Ford Fiesta 'Classic' spotted testing in Chennai

When Ford decided to discontinue the Ikon, it was clearly aware of the fact that it is creating a void between the Figo and the existing Fiesta. Also, with the all-new Fiesta on its way to India before the end of the year, which in all probability will be positioned even higher than the current model, that gap is only going to get bigger.

Ford has found out a smart way to bridge that gap. Before the launch of the new Fiesta, the existing Fiesta would be repositioned in the lower segment and they have decided to call it as Fiesta Classic. Now don't ask me what is so classic in this classic. It is just a stripped out and cheaper version of the existing Fiesta to make way for the new model.

When I saw this Fiesta from behind with a red number plate, I guessed it would be the Classic undergoing road trials and it proved to be right. There was this 'Classic' sticker placed just below the Fiesta badge. From what I saw, it was the EXi variant of the existing car with those black mirrors, door handles and number plate garnish. The fog lamps were absent as well. Apart from that, there were no changes to the looks, which is a good thing. From a quick glance, I couldn't notice any changes to the interiors either.

So, with those nice looks, sorted out chassis and good combination of Duratec Petrol and Duratorq Diesel engines, all I would say is the Fiesta Classic would be more than a match and a successor to the Ikon if its priced right. The best bet for Ford would be to price this car between 5.75 to 6.75 Lacs. Anything less would affect the Figo and anything more could affect the New Fiesta.


GM ends Daewoo chapter, models to be rebadged as Chevrolets

On a similar note to my previous post, yet another automotive brand has been sent to the coffers. Daewoo, the erstwhile Korean brand, which expanded and grew exponentially in the early nineties before going bankrupt in the late nineties only to be acquired by General Motors, has become the latest victim, this time due to badge engineering by its parent company. General Motors has decided to rebadge all Daewoos as Chevrolets throughout the world, including South Korea.

If you think that this is already happening, you are not wrong. All Daewoos are being sold as Chevrolets in most parts of the world except South Korea, the home country of Daewoo. Even in India, models which are sold as Chevrolets – Beat, Spark, Aveo, Optra and Captiva are all actually re-badged Daewoos.  But, GM has decided that its time to kill off the Korean brand even in its home country. Knowing how patriotic Koreans are when it comes to all things Korean, this will turn out to be a very crucial decision in GM’s Asia operations. Officially, GM Daewoo Automotive Company in South Korea has been renamed as GM Korea.

For lovers of the Matiz - Daewoo’s superbly-styled, multiple award-winning and most popular car ever, of which I am one, it’s going to be tough to imagine it as a Chevy. Daewoo now joins an already exhaustive list of automobile brands killed off within the past one year. The list includes brands such as Hummer, Saturn, Pontiac and Mercury, the former three belonging to GM and the last one belonging to Ford. Rest in Peace, Daewoo.

Bajaj kills 'Bajaj' from its models

There is a quote that goes like “Trust is the easiest thing in the world to loose and the hardest thing in the world to get back”. Perhaps it’s time for people, or rather companies, to remember that quote. Bajaj, the iconic Indian brand, which enjoys blind trust, unmatched respect and unflattering loyalty of thousands of our countrymen is slowly fading into oblivion. When Mr. Rajiv Bajaj said that Bajaj brand will cease to exist in automobiles in a candid interview last year, most of us, myself included, would not have imagined that the end of Bajaj would start so soon.

I completely admire and adore Mr. Rajiv Bajaj for the way in which he turned around ‘Bajaj’, the erstwhile scooter manufacturer into a powerhouse of motorcycles. The Pulsars and Discovers that you see in millions on Indian roads is a testimony for that. While it’s true that our market is predominantly ruled by motorcycles, scooters are not a segment to be totally abandoned. Ask Honda, whose Activa is still its biggest seller by a huge margin.

So, when Bajaj decided to completely quit the scooter segment which it ruled undisputedly for decades, it not only signaled the end of a product, but also the end of a legacy – a legacy which tickled the heart strings of generations of Indian families who have dreamt of, grown up with, driven, owned and loved the ‘Chetak’, a true classic and an icon of our times. Heck, even its ad campaign - the sensational and touching ‘Hamara Bajaj’ would never get out of our memories.

It was this legacy of ‘Bajaj’, strengthened by the Chetak and immortalized by the Hamara Bajaj campaign, that made people queue up for the Pulsars and Discovers initially, when they were all-new. And it is exactly the same legacy which Mr. Rajiv Bajaj wants to chop off from the company’s future products, the prime reason cited being the ‘Bajaj’ name associated with diversified products ranging from electricals to insurance to automobiles.

It is hard to believe that this process has already started with the Pulsars and Discovers coming out without the Bajaj badge or stickers for quite some time now. KTM and Boxer, the company’s future models would also follow the same trend and all these will evolve into separate entities and sub-brands, as per the statement issued by the company. Even the dealerships would be remodeled without the name ‘Bajaj’ appearing anywhere, though I am quite unsure about how this is going to work out.

However it may be, critics have, as always, voiced their opinions both for and against this move by Bajaj. I, for one, hope and wish that this move doesn’t backfire but turns out to be yet another bold, strategic and successful decision in the growth-path of ‘Bajaj’. Oops, I forgot, growth-path of the (what should I call it) company.


Honda recalls 57,853 City sedans for faulty engine parts, sets a positive trend in India

We Indians are a heck of a patient lot. Even after being taken for a ride by most companies when compared to our foreign peers, we don’t make a huge fuss out of it and continue buying and embracing their products. The automotive industry is no exception - we are used to paying more and getting less than almost every other country out there and we don’t make a hue and cry over it.

Take this for instance. While almost every single company that sells cars in India allows people to configure cars according to their individual preferences in other markets, we Indians are still forced to choose from the factory-fitted options only. Or, more importantly, while countries like USA, the European Union and Australia have extensive crash test norms and strict regulations enforcing the safety of the vehicles that are sold in their respective markets, the big and booming Indian market still doesn’t have a safety protocol or worse, even a recall policy.

This is why when Honda decided to issue an open statement recalling 57,853 numbers of its popular City sedan in India to replace the potentially faulty motion control springs in the engine, I felt like running out and congratulating them for starting a new trend in our country. Remember, there are no regulatory authorities in India to force them to do this recall and, if I remember correctly, this is the second time that the Honda City is being recalled in India within a year. Nonetheless, the company went ahead, accepted the fact that there was a mistake and included India and its 57,000 odd cars in a global recall covering around 700,000 compact cars from Honda across Asia, USA and Japan.

Sure, the customers who paid a premium to get the City over an equivalent Verna or Fiesta are going to feel shortchanged and cheated. Also, the image of Honda is sure to take a hit as Hondas have always known to be reliable and trouble-free and two recalls in one year doesn’t augur well for the premium-priced Japanese brand. But still, Honda went ahead, risked its reputation and gained confidence and trust by issuing this voluntary recall.

Now that the precedent is set, henceforth, I hope that all manufacturers would follow suit and treat the high-paying Indian customers with a bit more respect and transparency that they really deserve.


2010 Global Top 10 Automobile Companies

The year 2010 ended with high hopes and optimism for the global automotive industry with recovering economy boosting sales in the saturated markets of USA and Europe and tremendous growth opportunities beckoning automakers in the booming BRIC Countries. So, as another calendar year passed by, its time for listing the annual Global Top 10 Automobile Companies by sales. Though most companies posted positive growth over the recession-hit 2009 figures, 2010 was not all smooth sailing for the industry.

Take Toyota, for example. The world’s largest automobile company which was hitherto known for bullet-proof build quality and rock-solid reliability, saw its brand image take a huge dip with those massive recalls of most of its top selling models. Pursuing volumes, Toyota failed to monitor and maintain the earlier quality standards that it set for itself and the entire industry. Having said that, for a company like Toyota whose prime focus has always been ‘Quality’, bouncing back from this would not be a problem at all. The fact that Toyota still holds the top spot even after this recall fiasco proves its popularity and loyalty.

General Motors, which trailed Toyota by a significant margin in 2009, is showing good signs of recovery after taking the bailout money from the US Federal Government. In 2010, the gap between Toyota and GM was down to just 30,000 units. The Volkswagen group, with a spate of brands under it holds on to the third spot but saw its sales increase by over 1 million units compared to 2009. At this rate of growth, Volkswagen looks all set to achieve its aim of becoming the largest automobile company by 2020.

The biggest news of 2010 ought to be this. Continuing their aggressive expansion and relentless growth, Hyundai-Kia managed to overtake Ford for the fourth spot in the global standings. Model after model, the two Korean brands have achieved a string of successes which their competitors could only envy. On the flip side, a leaner, meaner Ford, after declaring a series of profitable quarters, is looking stronger than ever and would do all it could to retake the fourth spot from Hyundai-Kia. This is one battle to watch out for in future.

Nissan came in sixth after overtaking Honda and Peugeot. Renault and Suzuki completed the global top ten. Point to be noted is the combined sales of Renault-Nissan alliance would make it the world’s third largest automaker, but both manufacturers wish to report their numbers separately. Watch this space for more action and position swaps in the coming years.

2010 Top 10 Automobile Companies (By Sales):

1. Toyota – 8.42 Million
2. General Motors – 8.39 Million
3. Volkswagen AG – 7.14 Million
4. Hyundai-Kia – 5.74 Million
5. Ford – 5.31 Million
6. Nissan – 4.08 Million
7. Peugeot – 3.6 Million
8. Honda – 3.56 Million
9. Renault – 2.62 Million
10. Suzuki – 2.54 Million


Is 'Blue' the new 'Green'?

It’s a known fact that fossil fuels, from which gasoline and diesel that powers almost all the automobiles on earth are made, are not going to be available for eternity. From hugely successful and mass-produced gas-electric hybrids to relatively lesser successful full electrics to the still-under development fuel cell and hydrogen vehicles, automobile companies are draining the brains of their experts to find an alternative to replace the traditional Internal Combustion Engines.

While its going to take at-least a decade or two for this seemingly never-ending quest to come to an end, car companies cant afford to sit still until then. They have chosen to make the existing IC Engines cleaner and more fuel efficient. When so much efforts are being put, would any company want them to go unnoticed? The answer is an obvious no and here starts the problem of branding them, typically with a catchy surname pointing out their 'doing good to nature' quality.

Universally, everything that is 'environment friendly' are coined with an adjective ‘green’, which is quite understandable as green has always been tied to nature. But what is most surprising is how a host of manufacturers have chosen to ignore this and call the greener variants of their models ‘blue’. While Mercedes-Benz has chosen ‘Blue Efficiency’ to denote their models specifically tuned for better fuel efficiency and lesser emissions, Volkswagen prefers to call them ‘Bluemotion’ and Hyundai has come up with a ‘Blue Drive’ moniker for the same.

Is there any out-of-the-world relationship between blue and green or is 'blue' really the new 'green'? I don't quite understand.


Hyundai 800cc Small Car (HA) spied testing in NH4

The Chennai-Bangalore highway (NH4) is turning out to be a hot spot of activity for automobile companies for testing their yet-to-be-launched models. Most recently, the highly publicized and much awaited 800cc car of Hyundai, being referred to as 'HA' was caught testing in the highway near the company's factory. When I spotted this camouflaged car, it was immediately apparent that it was a Hyundai, the 'headlights' making sure that I didn't mistake this for any other model.

At first sight, its clear that this new model will continue Hyundai's international styling trend that we all are now familiar with in the i10. The fluidic headlights with clear partition for indicators, the hexagonal grille (as outlined by the camouflage), the upward sloping rear windows and the tipped-forward aggressive stance - all are clearly visible. Overall, we can safely expect the car to bear a strong family resemblance to other Hyundai cars, especially the i10 and that's no bad thing at all.

The car also seem to be noticeably smaller than the other two tall boys from Hyundai - the Santro & i10. But, when its main competitor is going to be the Alto, it only makes sense for Hyundai to come out with a similar sized car. Its a known fact that Hyundai is developing a new 800cc 3-cylinder engine in the 'Epsilon' platform to power this car. The Epsilon engine, in its current 4-cylinder form, has been doing duty in the Santro since 1998 and more recently in the base versions of the i10 as well.

Though Hyundai is still tight lipped about the car's launch date, its being widely speculated that it will hit the roads in the third quarter of 2011. If priced competitively at around 2.5 to 3 Lacs, we can surely expect the car to take the fight to India's numero uno best-seller, the Alto, which has been enjoying a monopoly in that segment. Personally, I can't wait long to see this happen.


Daimler celebrates 125th Anniversary of the Automobile & MB post-war deliveries touch 30 Million

“You learn something every day if you pay attention”, goes a saying. Whats so surprising is the way in which ‘life’ reminds us of this fact with amazing regularity, the most recent one for me being this news which I came to know just a couple of days back. I may boast of possessing considerable knowledge in automobiles that had made me go to the extent of blogging about it. I may have also remembered faintly the fact that Carl Benz was the inventor of motor car. But, never did I get to know all these days that, as an honor of Carl Benz’s invention, the day in which he received the patent is being observed as ‘World Automobile Day’. It was on 29th of January, 1886 that Carl Benz was awarded the patent 37435 for his ‘vehicle with gas-engine drive’.

Now, 125 years after that historic day which had changed the meaning of ‘personal mobility’, Mercedes-Benz and the parent brand Daimler are celebrating the ‘Anniversary of the Automobile’ with a slew of events. It is, quite obviously, a matter of great pride for everyone associated with Daimler. Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, emphasized the importance of the automobile on speaking on the occasion. "The invention of Daimler and Benz has changed the world for the better and it will continue to do so. History shows that when a society becomes physically mobile it also becomes socially mobile and economically successful."

The company kicked off the celebrations in the best way possible by receiving yet another patent, this time for ‘bipolar flat-cell frame’, a battery-related technology still under development at Daimler. As if to emphasize the importance of fuel cell electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz also started a World Tour of three B-Class Fuel Cell cars which would travel across the globe in 125 days. Also unveiled during the celebrations was the latest sculpture from Mercedes-Benz Design Team, the ‘Aesthetics 125’. The sculpture not only continues the philosophy that ‘Mercedes-Benz design is art’ but also provides a glimpse of the future design language of the brand.

Also, right on time for the 125th anniversary celebrations, Mercedes-Benz also reached yet another historic milestone. Since 1945, after 65 years of post-war production, Mercedes-Benz cars with the iconic ‘three pointed star’ have been delivered to 30 million customers across the globe. Way to go MB! Now, before the reality sets in, let me start dreaming of owning a Mercedes-Benz just in time to atleast join the 150th anniversary of the automobile.