20170207

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII drives into the sunset

Sporting one of the most respected nameplates in automotive history, the most opulent motor car ever made and the one that played a key role in the renaissance of Rolls-Royce under BMW's ownership, the Phantom VII, is now history. Yes, after a remarkable 13-year production run that began in 2003, the last Phantom VII rolled off the sparkling floors of Rolls-Royce’s factory at Goodwood, West Sussex, England last week.


Commissioned by a well-renowned Rolls-Royce collector, the final Phantom VII was an extended wheelbase limousine stylized with a nautical theme. Wearing a stunning ‘Blue Velvet’ shade that mimics the colour of the ocean, adorned with a twin coachline featuring an ‘ocean liner’ motif and retro pinstripe tyres, the car is designed to be only one of its kind.


The interiors continue with the maritime theme as well with artwork on the dashboard that depicts a 1930s cruise ship and clocks that echo the style of radio clocks that adorned grand ocean liners of the past. Exquisitely appointed ‘Powder Blue’ leather upholstery and carpets that feature cuts that depict ocean waves prove there is absolutely nothing on earth that could rival a Rolls-Royce motor car in terms of personalization choices offered.


With the Phantom VII rolling off into the sunset, Rolls-Royce would be filling the void with the upcoming Phantom VIII underpinned by an all-new aluminium architecture. Rolls-Royce’s press release concluded with the statement that the arrival of Phantom VIII will herald the beginning of yet another great chapter in the history of the world’s most celebrated name in luxury. We couldn’t agree more.

20170206

McLaren F1 turns 25


The quintessential sports car of the nineties, the former "world's fastest production car" record holder, the default poster car for a whole generation of auto enthusiasts, 'the ultimate' sports car for legions of purists, the McLaren F1, turns 25 today.

It was on this day in 1992 McLaren took the wraps off what would become one of the most iconic sports cars to have ever graced the planet. Be it the one-of-a-kind 1+2 seating layout, the legendary performance from the naturally aspirated V12 or the stunning looks characterized by the distinct dihedral doors, the McLaren F1 was, and still is, a masterpiece in automotive engineering.

Conceived over an airport conversation during McLaren’s all-conquering and record-shattering 1988 Formula One season with Ron Dennis at the helm, the F1 was designed and built with an all-out ‘no compromise’ approach. 


Four years in the making, the McLaren F1 debuted as an exceptionally quick sports car in 1992 that ended up breaking numerous speed records throughout the nineties. On the 31st of March, 1998, Andy Wallace reached a speed of 386.47 km/h (240.14 mph) piloting a McLaren F1, making it the fastest production car of the time. While that title subsequently changed hands, the McLaren F1 is still the fastest naturally aspirated road car ever built. Damn, who needs those turbos and superchargers?

The BMW-sourced 6.1-liter V12 powering the F1 delivered in excess of 620 horsepower, unheard of from a powerplant of that size. All those horses naturally generate a lot of heat and to dissipate that, McLaren used pure gold, the best heat reflector available! 

That's not all. The McLaren F1 was the first production car ever to have a carbon fiber chassis that was lighter yet stronger. The throttle pedal was handcrafted with titanium, the instrument panels were hand-made and hand-painted and the needles were individually machined. Would you believe us if we tell you that even the tool kit in F1 was made of titanium making it 50% lighter than a steel kit? 

A direct result of McLaren’s supremacy in Formula One is that a whole lot of tech from the world’s most premier racing series trickled on to the road through F1. The onboard diagnostic computer, for instance, continuously monitors and logs a host of performance factors to identify and diagnose faults. Computer-controlled Airbrake meant that the car could shed speed as quickly as it gained. 

Just 106 of these were made, making the F1 a super exclusive sports car.

A spiritual successor to the F1, a Hyper GT as McLaren refers to it, is currently under works with the codename BP23. Just like the F1, only 106 of them would be made and each one of those have been reportedly spoken for already. While no other details are out yet, the teaser pic released by McLaren showing off the car's F1-like 1+2 seating layout has sent the expectations sky high. Nothing less than an insane hyper car that betters the F1 in every little respect would now satisfy us. 


Coming back to the F1, McLaren would be celebrating the car's 25th anniversary all through the year by sharing 'not-known-before' snippets and anecdotes every month. 2017 sure is gonna be interesting. Stay tuned!

20170127

Here's our 'Make in India' wish list, Peugeot and Citroën

Now that the PSA Group and the CK Birla Group are coming together to assemble and sell cars in India, it paves way for two 'so-far-elusive' automotive brands to pique our interests. We are talking about Peugeot and Citroën here, both owned by the PSA Group of France. You might argue that Peugeot's India story has been a soap opera of sorts so far but, this time around, they appear to be pretty darn serious about it. 

While details are still under wraps, that doesn't stop us from pondering over the model lineup of the two brands and prepare our wish list for them to consider. Let's start with, well, Peugeot.

Peugeot

Peugeot isn't unknown in India. Unfortunately, they are remembered more for the wrong reasons than for the right ones. Nobody we spoke to seem to remember Peugeot's whiny yet frugal 1.5-liter diesel engine that powered the erstwhile Zen D, Esteem D and Accent DLS. But, almost every one of them could recollect the French brand's unceremonious first stint in India that ended as soon as it began. As daunting as it seems, Peugeot's international lineup appears to have just the right models that could help the brand overcome these hurdles and make an impact in the Indian market. 

Just like the rest of the world, SUVs and crossovers are the fastest growing segments here in India. A brand yearning to arrive in style and create a stir should look no further than launching one of these here. This is where Peugeot could make a difference as they have not one but two very competent crossovers to choose from. 


Based on an all-new platform that's stronger, lighter and more agile, the 3008 is the bigger of the two that competes with the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson in Europe. This newest crossover in Peugeot's lineup has received rave reviews from the critics globally and would be a nice 'image-booster' offering to start with in India. With a price tag that's expected to hover around INR 20 - 30 Lakhs, the 3008 would be strictly limited in its reach and appeal though.

On the contrary, the 2008 is the one that could make Peugeot popular in India. Spun off the 208, the 2008 is smaller than the 3008 and comparable in size to the Renault Duster and Hyundai Creta. In fact, the Duster is what the 2008 competes with in Europe and there is no reason why it can't do the same here in India. If priced sensibly, the 2008 could turn out to be that one big hit the folks at PSA head-quarters in France badly want.


If it intends to make up for the time lost, gain market share and go full throttle, the 108 and 208 hatchbacks are what Peugeot should be looking to bring in. The 108 is a city car that's priced in the whereabouts of Hyundai i10 in Europe. It is smaller than what you, me and most other Indian families prefer though. That's where the 208 comes in. Bigger, better and more stylish than it's sibling, this premium hatchback can take the fight to the i20 and Baleno. For that to happen, the 208 should have a high local content and, crucially, an aggressive price tag.


While the aforementioned models were all designed and developed to cater to highly-demanding Europeans, Peugeot also has a car that's tailor-made for the emerging markets. Say hello to the 301! We bet this car is an integral part of Peugeot's plans for India already and wouldn't be surprised if the 301 becomes the launchpad for the brand in 2020. If and when it gets here, this midsize sedan would rival the Honda City and Maruti-Suzuki Ciaz and possibly positioned in the same price bracket. Problem is, the current 301 is already 4 years old. Peugeot would do well considering the next-generation 301 for India as bringing in the current model in 2020 would be akin to flagging a dead horse.

Well, that's five already for Brand Peugeot! Let's stop right here and look at Brand Citroën, shall we? 

Citroën

One of the perks of owning more than one brand is that there is always another option if one doesn't click. When Opel earned a reputation for being expensive to maintain, GM didn't think twice to shut down the brand and replace it with Chevrolet. 

PSA is in a similar position. If the top honchos decide that Peugeot's tarnished brand image would be too much to handle in an often unforgiving market like India, Citroën could be the one leading PSA's charge. Since the two brands effectively have the same portfolio wrapped in different external forms, PSA has a real chance of getting away with what happened in the past.


In that case, the best bet would be to bring in the C1 and C3 hatchbacks. The C1 is nothing but a 108 underneath while the C3 is just a different-looking 208. If these two hatchbacks prove to be too expensive for our market, the C4 Cactus, Citroën's take on the Peugeot 2008 crossover, is another option. 


While its true Citroën does not carry the negative baggage from the past like Peugeot, they come with their own set of challenges. In a conservative market like ours, the unconventional, often-weird, love-it or hate-it styling of the Citroëns could prove to be a dampener. Their premium positioning relative to Peugeot is yet another thorn in the bush. 

But hey, it could work out well for PSA. 

Now that we are done with our wishlist, let's wait and see how many of these are fulfilled. 

20170126

Believe it or not, Peugeot might be back in India by 2020

Peugeot may not be manufacturing and selling cars in India right now but they have a storied history with our country. The first time they were here in the nineties, Peugeot shut shop and exited due to a botched joint-venture with the erstwhile Premier Automobiles Limited (PAL). The 309, their sole offering at the time, had been received well with backlogs stretching into hundreds, if not thousands. The sudden decision from PAL and Peugeot to call off the joint-venture left the investors and the customers in the lurch with Peugeot's brand reputation taking a royal beating.


When the folks at PSA, the parent company that owns Peugeot and Citroen brands, decided the time was ripe for Peugeot to come back to India, Sanand in Gujarat was chosen as the location for setting up the plant. Well, this time, it didn't move beyond press releases and participation at the Auto Expo as the prevailing financial crisis in Europe left PSA with no cash reserves for a substantial investment in India. They tried to ink a deal with General Motors to use the latter's facilities to roll out the 207 and the 508 but, for reasons best known to the them, the deal didn't go through.

India is too big a market for car-makers to ignore and with hopes of a fresh start, the PSA Group has now entered into an agreement with the CK Birla Group, which owns Hindustan Motors (HM). Two joint-venture agreements have reportedly been signed, one for the assembly and distribution of cars with PSA holding the majority stake and the other a 50:50 joint-venture with AVTEC Limited, a HM subsidiary, to manufacture and supply powertrains for PSA vehicles. HM's facility at Thiruvallur near Chennai and AVTEC's plant at Hosur are likely to be the locations for the two ventures.


This agreement is claimed to be a long-term partnership between the two conglomerates with a claimed initial investment to the tune of 100 Million Euros (Rs.700 Crore). The first cars from this joint-venture are expected to roll out by 2020.

The sign-off was done in Paris yesterday in the presence of Mr. Carlos Tavares, Chairman of the Managing Board of PSA Group and Mr. CK Birla, Chairman of the CK Birla Group.

While we are glad about Peugeot's potential re-entry and Citroen's debut here in the country, what's going to be crucial is PSA sticking to their words and being committed to the Indian market. Our country is unforgiving. Ask Fiat, who has never really recovered from a disastrous joint-venture with PAL in the nineties despite their continuous efforts all these years backed by wonderful products. We hope the folks at PSA aren't heading down the same path and are actually serious about India this time around.

That said, with their distinct and quirky styling, Peugeots and Citroens would certainly make Indian roads more interesting to look at!

20170119

Tata Hexa launched in India, prices start at INR 11.99 Lakhs

After a series of delays, Tata Motors finally launched the much-awaited Hexa in India yesterday. After the Aria, the Hexa is Tata's second attempt at the premium crossover segment and locks horns squarely with the Mahindra XUV 5OO. First shown to the public at the 2015 Geneva Auto Show, the Hexa has been a long time coming.


Tata has played it smart with the Hexa's styling, making sure the crossover stays away from MPV-ish looks as much as possible. When viewed from the front, the clamshell hood with the prominent power bulge, the blacked-out projector headlights and the solid plastic cladding in the bumper gives the Hexa an imposing look. Tata's excellent attention to detail stands out too, like in the hexagonal meshes that form the grille. While the arching roofline, the blacked-out pillars, the full-length cladding and the massive 19-inch alloy wheels try their best to mask it, the Hexa's MPV roots are still evident in profile. At the rear, a thick chrome bar connects horizontally-stacked LED taillights. 


As posted before, we had been to the Hexa Experience Centre and can vouch for the fact that the Hexa's interiors are easily the best we have seen on a Tata so far. The clean, minimalist design looks European and the build quality is solid. What's more, the Hexa comes loaded with features too. Projector headlights, dual front airbags, power-folding mirrors, 6-speaker infotainment system, steering-mounted audio controls, cooled glovebox and tilt steering are standard across the range. 


The top-end variant gets a whole lot more including automatic climate control, heated mirrors, 3 Super Drive modes, reverse parking sensors, Voice Command Recognition, side and curtain airbags, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with Rollover Mitigation, Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Hold and Hill Descent Control, Cruise Control, 10-speaker infotainment system, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Available in both six and seven-seat configurations, the Hexa is powered by the 2.2-liter VARICOR diesel engine in two states of tune. While the base variant gets 148 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque, the other variants in Hexa's lineup gets the higher state of tune with 154 horsepower and a solid 400 Nm of torque. The former is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission while the latter is paired with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 6-speed manual gearbox gets 4 driving modes for the driver to choose from -  Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Rough Road. The automatic variant gets a Sports mode with Race Car function!


Three trim levels are on offer - XE, XM and XT. The XM and XT gets both manual and automatic variants while the 4x4 is exclusive to the top-end XT variant. Prices range from INR 11.99 Lakhs for the XE to INR 17.49 Lakhs for the top-end XT 4x4 variant. At these prices, the Hexa marginally undercuts it's arch-rival from Mahindra while being significantly cheaper than the Toyota Innova Crysta with which we expect some cross-shopping. But Toyota's rock-solid brand image and the XUV5OO's solid fan following would be tough nuts for Tata to crack. After all, we know what happened to the Aria.

Tata was going through a bad phase in India until the Tiago came in and arrested their free fall. With momentum on its side and value-for-money pricing on the base and mid variants, the Hexa is off to a good start. It remains to be seen if Tata can sustain the interest in the Hexa going forward.