Lahore: Waqar Asghar is the Chief Executive Officer of Volvo Pakistan Limited. In an interview, he shared his views about the state of public transport in Pakistan.
Q. What is the true potential of passenger buses and goods trucks in Pakistan?
A. Potential for transport equipment depends on many factors. First you have to have excellent road network, prudent regulators, and a growing economy. It looks like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative will put Pakistan on a sustainable growth path. The road infrastructure is also improving. All big cities will soon be connected through better quality motorways. Heavy traffic like buses and trucks need quality roads that are now being planned in Pakistan. There is much to be done on regulations. There should be a genuine test for the road worthiness of public transport. The polluting and substandard vehicles continue to run on our roads due to the lax attitude of regulators.
Currently only 1,200 buses and 5,000 trucks are added in the transport fleet every year. Brazil that has more or less the same population adds 30,000 new busses every year in its passenger transport segment. If Pakistan embarks on a sustainable growth path it would also require same quantity of buses each year. In India 800,000 trucks are added every year to cater to its ever increasing goods transport needs. Pakistan hardly adds 5,000 trucks because its economy has remained stagnant for over a decade. After completion of CPEC the truck demand in Pakistan would multiply many times. In fact as a trade corridor for the entire region, requirements for goods transport may exceed that of India.
Q. Do you intend to put up an assembly plant in Pakistan?
A. If you had asked this question two years back my answer would have be no. However, recent developments in Pakistan are very encouraging and we may consider establishing an assembly line once yearly sale of our buses cross 300 units a year. If we decide to produce buses in Pakistan, we will come up with a complete solution. Currently, the bus makers in Pakistan are producing the chassis only, and the body of buses is built by local vendors that lack modern technology that has to be used to ensure full comfort of the passengers. Another point worth noting is that the engine on passenger buses is on the rear, while front engine is used for trucks. In Pakistan both trucks and buses have front-end engines. You simply have to buy the chassis and can ask the body builder to install the body of a bus or truck. Our regulators should now start following global norms for better passenger comfort.
Q. Volvo was in Pakistan earlier in a big way but vanished completely, what made you come back again?
A. The Swedish government gave Pakistan 650 luxury Volvo buses as a gift to the government of Pakistan. That was the largest bus fleet that ever plied on Pakistani roads in one go. The buses were managed by the public sector and were not properly maintained. Spare parts were not arranged by the operators. Many buses were stranded because of minor faults and their parts were used in the other buses that were running. It was a highly mismanaged operation that deprived the city commuters of luxury travel. This time around we have targeted the private sector and in the first phase we are supplying buses to the largest inter-city private operator for the Lahore-Islamabad route.
Q. Why not Karachi-Lahore route and what is so special about your buses that a private operator would buy one of the most expensive buses in the world?
A. First let me tell you that Volvo buses are 15-20 percent efficient in fuel consumption compared with any other bus brand operating in Pakistan. The second advantage of true luxury travel is that operators can charge 20-25 percent higher rate. Based on these advantages, the return of investment on our buses is 30 months. Our buses provide the extreme comfort, as the body suspension is electronically controlled that adjusts to the sharp curves and jumps electronically and passengers are not even slightly disturbed. This is a new technology and the cost of the body of the bus alone is more costly than the price of new buses plying on Pakistani roads. We are currently focusing on Lahore-Islamabad route because of the excellent motorway. Currently, Karachi is not connected with Lahore through the motorway, but work on this project is in progress. By the time it is built, the travellers on Lahore-Islamabad route would know the difference between our buses and others. Let me tell you that even the tricky turnings in Salt Range on this route would not be felt by the passengers.
Courtesy: The News