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.