Kerala Automobiles to tap niche market areas

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala Automobiles Limited (KAL), the ailing public sector enterprise, is set to tap new niche market areas for shifting to profit gear. It is on an innovative spree to launch battery-operated vehicles, to set up skill development research centre and has recently bagged orders worth Rs 1.5 crore to manufacture aerospace components for various centres of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“KAL plans to launch battery-operated vehicles including four-seaters, six, eight and 14-seaters mainly for off-road purposes, particularly for visits around cultural, archaeological and heritage sites for tour operators,” said KAL managing director E Abdul Latheef. The project to manufacture battery-operated vehicles is in the final stages and KAL plans to go for a tie-up with a private firm based in Chennai, said an official at KAL.

“By next year, a full-fledged skill development research centre is planned to be set up at KAL to train youngsters in automobile engineering,” said KAL MD. At the centre, after a basic diploma or degree the students would be given hands-on training in automobile engineering, said a KAL official.

“Now, we have got Rs 1.5 crore worth order for aerospace components from ISRO centres. We expect to receive orders worth Rs 4 crore by next year for precision equipment,” said Abdul Latheef. KAL has been consistently bagging orders since the 1990s, for manufacture and supply of precision aerospace components for ISRO centres including Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) Thiruvananthapuram, Liquid Propulsions System Centre (LPSC) Valiamala, and Inertial System Unit (IISU) Vattiyoorkavu and for BrahMos Aerospace Thiruvananthapuram Ltd, (BATL) at Chakai, said KAL engineer L Anil Kumar.

“We have successfully fabricated various components for their launch vehicles such as ASLV, PSLV, GSLV and the recent one GSLV-D5. Some of the major works executed for various ISRO centres are GSLV satellite separation system, umbilical connector system assembly, avionic housing assembly, parachute release mechanism, band assembly and frame mounting assembly,” he said.

Since its inception in 1978, KAL began manufacturing and marketing three-wheelers. It made a major commercial presence with orders for its petrol engine three-wheelers in 1984, following that in 1988 the company launched diesel autos, which was the first of its kind in the country. It made an international foothold with export orders from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Guatemala and Egypt.

“However, the political upheaval in the state led to KAL’s management changes and with that the policy ramifications affected the company, leading it into a crisis. In the last few years, KAL has an accumulated loss of Rs 25 crore and is still running in loss though trying for a break-even,” said an official at KAL.

KAL has recently received export orders for its diesel-operated three wheelers from Madagascar and Sudan, Abdul Lateef said. It is for a single consignment of 1,000 vehicles now and with that more orders are expected.