Speculation - Is Ashok Leyland testing the Neptune engine in this bus?

While driving in NH45 a couple of days back, I happened to see this Ashok Leyland bus with ‘On Test’ stickers plastered on the front and rear. At first glance, the far-from-immaculate condition of the test vehicle, with its age-old outer body and damages here and there, tried its best to divert my attention elsewhere. But, on closer inspection, I was able to make out that the company was probably using this old body to test some new internal mechanicals.

So what can it be? Would it be a new engine or transmission option or was it something related to suspension and drive-train? The immediate thought that comes to mind is the Neptune series of engines that were launched at the 2010 Auto Expo. After making huge noises at the launch event, Ashok Leyland went silent on the Neptune series and as of today, the engine has not yet been launched in any of the company’s models.

The Neptune series is slated to come in inline 4 and 6 cylinder configurations, with power output ranging from 160 to 380 hp and an ability to comply upto Euro V emission norms. This all-new series of engines, which is being developed in-house by Ashok Leyland with technical assistance from AVL of Austria, is expected to power almost the entire new generation trucks and buses of the company for both domestic and international markets.

In a recent interview, Mr. Rajiv Saharia, ED-Marketing of Ashok Leyland, said that field trials are being conducted with the Neptune engine and the initial feedback has been positive. So, in all probability, this should be the Neptune engine which is being tested before being launched in the market. But, as already declared, this post is a mere speculation. So, I would like you all to take it with a pinch of salt.


Nissan Leaf is 2011 World Car of the Year

Congratulations Nissan! The hugely-hyped, 100% electric, zero-emission 'Leaf' has been selected as the World Car of the Year 2011. In the final round of polling, the Nissan Leaf garnered more votes than the other two finalists, the Audi A8 and BMW 5 Series, quite formidable competitors I would say.

By winning the World Car of the Year title, the Nissan Leaf has become the recipient of two significant automotive awards this year. Remember that the Leaf was voted the European Car of the Year 2011 a few months back. Its just a case of history repeating itself as Volkswagen Polo did the same and won both the awards last year.

The results were announced at the 2011 New York International Auto Show a couple of days back. The other awards announced were as follows:

* World Car of the Year - Nissan Leaf (Audi A8, BMW 5 Series)
* World Performance Car of the Year - Ferrari 458 Italia (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911 Turbo)
* World Green Car of the Year - Chevrolet Volt (Nissan Leaf, BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics)
* World Design of the Year - Aston Martin Rapide (Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Ferrari 458 Italia)

The models inside the braces were the other finalists that ended runners up in the respective categories. Isn't it ironical that the Nissan Leaf, the big-winner of 2011, ended up a distant third in the North American Car of the Year awards behind the Chevrolet Volt and the Hyundai Sonata?


Volkswagen unveils all-new 2012 Beetle

There are a few automobiles that are standard fixtures in the history books, now and forever. Even if you wish to move on and erase them, atleast from your memories, you just can't do it. One such model is the phenomenal, iconic and legendary Volkswagen Beetle. ‘The Bug’, as it is cheekily called, was for long, the largest selling nameplate in history until the Toyota Corolla took over that tag in the previous decade. For your records, the original Beetle has sold more than 20 million units till date.

The New Beetle, which was launched in 1998 with neo-retro looks touched the hearts of bug-lovers again and sold more than a million units before its production ended last year. The all-new 2012 Beetle, launched simultaneously by Volkswagen at the Shanghai Motor Show, the New York Motor Show and at a separate event in Berlin, is just an evolution of the previous version. Though Volkswagen claims that every inch of the car has been redesigned, the roots are clearly obvious and no one would ever mistake this for anything else but a Beetle. Which is, in a way, what everybody wished and wanted.

People love the Beetle as it is and the lesser changes to it visually, the better. The classic round headlamps are retained and as is the norm now, they come adorned with LEDs. The edges of the bumper have now become squarer and have been superbly integrated into the rounded front end. As a result, the Beetle now looks less toy-like and more matured. There are minimal changes to the profile with the window line extending a little bit to liberate more interior space. At the rear, the taillights have been nicely redesigned which, along with the new bumper, increases the visual appeal of the car.

If the previous generation Beetle had one major criticism, it was about the car being too girlish. That concern seems to have been addressed now, atleast to my eyes, as the all-new Beetle definitely looks much less rounded and girlish than the car it replaces. In fact, the flower-vase in the dashboard that the previous Beetle had and the fairer sex loved, has been removed. Volkswagen is even planning to launch a hot and sporty, turbocharged version of the car that would share its engine with the Golf GTI and come with a big rear spoiler to announce its intent.

The interiors have been freshened up too and looks much more breezy and spacious than the old car. But, as you, me and everybody else knows, nobody buys a Beetle for its interiors or for its power, but for its looks and for its legacy. On those aspects, the all-new Beetle has its base covered and is all set to extend a long-running success story for Volkswagen. Its time for Mini, Fiat 500 and Smart to take notice and get into damage-limitation mode to protect their turf.

2011 Seoul - Hyundai, Kia and GM Korea rock the show

If you are still not convinced about the much-publicized and widely-appreciated rise of the Korean automotive brands, look no further than the 2011 Seoul Motor Show to have your doubts crushed. Held last week under the theme ‘Evolution - Green Revolution on Wheels’, the show saw the Korean automakers come out with all guns blazing. The hidden message ‘Japan, just like in electronics, we are almost there in automobiles too!’ was very clearly obvious on the stands.

Who else could better demonstrate this supremacy than the high-flying duo of Hyundai and Kia? After all, they have been the brands currently with the Midas touch in automobiles, hitting the bull’s eye with every new model launched in the last few years. Just a casual glance at the models that were on display in their stands is enough to scare the hell out of their immediate Japanese and European rivals. Is Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen taking notice? They better be.

Hyundai showcased its globally successful ‘Fluidic’ trio of Accent, Avante (Elantra) and Sonata apart from the recently-launched Grandeur luxury sedan and the all-new Veloster coupe. The famous ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design philosophy has evolved into ‘Intersected Flow’, which was the theme used for designing the Blue-2 Concept, a fuel-cell electric car on display. Though the car looked pretty good, the fact that it has been inspired by brands like Saab and Opel were clearly apparent.

The Kia stand in comparison was even more colorful and the models even more stylish, courtesy the brilliance of Kia's design head Mr. Peter Schreyer. The superbly-designed Forte, the stunning K5 (Optima) and the Picanto were all there as were the KV7 and Naimo electric vehicle concepts. Looking at all those models, one can only feel that its a pity Kia is not heading to India anytime soon.

The recently renamed GM Korea also showed its might with all its models now wearing the Chevrolet bow-tie badge. So did Renault-Samsung too. Ssangyong, the once-bankrupt automaker which was taken over by Mahindra, proved that the future is not all dark for the brand. Their complete lineup, starting from the India-bound Korando and Rexton to the awfully bad-looking Actyon, were on display.

With the Korean market starting to open up to global brands, more so in the luxury segment, the German brands Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi showed why they are being held with such high esteem throughout the world. The pick of the show for me however, apart from the stylish Hyundai i40 Wagon, was our very own Tata Nano. If you are guessing about Nano's connection with Korea, don't forget that Tata owns Daewoo's commercial vehicle division.

Photography: Seung Jin Shin


Ford unveils all-new Fiesta and repositions existing model as Fiesta Classic

This is turning out to be quite a significant month for Ford India. Barely a week after launching the Fiesta Classic, a stripped down version of the previous generation Fiesta with revised prices, Ford yesterday took the wraps off the all-new global Fiesta sedan. Being the first of a raft of eight all-new models to be launched by Ford in India before 2015, the new Fiesta marks the beginning of Ford’s much-publicized and famous ‘One Ford’ strategy. Until now, all the successful models of Ford in India - the Ikon, the Fiesta and the Figo were India-specific models that were not available elsewhere.

Mr. Michael Boneham, President & MD of Ford India unveiled the highly anticipated car in Delhi yesterday amidst much fanfare. But sadly, no details on pricing or variants were announced except for the already-known information that it will be powered by TiVCT gasoline and TDCi diesel engines. What was revealed though were the interior trim and the features on offer. The new Fiesta comes fully loaded with ABS & twin airbags being offered across the full lineup, a really good move. Other notable features include Bluetooth connectivity with voice control system, steering mounted buttons, a segment-first cruise control system and a mobile phone inspired central console.

Externally, what strikes you most about the new Fiesta at first glance is its stunning frontal design where Ford’s ‘Kinetic Design’ elements come to the fore. The long sweeping headlamps with black inserts, the huge, inverted V-shaped air intake, the ultra slim top grille, steeply raked hood and the short overhang make the new Fiesta look aggressive and sporty. The profile carries the tipped-forward stance with upward-sloping windows and character lines. Unlike the Fiesta hatchback which looks stunning from the rear too, the sedan loses its design flair as you move towards the rear. The boot looks bulbous and heavy which are further accentuated by the small taillight clusters.

To accommodate this all-new Fiesta in its lineup, the company has repositioned the old Fiesta in a segment below and launched it as ‘Fiesta Classic’ just a week back. Now competing with the likes of Swift Dzire, Indigo Manza and Etios, the Fiesta Classic comes with slightly toned down interiors but retains the engine options (Duratec gasoline & Duratorq diesel) and looks of the old car. Ford has thus worked out a master strategy wherein the Fiesta Classic will take the position of the Ikon as an entry-level car while the all-new Fiesta will take the position of the old Fiesta as a premium offering. Smart, very smart, but a little confusing!


Driven #5: Royal Enfield Classic 500

There are very few brands in India that are as aspirational, as iconic and as legendary as the Chennai-based motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield. Seriously, I am running out of words when I set out to describe this originally British brand that is now completely Indian. Beating the Indian fetish for Harley-Davidson and coming out on tops in a recently conducted brand survey speaks volumes about Royal Enfield and how it is being perceived by Indians. Hence, it’s no wonder that the die-hard fans and customers of the brand swear by their set of wheels.

When such a manufacturer comes out with a model that is even more vintage than the classic motorcycles that they are already famous for, it is destined for success. And succeed it did, with immediate post-launch orders swelling so high that there was a waiting list of more than 7 months to own one. If you are still guessing, I am talking about the one-of-a-kind ‘Classic’, that was launched in 350cc and 500cc versions. This particular model that I drove is owned by a close pal of mine, who got this bike delivered in Mar-2011 after a wait of 6 months.

Almost every model of Royal Enfield, with their retro styling and overdose of chrome always score high on the looks factor. But to be brutally honest, the Classic just crushes them all when it comes to looks. True to its name, the bike has really classic design touches all over it that screams ‘vintage’ bold and loud. Like me, even folks who normally prefer modern styling to retro looks would not be able to stop falling in love with it. There surely is some really invisible charm that surrounds this bike.

The circular themed lights all around, twin pilot lamps, the single circular instrument pod, the chrome mirrors, the uniquely shaped tool box and air-filter cover, the really long chrome exhaust pipe, the old-school spring-loaded single saddle and the smashing colors that the bike comes with, especially military green and red, literally turns heads wherever you go. Once astride, you need to get used to long wishful stares everywhere as you pass. That’s quite understandable because this is the stuff that most young men’s dreams are made of.

Beneath all those retro looks are thoroughly modern underpinnings by Royal Enfield standards. The traditional Royal Enfiled engine construction with an external clutch and gearbox has been replaced with something called "Unit Construction Engine" or UCE, where a single crankcase encloses all the above. Also, the company has ditched the carburetor for a modern electronic fuel injection system that aides both in optimized air fuel delivery and to meet the tougher emission standards.

Powered by a single-cylinder, 499cc, spark ignition, overhead cam engine with electronic fuel injection (EFI), the Classic 500 churns out a maximum power of 27.2 bhp, easily making it the most powerful Indian bike in the market. And it is one of the fastest too with superb acceleration from idle, the linear power delivery courtesy EFI helping matters here. In fact, turn the throttle and its quite an experience to feel all the 27 horses coming to life.

Given an open road, the Classic 500 can cruise all day long at 80 kph in 5th gear as the bike feels supremely comfortable in those conditions. The ride is good but not great enough. Uniquely, I found the ride quality to be significantly better from the driver’s seat than in the pillion’s seat. The handling too is confidence inspiring with big 18-inch wheels and disc brakes at front helping to keep the bike stable at all times. Having said that, its better to always remember that you are riding a heavy mass of metal and it takes its own sweet time to lean, turn or come to a halt.

One grudge that I had with the Classic was the horn that came fitted with was so feeble and would not look out of place in a 50cc moped. Also, the much celebrated 'thump' that all RE fans seem to love, lust for and relish is definitely muted compared to the roaring thumps from Bullets of the past. Barring the fact that its bulk makes it less agile inside the city, the Classic makes good sense for your everyday office commute and for your weekend getaways too.

* Engine Type: OHC, 4 Stroke
* No of Cylinders: 1
* Displacement: 499 cc
* Max Power: 27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm
* Max Torque: 41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm
* Transmission Type: 5 Speed, 1Down 4Up
* Tyres: 90/90 R18 (Front) / 110/90 R18 (Rear)
* Brakes: Hydraulic Disc (Front) / Internal Expanding Drum (Rear)

Overlooking the fact that Royal Enfield bikes are not the most reliable around, the Classic is a stunning style statement and a perfect blend of 1950's World War II looks with 2000's modern technology. At around 1.4 Lac Rupees, its terrific value for money too. Once you move over the looks, step on it, get yourself acquainted and start driving the Classic, you will get a feeling that you are the king of the road. Now what are you still waiting for? Go, get one for yourself and prove to the world that you have a good taste.


Always wear Helmets and Seat-Belts

How many more injuries and casualties do we need to make people realize the importance of wearing seat-belts and helmets appropriately? Seriously, what does it cost to wear these life saving devices that make the difference between life and death in case of an unfortunate incident on the road? Now, stop fooling yourselves around and start acting responsible. There are friends and family waiting for you and nothing is more important for them than your well-being. And wearing your helmets and seat-belts would ensure just that and much more.

Before you start thinking that I have gone mad and am rambling around, a couple of folks I know are in coma state now due to two separate road accidents in Chennai yesterday. One was a simple case of losing balance and falling down from a TVS Scooty in the Kathipara grade separator. And the other was a slightly bigger accident involving a Honda City which smashed into the rear of a truck. While the former hit the ground in the aftermath, the latter banged his head in the steering wheel resulting in serious head injuries for both.

Unfortunately neither of them were wearing the devices that would have made the accident just another incident. If only we can go back in time and change things, we would gladly do that but life doesn’t give us a second chance. We all have been fortunate enough for getting one and we need to ensure that it doesn’t come to an abrupt end. Whether you are driving in start-stop city traffic or cruising on a highway, be it in a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler, make sure that HELMETS AND SEAT-BELTS ARE WORN ALWAYS.


Team India to get new Hyundai Verna each, Yuvi to get an Audi, Will Dhoni get a Ferrari too?

There are a few things in life for which we would have waited endlessly and finally when it does happen, it takes a whole lot of time to sink in and make us believe that it has actually happened. As an Indian, you would have probably understood what I am rambling about by now. Yes, we are the World Champions in Cricket and almost a week after winning the World Cup, I am yet to come out of that ecstasy.

M.S.Dhoni and his men have won the cup that matters after a gap of 28 years, sending millions of Indians into instant celebrations and joy. From the Railway Ministry to the Corporates, nobody wants to miss out on this popularity and achievement of Team India. And they are doing so by ushering in freebies and benefits to the players.

Oh yes, there are stuff related to automobiles too. Hyundai, one of the title sponsors of the ICC World Cup has announced that each member of the Indian squad would be getting an all-new Verna, which is yet-to-be-launched to the general public. That’s cool but there is something even more interesting. Audi has announced that it would be giving a luxury car (A8?) to Yuvraj Singh, the Player of the Tournament. Now, what a turnaround for Yuvi this is?

To top it all, there are rumors doing rounds that M.S.Dhoni, the ‘Captain Cool’ as he is referred to by his fans, would be getting an exclusive, custom-built Ferrari 599 GTO India. And there are a couple of pictures posted too to prove the claim and undoubtedly, the car looks super cool with the Indian Tricolor painted in the hood. If the news is indeed true, for which there are very less chances, then 'Happy Driving' M.S!

Pic Source: Team-BHP (www.team-bhp.com)


Exotic brands storms Indian market

While I am not too sure about other aspects, there are two particular areas where India is definitely shining without a shadow of doubt. One is obviously the game of Cricket in which we are the World Champions now. And the other is the sales of high-end automobiles, which are priced anywhere between a crore and a few crore rupees.

To state that this segment has expanded exponentially in the past few years would be an understatement. So, its only quite natural that all exotic brands are making a beeline into our country to try and grab a share of this ever-expanding pie. Ever since Bugatti launched the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring and bone-chilling Veyron hypercar in India with a price tag of 16 crore rupees, the biggies have just not stopped coming.

For instance, we are just three months into 2011 and the Indian automotive market has already witnessed the launch of more than half a dozen cars and brands targeted at the super-rich populace. The ultra-luxurious brand of Daimler - Maybach, in its latest facelifted avatar, was followed by models from the popular German trio of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi with models as varied as G55 AMG SUV to R8 V10 Spyder.

Then came the big-ticket entry of Ferrari, the brand which would easily take the title of the most recognized supercar brand in India. The entire Prancing Horse lineup including the 458 Italia and the latest FF would be on sale. If you have started wondering about Maserati, the other exotic brand owned by Fiat of Italy, stop worrying right away. As I write this, Maserati would have just launched its entire lineup in India.

Koenigsegg also joined the parade recently with the launch of its Agera supercar priced at a cool 12 crore rupees. And if latest reports in media are to be believed, Aston-Martin would soon be following suit. Add Porshe, Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, which are all already officially available in India and you have a list thats well and truly exotic. How I wish I had the money to buy and India had the roads to drive one of these.