Kia Picanto (Morning) spotted testing in Chennai

Not so long ago, there were speculations flying around in the media about the possible entry of Kia, Hyundai's sister brand into India. Hyundai promptly refused the rumors and said that Kia's plans for India was shelved and it is not going to make it here anytime soon. Coming from Hyundai itself, it was reason enough to believe that Kia is not destined for the Indian market and close the chapter. Well, it is time now to reopen the Kia subject as a friend of mine spotted, snapped and sent me the picture of a bright green Kia Picanto doing rounds in Chennai.

This is the closest and clearest shot yet of the Kia Picanto in India. What on earth would a Kia small car be doing here with 'Test' registration plates and its badges and logo masked? Like some manufacturers do, Kia could be conducting some global tests on the Picanto in India to test its worthiness without any intentions to launch it here. Or, it could well be using the existing Picanto's body shell to test the underpinnings of the next generation i10 and Picanto as the two share many components. But, we wish to believe otherwise.

With no less than 4 small cars in its lineup that already overlaps between each other in price and positioning, Hyundai has left no space to launch another small car here to grow further and increase their volumes. Obviously, the next phase of growth for Hyundai can only come through Kia and this test mule has just sparked all speculations about the possible launch of the brand in India within the next few years. Though Kia shares most of its models with Hyundai, they have a completely different design language and the interiors are all-new as well.

Globally, the Picanto (Morning in Korea) is a successful model for Kia that has been raking in big volumes. It shares its power-train, chassis and all the basic underpinnings with the i10 and to many eyes including mine, the Picanto looks much better, bolder and aggressive than the i10. Who knows, Hyundai could even be planning to surprise us all in the 2012 Auto Expo by bringing in the Picanto and showcasing the Kia brand to the public. I, for one, can't wait for more information on this. We are waiting for you, Kia!


Driven #8: Yamaha YZF R15 V2.0

In the not so distant past, Yamaha’s Indian arm was in a total state of bother. Though they had a rich legacy and a brand image to die for internationally, their Indian product line-up looked old and tired and the sales expectedly, were not great. In fact, their very commitment towards the Indian market was being questioned by the critics and the public. But, in just a single stroke of genius, Yamaha brushed aside all skepticism and made the Gen X population of our country knock on their dealerships like there was no tomorrow. A major contributor for that was the predecessor of what you see in this post, the YZF R15.

The YZF R15, along with the FZ series did the unthinkable for Yamaha in India. They not only succeeded as individual products, but also turned around the fortunes of the whole company which was reeling under tremendous pressure owing to a string of failures and uninspiring models. The R15 especially, came, pioneered and popularized the concept of affordable sports-biking in India with a host of technological advancements that were 'firsts' for a bike manufactured in India. It would be no exaggeration to state that the YZF R15 was the first ever affordable motorbike in India that was tuned as much for the track as it was for the road. Fittingly so, it not only became a sales success but also scorched to supremacy in the racing circles. So, when Yamaha launches the successor of such a mighty product, we ought to sit and take notice. And notice, we did and how!


The Yamaha YZF R15 was always a looker and the new model, dubbed Version 2.0 is no different. The V 2.0 retains the same frontal look as its predecessor with the twin trapezoidal headlights, the sharp front visor and the slightly beefier full fairing on the sides giving it a big-bike look and feel that many Indians crave for. In fact, a major USP of the R15 would be the fact that it looks a whole lot similar to its bigger cousins, the R6 and, in some angles, the R1 too. A major negative point that the earlier R15 had was that it’s rear end looked rather disproportionate and meek compared to the rest of the bike. It was considered too run-of-the-mill and the relatively thin tires that it came shod with didn't go down well, given its extraordinarily sporty intentions.

Those complaints have been well taken care of now. A combination of the R6-inspired LED taillights, the aggressively up-swept silencer, the split saddle, the naked frame that holds the license plate and indicators and the chunky rear tire makes sure that the bike turns heads wherever you go. Additionally, there are a few really upscale design touches throughout the bike like the matte-carbon look alike panels in the side and rear cowls, the aluminum swing-arm which is a first for a 150cc bike in India, the uniquely shaped exhaust end can and the brazed-silver R15 motif in the silencer. Overall, the R15 V2.0 is an absolute stunner.

The R15 V2.0 has an instrument cluster that is a perfect mix of conservative, modern and sporty. The console has two distinct divisions with the right side housing a circular analog tachometer with black on white fonts that looks beautifully upmarket when lit. The left side has a rectangular digital display with all the tell-tale lights and also features the odometer, twin trip meters and the fuel level indicator. Like all other modern bikes, all the lights blink once and the tacho needle does a full swipe of the meter when the ignition is turned ‘ON’. The switchgear is not very dissimilar to all other bikes out there and is made of good quality materials that are built to last.


The R15 is powered by a 149.8 cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke engine that churns out a maximum power of 17 PS at 8500 rpm and a maximum torque of 15 Nm at 7500 rpm, figures that stack up well with other bikes of similar engine capacity. Acceleration and pickup are nothing exceptional though and you have every right to feel disappointed, given the bike's sporty looks and image. The gear-ratios are well spaced out and the shifts in the 6-speed gearbox are seamless and smooth. What is noteworthy is that the remapped ECU and the tweaked ratios have given the R15 V2.0 a new-found character. The bike is equally comfortable trundling along in second or third gear in congested city traffic as it is cruising all day long at 100 kph in sixth gear. The driveability inside the city seems to be significantly improved over the previous version.

Once astride the bike, get ready to forget about everything else and think just about owning the road all to yourself. You could have driven something else all your life but when you drive the R15, you unknowingly tend to stretch your physical limits with far from normal lean angles and twists that comes so effortlessly courtesy the bike's near-perfect handling. Yamaha's famous Deltabox frame has worked wonders here and the all-new aluminum swing-arm has also aided in handling by reducing the weight and improving the rigidity of the chassis. The ride is absorbent enough and filters most of the irregularities that our cities have in abundance but it is definitely not the best in class. The braking though is top notch with discs at front and rear providing the bike with ample stopping power. The stock MRF tires coped up well and never felt uncomfortable in any conditions with the wider 130/70 radials at the rear providing vice-like grip of the road beneath.

What really made the whole experience uncomfortable was the excessive engine heat that could be felt in the legs. Though it could well be because of our test bike being brand new, it was found to be unusually higher. Another issue would be the sporty seating posture which, if you are not used to before, could make you feel tired after just a couple of hours. Things get worse for the pillion rider with a high-set and steeply raked seat that makes do without grab rails. Though Yamaha claims that the rear seat is made of anti-slip material to aid grip, things doesn't look all rosy out there. What comes out as an unexcusable miss from Yamaha is the lack of ABS even as an option, now that Honda and even TVS offering one in their sporty models.


* Engine Type: SOHC, 4-stroke, Liquid Cooled
* No of Cylinders: 1
* Displacement: 149.8 cc
* Maximum Power: 17 PS @ 8500 RPM
* Maximum Torque: 15 Nm @ 7500 RPM
* Transmission Type: 6-speed, 1Down 5Up
* Tires: 90/80 R17 (Front), 130/70 R17 (Rear)
* Brakes: Hydraulic, Single Disc (Front & Rear)

* Stunning Looks
* Supreme Handling
* Composed Ride and Stability
* Nirvana of sports-biking at an affordable price

* Excessive Engine Heat
* Lack of ABS even as an option
* Expensive for a 150cc bike


After spending a couple of days with the bike, I really did not want to let it go. The head-turning looks, the near-perfect handling and adequate power to tackle the city traffic and open highways in equal measure had grown on me and I can assure you that it would be no different for most of you out there. Be advised though that the R15 V2.0 will not make sense as your everyday commute to the grocery shop or to drop your kids at school. Yamaha makes the SZ-R for chores like that. The R15 V2.0 is a gift from Yamaha for the young and young-at-heart who toils at work in weekdays and scorches the track on weekends and doesn't mind spending a little extra money for doing that. In that sense, it is truly perfect!


Ashok Leyland Next Gen Cab (4948) spotted testing

Earlier this month, we had a post on Ashok Leyland's U 4936 Tractor Trailer being tested on the outskirts of Chennai. Alongside that, there was also a distant and a not-so-clear shot of the camouflaged Next Gen Cab that is also being developed by the company. Just yesterday, there was yet another exclusive post that brought to light the company's secret plans with the Optare Solo range of buses. And, our affinity with Ashok Leyland this month doesn't stop there. It just goes on and on and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, thanks to our reader Vinoth Thambidurai from Chennai.

Vinoth had spotted this Next Gen Cab in the Chennai-Bangalore Highway and he claims to have seen the name printed in one of the stickers in the vehicle as '4948'. It's a known fact that the first two digits of Ashok Leyland's naming nomenclature denotes the Gross Vehicle Weight in tonnes and the last two digits represents the engine's power output. In this case then, it is a 49-tonne tractor trailer with an estimated power output of 480 HP. So, is Ashok Leyland planning for an all-mighty onslaught with this Next Gen Cab by also plonking in a massive 480 HP engine? Watch this space, they could well be.


Ashok Leyland Optare 'Solo' mini-bus spied testing in Chennai

What you see here in this post are yet another exclusive spy shots of a Commercial Vehicle that could be launched in India in the near future. Though the identity of this air-conditioned mini bus could not be identified for a long time, the Registration Number pasted in the windscreen 'TN 18 TC XXXX' hinted that this is an Ashok Leyland product. After that, Google gave the answers to solve the mystery. If you remember, Ashok Leyland acquired a 26% stake in the UK-based bus and coach manufacturer 'Optare' in early 2010 which is quite popular in Europe and more so in UK. This model, named 'Solo' to denote its floor being 'so low', is one of Optare's most successful models that has been in existence for 12 years and has seen more than 4000 customers.

Seen testing in stop-start Chennai city traffic, this bus was turning heads rather unusually. Though the rear end looked like any other bus in India, the badges and the logo were conspicious by their absence. In the choked traffic, all that could be inferred was that the profile and the front end of this bus are unlike anything that we have seen in India. The front end has a love-it or hate-it curved windshield and arched roof that looks aerodynamic and modern. Agreed, it also looks a little funky and weird. The ground clearance was alarmingly low and the bus was forced to carefully negotiate the crater-like bumps and potholes of the rain-ravaged Chennai roads. The closest that we would have seen something like this in Indian soil are some of the airport shuttle buses.

A striking feature of the Optare Solo was the tiny LED lights that fill up not only the main taillight clusters but also the high-mounted stop lamps at the rear and the roof-mounted pilot lamps at the front. The air-conditioned interiors along with the big and broad seats hinted that this model could be targeted at the premium segment of the market. With the Solo being available in five lengths, two widths, a host of seating configurations and a gamut of fuel saving engine options in the UK, Ashok Leyland can just leverage them to cover a wide spectrum of the Indian market. It has to be mentioned here that the overall build quality of the coach was a step ahead of the other Indian buses.

So, is Ashok Leyland stealthily planning to launch the Optare Solo in India to breach into the luxury bus segment. It could well be, but that plan has now become public. Whatever it is, as days and weeks pass by, Ashok Leyland is one company that just never ceases to amaze me.


Skoda Rapid sedan launched in India

After unveiling the car to the public last month and teasing us all with a whole lot of pictures and videos ever since, Skoda India finally launched the Rapid sedan today. Priced between INR 6.75 Lacs for the base petrol variant and INR 9.19 Lacs for the top-end diesel variant, the Rapid enters a highly competitive segment that includes Honda City, Hyundai Verna, Maruti-Suzuki SX4, Ford Fiesta, Fiat Linea and its elder sibling, the Volkswagen Vento. The recently launched Hyundai Verna is the current leader in this segment followed closely by the City and Vento.

The Rapid is powered by a 1.6 liter petrol and diesel engine producing an identical maximum power output of 105 bhp at 5250 and 4400 rpm respectively. While the petrol engine generates a maximum torque of 153 Nm at 3800 rpm, the diesel engine generates 250 Nm at a much lesser 2500 rpm. Both these engines are already available in the Vento and are known for their reliable performance and frugality. It was these features that made the Vento diesel a highly sought-after model in the market resulting in waiting lists extending to a few months.

There are three variants available in both petrol and diesel – Active, Ambition and Elegance. The Ambition and Elegance trims are also available with a 6-speed automatic transmission in the petrol variants. Skoda has been smart enough to offer safety features like ABS and Airbags in the mid Ambition variant itself. Though the Elegance variant comes loaded with alloy wheels, automatic climate control and Multi Information Display, features such as Bluetooth connectivity and steering-mounted audio controls are conspicuous by their absence.

Though Skoda would want us to think otherwise, the Rapid is nothing but a re-badged Vento with a ‘Fabia’ front-end and a redesigned boot. Additionally, the Volkswagen logo and badges have been replaced with Skoda’s. Except the steering wheel, the interiors are a total lift-off from the Vento too. So, Volkswagen Group is essentially offering a second car in this segment and if the Rapid succeeds without cannibalizing sales of the Vento, the group would end up doubling their market share in this segment. More significantly, India would be the production hub for the Rapid and we are the first in the world to get this new model from Skoda.


Tata Aria Automatic spotted testing in Pune

I really like the way in which the two Indian automotive companies Tata and Mahindra are ruthless against each other when it comes to business and keep each other in their toes. The Tata Aria's sales was just beginning to pick up steam after the launch of cheaper 4X2 version when the all-new XUV500 from Mahindra gate-crashed into Tata's party with its shockingly value-for-money pricing. Tata knows too well that it has to either try and reduce the prices or introduce newer variants of the Aria if it has to stand a chance against the hot-selling XUV500. What you see in this post could be one of the many counter attacks that Tata is planning to unleash to protect the Aria.

Reports started surfacing a couple of months back that Tata was planning to come out with an automatic variant of the Aria. Readers of a popular automotive forum also claimed to have seen the test mule with automatic transmission raising the hopes of a quick launch. Now, we have proof of that, thanks to a reader in Pune who spotted this 'On Test' Aria being driven in the Mumbai-Pune road near Pimpri. Though it could be any other variant, the reader claims that he inferred that this had automatic transmission by peeping through the window. With Jaguar and Land Rover under its ownership, Tata is expected to incorporate some of its learning from the premium British brands into the automatic transmission that is being developed for the Aria.

This could not come at a better time for Tata as more and more customers prefer to go for automatic transmissions in their cars now a days. It is more true for customers in the premium segment in which the Aria is positioned. But, all is not well for the Aria. With the market already branding it as overpriced and the model suffering from not-so-high sales numbers, it remains to be seen how Tata is going to position the Aria automatic, as it will obviously be more expensive than the manual variants. The other flip side is Tata's complete lack of brand image that is hurting the Aria more than anything else as it is otherwise a mighty competent product.

Will the Aria automatic overcome all the hurdles and prove successful for Tata? Let us wait and watch. Not to forget, God bless competition!


Ashok Leyland U 4936 Tractor Trailer seen testing near Chennai / EDIT: Next Gen cab also seen

Ashok Leyland is one company that has its hands full at the moment. It may have been slow in coming out with all-new models in the past and it may have lost a bigger chunk of market share to other competitors by not tapping into newer segments. But, the company is keen on putting its past behind it and is aggressively working to make up for the time and market share lost in the past. The result is an onslaught of models from the company in all segments of commercial vehicles. Not very long ago, Ashok Leyland launched its first Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV), the Dost, in the Indian market.

It’s a known fact that the Chennai-Bangalore Highway (NH4) is a favorite testing spot for almost all Chennai-based automotive manufacturers. And it was in this same road near Sriperumbudur these Ashok Leyland Tractor Trailers (TT) with ‘On Test’ stickers were spotted. There were two of them and one of the tractor was camouflaged with the other one being the regular U Series tractor. There was no clue about what is new in this TT until we saw the front windshield with '4936' sticker pasted on it. The first two digits of Ashok Leyland's naming convention usually denotes the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) in tonnes and the last two digits denote the Horse Power.

Though Ashok Leyland launched the U 4936 Tractor in Jan-2010 itself, as per the company’s website, the current model range still includes only the 4923 TT which comes with a 230 HP H Series engine. So, there you have the mystery decoded. What you see here in this post would, in all probability, be the top-of-the-line U series Tractor Trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight of 49 tonnes powered by the modern, powerful, fuel-efficient and technologically advanced 'Neptune' 6 Cylinder engine with a power output of 360 HP. Essentially, it’s a combination of two of the biggest development projects that the company has undertaken in the recent years, the U Truck and the Neptune engine.

With this, the message to rivals is loud and clear from Ashok Leyland. Their relentless pursuit from the upper to the lower end of the Commercial Vehicle market is not going to stop anytime now.

EDIT: Thanks to our reader ashok who commented below that the camouflaged tractor could be Ashok Leyland's 'Next Gen' cab being tested for road worthiness.


Chevrolet celebrates 100 years of existence with a host of events

By any standards, a hundred years is a long time. In that sense, Chevrolet has had a really long history, one that dates back to 3rd of November, 1911. That was when Louis Chevrolet and former GM founder William C. Durant founded the bowtie brand in Detroit, USA. Since then, Chevrolet, or 'Chevy' as it is fondly referred to by its fans, has really expanded its base and is now well and truly a global brand with presence in over 140 countries and an annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles. To mark its 100th year, Chevrolet celebrated with a series of events across America and around the world on Thursday (Nov-03), the day in which the brand was founded.

The activities marked the end of a year-long celebration of Chevrolet's Centennial that kicked off in January at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and included events in Chevrolet hometowns across the world. Speaking on the occasion, Chris Perry, VP, Chevrolet Global Marketing and Strategy, said "We understand Chevrolet is more than a brand - it belongs to everyone who owns, designs, builds, sells or loves Chevrolets. The past 100 years wouldn't have been possible without millions of people who have each made Chevrolet a part of their life's journey". A Centennial Edition of Chevrolet's flagship Corvette sports car was also launched this year as part of the celebrations.

Though Chevrolet has now become globally popular, the heartland of GM's mainstay brand is still the USA where 'Chevy' is more than an automobile brand. It would be no exaggeration to state that 'Chevy' and the 'bowtie' logo have formed a sort of emotional connect with thousands of Americans. To thank the customers, Chevrolet dealers across America would sponsor open houses and a number of promotional events until Nov-07. The passion and loyalty that many feel for the brand is going to be the subject of a documentary titled "Chevy 100 - An American Story". Produced by award-winning filmmaker Roger Sherman, this documentary will be aired on Nov-21 on the Velocity Channel.

The celebrations are not just consigned to USA alone. Chevrolet Europe will be erecting a monument at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland which is the birthplace of Louis Chevrolet, the founder of the iconic brand. That's not all. In Korea, where GM has ditched the Daewoo brand in favor of Chevrolet early in the year, Chevrolet customers set a Guinness World Record by creating the world's largest car logo. 1143 customers owning Chevrolet cars that included the Spark, Aveo, Cruze, Orlando and Captiva gathered in Pyeongchang to form a huge car mosaic. In tune with the celebrations across the globe, it's time for owners of Spark, Aveo, Beat, Optra, Cruze, Captiva and Tavera in India to rejoice as, every 7.4 seconds, someone in the world are entering the Chevy family!

Range Rover Evoque launched in India

It has been just over a year since Land Rover unveiled the Evoque, the smallest model yet to wear the coveted Range Rover badge, to the world. With its stunning looks and proportions that are sure to turn heads wherever you go, there was hardly a doubt that it will succeed and today, just as predicted in my earlier post, the Evoque has met with a tremendous response in all the markets and Land Rover is struggling to produce enough of them. With all the global markets welcoming the Evoque like nothing before, will India be far behind? So, it was not so surprising when Tata Motors announced yesterday during the launch of the Evoque in India that more than 80% of the first batch to be imported has already been booked for.

The Evoque has been positioned as a premium model in India with prices ranging between 44.75 Lacs and 56 Lacs, a tad too expensive for our market. The 5 door model powered by a 2.2 liter SD4 diesel engine, is available in 3 variants - Pure, Prestige and Dynamic, whereas the 3 door 'coupe' model is available only in the top-end Dynamic variant with a 2.0 liter SI4 petrol engine under its hood. Though the Evoque is similar in size to, say a Honda CR-V, befitting its premium positioning, it comes loaded with high-end features such as a pop-out rotary drive selector, an 8-inch touch screen in the central console, a 11 speaker Meridian audio system, paddle shifters in the steering wheel, terrain response, mood lighting and a huge panoramic sunroof.

It's a known fact that Indians love flashy Sports Utility Vehicles that look menacing and huge. Though the Evoque is nowhere close in size to be termed huge, all it has is oodles of oomph and flash that will literally stand out on an Indian road. That, in my opinion, is a perfect recipe for success and I would not rule out the Evoque becoming a common sight in posh hotels and localities across India. In the hindsight, it's good news that both Jaguar and Land Rover are hitting the sweet spot with all their new launches and the factories are struggling to keep up with the demand. They may be high-end British brands, but coming under the ownership of Tata, we Indians have all the more reasons to feel proud of them. Way to go JLR!


Ferrari FF and Lamborghini Aventador launched in India

The same two pieces of automotive machinery that stunned the audience at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, the Ferrari FF and the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4, has arrived on the Indian shores sooner than expected. A few of you would remember reading about them here.

Ferrari was the first to launch the FF in India. The Indian public's reaction to the FF would be very interesting to watch out for as this is the company's first-ever hatchback with 4 full sized seats. No, it was not a typo, you read that perfectly right - the FF really is a Ferrari hatchback with 4 seats. Launched on the 31st of October at an ex-showroom price of 3.42 crore rupees, the FF is powered by a 6.2 liter V12 churning out 660 horsepower and 682 Nm of torque. Capable of reaching a top speed of 335 kph, the FF is actually the replacement for Ferrari's grand tourer, the 612 Scaglietti.

With the prancing horse reaching our shores earlier, will the raging bull sit and relax? Never. Lamborghini was quick to react and launched its flagship Aventador LP700-4 in India on the 3rd of November. Launched as a replacement for the Murcielago and following the list of V12 super-cars from Lamborghini like the Diablo, Countach and Miura, the Aventador is a stunner in and out that is sure to leave the onlookers spell-bound. This Italian hypercar is powered by a 6.5 liter V12 engine that churns out 700 horsepower and is capable of hauling the car in excess of 340 kph. Aventador is on sale for an ex-showroom price of 3.69 crore rupees.

Even before launch, Lamborghini has already sold 11 Aventadors in India and Ferrari, not withstanding the craze that the Indians have for the brand, is sure to taste success with the FF. Now, where are the roads to enjoy the true power and speed of these beauties?