The Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicle (MHCV) segment posted a 55% yoy and 73% mom decline in domestic sales volumes in April 2017, which is disconcerting and reflective of the possible MHCV industry downturn, says India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra). MHCV sales volumes traditionally have displayed a sharp month on month decline in the month of April, due to highest annual sales usually registered in the month of March. The year on year percent volume change however for April has not displayed such high volatility. In fact the last two years witnessed high year on year volume growth in April, following the decline for the previous three years. Ind-Ra believes that the sharp decline in April 2017 volumes is therefore the first signs of a possible downturn for the MHCV industry.
BS3 Fire Sale Supported March Volumes: The month on month volume decline in April 2017 was expected due to incremental sales volumes in the previous month, fuelled by the fire sale resorted to by original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to offload their unsold inventory of Bharat Stage 3 emission norms (BS3) heavy vehicles. With the Supreme Court notification towards the end-March 2017 banning the sale of BS3 automobiles effective from the following month, the OEMs offered large discounts to cut down inventory of BS3 MHCVs.
Wait and Watch Approach by Potential Buyers: Considering that there is no restriction on the use of BS3 trucks and buses in the country, Ind-Ra believes that buyers could delay their purchases of new BS4 compliant vehicles, especially due to the significantly higher costs associated with the latter. The average increase in MHCV vehicle cost will be in the range of 10%-15% according to the agency. In addition, the operating costs are also higher due to the use of diesel exhaust fluid to control emissions.
The key demand driver for MHCV sales - indicated by the level of industrial activity - remains weak and thus Ind-Ra estimates sales volumes to decline in FY18 despite favourable interest rates. Buyers seem to be adopting a wait and watch approach for two reasons - to gauge the performance of the new BS4 vehicles and assess whether any improvement can be expected on the industrial performance front.
Decline Averted in FY17: Ind-Ra had highlighted in the report 'India Ratings Maintains Stable Outlook for Auto for FY18' that weak demand from the industry segment together with impact of demonetisation could have translated into MHCV volume decline in FY17, however sales volumes were propped up by pre-emptive buying of BS3 vehicles in the last quarter and last minute buying at the year end to avail of discounts during the BS3 fire sale. In addition, the agency believes that the 31 December 2015 notification from the National Highways Authority of India ('IND AAA'/Stable) to toll plazas to levy a toll of 10x on the usual toll on overloaded trucks has also supported MHCV volumes in FY17 to some extent. Domestic MHCV volumes in FY17 were flat at 302,529 compared with 302,397 in the previous year.
Passenger Carrier Segment Decline Not a Concern: April 2017 bus sales volumes also declined sharply year on year, however this was on a much smaller base compared with goods carriers. Ind-Ra believes that the sale of buses during FY18 will bounce back given that the key growth drivers continue to be favourable. The government's focus on improving urban as well as long-distance/interstate mass transportation systems in the country through the public private partnership model is expected to be one of the drivers in FY18. Over the mid to long term, rapid urbanisation along with augmentation of the road network in the country is expected to lead to a steady demand for buses. The limitation of Indian Railways to cater to a large increase in passenger traffic is an important growth driver. The low penetration of buses in India (approximately 1.5 per 1000 population, compared with approximately 7 for China, 9 for Russia and close to 20 for South Korea) also points towards a steady growth potential for the segment.
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