Monday, 12 November 2012

Oil Turmoil

Legend has it that there was a time in India, when you used to get change back from your rickshaw, that there was a time when fuel prices were closer to 50 than they were to a hundred Rupees.

Not to anyone’s surprise, but much to everyone’s annoyance the price of petrol was hiked once again and at the highest amount ever recorded. The BJP and its allies called for a complete shutdown, people once again flooded social networks with images that spoke of how much more we pay than everyone else {made up prices but when you’re pissed, you like everything that works in your favor} and that if no one re-fueled together for one day, the petrol companies would choke on their stock. As much as we’d like to do that, tanking up is not choreography so people will hit the pump when needed.  After all these activities and the fact that fuel prices have more than doubled in less than a decade, you would expect some serious impact. But what you see is a ruling party that is “considering” a roll back of 1.5 bucks. In a parallel universe we would have roll backs of 7.5 and then hikes of 1.5.

However, blame it on corruption or a lack of transparency it's our lack of self sufficiency that makes us a puppet in the oil world.
The biggest issue is that people say these constant hikes only affect rich car drivers who end up paying hundreds of rupees more at each refill. Let me explain to you my situation. I ride a motorbike for an average of 1000kms a month. Being a student means I have very little money at my disposal, but I have fewer responsibilities as well don’t I?

I get around Rs. 3000 a month in which I have to cover every expense I have. That includes fuel, bike services, my highway riding and of course every other regular college student expense. Despite the fact that I have been so good with savings to the point that I wonder if there is a Shah or Patel somewhere in my south Indian bloodline. At the end of the month I’m left with peanuts and this fuel price hike makes me sacrifice a thing or two.

Now imagine the situation of 90% of Indian two wheel riders. They come from moderate backgrounds, ride 100cc bikes that have such great fuel economy that it’s borderline perpetual, but earn about the same as I get.

Trying to get a house, look after your family of 4, pay taxes, get your kids a good school, medical expenses etc. This average a salary combined with such a massive amount of responsibilities means a hike of Rs 7.5 will be devastating. Every time a hike is announced it is this regular man who cues up outside petrol pumps for hours. We may think “how much can he possibly save by tanking up once?” But that one full tank could save him 1/5th of his salary.

What angers several people more is that they take the brunt while states like Goa reduce their price by Rs.11, months before the hike was even announced. Why aren’t diesel prices also increased? Well the goods transport sector is heavily dependent on diesel, so if it had the same price as petrol you can imagine how much more your groceries would cost.

In all honesty I don’t really understand the whole deregulation mumbo-jumbo but I do know for a fact that the government can’t just wipe its hands clean of the price hike by putting it on the oil companies. If the corporate big rigs called all the shots while we had to just stand back and take it why do we even need a government? Yes there may be legitimate reasons for the hike, but the issue was not brought up in the parliamentary session that took place mere days prior. The government has not consulted the opposition and worst of all they haven’t explained to the people why exactly the price went up! When the government’s behavior is so shady, you obviously won’t give them the benefit of doubt. More over after a few days of threats if they are ready to cut the price by 1.5, why was the price increased by 7.5? Wouldn’t the oil companies still suffer? If the oil companies can recover their losses so quickly, it doesn’t look like they were doing so badly after all.

India shells out a hefty amount on tax. People often register cars from Daman & Diu because they actually save quite a bit during registration. Particularly on high end cars you can actually save close to a lakh by the difference in road tax, octroi etc. The real crux of the issue is that motorists don’t get what they paid for. If we had good roads and driving conditions, I’m confident the people wouldn’t mind the amount we shell out for cars.

So what can you do to save on fuel? Apart from driving at decent speeds, you can do the simple things. Ensure your tyres are well inflated, avoid braking too much, get your services done on time and also get the underbelly of the car rinsed every time you hit the car wash. The dust and gunk that get lodged reduce your fuel economy by a few kilometers.  Tata is planning to create a car that actually runs on air but until that gets here, buckle up for more hikes because Rs.100 per liter doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

The Japs and Czechs better watch out

Cruising down the highway in the morning just as the sun begins to climb over a mountain ahead. The first few rays pinch me in the eye and just as I pull down the sun visor the bright reflection of the chrome rings that encompass all the meters and dials has me thinking of the Ford Mustang. The heat begins to rise pretty quickly so I reach for the air conditioner controls at the centre console and I feel like a king.
The music system, central A/C vents and all the primary controls are already facing me much like they do in the Dodge Viper, it’s like the car is flirting with me and saying “ I'm all about you babe.” Up ahead a signal turns red and I stop next to an 18 wheeler and catch the cars reflection. The overall look of an Audi A6, the headlamps of a Honda Accord with a humongous black front grill and interiors of any American make,  but more subtle. While “The YMCA” begins to play in my head as background music, I suddenly realize that this car isn't American. Flattering upholstery and immaculate quality, but it isn't German or Japanese either. It’s Korean and it’s not a new Hyundai.
It’s from a sister car maker called Kia Motors. Kia has won over the hearts of millions world over, but remains unheard of in India. So you’re probably wondering why I’m doing a review about a car that comes from a manufacturer that isn’t even here yet. Well, I am in Muscat, Oman driving the Kia Optima, a car that could be coming to India in the next 3-5 years and attack the Accord, Superb and even the Sonata. Rumors are that Kia has already done a road test of its hatchback the Picanto, which is a good sign because Kia has a line-up that is perfect for the whims and fancies of Indian buyers. Much like Hyundai, their cars aim to provide affordable cars but throw in a fair amount of features as well.
 The 2012 Optima is a complete paradox to its previous generations. Luxury boasting used to be limited to smooth floor mats, now has features that the German power 3 would offer on cars that cost twice as much as the Optima would. This has brought about a change in the very segment that the Optima falls into.

The car is available in both manual and automatic transmissions. I managed to get my claws on the automatic. Considering how massive and heavy the Optima is, you’d expect a dull reaction, but wait till you hear what makes the leopard in sheepskin move. The drive on this car is extremely smooth and lift off is effortless.  
 The 6 speed automatic gear box is very responsive and is almost unnerving how it shifts exactly when I want it to. Gear shifts are quick and you won’t even realize when you touched 120 kph. Not a good thing if the speed limit is less than that, but always good to know that the car would serve you well if you were being chased by a T- Rex. The short gear ratios result in a 0-60 time of under 5 seconds, but that doesn't translate to heavy jerks with every shift. Behind the steering are the two flappy paddles and, I feel like a kid again. One little flick of these and I feel like smirking at Jason Statham, but then again he did drive an S8 among other cars so I draw my attention back to my Kia. 

The gearbox also comes with a sports mode. Up or downshifting is like playing a SEGA arcade game. Still not as fun as a real manual, but it is fun to use.
Never before have I driven a car that had such stability, irrespective of the speed. One hard tap at the gas pedal and the car down-shifts with a vengeance and the speedo climbs like roadrunner escaping wily coyote.

Powering the Optima is a 2.4 litre, DOHC, in-line 4 cylinder and the cherry on top is that direct injection which means extra oomph in the cylinders and boy does it show. Power output stands at 200 bhp @ 6300rpm and 190 lb. ft. of torque @ 4300 rpm. The turbo charged edition pumps out a devastatingly tasty 274 bhp. Performance isn't the primary criteria when you buy this Kia but it looks like they want us to remember the fun of driving without making us sell our soul for it, by shelling out cash of Pam Anderson hooter proportions.  The fact that this car will get around 11 kmpl is all the more astonishing, not only because of the large engine but with a host of features resulting in quite a bit of car to move.


If the Optima is launched in India it will be a car priced above the 20 lakh bracket, which obviously means that the USP of the Optima has to be luxury as it will largely be a chauffeur driven car.
Beginning with the most elementary uhhh element i.e. space. I am 6.4ft tall and a tough man to please, but for the first time in my life I almost sunk into the seat and flung my legs into the car. Let me tell you the opportunity to fling your legs into a car when you’re this big is rarer than a rickshaw with lane discipline. With the front seats pulled back to the maximum there’s still enough room to comfortably sit behind another person as tall as me. The under-thigh support is brilliant and the seats are well padded, wide and just glamorous. The head room is almost unbelievable and so is the width. It 
wouldn't be going too far to say that this 5 seater could comfortably accommodate 4 people in the back alone.

An optional panoramic sunroof enhances the ambience all the more and the cabin feels like a science centre. The boot space is almost built for your mother in-law and even if you did throw her in there she would have the time of her life. The space can fit 2-3 full size bags and if you need more room, there are 2 levers that let you put the rear seats down from the boot itself. Even inside the driver arm rest is quite large and can store a lot of stuff and of course the cup holders, sun-glass holder as well.

Obviously when you’re buying a car like this, space isn't your only criteria or you could've just bought an MUV. The Optima doesn't disappoint. As a matter of fact, this is where Kia has tried to make the Optima its game changer. It takes the trend of bringing high end car features in more affordable segments to a whole new level.

The information screen displays your average speed, fuel economy, outside temperature,range and even tyre pressure, but this is pretty common even in hot hatches these days. Being a family sedan you’re probably going to need something to make the kids shut up and they are not stingy with the entertainment system. Even on the base LX variant, Bluetooth connectivity enables you to play songs, receive and make phone calls. An Auxiliary port, USB, CD all come standard. An optional satellite radio package is also offered.


Rear parking sensors, 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP, all four disk brakes and 16’ alloy wheels all come standard. In all honesty, apart from all this I feel the thing that will really keep you safe is that build quality. Everything from the chassis to the body panels and doors are durable, heavy and reassuring. Simply closing and opening the doors will tell you how heavy and rock solid the Optima is which makes it a testament to the engineering. The car is heavy yet the fuel economy figures, handling and brakes are astonishing. The EX has a few more features like a smart key, push button start, 17’ wheels, front and rear parking sensors and cameras, few more features that just add that little something to the niche.
Great features, greater space and the greatest performance make for a brilliant car, but it obviously can’t be all good.

The Optima is a complete driver’s car. The entire centre console is angled towards the driver and the rest of the car seems a bit barren in comparison. At the rear seat there isn't anything apart from the controls to the rear A/C vent and an arm rest in between.
The Optima is a very large car. It’s larger than a Mercedes C-class in fact, but the dash board rises at the driver’s end. This makes the driver’s seat like a cockpit, but your view gets very narrow because it’s squished between the dash and the sun visor to the point that it gets quite dangerous. Judgement is very important with cars as large as this and while the interior makes you happy, the poor visibility overshadows all else. The ergonomics get a thrashing because of this one aspect and will take some time getting used to. Kia also needs to include a seat height adjuster. I had no issues driving the car, but anyone below 6ft of height is going to have a hard time.  

The Kia Optima is however a brilliant car. There is no compromise on build quality and though it is a driver’s car, a few tweaks here and there could see this car winning over several Indians looking for a back seat luxury sedan. Something as simple as a remote for the entertainment system can do wonders. If the car does come to India as it is, it could see a similar fate as the Lancer and Hyundai Elantra. The problem is that with petrol prices this high, the driver’s car always seems to get rejected.

The Kia Optima is easily one of the best cars I have ever driven. It is a benchmark in the continued efforts of car makers to provide high end performance and features without the “kick-in-the-gonads” pricing.

Five Indian habits, that make driving a nightmare.

The Indian motoring industry is at an all-time high. The consumer’s buying power has gone up and companies have taken note. Just under a decade ago luxury meant just Mercedes, but now Audis and BMWs are as common as a corrupt MLA. This is a good sign for growth, but the infrastructure continues to remain the same and driving schools are merely a link between you and the lazy government official who okays your driver’s license. Those of us, who are license holders, know very well what qualifies as a “driving test” in India.
 The lack of training and education on road safety has resulted in a swarm of incompetent drivers who are only perfect at honking and wondering if there are any cops around when the signal goes red. This has made India get a track record for the maximum road accident related deaths. Hence here is a list of 5 things that Indian drivers do that make you love to despise their very existence.

The Lane marking
Several drivers on the road seem to look at the pretty little series of white lines on the road and wonder “What sorcery is this?” The lane markings {even though they are quite rare to spot in most places}, are meant to ensure proper and organized traffic movement. Unfortunately, they appear to be modern art than anything else, since hardly anyone actually follows them. The left side lanes are for slow moving traffic and the one on the right is for overtaking only. But more often than not, you will find a rickshaw or a 48 year old man on a 30 bajjillion year old Hero Honda splendor cruising at 25kph. To add to your misery, if you flash your lights at him he will gracefully use his left hand and paddle forwards and backwards, telling you to overtake from the left. Due to the number of people who do this, even people who follow the lane system have no choice but to act like their annoying counterparts.
The whole purpose of this system is to ensure that the person over-taking you never falls in your blind spot i.e. the side-view mirror that is on the passenger’s side. 

The “you don’t say?” indicator

The indicator is a simple device that was put in to show the drivers and people around you, that you will be changing your direction. At first nobody understood its purpose but eventually they started using it. The problem however is that people don’t know how to use it right.
Technically speaking the indicator should be given at least 50 meters before taking the actual turn, but in our case it’s given while turning. Even in the case of lane changing, drivers need to give the person behind them at least a few moments to notice the indicator, but again the signal is given and the turn is taken immediately so the guy behind him thinks “Oh you don’t say?, if you didn’t give the indicator while you turned, I would never have noticed!!”. This is often the cause of that tyre screeching noise caused by slamming the brakes, when a driver is caught unaware.
Just giving the indicator as a formality is pointless, use it right for everyone’s safety.

The Commuter "Bikers"

Commuter bikers are one of the biggest problem creators on the road. They are extremely tiny and expect you to spot them in the puny nooks and crannies that they trudge through. I happen to be a hardcore biker and a 4 wheel fanatic as well so, I know for a fact how two- wheelers behave and how enraging it is to deal with the biker phenomenon. These two wheeled terrorists have a crude sense of humor. They overtake in the most heinous possible way. Instead of giving you some gap they pass cars like perverts grabbing a woman’s skirt. There is barely any gap between the vehicle being overtaken and the bike doing the overtaking. If the driver steps on the gas pedal even a little, it’s enough to P.I.T the bike into road paste and the poor drivers are held guilty more often than not.

The “in-a-hurry-to-go-nowhere” honkers

I bet you grinned at the word honkers. Well this is something that almost every one of us indulges in. The frustrating traffic conditions, never ending jams and hopeless roads would have everyone revving their engines with rage, but with these petrol prices we tend to vent it out by honking.
See a car a mile away HONK, see a dog HONK, come late from office or a party HONK at 3am to wake up the guard at the gate.
Excessive honking is an epidemic and we do it almost sub-consciously. The best example of this is a traffic jam during rush hour. The signal has just turned green and the guy in a Tata Sumo, 17 cars away from the signal will blast the horn because apparently that turns the Nano up front, into a Ferrari. It’s almost like the traffic signals are on a race track and if you don’t hit the horn first, you lose. If this one habit was stopped road rage related issues would crash in numbers and so would many health conditions.

The high-beamers

This is in my opinion, the worst of all these drivers. High beam driving has become a serious issue with drivers unnecessarily using their high beam. When people do this, traffic on the opposite side and the driver in front of you goes blind. The light creates an opaque barrier that quite literally blinds everyone else. This is particularly dangerous because on our roads, craters, random dislodged rocks and badly laid down paths result in every route being an obstacle course and an accident waiting to happen. This picture shows how dangerous high beam driving is. At high speeds, your vision will be a lot worse.

The civic bodies may not work efficiently anytime soon, but till then it’s up to us to ensure our own safety. It’s clear that if you are a driver/rider in India, you have indulged in some or the other activity from above. I know I have. It could be because everyone else does it or because you just weren’t educated about it.
 You could stick to one lane no matter what. You could ignore the guy in a rush behind you who wants you to move even though it’s a red signal. Remember if a driver crossing the signal legally crashes into you, the impatient driver won’t take the blame or the responsibility.
So the bottom line is, if you can do the simple things that will make Indian roads safer.

 Why not just do it?

Eyes on the road, not the best idea

Yes, it’s been a long time since I uploaded anything. 

Getting back on track, I have used this time to get into some interesting trivia. I drive fairly often around the demonic streets of Mumbai. Licenses continue to be handed out like condoms at a swingers party and you’re looking at female drivers of most countries being much better drivers than the male drivers in our little sub-continent {complement/insult? you decide}. However, this post isn’t a rant about something that is India specific, it’s an issue that most of us brush off and just say to ourselves “Dude focus!” Not following me? Well trust me this happens to you almost every time you let down that parking brake and start driving. 

Motion induced blindness {M.I.B} is a common point between the Venn diagram of medicine and motoring. My digression has reached new levels so I’ll try and get to the crux of what I’m talking about.

So, you’re driving down the main road of your locality at about 60kmph. The roads are fairly good and all you can see are the other motorists around you. A guy in a grey Hyundai is enjoying a cup of coffee, a youngster is leaning back in a 7 year old Honda and you assume he can only see his instrument cluster.  Suddenly you spot a person about to cross the road a mere 50 meters ahead of you. You get a little shell shocked; lightly hit the brakes and wonder “how the hell did I see him just now?” or “He wasn’t there two seconds ago!”

Were you not paying attention? No, the issue was that you were paying too much attention.  Of course driving drunk is not the solution no matter how much attention it absorbs. The simple fact is that your eyes are on the road and that’s all you tend to see when you’re constantly driving at speeds of 50kmph and above. In crowded city streets there are a plethora of distraction to keep your eyes busy focusing on the assortment of distractions. It could be pedestrians who talk on the phone and don’t look while crossing or a paver block that’s come loose and threatens to break your bumper. In Mumbai the thought of a fresh pothole along your everyday route keeps your speedometer relaxed and eyes moving like a table tennis spectator which is why you never fail to spot even a rat moving. Then why is it that we have so many accidents on open highways, even though the number of cars is significantly lesser?

The problem lies in the fact that at high speeds when your eyes are focused on the movement of the roads, your peripheral vision takes a thrashing. Your path of sight gets narrowed down to one direction which is good only if you’re a drag racer on a track. Motorists have reported that they have even failed to see SUVs entering their lane until they were quite close to them. To see just how bad it gets, go to this link and see essentially what happens when you’re driving.

The three yellow dots you saw pulling a Houdini, could be a person, vehicle or any given object. M.I.B is a major issue for bikers in particular. Bikers go through M.I.B themselves and often end up being victims of it as well, because of their smaller size. Bikers are seen as a nuisance because of constant lane cutting and swiping overtakes, but in certain cases innocent and responsible riders are taken down by 4 wheelers simply because they never spotted them.

The solution to this undermined issue is pretty simple, just pretend you’re in a busy city street and keep your eyes moving from left to right focusing on different points around you, even if it is for a millisecond. That doesn’t mean you keep your eyes flailing about like you’re tripping on acid. Just take a moment periodically to flex your sockets. It will ensure a safer drive and an alert driver.