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.