FIVE YEARS AGO, TATA MOTORS dreamed up a diesel light commercial vehicle and code-named it the Panel Van. The vehicle went on to be the Winger and was designed in Pune. The 13-seater was conceived for tourism, a sector that was growing at 14% annually, and to serve as a bus for BPO staff and educational institutions, says Habib Saleh, business head of sales and marketing, Tata Motors. The plan didn’t work out, as tourism growth declined by about 9% because of the Mumbai terror attacks and the slowdown.
The taxicab market is valued around Rs 15,000 crore a year and grows about 12% annually, says Abdul Majeed, analyst with consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. The growth could have been double had the attacks not happened, he adds.
Meanwhile, studies by projects such as the National Rural Health Mission showed that the health care sector was about to boom, says Saleh. The demand for ambulances is expected to grow from the present 8,000 units a year to 17,000 units by 2014-15. So Tata Motors decided to re-position the Winger as an ambulance while retaining the passenger carrier version. The company equipped the Winger to handle medical emergencies and kitted it up for oxygen, saline, and blood transfusions. Sales increased from 1,750 in 2011 to 3,000 in 2012, accounting for almost 27% of all Winger sales.
Tata Motors execs expect the ambulance to become the largest slice of Tata Motors’ vans category in three to five years. Other players include Force Motors (Traveler), Maruti Suzuki (Omni and Eeco), and Ashok Leyland (Dost).
Saleh is banking on the Winger ambulance’s aggressive price point to make it a success. It starts at Rs 6.6 lakh, unlike, say, the one by Force Motors, which is around Rs 8 lakh.
According to research by Crisil, WHO, and the American Ambulance Association, India has 53,000 ambulances compared to 48,000 in the U.S., which has a fourth of India’s population. Tata Motors is No. 1 in this category and has a network of around 500 service centres.
Prasan Firodia, managing director, Force Motors, says ambulances account for 15% of his company’s total sales. “The sector will grow because the density of ambulances in India is the lowest in the world.”