Pirelli wants us to "Stop Smoking"

Companies across the world are hell-bent in doing everything from planting saplings to adopting entire villages as part of their "Corporate Social Responsibility" activities to project themselves as responsible social citizens. While its absolutely commendable that these efforts are being taken, whether for PR or otherwise, in most of the cases, the products that the company makes would have nothing in common with these activities.

But, pleasant coincidences like this do happen rarely. The think-tanks at the leading global tire manufacturer Pirelli and its ad agency have come up with a new series of print ads aimed at preventing people from "smoking". "Smoking what?" remains a mysterious question to be answered though. While the pictures hint at the 'Tires' as a possible answer, the wordings seemingly depict and mean something else.

Whatever it is, is it not a brilliant way of glorifying their product's capability and conveying an important social message at the same time? Quite brilliant! Let more of these come and companies need not be doing any separate CSR activities. And, by the way, with a great post to end the year 2010, here is wishing you all a happy and smoke-free 2011!


2011 North American Car & Truck of the Year Finalists Announced

Its that time of the year again when new cars and trucks from across the globe compete among themselves for various titles being given away by a whole lot of automotive publications. Among the significant, tough-to-win titles are the North American Car of the Year & Truck of the Year awards. So, when finalists for such prestigious titles are announced, it ought to be noticed. The models which have been shortlisted for 2011 awards are Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Leaf in cars and Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee in trucks.

The awards are unique because instead of being given by a single media outlet, they are awarded by a group of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada representing magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. To be eligible, a vehicle must be 'all new' or 'substantially changed' from the previous model year.

Though my heart beats for Hyundai Sonata to take the title in the cars category with its Regular, Turbo and Hybrid variants for the sole reason of shaking up the established midsize sedan segment, my mind shouts that its going to be the revolutionary Chevrolet Volt taking the top step. The fact that the Volt has already won quite a few individual Car of the Year titles and the Nissan Leaf has already been declared 2011 European Car of the Year doesn't help matters either. Amongst the trucks, in all probability, Ford Explorer should be taking the title though there are good chances of the Jeep Grand Cherokee springing in a surprise.

Both the awards, in their 18th year currently, will be announced at the North American International Auto Show at Detroit on January 10. Last year, Ford made a clean sweep of the awards with its Fusion Hybrid and Transit Connect taking the respective titles. Let the countdown begin!


2011 ICOTY & IMOTY Awards announced

The recipients of India’s most prestigious automotive honors, the Indian Car of the Year and Indian Motorcycle of the Year 2011 were announced recently. This is the sixth edition of this annual event which has been modeled along the likes of European and North American Car of the Year titles. With journalists from top automotive publications across the country like Overdrive, Auto Bild, Top Gear, Car India, BS Motoring and Auto India being the jurors, Ford Figo and Honda CBF Stunner have come out on tops.

Apart from the Ford Figo, the final contenders for the ICOTY title included models like Volkswagen Polo and Vento, Tata Aria, Skoda Yeti, Nissan Micra, Chevrolet Beat and Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R. When the final tally was declared, the Figo had comfortably trounced the competitors with a comfortable margin. It has not only lived up to the hype that it created with Ford’s CEO Mr. Alan Mulally himself unveiling the car to the Indian public, but has also exceeded the expectations with over 60,000 units sold since launch. It has won the acclaim of critics and customers alike and has given Ford unprecedented volume and growth in India.


1. Ford Figo – 83
2. Volkswagen Vento – 57
3. Volkswagen Polo / Skoda Yeti – 37


    * 2010 – Tata Nano
    * 2009 – Honda City
    * 2008 – Hyundai i10
    * 2007 – Honda Civic
    * 2006 – Maruti-Suzuki Swift

Unlike the ICOTY award, there seemed to be a slug fest for the IMOTY 2011 title with the Honda CB Twister taking the crown by a meager margin of 3 points. This latest offering from Honda has brought style, flair and refinement which are unheard of in the mass market commuter bike segment. Bajaj’s critically acclaimed, feature-laden, sporty yet efficient Pulsar 135 LS made life difficult for the CB Twister by finishing a close second with TVS’s technologically-superior Jive finishing third. The other finalists for the award included Bajaj Discover 150, Mahindra Stallio and TVS Max4R.  


1. Honda CB Twister – 66
2. Bajaj Pulsar 135 LS – 63
3. TVS Jive - 48


    * 2010 – Kawasaki Ninja 250R
    * 2009 – Yamaha YZR R15
    * 2008 – Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi


2011 Ward's 10 Best Engines Announced

An eagerly awaited annual automotive event, which is considered a cut above the rest due to it's entirely different concept is the Ward's announcement of its 10 Best Engines list. While every other automotive publication crowns cars and trucks with various titles every year, this is the only reputed title given specifically to the engines.

The 10 Best Engines for the year 2011 has just been announced and there are quite a few surprises this year. Probably for the first time ever, an Electric Motor (in the Nissan Leaf) has won the award apart from an Electric Motor-IC Engine (Chevrolet Volt) combination. It just goes to show the fast emerging trend in the automotive industry to try and use alternate methods to run vehicles.

Volkswagen Automotive Group and BMW takes home two awards each and Ford and Chrysler gets one entry each in the Top 10. Hyundai walks away with an award for a third consecutive year for its Tau V8 engine, doing duty in the company's famed Genesis. Shockingly, the famous Japanese duo of Toyota and Honda are suspicious by their absence with none of their engines making the cut this year.

* 3.0L TFSI Supercharged DOHC V-6 (Audi S4)
* 3.0L N55 Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (BMW 335i)
* 1.6L Turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mini Cooper S)
* 3.6L Pentastar DOHC V-6 (Dodge Avenger)
* 5.0L DOHC V-8 (Ford Mustang GT)
* 1.4L DOHC I-4/111kW Drive Motor (Chevrolet Volt)
* 5.0L Tau DOHC V-8 (Hyundai Genesis)
* 80kW AC Synchronous Electric Motor (Nissan Leaf)
* 2.0L DOHC I-4 Turbodiesel (Volkswagen Jetta TDI)
* 3.0L Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (Volvo S60)


Toyota Etios Liva spotted testing

Close on the heels of the launch of Etios sedan, the hatchback version of Toyota’s new flagship, the Etios Liva is spotted testing on Chennai roads. Now that the sedan is on sale and the launch date for the hatchback announced as March-2011, the car is barely hidden with only the logo and badges going under the tape.

The Etios sedan’s biggest drawback in styling is its rear end which looks very similar to Logan, which is not a complement in any way. Going by the looks of it, the Liva seems to be better looking from the rear, but only just. The huge taillights and chrome strip just tries to spruce up an ordinary looking rear while the C-Pillar bears more than a passing resemblance to the Nissan Micra. When seen with competing cars like Fiat Grande Punto, Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz, the Etios will not garner a second look, for sure.

But it seems that interior passenger space is available in spades as the Etios Liva looks almost as big as the i20, which is a tad bigger than cars like Maruti-Suzuki Swift. All the media reviews of the sedan too seem to highlight this point along with the supremely comfortable seats. Couple this to Toyota’s legendary reliability and the sedan’s shock pricing and what you have is a runaway hit in the offing.

The flaws like average fit and finish, cost-cutting in several key areas including light sheet-metal and a single windshield wiper and built-to-a-cost outdated looks would not stop Indians from queuing up for this car thanks to the extremely high brand-image that Toyota has managed to attract over the years.

Toyota launches Etios sedan with shock pricing

Dec-01-2010 marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Toyota in India. After more than a decade of negligence of the small car segment, the hottest and most voluminous segment in our country, Toyota finally displayed what it is upto at the 2010 Delhi Auto Expo earlier this year when it displayed the Etios concept in both hatchback and sedan body styles.

Now, on the occasion of the sedan's launch, Toyota has, for once, both shocked and surprised us all with the car's prices. The Etios sedan comes with 4 versions priced between 4.9 lacs to 6.9 lacs, all ex-showroom. This price coupled with the legendary image of the Toyota brand in India will make sure that people throng the showrooms to get their hand in the Etios.

The front end of the Etios manages to get that family look, thanks to the smiling and slotted grille, very similar to the Innova. Smaller headlamps and plain bumper with fog lamps are the other notable features at the front. The profile has been relatively well executed, compared to the ridiculous work done in the Swift Dzire and Tata Indigo, where the boot looks like it was welded separately after the hatchback was made. The lesser said about the rear, the better. The huge triangular taillamps and the awkwardly placed chrome strip in the tailgate could be easily mistaken for a Logan.

Get over the disappointing exteriors and the interiors seem to impress, but only to a certain extent. Again, cost-cutting is clearly visible in many interior panels and elements. The car is well equipped with ABS and Airbags given as options in all but the base variant. Most of the other premium features like power mirrors, reverse parking sensors and the like are excluded in all variants. That base variant itself is just an excuse for a sedan with AC being its sole feature.

Apart from that, all other variants are reasonably equipped and competitively priced to give even premium priced hatches like Swift, i10, i20, Polo and Micra some serious headache. But, more importantly, with a 1.5 liter engine under the hood and a sedan bodystyle, my guess is that the Etios would totally shatter the Indigo Manza's and Swift Dzire's parties.

New Hyundai Verna (RB) spotted testing

Ah, finally it gets captured. One new car model which was being extensively tested in Chennai roads but was eluding my lenses for so long has been the new mid-size sedan from Hyundai, codenamed the “RB”. This model, called ‘Accent’ worldwide, but will be called ‘Verna’ in India is expected to be launched in the first quarter of 2011 and replace the existing Verna Transform.

And transform it does, for sure, the looks of the current Verna. The swooping coupe-like roof and windows, short and high boot, twin exhaust pipes and three dimensional i10-like headlights are already proving to be very popular in all the online forums in the country. Though most of the car’s important assets still remain hidden under the camouflage, the recently launched Accent in Korea has given more than a clear hint of how this is going to look. If that is actually this, then here comes a model to compete on looks with the Honda City and Fiat Linea.

When it is launched, expect the Verna to be the benchmark in its segment for features, if the recent i10 face-lift and i20 are any indication. Apart from that, the present Verna’s biggest strength, the stonking CRDi engine with its exhilarating power, torque and pick-up will mostly be carried over. As with all Hyundais, expect a sufficiently supple ride, average handling, top-notch reliability and good after sales service. If priced right, like say in the range of the existing Verna, this surely has the capabilities to beat the sweat out of City, Vento and Linea.


Driven #3: Maruti-Suzuki Alto K10

With India being on top of the radar of every automaker in the world, every company would love to have one of their models topping the sales charts here. The Alto, which holds that dubious title for quite some time now and Maruti-Suzuki, its maker also credited with selling every second car in our country, would therefore be subjects of dense scrutiny. So, when such a model is being face-lifted, it ought to assume prime importance. With the launch of the new Alto K10, Maruti-Suzuki has not only spruced up the looks of the car but has also given it a heart transplant by plonking in the new K-Series engine into its hood. A quick spin in the new K10 and the existing Alto back-to-back revealed what’s hot and what’s not.

The existing Alto was launched globally around a decade back and just when it started showing its age,  Maruti did a couple of nip and tuck jobs to keep it updated. But nothing could hide the fact that the Alto was never a great looker but it always came across as a cute little city car that will not offend anyone. The K10 doesn't try to change that perception and carries the same theme forward. The major difference in the K10 is the length of the hood, which has been increased to accommodate the bigger engine. That apart, the redesigned lights and body-colored bumpers at the front and rear try to make the car look more mature and impart a big-car feel to the Alto. While the attempt is successful at the front, the same can't be said about the rear, which is less impressive. Except for the length, the profile remains virtually untouched.

Step into the car and there are no surprises there with the layout being the same as the current Alto. But there are quite a lot of welcome additions like a meatier 3-spoke steering wheel in place of the current bland two spoke wheel, a tachometer, front power windows, internally adjustable mirrors, central locking, internal fuel cap and boot opener most of which are not available in the current Alto. Sadly, there is no increase in interior passenger space which could have made the K10 a proper B-Segment car, now that it has the features to compete with them. Maruti deserve special kudos for giving mirrors that fold on both sides, a thoughtful feature which would be a boon in our crowded city roads.

Floor the pedal and don't be surprised if you, for a moment, thought that you have accidentally stepped into a Swift rather than an Alto. The quick throttle response is unbelievable especially when compared to the regular Alto and the engine is more refined too. Typical Alto characteristics like lack of power and strained engine responses are gone and the K10 just bursts off the line comfortably, the combination of its light weight body and the responsive K10B engine with 68 PS maximum power working wonders here.

Though it has got a proper heart now, the Alto K10 still has not got the legs that it needs to stretch itself. The combination of a slightly unsettled ride and average handling accentuated by the undersized tires make sure that you don't enjoy the K10 to its fullest potential. Nevertheless, for the price that you pay, the Alto K10 returns a truly rewarding driving experience.

  • Engine Type: All Aluminum K10B
  • No of Cylinders: 3
  • Displacement: 998 cc
  • Max Power: 68 PS @ 6200 rpm
  • Max Torque: 90 Nm @ 3500 rpm
  • Transmission Type: 5 Speed MT (Cable Type)
  • Tyres: 155/65 R13 (Tubeless)
  • Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front) / Drum (Rear) 
To sum up the K10 in one line, I would say that "Commuting for masses just got a bit more powerful, fun-filled and feature-laden". Exactly as speculated earlier, the K10 has already taken the total Alto sales to much higher than 30,000 units per month. With the possible exception of Hyundai's new small car, there is absolutely nothing to even think of challenging the Alto twins and together, they will stay at the top of the sales charts at least for the next couple of years. You will not go wrong with either of them. Having said that, if you have to choose between the Alto and the K10, without a moment’s hesitation, go for the K10. Its worth much more than the small extra money that you pay for it.


Honda's small car for India unveiled and christened Brio

Honda has finally taken the wraps off its new small car for India, uninspiringly named the Brio, in Thailand. The Brio is actually the production version of the New Small Concept (2CV) showcased at the 2010 Delhi Auto Expo. What strikes you initially on seeing the Brio is its completely polarizing design, both inside and outside. You will either love it or hate it and nothing in between.

Coming to the most important factor and the one in which Honda always loses miserably in India, the pricing, there are very strong indications that the base price for the Brio would be less than the all-important 5 lakh rupee mark. If it comes at the promised price, expect people to flock to the Brio, irrespective of its looks, features and performance. Honda’s brand image is so strong in India to let these factors affect the success of its new model.

When viewed from the front, the Brio, with its huge chrome strip with the “H” at the center looks quite attractive. The smoked headlights and wide air dam in the bumper lends it a touch of aggression too. But the design of the profile and the rear is where things have started taking a different turn. The tipped-forward stance, the high-set and small rear windows, the big difference in sizes between the front and rear doors all combine to give the car a distinctive and unattractive profile. The rear end, though will give a new definition for the word ‘polarizing’. It’s either ridiculously ugly or distinctively stylish. For me, unfortunately its the former and I still cant believe that this is coming from the company that designed stunners like the Civic and the City. The glass hatch at the rear instead of the tailgate though, is a unique feature that cuts on weight and costs.

Step into the interiors and it’s the same episode all over again, well almost. The instrument cluster is attractively designed and so are the circular AC vents. The central console, if it can be called so, is weird with the music system apparently placed nearer to the passenger rather than the driver. Apart from that, a major dosage of beige and white lends the interiors an up market touch and Honda, being Honda, we can expect the interior fit, finish and quality to be top notch. Powered by the 1.2 liter engine which is also powering the Jazz, Honda can rest assured of success, if and only if the Brio is priced right.

2011 European Car of the Year is Nissan Leaf

For the first time in the history of Europe's most prestigious automotive award, a zero-emission electric car, the Nissan Leaf has been chosen as the Car of the Year for 2011. This is the second time Nissan is getting this coveted title after the Micra won the award in 1993. Mr. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan accepted the honor by saying, "This award recognizes the pioneering zero-emission Nissan Leaf as competitive to conventional cars in terms of safety, performance, spaciousness and handling. It also reflects Nissan's standing as an innovative and exciting brand with a clear vision of the future of transportation, which we call sustainable mobility."

A total of 41 models launched in 2010 were eligible for the title initially which were then trimmed down to seven final contenders. The Nissan Leaf ultimately took the title after the jurors proclaimed that it is a breakthrough for electric cars and that it is the first electric vehicle that can match conventional cars in many respects. It was a close contest though, with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Opel/Vauxhall Meriva giving the Leaf tough competition.
2011 ECOTY Results :
  1. Nissan Leaf (257)
  2. Alfa Romeo Giulietta (248)
  3. Opel/Vauxhall Meriva (244)
  4. Ford C-Max/Grand C-Max (224)
  5. Citroen C3/DS3 (175)
  6. Volvo S60/V60 (145)
  7. Dacia Duster (132)
Previous ECOTY Winners :
  • 2010 Volkswagen Polo
  • 2009 Opel/Vauxhall Insignia
  • 2008 Fiat 500
  • 2007 Ford S-Max
  • 2006 Renault Clio
The jury for "European Car of the Year 2011" consisted of automotive journalists representing 23 European countries. The seven organizers of this annual title are prominent automotive publications such as Auto (Italy), Autocar (UK), Autopista (Spain), Autovisie (Holland), L'Automobile Magazine (France), Stern (Germany) and Vi Bilagare (Sweden).