On the right road in India. You cannot consider yourself a true Chinese citizen, they say, unless you have seen the Great Wall. And perhaps you should not see yourself as a genuine Indian until you have driven along the NH7 – the country’s longest, most modern and best-loved national highway.

Devendra Kumar works for JMC Projects (India) Ltd, a major and fast-growing Ahmedabad-based construction and infrastructure company. Deputy General Manager of the plant and machinery division, he is in charge of 350 men who have recently completed a three year project to upgrade a 150km (93mi) stretch of the NH7 between Madurai and Trichi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

"It's been very challenging work," he says. "We worked day and night, as the situation demands. We had two Volvo G720A motor graders on the job, each operating for 12 hours a day. This is India. It's tough. But they've performed excellently."

You cannot, apparently, really see the Great Wall of China from the moon, despite it snaking 6,400km (4,000mi) across the country. You can't see the NH7 either, although it is itself an impressive 2,369km (1,500mi) in length. It links the town of Kanyakumari, perched on the southern-most point of the Indian mainland where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean meet, with the north-eastern holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the river Ganges.

Not so long ago, India's local roads were clogged with bikes, scooters, rickshaws and cows. India's national highways, however, which make up just 2% of India's massive 3,300,000km (2,000,000mi) road network but carry 40 % of all traffic, are different. Most boast two lanes in each direction, rising to four lanes around major cities. They represent vital lifelines, along with the rail system, of the country's economic health. As the economy booms, so has vehicle ownership. And so has road building.

"JMC bought its first Volvo in 2002," says Kumar, a mechanical engineer by training. "It wasn't a big name in India at the time, compared to some of the other major construction equipment manufacturers and joint ventures. Things change and now customers have become increasingly aware of the value of long-term quality, minimum downtime and fuel economy over initial purchase costs.

Client insight

"JMC was about to start working on a project and the client demanded that a Volvo motor grader be used. Simple as that. They said it was the best machine on the market. So we got one and realized they knew what they were talking about."

Infrastructure projects do not come much tougher than those in India. Machinery has to be transported vast distances - India boast a land mass of almost 3,000,000 square kilometers (1.1 million sq miles), making it the seventh largest country in the world - while being able to operate smoothly and efficiently in extreme heat (working temperatures can soar up to more than 40°C (104°F)) and dealing with other natural challenges like the country's Monsoon rains.

Operators have to cope just as well. For them, comfort is a priority if they are to work well over long periods. Ask the men at the 'cutting edge' of such operations, busily site clearing or fine grading, and they are just as likely to highlight the Volvo's industry-leading and spacious enclosed cab with ROPS (Roll Over Protection Structure) and FOPS (Falling Objects Protection Structure), its sophisticated air conditioning system and state-of-the-art suspension seat as any details of the vehicle's powertrain or fuel economy. The cab, after all, is where they live for most of the week.

With car ownership continuing to boom in India - between one and two million new cars are now sold each year - the Government's ambitious road-building program looks set to continue. It also seems likely that JMC, which was involved in building the much-acclaimed Delhi Metro network, will be looking for more Volvo machinery in the future, if Kumar, who is married with two children, and his operators have anything to do with it.

"We have got 5,000 employees and our equipment fleet is made up of 500 machines of all types," Kumar concludes, "from a batching plant on the one hand down to motor graders, excavators and wheel loaders on the other. We are still growing and that means our procurement is also set to rise."

Text: Tony Lawrence