A German, always interested in learning more about people, nature and how things work started his career with dismantling technical equipment; however, he was not able to reassemble it. This led him to study engineering and thus began his love for the automotive business.
Karl-Alexander Seidel, Head of Daimler Buses India-Daimler India Commercial Vehicles Pvt. Ltd, who has been associated with the company for over nine years, shares his experiences with Editor Mohana M, of the transition of commercial vehicles in various shapes and sizes to the latest customised buses being rolled out to enhance travellers’ experience.
With so much talk about travelling safe, he says, “All bus operators should travel on the bus themselves, then half the work of maintaining buses will be over.”
How has the automobile industry grown over the course of your career?
When I first came to India in 2005, I had the impression that I was getting a ringside view of the growth of the automotive industry for the third time. The first time was in Germany, when we moved from small taxis and bikes to larger passenger cars, from old trucks to modern trucks. The second time was when I visited China 20 years later, where I saw the same modernisation in commercial vehicles. So, when I came to India 16 years ago, I saw the same transition.
For me, it was an emotional time, as I could drive this industry movement from within.
How has Covid influenced the bus market?
After China, India’s bus market is the second largest in the world. During Covid, this market crashed completely, because the fear of overcrowding dissuaded passengers from using buses.
This market will bounce back. We saw the first recovery at the end of the first wave. As the second wave is almost over, we are seeing demand bounce back again. This upward trend is even steeper than after the first wave. A third wave, if it occurs, will not impact recovery dramatically.
Post-pandemic, customer behaviour will change. Customers will be more conscious of how they use buses.
How has BharatBenz responded to the pandemic?
We have launched a package we call BSafe+, which includes features in our buses, some of which can be retrofitted. Among these are hygiene and protection against infection, as much as is possible. For example, we offer antiviral filters for ACs and disposable covers for seats. We have installed thermometers at bus entrances so that temperatures of passengers can be checked automatically. Hand sanitisers are installed inside the bus. We plan to introduce anti-viral coating for all surfaces.
We want to rebuild confidence in the fact that a bus is a safe space. We want travelers to believe that we will take care of disinfection.
We are also offering more space in the bus, and wider buses with a different seat layout. We will accommodate the same number of passengers with more space in between.
What new form will staff buses take?
Companies are now conscious about which buses and routes they operate. They have new standards for staff transportation. Hygiene and safety are important, as well as what the buses look like.
For example, I recently spoke with a customer who runs staff buses in Mumbai; companies are demanding from him that the inside of a bus should feel like the inside of a passenger car. Passengers should feel as though they are in their own private, comfortable space. They should be able to start working on their laptop and have a plug-in station for it, along with a cup of tea served in the bus.
In one company which uses our buses, a pregnant woman wanted to continue to work from home. But she feels that our buses are safe, and now, she is coming back to the office!
How has the pandemic permanently altered bus design?
We used the pandemic to understand customer requirements of the future, and how to translate these into product features, so we can respond faster.
Before buses are delivered, at the dealer end, we ensure cleaning and fumigation of the whole bus. We are also offering fumigation devices with the bus if a customer wishes to do it regularly. We have reviewed all our materials, especially the exposed surfaces. We will now provide additional antiviral coatings for all surfaces which are not easy to clean.
What is your advice for bus operators?
Please your customers! If your bus is neat, clean and hygienic, your customers will be happy. Try to ensure cleaning after each trip. I advise all our operators to use our buses; then, half the work is already done.
What would the ideal bus journey be like for you?
I would like to have an environment which is like home. If I travel from city to city in a non-sleeper bus, I want to feel like I am in my living room. I should have entertainment and internet at hand, and the choice to talk to my neighbour or enjoy my privacy.
How would you visualise the word ‘clean’?
I was at a very nice beach recently, sitting below a few palm trees. I saw green leaves and white sand and light blue sea and dark blue sky. This is ‘clean’ for me.