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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sidhusaaheb at the Auto Expo 2008

It appears almost surreal now. For all of a hundred and twelve rupees, a nearly destitute, sometimes-employed man like me could go and take a close look at some of the loveliest automobiles in the world. Twelve rupees, incidentally, was the to and fro fare for the train ride between home and the venue of the exposition i.e. Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, with the rest being the entry fee.

Apart from the current range of products that each manufacturer participating in the show sells in the country, a number of other vehicles had also been displayed. Among all of these, there were some that especially caught my eye.

The highlight of the trip was coming face to face with the small general-purpose vehicle that has, arguably, the best off-road capabilities, available to the civilian population of the world i.e. the Hummer. The H2 on display at the General Motors pavilion was maroon in colour and, needless to add, looked absolutely stunning. Strangely enough, none of the Auto Expo-related coverage in the newspapers had alerted me in advance to the fact that it was being shown there.

At the Maruti-Suzuki pavilion, I was glad to note that the small hatch-back Splash, which is meant to replace the Wagon R, in fact, looks a lot more like a car should, than the Wagon R (the reasons for the sales of which I have never been able to fathom so far and which closely resembles a match-box in shape). Prospective buyers can expect to have a choice between versions with the 1 litre engine being driven by manual and automatic transmissions. The A-star concept that is also supposed to be releasing soon does not look bad at all, except for the pink turn-indicators, but appears to be rather too low slung to be practicable on Indian roads. The SX4 on display was a hatch-back, as against the saloon version being sold here, and done up like a World Rally Championship car, though I am not sure if it had actually taken part in the WRC. The photograph posted above is of a Suzuki concept that looked absolutely fabulous!

FIAT had displayed the new Linea, which has a grill with a very naughty, toothy grin, almost like Garfield the cat! The new FIAT 500 that has retro-styling quite akin to its ancester with the same name, but has a much more powerful engine, was also parked nearby.

The Tata Nano does look like a toy car from the land of Noddy and friends, but still appeared quite capable of comfortably seating four adults, at least two of whom could be up to six feet tall. However, I do not think that it is capable of doing more than 75-80 kilometres an hour, with that kind of a load, despite the claimed top-speed of 105.

So, here is a suggestion I have for Tata Motors. They should bring out a hybrid version of the car with an electric motor and a set of batteries accomodated in the boot. Contrary to popular perception, this would be to enhance the car's performance, more than anything else. A mechanism to charge the batteries by harnessing the motion of the wheels could be devised and installed in the car. Even after the wheel bearings are replaced with those of a better quality, in order to cope with a higher top-speed (an electronically limited 120 kilometres an hour or so, perhaps), I suppose the variant could still be priced somewhere around the current price of a standard Maruti 800. I leave it to the technicians to decide whether the brakes and the suspension would have to be worked upon as well.

Meanwhile, I am quite impressed with all that the company has done with the styling and design of the latest avatar of the Sumo i.e. the Grande. However, it remains to be seen whether the brand will be able to recover from the boxes-welded-together kind of image that, I believe, has largely been responsible for the Sumo being mainly used as a commercial vehicle so far. So, the changes might actually have come rather too late in the day for it to gain respectability in the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) or Multi Utility Vehicle (MUV) market now.

The Xenon appears to have been derived from what once used to be the Tatamobile, and looked a bit tacky, upon closer examination.

Skoda, BMW and Volvo had a number of gorgeous vehicles on display. These included Skoda's hatch-back Fabia, Volvo's SUV XC90, besides the cabriolets Volvo C70 and the BMW 650i.

Honda were showing the Jazz, which is being already sold as the Honda Fit in some other countries and is the soon-to-be-launched hatch-back version of its popular City model, besides the fuel-cell car FCX, even though it appeared somewhat larger and different from the FCX that I remembered having seen in advertisements earlier.

I also had a look at DC's Ambierod, the much-hyped Rs.400,00,000 Indian-made luxury car. I suppose the only use that any one can have for it in this country is to drive from an airport lounge to a waiting aircraft and vice versa. Otherwise, the front bumper is so low that it could hardly ever clear any of the speed-breakers of the sort that are almost omnipresent on the roads of cities like Delhi, for instance.

Among the motorcycle manufacturers, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda had all brought along a number of bikes with engine capacities upwards of 500 cubic centimetres, like the Yamaha R1 and those from the Kawasaki Ninja and the Honda CBR series. Apparently, they have heard of underground racing circuits like the one that uses the Greater Noida expressway for a track and the number of suberbikes that are being imported by those who are not racing enthusiasts, as well, from which it is evident that a niche market exists for such cycles.


Sidhusaaheb said...

Ooh, so much information. If you paid 6 bucks by metro each way, then u must live very near my house..ha ha! Yes, the amberoid looked too super to be true!!
cyberkitty | Homepage | 01.23.08 – 5:17 am | #


Blogging affords me the chance to play auto journalist and commentator.

I travelled by EMU and not via the Metro.

Coming to think of it, the Ambierod could perhaps become more amenable to Indian road conditions by replacing the low-profile tyres with radials that are more conventional.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 01.24.08 – 7:09 am | #


i must say that the successive crops of “new, improved” cars coming off the world’s production lines leave me, by and large, cold. there is so much emphasis on gadgetry and techno-wizardry in the mid to higher ranges.

simple, mechanically sound cars seem to be largely a thing of the past. until two years ago i drove a 1996 e36 bmw 318is (yes, it was a five-speed manual – the only way to go with an e36). i bought it second-hand and for six years i had the time of my life driving it.

it had a four cylinder 16-valve engine (unilke the more anaemic 8-valve in the four-cyl 318 ), which put out a mere 140 bhp. but boy did it handle! and the steering was so pinpoint accurate and perfectly weighted that i would go way out of my way to zip through my favourite s-bend.

from what i’ve read it had some but not too much electronic-gizmology. no vanos or any other kind of variable timing. it had high profile (205/60-15) tyres and a single tailpipe. what you’ll find on small “family” cars these days.

i’ve lost count of the number of times i bounced off the 6000+ rpm rev-limiter in first and second gears. it was just so free revving. yum. i miss it.

oh and it was bright red, of course.

it seems that we are become more and more superficial in our preferences. it’s all about looks, gadgetry and on-paper performance ratings.

all i want from a car is that it start first time, doesn’t pack up too often, and that it be light and fun to drive. which is not quite what i get from my current 11 year old (auto) honda civic. (but hey, there’s absolutely no electronics in it that can get fu**ed up!)

i have to say, though, that developments in the lower price categories are welcome. cheap, affordable transport for everyone is something that should be a measure of economic progress (without going into the environmetal cost attached).
kinkminos | Homepage | 01.24.08 – 1:12 pm | #


I’ve been looking up a bit about your Beemer and found some info on the engine at…/ BMW_M44#M44B19 and a few pics at m…mypictures.html

Sounds like you had a lot of fun driving it!

I agree with you about developments in the lower price segments. Meanwhile, a lot of the environmental impact hype has been created by Tata’s competitors. It’s not as if all prospective two-wheeler buyers are now going to buy Tata Nanos instead, since one can still buy at least two two-wheelers for the price of one Nano and the costs of fuel and maintenance are also, obviously, considerably higher for the car.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 01.24.08 – 6:23 pm | #


from the pictures it looks like a well-maintained example of an m44-engined 318is, with a fair bit of M-foolery thrown in. the only bit of M-foolery i indulged in was the replacement of the stock shift-pattern cap on top of the gearshift lever — somrthing like the one in this picture (just the circular plastic bit on top):…da/ac/ 0d_10.JPG ).

yes sirree… lotsa phun was had by moi.
kinkminos | Homepage | 01.26.08 – 9:56 am | #


Oh, even though a gas guzzler that Hummer looks an absolute beauty.
Mridula | Homepage | 01.27.08 – 12:51 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

@Kinkminos: It looks good!

@Mridula: Yes, it does and it can scale a 16-inch verticle surface without any trouble too!

It should be good if more efficient engines or those running on ‘greener’ fuels can be built for it. A lot of effort, I believe, is already being directed towards achieving that.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 01.28.08 – 7:49 am | #


being NOT a fan of the “suv” concept in general, i find the hummer to be quite an eyesore. the prettification of it is particularly annoying. comparing it to the rugged chak-de-phattay bellicosity of the original humvee, i often analogise it to a well-fed heavyweight pehlvan (e.g. bholu) wearing lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish. that’s right… ewwww!

(with apologies to fans of the thing)
kinkminos | Homepage | 01.28.08 – 1:02 pm | #


Hehe…Well, civilians can’t have the Humvee, so they have to make do with the Hummer!

BTW, American regulations have played havoc with the off-road capabilities of most SUVs, by having the ground-clearance reduced considerably.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 01.28.08 – 9:06 pm | #


oh, don’t get me wrong. i wouldn’t want to drive a humvee either. i have a thing for low centre of grav numbers with tight (can i use that word here tight suspensions.

if i’m not mistaken, the original hummer (was it the H1?) was more in keeping with arnie schwarzenegger’s runabout tank of choice (i.e. the humvee)

as for reduced ground clearance, thank god for that. i live in constant fear of my dinky little (relatively speaking) civic being steamrolled by any number of overfed suv’s on any one of dubai’s death traps (aka roads).
kinkminos | Homepage | 01.29.08 – 5:25 am | #


If I had the money, my collection would include sports-cars as well as SUVs, besides street-bikes as well as trail-bikes! :D

Besides luxury cars and cruise-bikes, of course…

BTW, the SUVs are pretty well-suited for the sub-continent’s road conditions.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 01.29.08 – 8:40 am | #


I wish I could go to the Auto Expo myself. Just didn’t get the time to go there in business hrs.

BTW – You have been tagged
nomad | Homepage | 01.29.08 – 12:42 pm | #


ooops.. the tag is at…01/ imagine.html
nomad | Homepage | 01.29.08 – 12:47 pm | #


Your blog brings back memories of travelling to Delhi to attend the Auto expo in the cold with Dad..a car/bike fanatic.
The British Motor show was held last year at the London Excel Arena and it was p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c…I was missing Pragati Maidan..maybe someday I shall be able to see it again.
What was the 4×4 scene? how is it being taken in India?
Morpheus | Homepage | 02.01.08 – 6:59 pm | #