Spotted - Mahindra's Future SUV

It's startling to note how quickly time moves by and situation changes. An year back, when reading through the spy shots of Mahindra's future SUV in Team-Bhp, I remember thinking of spotting and taking snaps of one of these camouflaged vehicles on road and sending it over to friends at Team-Bhp. But now, here I am writing my own blog and posting about the same topic. My story apart, thanks to my friends for chasing down and taking snaps of the vehicle in rush-hour Chennai traffic and sending it over to me.

These are the camouflaged pictures of Mahindra's new Global SUV with which Mahindra is expected to go truly international. Being developed by Mahindra under the Code Name "W201", it seems the Indian company is leaving no stone unturned to get this all-important model completely right. It's been almost a year now since the first camouflaged pictures were seen in the net and there are still no signs of when this vehicle will be launched by Mahindra.

Going by the pictures, what strikes us first is the size of the vehicle. It's huge and is definitely a notch bigger than the Scorpio and the Tata Safari. Just look at the huge ground clearance of the vehicle and the size of the windows. Also evident is the curved rear windshield though I suspect it's just a gimmick by Mahindra to add a bit of suspense. Whatever it is, I sincerely wish Mahindra launches this model as early as possible and don't let the Indian public , who are buying the Boleros, Scorpios and Xylos in hordes, wait for so long.

2009 Top Selling Cars - USA & Europe

Though there are quite a lot of television shows, magazines, websites and blogs to keep track of what's happening in the Global Automotive Industry, nothing beats the sheer excitement of seeing the actual sales figures at the end of every month or year. After all, it's the sales numbers which reveal the actual performance of a vehicle in the market irrespective of the reviews by auto-journalists. Speaking about sales, 2009 is one of those years which would not make an auto manufacturer happy with the numbers. But the positives of the year surely would be the early signs of recovery of the global auto industry with even the two biggest markets of USA and Europe showing signs of hope at the end of the year.

To those of you who are interested in numbers and statistics, and I know there a quite a lot of them, here are the list of Top Selling Cars for the year 2009 in two of the World's biggest markets - USA & Europe.

2009 Top 20 in USA:
  1. Ford F-Series - 413,625
  2. Toyota Camry - 356,824
  3. Chevrolet Silverado - 316,544
  4. Toyota Corolla - 296,874
  5. Honda Accord - 290,056
  6. Honda Civic - 259,722
  7. Nissan Altima - 203,568
  8. Honda CR-V - 191,214
  9. Ford Fusion - 180,671
  10. Dodge Ram - 177,268
  11. Ford Escape - 173,044
  12. Chevrolet Impala - 165,565
  13. Chevrolet Malibu - 161,568
  14. Ford Focus - 160,433
  15. Toyota RAV4 - 149,088
  16. Toyota Prius - 139,682
  17. Hyundai Sonata - 120,028
  18. GMC Sierra - 111,842
  19. Chevrolet Cobalt - 104,724
  20. Hyundai Elantra - 103,269
  • Star Performer of 2009: Ford Fusion 
  • Expected Star Performer for 2010: Hyundai Sonata
Ford Fusion has made a stunning entry into the Top 10 from the 19th or so place that it earned in 2008, making it the Star Performer. With the impending launch of the new 6th generation model, I expect the Hyundai Sonata to shake up the market and climb further in the sales charts. All the negative publicity that Toyota has garnered in the recent months is going to be an added advantage for Ford, Honda and Hyundai in 2010.

2009 Top 10 in Europe:
  1. Volkswagen Golf - 571,838
  2. Ford Fiesta - 472,091
  3. Peugeot 207 - 367,160
  4. Opel/Vauxhall Corsa - 351,807
  5. Fiat Punto - 323,536
  6. Renault Clio - 312,925
  7. Ford Focus - 309,134
  8. Fiat Panda - 298,914
  9. Volkswagen Polo - 282,780
  10. Opel/Vauxhall Astra - 275,638
  • Star Performer of 2009: Ford Fiesta
  • Expected Star Performer for 2010: Volkswagen Polo
Calling what the Fiesta has done for Ford globally as an epic turnaround will not reveal the full story. Seriously, the current generation Fiesta has been a textbook success for Ford globally, more so in Europe and China making it a Star Performer. The new generation Polo, which has recently won the 2010 European Car of the Year award and is strongly contending for the 2010 World Car of the Year award is sure to make a strong upward climb in the sales charts in 2010.


Ford India rolls-out first Figo from Chennai

Ford, it may be recalled, was the first company to set up shop in Chennai, now widely referred to as the "Detroit of South Asia". Though the title is quite debatable, the importance of Chennai in the Indian automotive industry cannot be ruled out as well. In addition to Ford, MNC's like Hyundai, BMW, HM-Mitsubishi and recently Renault-Nissan and Daimler Trucks have also made Chennai their home. Though Ford had the first-comer advantage in Chennai, in terms of production volume, Ford was left to play catch-up with the other biggies announcing huge investments and volumes. Not anymore.

It may also be remembered that Ford India committed an investment of $ 500 million for it's small-car project (Figo) and for the engine facility. Now that the plant is ready, the first Ford Figo rolled out of the Chennai plant on Feb-05-2010 in the presence of the Honorable CM of Tami Nadu, Dr.M.Karunanidhi. The "Job 1" Ford Figo was driven off the assembly line less than 6 months after the public unveiling of the car by the President & CEO of Ford Motor Company, Dr.Alan Mulally. The Figo will be launched in the first quarter of the year 2010 with a 1.2L Petrol and 1.4L Diesel engine. With the new Assembly & Engine plant going into production, the total engine capacity at Ford India will reach 250,000 from the current 60,000 units per year.

79% of the diesel and 60% of the petrol engine components are sourced from the local suppliers. Overall, the Ford Figo will be launched with 85% local content, thus enabling Ford to price the car competitively. I expect the Figo to undercut the current small-car benchmark i10 by atleast 20,000 rupees for comparable variants. Ford needs to get it right this time with the Figo if it expects to stay in the fight in getting a slice of the lucrative and growing Indian car market. With that hope, three cheers to Ford for the "Job 1 Figo"!

2010 World Car of the Year finalists announced

The World Car Awards have become the most prestigious award programme in the world rewarding automotive excellence on an international scale. Inaugurated in the year 2004, the motive of this programme is to complement the already existing regional and national Car of the Year awards. The World Car Awards are presented in the following categories:
  • World Car of the Year
  • World Performance Car of the Year
  • World Car Design of the Year &
  • World Green Car of the Year 
For the year 2010, an international panel of 59 automotive journalists have already shortlisted the Top 10 Cars which are competing for the first two award categories. The finalists in each of the two categories are listed below:

World Car of the Year Finalists:
  • Audi Q5
  • BMW X1
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Kia Soul
  • Mazda 3
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  • Opel/Vauxhall Insignia / Buick Regal
  • Porsche Panamera
  • Toyota Prius
  • Volkswagen Polo
World Performance Car of the Year Finalists: 
  • Aston-Martin V12 Vantage
  • Audi R8 V10
  • Audi TT RS Coupe/Roadster
  • BMW Z4
  • Ferrari California
  • Jaguar XFR
  • Lotus Evora
  • Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
  • Nissan 370Z
  • Porsche 911 GT3
  • Porsche Boxster/Cayman
The above top cars from both categories will undergo a series of rigorous evaluation and will be rated for Overall Merit, Value, Safety, Environmental Responsibility, Emotional Appeal and Significance. A final shortlist of 3 cars from each category will be selected from which the winner will be chosen. The winners for the remaining two award categories will be chosen from recommendations by global design and auto experts among the finalists.

The winners for 2009 were Volkswagen Golf and Nissan GT-R respectively. For this year, my bet is on Mercedes-Benz E-Class or Volkswagen Polo to take the crown as Car of the Year. Will Volkswagen make it two in a row? Wait for the results to be announced on April-01-2010 at the New York International Auto Show.


The Epic Fall of "Brand Toyota"

Though we all are quite aware of it, it's actually amazing to see how quickly things turn topsy-turvy in this ever-changing world. There cannot be a better example of the previous statement in the recent past than the epic recalls and the resulting controversies surrounding the automotive giant "Toyota". From being the benchmark in the world for "Production Efficiency, Quality, Reliability and Dependability (name whatever you want and you would find Toyota in the top of the heap) to being the reason for the hue and cry of millions across the globe for a quality problem, that should have been a tumultuous, spiraling journey to the bottom for the now-disgraced giant. To realize that all these happened in a span of a few weeks makes it even more interesting and something to be pondered over upon.

In the last two to three decades, Toyota had everything good in this world coming towards it. It took the coveted title of "World's Largest Car-Maker" from the erstwhile GM in 2008 (which incidentally has held the title for 80 long years) only to realize that it's easier to get to the top of the heap than maintaining it. The manufacturing techniques and concepts that Toyota pioneered became the benchmark for the whole world  which was eventually followed by every other OEM. Toyota's manufacturing methods were successful and efficient to such an extent that there have been a handful of books released on this subject, each of which were global best-sellers. Only very-recently could Toyota realize that the very manufacturing techniques which it invented had some simple yet serious flaws here and there that had been overlooked. Toyota, along with it's luxury division Lexus dominated the Quality, Reliability and Dependability surveys across the globe for years together, so much so that even the mighty, established Germans (Mercedes-Benz, BMW & Audi) could take a leaf out of it for their improvement. GM, Ford and Chrysler were forced to follow the new-leader if they sought to stay in the fight. Growing Asian manufacturers like Hyundai, Suzuki, etc. had Toyota as their default benchmark when looking at growth. 

Toyota experienced all this rapid and unprecedented growth only to fall hard and fast to the bottom. In fact, it went so high up in the ladder that there seems to be very little chances of bouncing back soon. There may be some who may think that it's very early to write-off Toyota in this manner. After all, most of the quality techniques followed globally are actually the brain-child of Toyota's top-thinking honchos. A quality issue in a single model in a single region can easily be siphoned off as a one-off case. But a problem in most of it's best selling models (Camry, Corolla to name a few) across the globe hinted at something serious which would have surely surfaced in the past but was dramatically overlooked and covered-up in the race to the top. NHTSA's revealing of the fact that a few cases of this "Unintended Acceleration" issue came up in the year 2004 only goes to prove the previous point. Also, the confession by NHTSA that it did force Toyota into the recall rather than Toyota voluntarily doing it only made things worse for "Brand Toyota". I am sure that Toyota, being the self-inspiring, quality-conscious manufacturer as it wa(i)s, will surely come out of the dust very soon just like Audi and Ford did some years back. 

Till then and forever, it's a lesson learnt the hard way for Toyota and in a not-so-hard way for other auto-makers who are in the race to reach the top. Going to the top needs utmost commitment and hard-work but staying there needs even more of the above qualities. A little slip-up might push you face-down so hard and fast. Beware Volkswagen, Hyundai-Kia and the like. One of your peers has just experienced it and made your life easier.