Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Triumph Begins Bookings

In the week leading up to Triumph Motorcycles India’s launch several shots of their first dealership opening in Bangalore emerged. Even though neither one of the showrooms have cut the red ribbon, Triumph has officially opened for bookings. The British bike legend was launched on November 28th this year amid much anticipation. Triumph had announced that they would commence bookings by the 2nd week of December and have gone through albeit after a short delay.

Throwback to that launch Thursday in November & you would remember Triumph’s plan to have nine dealerships in India within the first quarter of 2014. Currently the first two dealerships are down south while the bookings in Delhi & Mumbai are expected to be operational by the end of January. However, for the customers who are fortunate enough to have booked their motorcycles already deliveries will be around the same time as when bookings commence for other cities. Triumphs plant at Manesar, Haryana will be producing the models that are expected to invite higher demand. The Triumph Bonneville, Bonneville T100, Daytona 675R, Thruxton, Street Triple & Speed Triple will all be coming in through the CKD route and will be assembled here. The Tiger Explorer, Rocket III, Tiger 800XC and Thunderbird storm will all be complete imports and therefore invite higher duties.  Triumph’s price tags begin at Rs 5.7 lakh for the classic Bonneville & go all the way up to Rs 20 lakh for the flagship Rocket III.

Here is the complete price list: (Prices may vary depending on your location)

1. Bonneville-...................................5.70 lakh
2. Bonneville t100-...........................6.60 lakh
3. Thruxton-....................................6.70 lakh
4. Street triple-................................7.50 lakh
5. Speed triple-................................10.4 lakh
6. Thunderbird storm-.......................13 lakh
7. Rocket III -...................................20 lakh
8. Tiger 800XC-................................12 lakh
9. Tiger explorer-.............................17.9 lakh
10. Daytona 675r-.............................11.4 lakh

While Triumph is beginning its exploration of the Indian market, the all American legend Harley-Davidson had readied the Street 500 and Street 750. Harley-Davidson’s “By-India-For-India” Street siblings are slated for a launch any day now and may well pose a serious threat to Triumph. Most people had their excitement let down by Triumph’s heavy pricing & with the Street 500 & 750 expected to arrive below the 5 lakh price bracket the British legend may struggle to compete with the yanks.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Honda Two-Wheelers Starts sales in Bangladesh

Honda may have split up with one of the world’s highest selling two wheeler makers, Hero. But that seems to have only bolstered their plans to expand their reach into countries around our sub-continent. Bangladesh Honda Pvt ltd (BHPL), started locally producing the Honda CD 80 (A 4-speed 79cc utility motorcycle) in October 2012. Since then they have started expanding their sales network in Bangladesh. Although at the moment BHPL has only opened two dealerships, they plan to root themselves in Bangladesh and get established as a major player.

One dealership has been opened in Tangail while the other will operate in Jamalpur. Honda will be focusing entirely on commuter motorcycles and it is unlikely that Bangladesh will see performance models like the CBR 250r just yet. The current model range count stands at six including the locally produced CD80 and the Dream Neo that will be imported from Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India Pvt. Ltd (HMSI). The joint venture with Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) was processed towards the end of 2012 with the intention of providing affordable, low-maintenance & high efficiency motorcycles to the masses. The “start small, grow big” approach that Honda is taking means that the service back-up will grow simultaneously.

Bangladesh is a small nation with a population of just 150 million and the industry-wide two-wheeler sales figures stand at a mere 200,000 units in 2012. The Japanese automotive giant is hoping to reinforce its prowess in the region by not only catering to the existing demand, but by creating more of it.  The Bangladeshi market requirement is a mirror image of what the Indian market was less than a decade ago.

Honda’s existing experience in Pakistan and India means that they are going in prepared & this could prove to yet another fruitful endeavour. Hero Motorcorp on the other hand is already selling its motorcycles via the CKD route. The Indian two wheeler giant also revealed its plans to set up a production line in Bangladesh as well as Columbia. Both motorcycle manufacturers are in the phase of laying down their groundwork in Bangladesh, what remains to be seen is how well the buyers respond to this

Friday, 27 December 2013

Maruti Suzuki may start production in Sri Lanka

India’s king of reliability is considering an expansion in its operations by adding facilities in our neighbour down south. Maruti Suzuki has started talks and research to ascertain the viability of setting up a production line in Sri Lanka. The growing demand from African, Middle-Eastern and even South-East Asian markets has seen Maruti setting up larger sales networks.

Currently MSIL has the reputation of being the best particularly in terms of service back-up, reliability, affordable cars and spare parts alike. Sri Lanka has a similar customer base to that of India and Maruti could gain in terms of both sales in the island nation & if all goes to plan, could also turn it into a major export hub.  Discussions are still underway to analyse taxation structures, labour laws and manpower recruitment. Maruti’s expansion is known to not be limited to just urban areas. In the last year their reach has gone from 44000 to 60000 villages and it doesn’t end there. Plans are in full swing to almost double that reach in Q1 2014. Rural sales grew by 18% from the 2nd  quarter of  2013. (With even Lamborghini launching their tractors it’s no wonder that Maruti is tapping this demand)

Maruti Suzuki’s plans to introduce more models could see India & Sri Lanka turning into the primary hubs in south-east Asia. A new plant that is taking shape in Gujarat may be operational by early 2015 along with an R&D centre in Rohtak, Haryana. The existing plant in Manesar, Haryana has already become a primary supplier of models like the Swift to several international markets. Apart from this the auto-maker will also start focusing entirely on affordable commuter vehicles. In what could be called the “My first was a Maruti” philosophy, the company will be focusing on its brand image’s strength and veering away from high end models.

After the Kizashi failed to see a strong reaction (both in India and overseas) the car giant will be producing more cars for the masses. At the moment MSIL offers around 16 different models for sale in India, from which the best-sellers remain well under the Rs 10 lakh price bracket.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Women and Cars: Are you a front or rear lover?

This is normally a discussion reserved for those who genuinely indulge in the intricacies of performance, drive quality and feel. Front wheel drive or rear wheel drive is rarely a deal breaker for most motorists. However, in discussions like petrol VS diesel, automatic VS manual, turbo VS naturally aspirated; there is always one question that is common. Which one is better? So, in this read we have an overview of the two and try to ascertain which drive wheel makes for a better deal.

One trend that has taken over is the shift from rear wheel drive to front. In 2010 BMW announced that it would join this bandwagon and pedal-heads were on the floor wailing to an extent that would make toddlers begging for lollipops at a grocery store judge them. The advantages of front-wheel drive are mainly practical. With the drive train, engine and steering all packaged together under the hood, it's easier to give more space to passengers or cargo inside. They also enable engineers to make a car that’s lighter, more fuel efficient and in some cases, lower in emissions.

The Achilles heel of the front wheel machine is its steering. It is the reason why high-BHP cars are better off being powered from the back. In RWD vehicles the axles play zone defense. The front deals with the steering while the rear handles the thrust, neither getting in the way of the other in normal driving scenarios. In FWD cars under-steer or “torque-steer” is a nuance that makes many an eye twitch.

Imagine yourself going for a run. When you come up at a curve, your entire body moves into the motion to
get you in the direction you want. Try the same thing just moving from the waist down and the smart money says you’re going to trip over and fall with the only airbag being your body fat, but I digress.
In the same sense, your legs are you drive wheels. Leave the job of steering on them alone and your drive faces resistance, eventually resulting in only one winning if not done with caution. Enter a curve too fast and your power clashes with your steering, making the car move almost straight ahead. This is where the enthusiasts puff their chests and go “I told you so.”

But don’t go flipping your front axle the bird just yet. Remember, many car makers are switching over to FWD for a reason. With the car’s driving capabilities being managed under the hood, it leaves a lot more room in the cabin for passengers and a nicety or two. Occupants in the back don’t have to deal with an enormous floor hump either. Several five seaters out there are actually four-seaters with wiggle room for a fifth because of the trans-box bump. The movement of the entire unit under the bonnet also reduces transmission loss from the engine to the output differential. The main reason why the F-word of the drive wheel world is more desirable to manufacturers is that it makes the car more useful for its buyer. Let’s face it most cars are bought for their efficiency, space and features on tap. Motoring is a passion to many, but in the real world they need practicality. Pulling off a slalom or drifting is hard to do when 99% of your commute in spent emulating cattle on your way to work. The best wheel spin you can manage is giving it too much gas on left-over road-work gravel.

Rear wheel drive vehicles have a more desirable driving experience. Some say it’s a more connected type of drive. RWD’s especially handle better because drive and direction don’t get in each other’s way and when they do, they produce the awesome act of drifting..or the stupid act of spinning out. *Oversteer>Understeer*. Since these cars have a more reliable steering response & enable back end control, enthusiasts always give it the thumbs up. While over-steer has an entire sport around it, under-steer is no fun and only hampers drive-ability.

Concluding this article of a definitive note is not possible. It’s the same affair as comparing Beyonce with Jennifer Love Hewitt. The features, mannerisms and behaviour you prefer are just that, YOUR preference. If you like your butts big who am I to judge you?

Front wheel drive cars make for a smarter pick because they are lighter, more spacious, more efficient and more cost effective to make. Rear wheel drive is the for the old school motorist who doesn’t see the difference between light beer and lemon juice. The cars are heavier, face  more transmission loss, eat into passenger space and are a more expensive affair, but are genuinely more fun to drive. And you can’t just turn a blind eye to that.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Rider Ramble #2-The Harley-Davidson Street 500 & 750

Spy shots on just about every automotive portal for months & rumours about Harley-Davidson targeting India as a major market eventually got confirmed when it culminated into the official reveal of the Street 750 & Street 500. Bikers everywhere rejoiced at the prospect of getting a low-cost American legend and talks of the Indian market boom were up again. Lower displacement editions from premium brands are a trend that has caught on with multiple motorcycle makers, because at the end of the day they seem to act like Viagra  a catalyst for sales charts. In joining this particular bandwagon however, has Harley-Davidson tried to sell their legendary legacy as opposed to getting buyers because of it?

Let’s have a look at what these siblings have to offer. Both have a 60 degree twin cylinder engine labelled the “Revolution X”. They are still belt-driven and mated to a 6-speed transmission. Instead of dual exhausts they have dual bend-pipes that join into a single exhaust and the brakes are single caliper disks, which means ABS won’t be an option.  The 500 is expected to be priced at around Rs. 4.5 lakh while the 750 will empty your pockets by just over Rs. 5 lakh. Pricing wise Harley met with expectations. If you wanted to be any cheaper then obviously you aren't supposed to buy one and I’ll tell you why at the end of this piece.

Like most cult brands, Harley Davidson has its fair share of hard-core loyalists who have a pre-set list of what a Harley is and isn't. A person riding an Iron 883 or a V-Rod would know that there are many who label them as “sell out” models of the family and often face flak. The same goes for Royal Enfield. The UCE engine is better, more efficient, lighter and more reliable than the cast-iron, but lacks the one thing that RE was known for, the thump. Similarly with the Street 500 & 750, Harley Davidson is sure to see a remarkable rise in numbers, but has made the people who made the brand what it is feel less special. Cult brands have the same appeal as classic cars. If everyone has one, it’s hardly as valuable.

You might argue that they will still be great performers since they are Harleys. Though the official figures aren’t out yet, sources say that the Street 750 will have a maximum power output of 54 BHP and max torque at 44nm. The Street 500 will have understandably lower credentials. Keep in mind that the Continental GT puts out 29.1 BHP and 44nm of torque. Royal Enfield is far from popular for its engineering prowess and for a Harley-Davidson to not outperform it while being over twice as expensive is an embarrassment. In the process you may get a showroom that’s overbooked, but it’s the same deal as the management quota in Indian educational institutions. You got your money, but the quality of students degrades.

Now coming to the part about ownership. This is a part that several high end brand buyers fail to recognize and a problem that their service centres understand best. People have no problem in taking out a loan and coughing up over Rs. 30 lakh on one of the German big three. It is a big deal to say you drive a Mercedes or an Audi and that’s something that only money can buy. However, they have their pride sputter like tadka when their regular service cost comes up in five-figures. The labour costs involved make you wonder if you should take up the job of the guy fixing your car part-time. One thing every car/high end bike buyer needs to understand is that manufacturers make their big bucks after you’ve bought the car. Spare parts and consumable always have a heavy mark-up, because the manufacturer doesn’t make a huge margin on the car sold after the cost of production, dealer’s cut, tax etc.

Take the example of the Toyota Echo. This was a car that found incredible sales in the middle-east. The car turned into a best seller and you couldn’t go a day without seeing at least 10 of them either parked, being driven or both, but the car was soon put out of production. Why? Because it was too maintenance free! Toyota service centres rarely got an opportunity to fix any parts and hence made a bare minimum margin on their highest selling car and this is what everyone who plans to buy a Street 500 or 750 needs to know before that test-ride.

These motorcycles are cannot be treated like a Hero Honda or Bajaj. These motorcycles are not meant to be taken to your local roadside mechanic. They don’t have cables and bolts that can be victimized to jugaad and be temporarily replaced by the same parts as a Kinetic. They are not motorcycles that can be parked in the vegetable market without the rider being worried that some miscreant will see the fuel tank as a canvas for his house keys nor can you get away from a traffic cop easy because you ride a bike that carries a brand name that he can’t even pronounce right. Their service costs will make you realize why Harley-Davidsons and other high end motorcycle brands are status symbols and also get you back down to earth.

So to sum up, the Street 500 and 750 will find a lot of buyers. They will be adequate performers and be the pride of many owners and will get a lot of heads to turn, but in the process of boosting sales Harley-Davidson runs the risk of making its own loyalists feel ridiculed.  The biggest thing that any prospective buyer needs to know is that the 4-5 lakh price may be attractive, but the reason why Harley Davidsons are expensive is because the person who buys one can afford to look after it as well. I would personally love to own either one of these machines, but I know that the cost to buy them is one thing and the price to own one is another.

Monday, 2 December 2013

KTM Duke 390 vs Royal Enfield Continental GT

Royal Enfield finally launched the Continental GT after its reveal at the Delhi Auto Expo back in 2010. Unlike the rest of the RE range, the CGT is not a tourer or a cruiser. It is a café racer, which means that this is more about the speedometer than odometer. Prior to the arrival of the Continental GT the big bike release was the KTM Duke 390. The reason why this is a big deal is not only the fact that you could now get a high displacement sports bike for just around Rs. 2 lakh, but also because the Duke 390 will be Royal Enfield’s biggest threat.

First off let’s have a look at the basic specs:-

KTM Duke 390:

Displacement: 373.2cc
Max Power: 44 BHP
Max Torque: 35 NM

Royal Enfield Continental GT:

Displacement: 535cc
Max Power: 29.1 BHP
Max Torque: 44 NM

Many people ask if it’s fair to compare them since not only are they in different categories, but they also have a TVS Apache between them. The fact is that their pricing does bind them as bedfellows. The performance figures are not far off so this is actually as close as a head to head needs to be. Now coming to the big question, which one should you buy?

The KTM Duke 390 is an unapologetic street bike. The strokes are short, the rev range is high and the bike is like a young greyhound on 10 cartons of Red-Bull. While most street bikes in India will manage 100kmph, the 390 does yoga at that speed. It pretty much skips speed ranges and goes from 30-60-80kmph and with ABS dual disk brakes it will stop just as fast. So the Duke will zip through traffic and is great if you’re looking to make a quick 200km breakfast run on a Sunday morning & hit 170kmph or more. The Duke 390 seems like it’s too good to be true, but despite being a complete package it does have its drawbacks.

1. The engine heats up a lot. This bike is meant for high speeds and constant start-stop movement will see your ankles getting a sauna treatment.

2. A short stroke engine gets you great 0-60 figures, but also means constant shifting. Low end torque delivery won’t be as good as the Continental GT, so gear shifts will be very frequent in city riding.

3. The 390 is a stand out motorcycle, but doesn’t stand out from its younger sibling the 200. The bikes look almost the exact same and in fact the 390 has 90% of its parts sourced from the 200. It would take a keen eye to immediately pin point which one is the bigger Duke.

4. The seats still feel like sitting on a wooden plank. Riders of the 200 will tell you that after prolonged riding, this is not a very butt-friendly bike.

5. It is too powerful. This statement may sound like a travesty, but hear me out. The problem is handling that kind of power needs experience. Not only is it a fast bike, but also a very light one giving it a great power to weight ratio. The rider of this machine needs to be very aware of its mannerisms. Enter a corner too fast and the rider may just lose all grip, give it too much gas in the city and your need to brake will get you frustrated and burn a lot of fuel.

Above Image Via: Maxabout.com

Now over to the new veteran on the block. The Royal Enfield Continental GT is all about the torque. It will be fast off the mark and manage 35kmph in 4th gear if it has to. Café racers are street speedsters, but back in the 60’s the streets were a lot different. Racing was about short sprints from café to café, hence the namesake “café racer”. Contrary to the beliefs of many Royal Enfield loyalists, this is a true Royal Enfield. It is a genuine British classic as it was meant to be, but that actually creates a fair amount of speculation.

Royal Enfield depends on its loyalists and brand heritage to rake in sales. The majority of their loyalists are long distance riders who need their saddle bags, tank bags and ladakh carriers to feel complete. The Continental GT however is not the ideal choice for this, which is where the problem arises. The café racer has an identity of its own, but faces problems while trying to identify with buyers. It isn’t entirely a street bike and isn’t a long distance cruiser either. The riding position isn’t as wrist heavy as the CBR 250r, but isn’t as relaxed as the rest of the Royal Enfield range. With 44nm of torque, this ride doesn’t need a flexible rev range and you will find yourself mainly between 2000-4500 rpm.

The CGT is however, a motorcycle that will stand out. Bright red/yellow colour options, a look that has been restricted to modifications until now and the fact that India has never seen Royal Enfield in such a unique manner means every buyer will get attention and a lot of it. This is a bike that can perform really well and will handle curvy ghats the best. City riding will be great as its riding position isn’t too hunched, low rev torque delivery equates to minimal shifting and the seats are fairly comfortable. Here are some things to look out for.

1. With a 13.5-litre fuel tank, this isn’t ideal Royal Enfield for long distance riding . The 535cc engine will manage 30kmpl at best in real world conditions and less if you plan on gunning it on the open roads. The company claimed top speed is 150kmph, so it can manage a little above that.

2. It is meant to be a single seater. The Duke 390’s pillion seat is nothing to write home about, but the Continental GT doesn’t have one at all (it is an optional extra)

3. It is a Royal Enfield at the end of the day so it won’t be easy on the pocket. These bikes are still hand-made and with that comes human error, so don’t be surprised if your clutch cable needs changing after a few months, because it won’t be as easy to live with as the Duke 390.

4. Spare parts are often a hassle with Royal Enfields and with the CGT using a few different components as compared to the rest of the RE range, spares may run a little bit on the expensive side.

5. Royal Enfields have been downsized since the Classic arrived. They ride lower and have a smaller profile, so if you are the stereotyped Bullet-man the Continental GT may not suit your personality as well as you would have liked.

To sum up, if you want a ruthless, bloodthirsty performer that will pop a wheelie if you sneeze, go for the KTM Duke 390. If you want a earth munching torque traveller that stands out, is composed and classy while going through the paces, the Royal Enfield Continental GT is for you.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Burn Another Day-Saving fuel isn't rocket science

Making your car’s juice run for as long as possible is the need of the hour. Efficiency is king and had literally changed fuel loyalties/preference for people. Even a person with a 1000kms monthly running would opt for a diesel had it not been for the more expensive engine, not only because the fuel is cheaper but also because that one litre of diesel goes a longer way. You’ve seen the “save fuel, yaani save money” advertisements on TV and heard it on the radio, but under real world conditions; getting close to that company claimed mileage is nothing short of a miracle.

Here is a list of the little things you don’t realize you do while driving that eat into your fuel economy.

1. Signal Racer:

You’re right up front at a signal that’s gone red. You’re a regular on the road so instead of waiting for the light to go green, you stare at the pedestrian signal. The moment you spot that little red man flashing the theme from The Fast & the Furious plays in your head and you gun it. After 4.5 seconds of adrenaline fueled happiness, lo and behold you’re at yet another signal where the 60 year old on a rickety old scooter has caught up to you. These short bursts waste fuel unnecessarily and don’t save you any time or cover more distance.

2. The crawler:

Yes, traffic crawling is something that is hard to escape. More often than not you spend 10 minutes to get across 10 metres, but the constant tango between the clutch and accelerator results in heavy fuel consumption. Don’t move your car forward unless it looks like traffic ahead is shifting a reasonable amount.

3. No lane loyalty:

Sticking to your lane is a simple rule that makes your life a lot easier and actually saves you fuel. Just think to yourself “How many times have a I shifted to a lane that was moving when mine wasn't, only to find that a car that was right behind me is now 3 cars ahead of me?” Constant lane shifting burns your fuel for the illusion of progress. You aren't getting to your destination and sooner, it slows traffic down even more and you just made your journey more expensive. There will be a point where your lane moves while the other doesn't, so stay where you are and avoid deviating unnecessarily.

4. Under-shifting/over revving:

These two opposites of too conservative VS too impatient are equally bad. Shifting up a gear too soon just means that you will have to downshift again sooner while putting excessive pressure on your engine. Constant gear shifts mean your rpm is fluctuating too much, thereby burning more fuel.
Over revving is just burning more fuel for no rhyme or reason. It’s a car’s equivalent of smoking i.e. spending money for absolutely no benefit. Don’t try and start off in 2nd gear by over revving the engine when your car clearly wants to be in a lower gear.

5. Heavy Pedal Highways:

High speeds are the biggest temptress on the open road. However, one thing that truck drivers will tell you is “A person driving at 100kmh will reach his destination a maximum of  3-5 minutes earlier than a person driving at 60kmh”. Granted, in middle-eastern countries your average speed on arterial roads will be 100kmh, but in India you will be blocked by struggling trucks or jam the brakes because some moron is driving at 40kmh in the overtaking lane or not sticking to one lane at all or because a bad patch of road showed up out of nowhere which means constant accelerating and braking for no improvement in time saved or distance made.

So, literally you are driving the exact same way you do in bumper to bumper traffic, only at higher speeds. Try coasting to save your fuel. Instead of tailgating someone till they move, let go of the gas pedal early on. Your torque will take you ahead fast enough that braking won’t be necessary. Use your flasher to warn the driver ahead to get out of the way, so you can accelerate from a higher speed. Minimum rpm fluctuation ensures minimum fuel consumption.

These are just a few things that we involuntarily do. After all this is not just observation it is also personal experience that made me notice these things. It’s fine to indulge sometimes, but remember that there’s more to fuel economy than just driving slowly.

Here's some proof. By simply following the activities/rules mentioned above, I managed to milk 16.4kmpl from my 2011 Honda Jazz (powered by a 1.2-litre, 90 bhp petrol engine). A car that in regular city driving conditions managed 12kmpl at best when driven with an impatient foot.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Hybrids In India. Any Hope?

The concept of hybrid vehicles is not unheard of in India. The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid being among the more popular ones, have not seen great numbers owing to their heavy pricing. When the Honda Civic Hybrid was available it was priced higher than the Honda Accord. Prices dropped down to around Rs. 16 lakh and the car saw a surge is enquiries and bookings, this price cut was however short lived.  The Toyota Prius starts upwards of Rs. 30 lakh. Expecting someone to spend Mercedes money for a Japanese commuter car giant is a tall order, but there are a few who do opt for it. The fact is that the Prius does stand out, offers several features and lacks only the luxury brand badge. Perhaps it would fare better if it was badged as a Lexus.

Hybrids have special advantages over regular cars. They consume less fuel, cause less pollution and have the same functionality as a regular car. They also have privileges in certain European nations such as specialized parking and lower taxes on the greener cars, thereby encouraging people to buy them. It will be decades before hybrids are given any breaks over here as our taxation system is silly enough to levy taxes considering engine displacement, but growth is a process not an event. The Mahindra Scorpio comes with a micro hybrid. Essentially it’s just the engine start stop mechanism that puts the engine into sleep mode when the car idles for a preset amount of time and is deactivated when the clutch pedal is depressed.

A fairly common technology in today’s cars but it’s not an actual hybrid. So, the term hybrid has caught on, but will the concept of them being sold in volumes ever become a reality in India? The contributing factors have to be looked into in order to understand what has to be changed.

1. Tax:

There is a need for special provisions to make hybrid cars more desirable. Cars are already heavily taxed in India, so if there were some exemptions made for hybrids, manufacturers would take the initiative automatically. An overall reduction in green house gas emission will result in a better carbon credit standpoint for the nation altogether. The fact that India's automotive industry is still growing, poses the best opportunity to sow the hybrid seed immediately.

2. SKD/CKD/Complete production: 

If hybrid cars were made in India the main issue of import duty would be eradicated. When a manufacturer doesn't see potential in a car, setting up a dedicated production/assembly line is not viable. They could save a lot of money by localizing operations and pass on the savings to potential buyers. This is however, most likely a secondary step after the want for hybrids is created, not so far fetched in a mileage hungry country. If India could be made and export hub for the same it would be a win-win-win situation.

3. Technological Awareness:

For hybrids to work, people need to get familiarized with them. People do not accept what they do not understand. The introduction of more hybrids or hybrid related technology into existing car segments will make people recognize its potential. When they know what hybrid tech has to offer, they will be more willing to buy a green vehicle. Start stop technology has even made its way onto mass two-wheelers like the Hero Splendor i-Smart. The rate at which both the industry and its technology grows equates to widespread implementation. What is on a high end premium car today will make it's way into a regular vehicle tomorrow. So hybrids may not be a fad here like it is in the USA just yet, but the future will be more than promising.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Diesel Torque Equation

While most discussions regarding petrol VS diesels revolve around the actual price of each fuel and the mileage they deliver, this one’s a basic write up on why diesels have more torque. I won’t get into the technicalities of what torque is, but it’s basically the down-force of the piston movement. Just imagine a basketball being bounced. If you bounce it from your ankle level, you have to constantly bounce the ball to keep it in motion. The ball moves up and down faster, but if you were to stop applying effort the ball would stop bouncing almost instantly. Now bounce the ball from your waist level. You put in a little effort periodically.

The ball bounces up and down, but takes more time from floor to palm. The ball requires less effort to bounce, but if you stop applying any effort the ball will keep bouncing for a few more seconds. The latter is an example of high torque at low rpm. The bouncing ball is the piston’s stroke and with less energy required, it delivers the required power. A long stroke equates to more punch delivered per stroke, thereby delivering the required power at relatively lower rpms. Diesels are usually designed as long-stroke engines specifically to generate torque. This is why commercial vehicles like bulldozers and trucks run on diesel engines.

Some heavy-duty truck diesels operate at a maximum of only 2200 RPM! Lighter-duty truck diesels may redline at 3000 to 3500 RPM, and 4000 RPM is considered a "high-speed" diesel. Let's just summarize by saying that diesel engines are usually designed with as long a stroke as practical for the desired peak engine speed. Diesel fuel has about 11% more energy per litre than gasoline too, this is a contributing factor to why diesel is also more efficient a fuel than a gasoline.

Diesel fuel by itself has a higher flash point that gasoline, which is why diesel isn’t as easily flammable. Diesel engines use glow-plug as opposed to spark plugs. The glow plug heats up the air in the engine chamber when the diesel fuel is injected into the compressed air which is what causes the explosion that would be brought about by a spark plug in a petrol engine. The longer stroke delivers torque at lower rpms, but because of this each stroke takes longer to complete as well. So a diesel will manage 60 kph at a lower rpm level as compared to a petrol engine, but will take longer to reach that speed as well. This is why more and more diesels are offered with turbochargers as naturally aspirated diesels tend to be sluggish. Long stroke engines, a higher energy, less volatility fuel result in vehicles with more torque that are lower on emissions and manage a better fuel efficiency.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Rider Ramble #1

It’s the age old practice of two types of riders locking horns. One looks to get from traffic signal to traffic signal fast enough to make you believe he teleported, while the other is the rider who chooses odometer over speedometer. It’s low end torque delivery VS quick speed delivery and at least in India, people rarely look at the difference between the two types of motorcycle when they want to buy one. It is the reason why you can spot questions like “I have a budget of up to Rs. 1.8 lakh and am confused between the KTM Duke 200 and Royal Enfield Classic 500..”

The KTM is a short stroke, 0-60 marvel that can zip through traffic, pull off a stunt or ten and max out on the highways before you take your first smoke break. The Royal Enfield is a long stroke British Classic Tourer that can go on and on for kilometers before the rider loses sensation in his rear end. Despite both motorcycles being worlds apart, they land up getting compared because around here the price decides the segmentation rather that the technical specifications. The average rider profile will paint you a picture that will make you understand the buyer’s lifestyle. Most likely a college student or office goer who looks to hit the open roads every weekend or month end. Seeing how the true potential of either category of motorcycle is never done justice in the city, the question arises. Should you buy a street/sports bike or a cruiser? The more experienced riders will find this question laughable, but a few visits to buyer advice sections of magazines or forums will tell you that this confusion is prevalent.

Here’s summing up the basics that may help make an informed decision.


Longer stroke motorcycles that both accelerate and decelerate slowly. They have high torque delivery at low rpms making down-shifting a rarity. The problem is that they won’t be as agile as a street/sports bike. Zipping through traffic will take a little more effort. These bikes are generally more comfortable as they are meant for long distances as opposed to rapid acceleration. They are also good to manage in city. The more relaxed riding position also reduced your risk of back problems. If you are the guy who likes to go the distance as opposed to the 100km bullion run, go in for this category.


This is obviously the high selling category. Pulsar, Apache, Karizma, FZ, R15 are the household names. They’re fast, agile, zippy and manage a reasonable fuel economy. They’re also perfect for the quick spin to the closest tourist attraction. Short gear ratios result in fast acceleration, but also in a need for more frequent shifting. Motorcycles like the Honda CBR 250r require downshifting very often making it hard to manage in heavy traffic conditions and it does take some time getting used to. The best part about this category is the fact that you have a plethora of options. The variations within brands are so many that you’d be spoiled for choice.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about entry level cruisers. Bajaj has the Avenger and Royal Enfield has its entire range. Any other cruiser is either from a high end brand or was discontinued, case in point being the Enticer and Eliminator. This is the reason why Royal Enfield, a brand famous for manufacturing defects and high maintenance costs has managed to be the dominator in the cruiser/tourer range. Yes, it does have the legend status, but they are far from famous for their reliability. A want for long distance motorcycles with the lack of options narrows down the vehicles purchased.

These are just some thoughts I typed out after general observations. There are a lot more factors that go into the decision of buying a motorcycle. Use your best judgment, understand what kind of riding you will have and what type of rider you are and above all, never look back after you made the purchase.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

2010 Royal Enfield Thunderbird Twinspark

Royal Enfield has come a long way from being on the verge of shutting down to struggling with the sheer amount of demand. All this change thanks to the Unit Construction Engine that turned the image of the brand in a different direction. The very first motorcycle to get the new heart was the Thunderbird. Replacing the 350cc AVL single-spark engine, arrived the UCE Twin-spark that started the process of making Royal Enfields faster, more efficient and above all easier to live with and the Thunderbird has really struck a chord with young buyer in particular. So is this machine a true cruiser or a Hardly Davidson?


The Thunderbird has rather obvious design pros and cons. Overall the bike looks very well structured and everything is in perfect sync. For example the seat and panels are aligned magnificently and the streamlined design moves fluently throughout the body. However, the ICBM exhaust is excessively large. The tip of the exhaust is a good few inches ahead of the rear tyre, so parking the Thunderbird back-first may result in heart pinching knock on the exhaust. The backrest is solid and can be trusted not to break unlike many after-market backrests that non Thunderbird riders have to use. Apart from this the display has been orchestrated very well, but is illegible when hit by sunlight.


The Thunderbird is perfect for riders above the 6ft height mark. Raised handlebars, deep sunk-in and wide seating make it ideal for long rides. The 19 inch MRF Nylo Grips are surefooted and enable brilliant control, but a patch of water may be a little unnerving. Unfortunately the suspension is not perfect for city roads. The telescopic front forks are delicate and fork seal ruptures are to be expected while the twin gas charged shock absorbers at the back need to be adjusted a few notches to handle weight better. If rider and pillion are a bit on the heavier side, chances are the mud-guard and tyre will come in contact. The seats could use a little more padding. Since the suspension is a bit of a let-down, 2-3 hours of riding will have you doing a bit of yoga to gain sensation in your rear end.


The Thunderbird is fast and delivers the torque when needed. Peak power is at 19.8 BHP at 5250 rpm and maximum torque is 28 NM at 4000rpm. The revs are most comfortable at the 70 kmph mark. Reaching 120 kmph takes a while, but isn’t difficult. However, the vibrations are enough to register on the Richter scale and the balance goes off by quite a bit at high speeds. The occasional sprint on the highway is fine by the bird, but prolonged high speeds will not go down well with it and the bike will let you know. The brakes are perfect and works well at all speeds although the rear brake loosens up after every 80 kilometers or so. A 280mm front disk and a 150mm rear drum brake provide ample stopping power and are very reassuring.

All in all this is an ideal highway cruiser and maintains the Classic Royal Enfield essence while being a modern move for the oldest production motorcycle company in the world. The Thunderbird still faces a few manufacturing defects of a cable here and a wire there, but Royal Enfield has definitely given a boon to long distance riding and made a bike that is a better performer and a lot easier to live with.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Driving Bad: The cars in AMC’s cult show Breaking Bad

If you were in contact with any form of popular media, there is no doubt that you have heard of Breaking Bad. The show about an over-qualified chemist who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and uses his skills to cook crystal meth with a former student after finding out how much money there is in the drug business. What’s special about this show is that there is a symbolism to just about everything, including the cars. So let’s have a look at what the good, the bad and the druggy drive.

1. Walter White/2004 Pontiac Aztec:

You don’t need a survey to tell you that this car is not a popular one in reality, despite its fame after it got the role of Walter White’s car. It met the bare minimum needs, has good potential as a family cross-over, but an eye-sore on the inside and out. Uninspired design meant that the Aztec would have to be a last resort purchase for most buyers, not to mention its placement in the “100 ugliest cars of all time” list by The Daily Telegraph. This makes it all the more hard to believe that the design was directed by the same person who went on to design the C7 Corvette. The Aztec is powered by a 3.4-litre petrol V6 engine that pumps out 185 BHP and 285 NM of torque. Not a great car, but its shortfalls reflected Walt as a person.

2. Jesse Pinkman/1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (The Capn):

Just like the Toyota Hilux is called the “terrorist’s favorite pick-up”, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo has been stereotyped as the drug dealers choice like the Oldsmobile cutlass supreme. Jesse’s Monte Carlo is a lowrider and comes with the standard issue ‘gangsta’ colors and flash. The car came with 3.7-litre to 5.7-litre, V6 and V8 trims.

3. Skyler White/1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer:

A stable, solid purpose built soccer mom car, the Grand Wagoneer sums up Skyler’s life at least until it gets affected by Walt’s criminal endeavors. The car was labeled a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) because it was literally a balance of performance and practicality. Oddly enough many engines on the car were sourced from car maker AMC (Same name as the host network of Breaking Bad) although the edition Skyler drives had a Chrysler V8.

4. The Crystal Ship/1986 Fleetwood Bounder:

The one car that holds the highest relevance in the series. The car that helped Walt and Jesse start it all. The 1986 Fleetwood Bounder is the quintessential redneck motorhome. The RV had just the right amount of room for the lab to be set up and seemed harmless enough in its looks. The car summed up Jesse’s and Walt’s relationship, sometimes reliable and sometimes on the verge of breaking down.

5. Gus Fring/1998 Volvo V70:

Probably the most recognizable Volvo. The car that gave Volvo the identity of a safe soccer mom brand, the V70 sums up Gustavo’s mindset. He wants to keep the lowest possible profile as being the owner of a multi-million dollar fast food chain attracts enough attention as it is. The V70 came with 2.0-litre to 2.4-litre petrol engines and a 2.5-litre diesel. Practical, economical and enough room for a dead body or two made this the ideal car for a low-profile drug lord.

6. Hank Schrader/2006 Jeep Commander:

Sturdy, powerful and packs a heavy punch. Hank’s Jeep is the perfect extension of his personality, not to mention the fact that the name Commander goes well with a person in law enforcement. The Jeep Commander came in with a 3.7-litre V6 and a 4.7-litre V8 (Hank’s edition) offered with both 4x2 and 4x4 powertrains.

7. Marie Schrader/2008 VW Beetle:

A legendary car that has the cute appeal to attract buyers who don’t really care about specifications or bang for buck. The Beetle is the perfect extension of Marie’s character who is rather self-indulgent. The car comes with a 2.5-litre in-line 5 cylinder engine that made it a good attention grabbing car that could fulfill the non-touchy female driver’s requirements.

8. Saul Goodman/1997 Cadillac DeVille:

If you can imagine a politician driving one of these you can do the same for Saul Goodman. The car makes the statement of being a classic American car and disguises the shady lawyer that drives it very well. The car is powered by a 4.6-litre V8, an engine that has made its way on to many American cars including the Ford Crown Victoria and Mustang.

9. Mike Ehrmentraut/1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue:

Classic, sturdy and on some level had the same expression as Mike always did. It served well for a veteran hitman and was pretty much the definition of a no nonsense car. The Fifth Avenue was made with a 5.2-litre V8 that managed a measly 140 BHP. Sufficed to say, is endorses the “no replacement for displacement” ideology.

10. Heisenberg/2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8:

The 300 SRT8 is the successor of the 300C. The 6.4-litre V8 is the replacement of the last cog of Walter White i.e. his Pontiac Aztec. The car is his way of reaffirming his position as “The Cook”. The SRT8 is immensely powerful and can go head to head with cars like the Mercedes E63 AMG, although the German would probably perform better. Big engines may get you the goosebumps, but German engineering does much more.

11. Flynn/2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8:

A teenager who’s had to deal with a disability his entire life uses his dad’s new found money to fulfill some of his own brattish wants. The Challenger is Walt’s gift to his son simply because he can give it to him. The Chrysler PT Cruiser that Skyler got Flynn to keep a low profile is happily given away by father and son and they become something of a race team.

12. Jesse Pinkman/1986 Toyota Tercel Wagon:

After hitting rock-bottom Jesse turns into a person who values life more than money. The exact opposite of Walt’s alter ego. Jesse replaces his gunned down Monte Carlo with the Tercel which he bought from badger’s cousin.

There are many other cars in the series such as Gretchen’s Bentley Continental GT, the ‘96 BMW 318i cabrio that Walt destroys with a squeegee, crazy-8’s Buick Regal, the 1977 Cadillac DeVille that turns into a tank in the finale and the ’91 Toyota Previa that the “vacuum cleaner” man uses to pick up his clients. All the cars used have a character of their own and were probably selected by a car casting director. This show may have become a legend because of its story-line, but you can never underestimate the difference each character's car makes.