Bajaj strikes Gold at last

Bajaj Auto Ltd., India's second largest two-wheeler maker announced recently that it has created a record of sorts by selling 500000 units of it's smash hit 100cc model, the Discover 100 DTS-Si in 225 days. This, along with the other recent runaway hit, the Pulsar 135LS, has put Bajaj back on the right track after what seemed to be a lull in the company's planning and product portfolio. The Bajaj Discover 100 DTS-Si was launched in July last year and if you remember correctly, I had predicted that this bike would be a mega hit and boost the fortunes of Bajaj.  Before the launch of these models, it was pathetic to see Bajaj losing marketshare and sales month-on-month compared to it's competitors, both big and small, who were growing like anything.

"The twin successes of the 100cc Discover DTS-Si and also the recently-launched Pulsar 135 LS has boosted our marketshare to 27.3 per cent in February. We were unable to meet the demand and there was a stock-out situation in some dealerships," Bajaj Auto's CEO (Two-Wheelers), Mr.S.Sridhar said. 

We can only hope that Bajaj does not lets its customers down this time by discontinuing the new models within months after it's launch and replacing it with something else. Case in point, being the Platina and the XCD. Both these bikes were not duds and sold in quite good numbers before being axed by Bajaj for reasons only known to Bajaj. Hope Bajaj is listening.


Maruti-Suzuki manufactures 1 Millionth Car in 2009-10

Maruti-Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL), which makes every second car sold in India and which commands a 54% share in the Indian automotive market created history on 23-Mar-2010 (Tuesday), when it manufactured the 1 Millionth Car of the year 2009-2010. By doing so, Maruti-Suzuki has joined an elite group of companies across the world that makes and sells more than a million cars a year. The list of companies doing so include Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Renault, Suzuki and Nissan. A blazing red Maruti-Suzuki Swift took the honors of being the millionth car of the financial year 2010. The journey of Maruti-Suzuki has been in sync with the growth of Indian Automotive Industry. While the Indian market has grown from a meagre 40,000 units annually when the first "Maruti 800" was rolled out in 1983 to the current 2 million units a year, Maruti-Suzuki has kept pace with a vice-like grip of the market and maintaining it's 50% plus market share even after the advent of global competition.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr.R.C.Bhargava, Chairman of Maruti-Suzuki said, "The landmark attained by Maruti-Suzuki fully establishes the validity of the late Prime Minister Smt.Indira Gandhi's vision when she decided to create Maruti Udyog. This vision has been fulfilled because of outstanding entrepreneurship of Mr.Osamu Suzuki, the excellent cooperation which existed between the Government of India and Suzuki Motor Corporation, and the enormous dedication, hard work and commitment of all Maruti-Suzuki employees over the last more than 26 years. The future beckons and Maruti-Suzuki will not be found wanting. Mr.Osamu Suzuki, Chairman and CEO of Suzuki Motor Corporation was among the dignitaries who graced the occasion.

With this, Maruti-Suzuki has become the first Indian automotive company to join the exclusive million club. Hope Tata and Mahindra follows suit and does India proud in the near future. 

Tata Nano goes up in flames in Mumbai

The little wonder from Tata, called the Nano, which made the entire world sit up and take notice of India is now creating headlines across the world for all the wrong reasons. Seriously, the Tata Nano is "Frugal Engineering" at it's best and it has sent the right notes across the automotive industry, what with many other companies now trying to emulate Tata in making a similar-priced and similar-sized car. At this juncture, it's very unfortunate that a brand new Tata Nano, which was just delivered to the owner and was being driven home (by a company chauffeur as the owner did not know how to drive!) caught fire in the middle of the road in Mumbai. The owner should consider himself extremely lucky for not ending up toasted in the car thanks to a motorbike rider who alerted him and the driver by showing signs to look at the back of the car. Only then it dawned on them that the Nano's engine at the rear was on fire. Minutes after they stopped and got down from the car, the entire car was engulfed in flames as is visible from the picture.

Like all bad factors coming against a good thing, this incident and the previous one of a parked Nano catching fire in Ahmedabad will make doomsayers across the world to start their stupid comments about Tata, it's quality, it's cost-cutting and Indian manufacturing, etc. For all those people, I would just like to say one thing - even Toyota, considered as the God of Quality until very recently was not spared from problems. As a responsible company, I hope Tata comes out with a clear explanation of the incident and put all doubts to rest once and for all. I was telling this before and will continue to say this in future too - Hats off to Tata for coming up with the Nano !!!


Renault-Nissan Alliance inaugrates Chennai plant

Renault Nissan Automotive India Pvt. Ltd. (RNAIPL) inaugurated it's Chennai plant on 17-Mar-2010 and formally started it's manufacturing operations in the country. The event was presided over by the honorable CM of Tamil Nadu, Dr. M. Karunanidhi and the CEO & Chairman of Renault-Nissan, Mr. Carlos Ghosn. The plant, when ramped up to it's full capacity, will be able to produce 400000 cars a year and would entertain a total investment of about Rs.4500 Crore. The plant will initially start producing the Nissan Micra small car from May-2010 and the domestic sales of Micra will start from July this year. Going further, models like Renault Koleos and Renault Fluence will be made in the plant with domestic sales scheduled later in the year or early next year. The significance of this plant is that this is the first dedicated Alliance plant in the world, designed for making both Renault and Nissan cars.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Carlos Ghosn said, "Our plant in Chennai represents a key milestone for the Renault-Nissan alliance in India." Mr. Akira Sakurai, MD and CEO of RNAIPL said "The opening of any new plant is a significant achievement, but the speed and quality of execution at this plant in Chennai has been exceptional."

With the opening of Renault-Nissan plant, Chennai is now playing host to 7 of the global Top 20 Automobile Companies. Apart from Renault-Nissan, the other automobile majors present in Chennai include BMW, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai and Mitsubishi thus cementing Chennai's position as the "Detroit of South Asia".

Hyundai Motor India rolls out 1 Millionth Export Car

Hyundai Motor India achieved a significant milestone on 22-Feb-2010 by rolling out it's 1 Millionth Export Car from India. The vehicle which did the honors was the new i20 which was shipped to Australia for the first time to mark the occasion. Being an industry trendsetter for exporting cars from India, Hyundai has achieved this milestone in a little over a decade thus making it the fastest automobile company in the country to reach this milestone.

Commenting on the occasion, Mr. H. W. Park, Managing Director & CEO, HMIL said, “Reaching the 10 lakh export car landmark is not only a significant milestone but also a matter of great pride for the Hyundai family as it showcases the global success story that Hyundai as a brand enjoys. I take this opportunity to thank all our customers and stakeholders for their trust and support which has helped us reach this landmark. In the future we are sure to increase our overseas presence as we add more markets.” HMIL began exporting cars in the year 1999 with a batch of 20 Santros to Nepal. The first major export shipment of 760 Santro & Accent cars to Algeria from Chennai port happened on July-21-2000. 

Milestones of HMIL Exports from India:
  • Oct-31-2004 - 100000
  • Oct-18-2005 - 200000
  • Oct-31-2006 - 300000
  • Aug-06-2007 - 400000
  • Mar-27-2008 - 500000
  • Feb-22-2010 - 1000000
While it took 8 long years for Hyundai to reach the first 5 Lakh milestone in  exports, the second 5 Lakh cars took just 2 years. The major contributors for HMIL in exports are the Santro, i10, i20, Getz and Accent. Though Getz has been discontinued recently, the other four models continue to rake in good volumes for HMIL from as much as 110 countries across the world. As a matter of fact, Hyundai has made India it's global small car hub and HMIL is the only Hyundai plant in the world producing i10 and i20 till now. So, the next time when you see any of the Hyundai cars listed above anywhere in the world, be proud of the fact that they have been manufactured right here in India.


2010 F1 Season begins with a Ferrari 1-2

What started off as a daily habit of reading newspaper during my early years has now culminated in a craze for Formula 1 Racing. In those days , I started following Formula 1 courtesy "The Hindu" and the headlines related to F1 used to have two words sculpted in it no matter what - "Michael Schumacher". Everything in F1 was, in a way or other related to the supremely talented racer or his legendary driving on tracks. Yes, there were allegations against his aggressive driving habits, there were controversies over his team favoring him at the expense of his team-mate, but none can even think of denying the divine skills that he possessed, especially in wet tracks, which earned him the title "The Rain Master". 

The 2010 F1 Season, which started yesterday (14-Mar-2010) with the Bahrain Grand Prix is significant for the same reason - the legend has returned to F1 after 3 years in retirement. This along with the presence of 3 other World Champions in Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso had made sure that the expectations for the season-opener were sky-high. Not to mention the young talents like Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil all of whom lined up with all guns blazing, it was pretty obvious that there is going to be no dearth of excitement and surprises in this F1 season. The new regulations also means that this season is going to be a journey in an untrodden path. 

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix - Qualifying:
2009's star performer Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) just managed to nudge ahead of Felipe Massa (Ferrari) to take the pole position in the season-opener. Following Vettel and Massa was the second Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) shared the second row with Alonso while Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) managed to pip his illustrious team-mate to take fifth place. Mark Webber (Red Bull) joined Rosberg in the third row while Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) started from the fourth row on the grid. Jenson Button (McLaren), Robert Kubica (Renault) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) completed the Top 10. India's F1 debutante Karun Chandok (HRT F1) started the race from the final position (24th place) after failing to manage a lap in any of the free practice sessions due to technical problems. 

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix - Race Day:
Fernando Alonso took a superb victory ahead of Felipe Massa to make it a Ferrai 1-2 in the season opener. Putting besides them a dismal show in 2009 season, Ferrari has come back with a bang and with two top drivers in top form, I think it will be difficult to challenge the scarlet team this year. By winning on his debut with Ferrari, Fernando Alonso has repeated the feat Kimi Raikkonen acheived in 2007, the year in which he went on to win the driver's championship too. Lewis Hamilton took a decent third place for McLaren. 

Sebastian Vettel had a clean start to the race and lead comfortably until problems in the exhaust system of his Red Bull slowed down his pace and allowed the podium finishers to move past him. Poor chap, let's just hope that he gets not only a quick but also a reliable machine in the forthcoming races. Felipe Massa was in hot pursuit of his team-mate Fernando Alonso for most part of the race after the latter moved past him in the very first corner of the race. Sebastian Vettel managed to bring his Red Bull to a respectable fourth place. Michael Schumacher never managed to get past Nico Rosberg and the two Mercedes drivers took the fifth and sixth places. The defending champion Jenson Button finished a disappointing seventh in his McLaren debut folowed by Mark Webber (Red Bull), Tonio Liuzzi (Force India) and last year's runner-up Rubens Barrichello (Williams). Totally 8 drivers failed to finish the race including Indian racer Karun Chandok, who crashed in his very first lap in F1.

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix - Top 3:
  1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
  2. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
  3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 


Indian CV's coming of age finally

The inevitable is finally happening. Though India's passenger car market graduated to international levels offering the best in the world for its customers to choose from, the Commercial Vehicle segment presented a sad picture until very recently. Not any more. Need a proof? You should have had a look at the models lined up at the Auto Expo 2010, or better still, just spent time watching the new public transport buses in any of India's big cities. Though full credits go to Volvo for starting it all in India, credits are also due for domestic manufacturers like Tata and Ashok Leyland for coming up with a very strong message that they are not hiding with the onslaught of global competition.

Visitors at the Auto Expo 2010 were startled with the kind of CV's on display. Volvo had the CNG variant of it's intra-city bus 8400 and the 9400, India's first multi-axle bus which stunned visitors with it's length, on display. Tata was not to be left behind in the race with the attention-grabbing and hugely popular Prima world truck and it's Marcopolo range of city buses. Ashok Leyland also attracted fair share of attention with India's first plug-in hyrid bus, the Hybus. Also launced at the expo were models from Mahindra Navistar and Eicher thus formally announcing the fact that India's CV segment is finally coming of age.
The most important fact is that all the models on display were not merely showcase dolls but are actually seeing the light of the day sooner or later. Volvos, including the multi-axle 9400 are plentiful now-a-days especially in Bengaluru where you get to see them every minute and Chennai. Even the regular public transport buses from Ashok Leyland and Tata are now quite modern and good to look at, which were the least comments expected out of those buses a few years ago. These new buses encourage more people to take the public transport and by doing so, ensures that the basic necessity of building a good public transport infrastructure to decongest our crowded city roads in the future has been met.

If only the roads and the city infrastucture are as developed as the vehicles plying on it, India will look much better.


India has started "Hatch"ing Cars

It's a case of history repeating itself albeit a good decade later. This happened in 1998 when the monopoly of the Indian Auto Market, enjoyed by the trend-setting Maruti-Suzuki was broken into shackles with the launch of a slew of small cars. In came Tata (Indica), Hyundai (Santro) and Daewoo (Matiz) and suddenly the Indian customers felt as if they were spoilt for choice. Though these new launches could not manage to make the slightest dent in the sales of Maruti-Suzuki, they expanded the market and created a niche for themselves.

A good 10-12 years later, the same scenario is again starting to unfold to the Indian public. Suddenly, people looking for buying a small car will have options other than Maruti-Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata, the traditional volume-players in our market. Chevrolet has joined the party in a big way with the ridiculously shocking prices of it's Beat. Volkswagen has just launched it's multiple award-winning global small car Polo and the media and the public are already going gaga over it. Ford has announced shock pricing for it's Figo and with the impending diesel version being available from day one, it is sure to send shudders to people at Tata and Hyundai. Nissan has just unveiled it's Micra in the Geneva Motor Show which is going to take the route of the i10 - from Chennai to the rest of the world. Though months away from their date of launches, the significance of Toyota's Etios and Honda's model (based on the New Small Concept shown at the Delhi Auto Expo) cannot be overlooked at all.

It's time for the traditional biggies to pull up their socks and get ready for a run. Maruti-Suzuki should stop producing it's woefully outdated models and keep churning out it's newer models in India simultaneously with their global launch dates. Hyundai should wake up from it's slumber and start getting serious with it's Diesel programme. It's crazy that they have not realized what a little CRDi badge could do to the already skyrocketing sales numbers of the i10. Tata should reduce it's new car development timeline which is currently about a decade for successive generations of cars (Indica and Vista). The acid test has come for the Swift, i10 and Indica and it remains to be seen how these hot-sellers are going to hold on to their pie against the Beats, Polos, Figos and Micras.

The Indian Automotive market has finally started "Hatch"ing in a big way and that means good news for us customers!