should also concentrate on unclogging the mobility problem experienced by commercial vehicle users.

In India, the average daily truck mileage is just about 300 km, in contrast to the industrialised world where it is 800-900 km. The CV movement will improve and thus benefit with lower operational cost if the government, in addition to creating infrastructure, helps debottleneck issues faced by truckers on the road, he added.

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