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Published on: Aug. 23, 2022, 1:08 p.m.
Pinnacle moves on to a faster trajectory
  • PIL is India’s largest convertor of ambulances

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

Automotive components manufacturer Pinnacle Industries (PIL), which makes seating and interior systems for commercial vehicles, has recently entered the electric mobility space where it will manufacture electric buses and light commercial vehicles (e-mini trucks). Incorporated in 1996, the Pune-based company, which also caters to specialty vehicles (all variants of ambulances including specialty healthcare vans and mobile clinics), is planning to invest around Rs2,000 crore in the next five years to create a strong footprint in the rapidly-growing EV space. PIL is one of the only commercial vehicle manufacturers approved under the Champion OEM Scheme and EV component manufacturing scheme of the Government of India’s Auto PLI policy. 

The Rs500-crore PIL offers end-to-end (design to manufacturing) seating and interior solutions for commercial OEMs (across the ICE and EV space) like Ashok Leyland, Tata, Mahindra, Mercedes-Benz, Force Motors, Volvo, Daimler and SML Isuzu. These OEMs are also supplied to countries like the UK, UAE, Italy and the Netherlands. The company has recently also forayed into railway seating systems where it specialises in the design, engineering, and manufacture of fully certified rail seating which meets European standards when it comes to safety and comfort. 

PIL is India’s largest convertor of ambulances and medical application vehicles. Backed by around 2,500 employees, the company has the capacity to convert 10,000 vehicles annually across its six state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities (60 acres) in Pithampur, MP and Pune. Across these facilities, it also manufactures over 25,000 components per day with a growing share of EV components, including sheet metal and tubular pipe components, body parts, seats and battery packs for electric two and three-wheelers. 

“Over the years, we have built up our capabilities which allow us to work with Indian and global OEMs. We have continuously invested in and expanded our technology partnerships, manufacturing systems, product range and clientele to emerge as India’s largest commercial vehicle, bus seating and interiors company. Having put up the largest engineering and development team focused on commercial vehicle seating and interiors, we are now evaluating other emerging areas, including the EV space,” says Sudhir Mehta, 53, chairman & managing director, Pinnacle Industries Ltd. 

European partnership

PIL has set up a separate subsidiary, Pinnacle Mobility Solutions (brand: EKA) for its EV business. It is currently in the process of setting up the relevant infrastructure and manufacturing facilities. Pinnacle has entered into a 74:26 partnership with one of Europe’s largest family-owned enterprises – VDL Groep – to cater to this growing demand.

The company will set up a 5,000-unit electric bus manufacturing facility in Pithampur near Indore and a 15,000-unit plant for e-mini vehicles in the 1-2 tonne space in Pune. Once fully operational, the new EV business in FY24 is likely to add Rs1,000 crore to PIL’s top line, even as the overall Group level turnover is expected to touch around Rs2,000 crore during the period. PIL is likely to end the current fiscal year at around Rs800 crore.

The company’s EV unit has already developed two buses (9 and 12 metres for the 32-60-seater category). It has recently received the CMVR certification for its nine-metre pure electric, zero-emission bus, EKA E9, from the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI). 

PIL is planning to invest around Rs300 crore in the current fiscal year to put up its new EV bus facility as also an R&D facility for the EV segment. The Pithampur manufacturing unit will be operationalised in the next 4-8 months. In the first phase, by June 2023, it will be in a position to make 500 buses per month which, later on in phase II, will be expanded to 1,000 buses.

  • Mehta: We are unleashing an array of innovations

    Mehta: We are unleashing an array of innovations

The company has plans to deploy nine-metre and 13-metre city buses through government tenders. However, it is supplying its first 100 buses to the private sector. This includes a combination of staff and school bus transport. By Q1FY24, the company is also looking to export 15 per cent of it production to Africa and other Asian markets, even as it plans to raise this to 30 per cent by the end of FY24.

At EKA, the company is reinventing the design philosophy and manufacturing of electric commercial vehicles by developing sharable technologies, to democratise EVs with best-in-class TCO (total cost of ownership) solutions and a sustainable ecosystem. EKA will design, manufacture, and supply a complete range of Electric Vehicles, Fuel Cell Electric vehicles, and alternative fuel vehicles. The brand will also house components assembly and manufacturing, EV traction systems as well as EV energy and storage systems, going forward.

This year, the company will also introduce its smart lean factory concept to localise the supply chain by providing the design and framework of these factories, along with processes and systems that enable them to perform. This will reduce inventory and infrastructure costs, and optimise logistics. EKA’s decentralised manufacturing concept will have a smaller footprint and may be deployed in existing facilities. By the end of this year, the company will also be ready with its fleet management system.

“Our foray into the EV space is a massive opportunity. We have put up the required team for making this a big success story. We are unleashing an array of innovations, such as mobility-as-a-service, new energy vehicles, advanced battery technology, profitable last-mile delivery vehicles, in-house vehicle control software solutions, vehicle and battery recycling, modular vehicle platforms and components, and so on. We have created a new ecosystem of technology, manufacturing and distribution of electric commercial vehicles. This know-how and other resources will be shared in a democratised manner to further optimise costs and increase the viability of EVs. Our vision is to become a global volume leader in commercial EVs,” says Mehta, who has been a serial entrepreneur. 

The Force factor

Mehta has started and successfully led several ventures. He was instrumental in bringing German truck major MAN to India by forging its JV with the Abhay Firodia-led Force Motors. He led MAN Force Trucks Pvt Ltd as its managing director between 2002 and 2012. Mehta, who is also the son-in-law of Firodia (he is married to Firodia’s daughter Sunanda Firodia) was one of the directors on the Force Motors Board till he resigned in February this year.

His wife is also currently involved in the business as one of the directors of Pinnacle Industries, while his son Arihant, 20 and daughter Ritika, 25 have also joined the business. Arihant is the president at PIL, leading its new business development, HR, operations, marketing, sales, and CSR, whereas Ritika is director at one of the Group companies Instor by Kider (India) which is India’s largest manufacturer of retail, warehouse and industrial fixtures. 

  • PIL is India’s only integrated commercial vehicle seating & interiors company

Instor by Kider supplies units and racks to clients, including businesses with a single location to 3,000+ chain of stores. Some of its clients include D-Mart, Star Bazaar, LuLu, Decathlon, Hypercity, Patanjali, Aditya Birla Group, Wellness Forever, Trent, Westside and Crossword. Instor was established in India by Spanish firm Core Retail Furniture during 2011. However, in 2014 it was acquired by the Sudhir Mehta-led consortium of investors. 

PIL has been quite aggressive in building up its capabilities through partnerships and collaborations. Recently, Pinnacle Mobility entered into a partnership with NuPort Robotics to introduce Level 2 autonomy, advanced driver assistance systems, to their electric bus models. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative towards the utilisation and incorporation of progressive Level 2 autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for electric buses on Indian roads. NuPort Robotics, a Canadian company, recently announced its plans to set up operations here and fully develop and deploy its technology in India for commercial vehicle manufacturers, beginning with electric vehicle manufacturers.

“Our partnership with NuPort ensures that our electric buses are not only environmentally friendly but also futuristic through the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence thereby making our buses efficient and safe to operate on Indian roads. This collaboration strengthens our goal of positioning EKA as the leader in the electric vehicle industry in India. I am confident both EKA and NuPort will provide safer, greener and more efficient transport for Indian roads,” says Mehta.

In 2016, PIL inked a partnership with the VDL Group of the Netherlands to form a JV, VDL Pinnacle Engineering India. The VDL group is Europe’s leading electric bus, truck, and coach-maker and a global conglomerate with 105 companies spread across 20 countries with over 15,000 employees. The JV provides solutions for production systems in automotives and the general industry; robotic and manual tooling for body-in-white (BIW) weld shops for passenger and commercial vehicles; design and making of bus body tooling; design and setup of smart and lean factories with minimum footprint and flexible tooling as also design and supply of optimised final assembly lines for buses and LCVs.

PIL has also partnered with Cityflo, Mumbai’s app-based commute company, to design, develop and manufacture the seating and interiors of their new proprietary bus. This is a first-of-its-kind bus design built specifically for urban Indian commuters. Cityflo aims to add 1,500 of these new buses, which will service 100,000 customers, in the next two years.

The design and manufacturing process for the Cityflo bus took almost two years to complete. Based on exhaustive customer research within the Cityflo customer base, the bus was built with various iterations to meet the required standards and expectations, using the Bharat Benz chassis.

 Enhanced transportation

Speaking on the partnership, Arihant Mehta, President, PIL says: “Our partnership with Cityflo ensures the best comfort for passenger commute. This collaboration strengthens our goal of positioning Pinnacle Industries as the leader in the commercial mobility space. I am confident that both Pinnacle and Cityflo will provide more enhanced transportation for Indian roads.”

  • The company offers end-to-end solutions

“Our partnership with Pinnacle Industries was instrumental in designing a customer experience that was truly unique to the Cityflo customer. With their expertise in developing automotive interiors and seating systems, Pinnacle provided us with the best resources in designing, prototyping and manufacturing, based on our brief. Our collaboration with them carries on as we continue to test and improve our interiors,” states Vipin Joe, Creative Head, Cityflo.

The electric vehicle industry in India is picking up pace with 100 per cent FDI possible, new manufacturing hubs and an increased push to improving charging infrastructure. Government subsidies and policy favouring deeper discounts for Indian-made electric two-wheelers as well as a boost for localised ACC battery storage production are other growth drivers for the Indian EV industry. Moreover, in September 2021, a production-linked incentive scheme for the automotive sector was approved by the cabinet to boost the manufacturing of electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

India reported sales of over 300,000 EV units in 2021. According to an independent study by CEEW Centre for Energy Finance (CEEW-CEF), the EV market in India will be a $206 billion opportunity by 2030 if the country maintains steady progress in meeting its ambitious 2030 target. This will require a cumulative investment of over $180 billion in vehicle production and charging infrastructure.

With all these developments in place, PIL is looking to position itself strongly in the electric vehicle space. The company has been in the automotive sector for more than 25 years now, making components and providing seating and interior solutions to large Indian and global commercial vehicle OEMs. It has been able to expand by entering into strategic partnerships with global players like VDL. Moreover, its existing business has got the right synergy with its EV foray where it will be able to share its existing infrastructure and resources.

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