BharatBenz (Mitsubishi Fuso) LCV seen testing near Chennai

Blame it on the lack of general knowledge in commercial vehciles or in the increasing number of automobile companies testing their models in the Chennai region or whatever. When this LCV was seen testing near Kanchipuram in NH4 (Chennai-Bangalore Highway) last weekend, it was just not possible for me to confirm it's identity on the spot. Now, after probing and researching the details for three more days, this post is still a speculation.

Though the initial impressions of this LCV hinted that it could be a product from Leyland-Nissan joint-venture, there are more significant details that lead me to decide that this is actually from BharatBenz, Daimler's Indian subsidiary. So, this follows the spyshots of the medium to heavy-duty multi-axle trucks from BharatBenz that I had posted last month.

The most striking similarities between this LCV and the other BharatBenz trucks are the pattern of camouflage and the horizontal slatted grille with a big round space for the logo. Apart from that, the positioning and shape of the headlights and indicators, the slots below the windscreen and the steeply raked front windows bear a strong resemblance to the Mitsubishi Fuso Canter, a brand owned by Damiler. There are full chances that BharatBenz is trying to capitalize on that.

This post might be a speculation but it drives home a crystal clear fact. Daimler, through its dedicated Indian subsidiary BharatBenz, is in for a long haul in the country and is preparing itself for a major onslaught. Going by the frenetic pace and increasing number of models being tested by them in Indian soil, I am sure the other local and global players are already worried.


A 1999 Ford Focus covers 1,000,000 km

Browsing through the many useless e-mails that flood our inbox every day, I stumbled upon this interesting piece of automotive trivia that has surprisingly managed to miss the eyes of Indian automotive media. The mail had this picture in it and stated that a 1999 Ford Focus in Europe has clocked a mileage of 1,000,000 km. Now, stop counting the zeros. You read it right, it is 10 Lakh or 1 Million km. Incredibly surprised by what I saw, I did some research in the internet and found out that it was indeed true.

A gentle-man in Austria by the name Mario Folger had bought this Ford Focus 1.8 TDDi 90PS model in 1999 and since then has been using this car for his personal and business trips across the country. In the first week of April 2011, 12 years after it was bought, the car had crossed a mileage of 1,000,000 km. Apparently, this was the first time ever that a Ford vehicle has achieved this historic milestone and the company obviously was elated with this landmark feat.

Speaking on the occasion to honor the car and the owner in April 2011, Steffen Knapp, Director of Ford Austria had said “This vehicle is an example of the outstanding quality of the Ford Focus. The introduction of the first Focus in 1998 was a milestone in Ford history and set new benchmarks in driving dynamics, design and quality. With the launch of the new Focus this month we continue this success story and take our entire range to a new level in terms of technology, efficiency, safety and quality.”

What is even more commendable is that the car has had just one engine repair and one clutch replacement in the entire 12 years of ownership. Almost everything else in the car is pretty much stock, just as it came out of the factory in 1999. I don’t doubt that claim as the car is absolutely spotless, shows no signs of wear and tear and still looks fresh out of the showroom floor. Maybe, it’s time to start reusing the old tagline “Built Ford Tough”, which in this case is true after all.


Honda celebrates 39 Years and 19 Million sales of Civic

Few models would have done this to their manufacturers like what the Civic did to Honda. Over the years, the Civic has clearly established itself as one of the best cars in its segment with a combination of stunning looks, superior interior quality, an engine that likes to be revved hard, a chassis that makes you smile every time you push it to the limits and technology that is truly modern and ahead of its time. While Honda may not be an aspirational brand, the Civic, especially in the sporty Type-R and Si trims, really is.

Ever since its launch in the year 1972, the Civic has gone through eight generation changes and has sold a total of an astonishing 19 million units across the globe. Very few nameplates in history, like Volkswagen’s Beetle, Toyota’s Corolla and Camry and Honda’s own Accord can boast of comparable numbers. The 8th generation model that is still being sold in India, is widely considered as the best Civic yet, with its gorgeous styling, futuristic interiors, a gem of an engine with revolutionary i-VTEC technology, sporty handling and a whole lot of body-styles and versions.

Honda has just launched the latest 9th generation model in the international markets and the initial reviews are not so great. According to critics, in its quest for lesser emissions and greater fuel efficiency in the 9th gen Civic, Honda has not only sacrificed on power output, but has also compromised on styling and handling, the three hallmarks of the previous generation model. Maybe that’s why the company has oddly decided to celebrate the 39th anniversary and 19 million sales of the car by releasing a heritage video to boast the legacy of the 'Civic' brand. Be it a marketing gimmick or a desperate move by Honda to push the all-new model, that is a legacy to die for. Let it continue forever.


MAN FE Intercity Bus seen testing in Pune

The Indian commercial vehicle space is getting hotter and hotter with each passing day. The huge success of Volvo, especially in the luxury intercity passenger segment, has spurred many of its global competitors to setup shop in India. Mercedes-Benz made a grand entry a couple of years back to end Volvo’s decade-long monopoly and there are reports that Scania is also trying to make an entry. In the meanwhile, MAN, the German major which has a joint-venture with Force Motors for its commercial vehicles, is planning to launch an intercity bus in India.
The company has already started testing this vehicle on public roads and there were a few spy-shots showing the rear view of the bus. So, when this partially-masked bus was seen at Talegaon near Pune a couple of days back with a very similar rear end, there was hardly any doubt about its identity. The front end of this bus, though unique, is nowhere close to the classy looks that the Volvos come with. The profile and rear looks no different to most buses that we see in India, but the fit and finish looked great.
Strangely, MAN is coming out with a front-engine model instead of the rear-engine configuration that most luxury buses come up with. Probably, MAN is not trying to compete with Volvo and Mercedes-Benz but is, in fact, trying to slug it out with the high-end front-engine models from our very own Ashok Leyland and Tata. Ashok Leyland’s 12M is currently the biggest player in this segment but the company only sells the chassis while external coach builders build the bodies over them.

If this fully-built-vehicle is launched at a competitive price with now-essential features like a 250 HP engine, air conditioning, air suspension and ABS, it can very well give the 12M a run for its money. Over to you, MAN.


Travelogue #5 - Chennai to Yelagiri

My idea of a vacation is not always about going to a popular destination, mixing up with the crowd and getting to see as many places as I possibly can. Instead, I prefer going to an off-beat destination that leaves just me, my family and nature all alone confronting each other. Apparently, there are a lot of other people who prefer this kind of a vacation. If you are one of them, then Yelagiri might be a great destination for a weekend getaway. It breaks all the pre-conceived notions that you would be having about a ‘hill-station’.

First of all, the climate here is not cool. It’s just pleasant for most part of the day, though late evenings and early mornings can get a bit cold. Next, the town is not big with a whole lot of tourist spots. In fact, there is absolutely nothing here to see except for a solitary park, an artificial lake and a couple of view-points on the way. Finally, every corner in the town does not have a hotel or resort. Reality is, you have very few quality accommodation here to choose from and so, those resorts need to be booked quite early to get accommodation.

May be, because of a combination of all these factors, there is hardly any crowd in Yelagiri on a normal weekend. In spite of Tamil Nadu Government’s best efforts to promote Yelagiri as a credible holiday destination, the town has still not become hugely popular. Not that I am complaining, in fact, that is the best part of Yelagiri for me. That it is close to Chennai and Bangalore, the two hot-spots of South India, just makes its case only better. There are many signboards in the main Chennai-Bangalore highway that keeps us well-informed on when and where to exit to reach Yelagiri.

After that, the narrow State Highways all the way upto Yelagiri are smoothly paved and do not pose any problems at all. The ghat roads especially, are in good condition and the views on offer are also scenic. Once you are there, you will be amazed on how small Yelagiri really is. You enter the main town Athanavur and all you get to see is a police station, a boat-house, a park, a few shops around, a few boards here and there, a couple of turns in the road and that’s it. You are done. That’s what makes Yelagiri all the more enthralling.

Since the town is so small and there is nothing else to do except trekking and para-gliding, all you will do for most of the time is sit, relax and enjoy the climate with the comfort of your family in the confines of the hotel or resort. That is why the place where you stay in Yelagiri has the potential to make or break your vacation. This is where I have to mention about my place of stay - Peter’s Park, a beautifully maintained, wonderfully managed and a real value-for-money resort that you will never go wrong with. So, choose the right place and enjoy your stint in this beautiful little village in the ghats.



* Total No of Days: 2 (18.06.2011 - 19.06.2011)
* Vehicle Make & Model: Honda Civic

* Odometer Start Reading: 30438 km
* Odometer End Reading: 30921 km
* Total Distance traveled: 483 km
* Total Quantity of Fuel filled: 38 l
* Average Fuel Consumption: 12.71 km/l

* Destinations Covered: Yelagiri
* Route Followed: Chennai-Kanchipuram-Vellore-Yelagiri
* No of Tool Booths: 6
* Total Toll Paid: Rs 200



Have a safe drive!


Boeing unveils new 747-8 Intercontinental

There are aircrafts and then there is the Boeing 747. Over many decades, this super successful jumbo jet from Boeing has become one of the most popular long-haul aircrafts for airlines across the globe and 'the' most recognizable aircraft for the general public, putting it a league apart from all the other aircrafts. For 42 long years since its launch until 2005, the legendary Boeing 747 was also the largest aircraft in the world when the Airbus A380 came and took the crown and the attention from Boeing.

So, when a new and improved version of such an aircraft is making its debut, the event is as important as it can get for the aviation industry. At the recently concluded 2011 Paris Air Show, Boeing debuted a new version of 747, called the 747-8 Intercontinental. The new aircraft is longer than the original 747, which is identifiable by the extended hump at the top. Though the seating capacity of the new 747-8 Intercontinental is still less than that of the Airbus A380, Boeing claims that the new aircraft is lighter and more fuel efficient than its cut-throat competitor.

Unlike the original 747 which had upward pointing winglets at the ends, the 747-8 Intercontinental has slightly raked wings that slopes upwards. Boeing says that this reduces wind resistance and hence fuel consumption. As the 747 legacy is all set to continue, the competition between Airbus and Boeing is all set to heat up further with this launch. The fight for the big long-haul segment dominance between the A380 and 747-8 Intercontinental is going to get very interesting over the next decade or so. Watch out for this space!

Toyota hatches Etios Liva in India

Is there anything bigger than the occasion of the world’s largest automaker entering the world’s biggest small car market with its world’s cheapest car? Phew, that was an overdose of superlatives in a single statement and it just goes on to show just how much this moment was eagerly awaited. The brand Toyota is so alarmingly strong in India that the global recalls, which almost crippled Toyota world-wide had almost no effect in India. Starting from the Corolla Altis to the Fortuner to the Landcruiser, Toyota was dominating every segment it was competing in.

Then came the Etios sedan and Toyota was no more a fringe player in India. The bookings shot through the roof and the long waitlist, which stretched for months together, forced Toyota to postpone the launch of its hatchback variant Liva. After making sure that the sedan customers have got their due and the waitlist has come down to sensible levels, Toyota has finally launched the Etios Liva in the country on 27th of June with ex-showroom prices ranging from 3.99 Lacs to about 6 Lacs, depending on the city in which it retails.

Now, don’t drool over the starting price as that variant does not even have a power steering. With people complaining about the lack of power steering in the Tata Nano, this is a shocking omission by Toyota. Having said that, hats off to the company for giving Safety Pack (ABS & Airbags) as an option even in the mid variant. If only other manufacturers learn from this and start giving ABS and Airbags as options right across the model range instead of only the top-end variants, it would be great. The Etios Liva is not as feature-rich as the i20 but is also not under-equipped either.

The front-end of the Liva with its smiling grille, small headlamps and chrome accents is carried over from the Etios sedan. In profile, the sloping windows and the thick C-Pillar has strong resemblance to the Nissan Micra. The rear end of the Liva looks much better than the sedan but the taillights are a tad oversized and the thick chrome strip is too gaudy to pass off unnoticed. I agree, Indians love chrome, but to what extent? The top-end variant that comes with chin spoiler, side skirts and roof spoiler looks sporty, especially in that unique Blue color that is being offered.

Toyota has openly stated that it will spend the next two years in India establishing the brand ‘Etios’. With the sedan already commanding a waiting list and making Toyota work over-time, the Liva is just going to compound those problems. The combination of its no-nonsense looks, acceptable interior quality, sensible feature levels, competitive pricing, good service reputation and above all Toyota’s bullet-proof reliability will make sure that the Etios Liva becomes a huge success. In just the first two days of launch, the Liva has already managed to garner more than 1000 bookings. But then, it is not something new as every Toyota model has succeeded big-time in India.