Toyota launches the all-new Camry in India at INR 23.8 Lakhs

Toyota Kirloskar Motor recently launched the all-new Camry in India at a price of INR 23.8 Lakhs, ex-showroom Delhi. At the moment, the Camry is available in just one variant with the customers being offered a host of accessories to choose from and personalize the car to their tastes. A palette of four colors are available on sale. With this new model, the Camry marks a departure from Toyota's typically bland and sober looks. The new model looks aggressive by Toyota's standards and at the same time, doesn't lose a bit of its elegance. The frontal design of the new Camry can easily pass off as a Lexus with the sharp-cut trapezoidal headlights and the huge radiator grille. The triangular fog lamps with chrome surround adds more character. The chunky and muscular C-Pillar is definitely the attention grabber when the car is viewed in profile while the rear end is dominated by large LED taillights and a thick chrome strip.

The new Camry is powered by a new 2.5-liter gasoline engine that produces 181 PS of maximum power at 6000 rpm and 233 Nm of peak torque at 4100 rpm. Coupled with a 6-speed sequential shift automatic gearbox, Toyota claims that the new Camry is more powerful and economical than the outgoing model that was powered by a 2.4-liter engine. No manual transmission variant is offered and it remains to be seen whether Toyota would launch one, given the increasing preference for automatic variants in this segment. Just like the Hyundai Sonata, one of it's prime competitors, the Camry isn't available with a diesel engine anywhere else in the world and so, India wouldn't be getting one too. That leaves us with just the 'Hybrid' variant for a potential launch in the future, provided the Indian Government extends some tax benefits and rebates. Toyota won't like seeing it suffer the same fate as Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid in India.

Though the new Camry comes loaded with a lot of features, recent launches in this segment like the Hyundai Sonata have taken the game forward so much that the Camry pales in comparison. But Toyota knows that the Camry has its own following in India who will buy the car for its legacy and nothing else. In fact, Toyota is so confident of the new Camry's success that it has priced it at the same level as the older model despite the new model being assembled at the company's facility in Bangalore. This is the 7th generation of Camry globally and the 3rd generation to be offered in India since the brand was first introduced. The importance of Camry to Toyota need not be explained as this and the Corolla together bring up more than half of Toyota's global sales. The Camry remains the largest selling car in USA for more than a decade now and is also hugely popular in other countries such as Japan, Australia and Middle East.


Mercedes-Benz unveils B-Class, India's first sports tourer, in Chennai

Exactly a month back, we carried a post on Mercedes-Benz, the German luxury automotive brand that is steadily losing steam in India against its much newer rivals BMW and Audi. We had stated that the company is betting big on the MFA Platform to trounce its competitors and the B-Class would be the first model leading the charge for the brand wearing the three pointed star. That charge has now begun. Mercedes-Benz unveiled the B-Class in New Delhi last month followed by a drive event at the Buddh International Circuit in which select automotive media participated. With positive initial reviews from the press, the B-Class was unveiled in Chennai late yesterday evening. Trans Car India, the flagship dealer of Mercedes-Benz in the city, took the wraps off the car at its spanking new showroom that is designed on the lines of Mercedes-Benz Center in Stuttgart, Germany.

Regular readers of our blog would already be knowing that Mercedes-Benz is planning to position the B-Class as India’s first sports tourer. If you think you haven’t heard something like that before, do not worry. According to us, that is just another fancy name for a MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle). The company is targeting the young and adventurous urban clientele as prospective customers for the B-Class and as such, the branding, positioning and marketing are on those lines. We aren't sure about this, but we haven't seen Mercedes-Benz create so much of a buzz for any of its launches before. Is it the competition effect? It could well be. Moreover, such is the importance of the derivatives of MFA Platform which the company refers to as NGCC (Next Generation Compact Cars), that Mercedes-Benz just cannot afford to falter with.

If it was Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia D'Souza in New Delhi, it was the latest darling actor couple of Prasanna and Sneha who were the guests of honor here. Being a special unveiling for Chennai, the stars also gave a 'Tamil' connection to the event as the wraps came off the B-Class amidst a shower of confetti.

While the styling of B-Class may be a bit underwhelming, the fact that it looks more like a glorified hatchback than a MPV is its biggest asset according to us. But don't let its hatchback shape deceive you. This car is so unbelievably spacious on the inside with a wheelbase of 2700 mm that rivals many sedans from competing brands. Sharp and muscular creases flank the profile and typical Mercedes-Benz design elements like the intricately detailed headlamps, Daytime Running Lamps and slingshot indicators in rear-view mirrors add a touch of character to the car. Interiors are trademark high quality stuff and we especially liked the glossy piano black finish on the dashboard. The circular air-conditioning vents inspired by the SLS AMG and the i-Pad sized information and entertainment screen at the top of the center console are sure-shot attention grabbers inside.

Expected to be armed with an array of active and passive safety and convenience features, the B-Class will give its customers a typical Mercedes-Benz experience in a compact footprint. Even the power-train options speculated for India, a 1.6-liter petrol engine and a 1.8-liter diesel engine, have 'economy' firmly in their sights. The early-bird customers who had booked the B-Class at the Trans Car dealership in Chennai were also felicitated with special prizes. With widespread rumors that Mercedes-Benz has already bagged more than a handful of orders for the B-Class across India, the future seems to be bright for the car. It all bodes very well for the premium hatchback A-Class, the compact four door coupe CLA and the compact crossover GLA that are expected to follow the footsteps of the B-Class into India.


Is Nissan NV 200 the global City Taxi of the future?

Contrary to what most of us think, catering to the taxi market is a very tough job. Cabbies generally have their own set of requirements that are sometimes pretty similar and at most other times totally opposite to what private buyers want and expect in their vehicles. Imagine this. Taxis are expected to be very fuel-efficient but they also need to be powerful enough to lug far more than the usual load that they were designed to carry. Taxis have to be very reliable despite the harsh reality that most of them are going to be abused on the roads. Moreover, they have to be very cheap to maintain, both in terms of regular service and accidental repairs though nine out of ten taxis aren’t going to follow a periodic maintenance schedule. Isn’t that a list that would make even the best automotive manufacturers in the world concerned? So, think twice before you start abusing Tata Motors the next time you get to a ride in a rickety Indicab.

Despite all these hardships, there is one model that seems to have perfectly cracked the ‘taxi’ code in recent years, not just in one particular city or country, but across the globe. When we say across the globe, we mean it and the list even includes some of the biggest and most demanding cities of the world like New York, London, Tokyo and Barcelona. Surprisingly, this model that has taken the taxi market by storm is a van and unsurprisingly, it comes from a Japanese manufacturer. Before you go mad scratching your heads guessing the identity of the vehicle in discussion, we will break the ice ourselves. It is the Nissan NV 200, which was awarded the International Van of the Year 2010. And yes, there is an Indian connection too. A more personalized variant of the NV 200 has just been unveiled in India as the Nissan Evalia where it is going to be fighting with Toyota Innova. The launch is expected to happen in the next few weeks.

If you are thinking what is such a big deal about a taxi, think again. Being certified to run as taxis in those cities isn’t easy at all. Take New York for instance. There is this organization called New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission which chose the vehicle that was going to replace the legendary but aging Ford Crown Victorias that are as iconic and popular as other landmarks in the city. Even Ford’s highly acclaimed and globally successful Transit Connect was one of the contenders from which the Nissan NV 200 came out on top. It is now officially certified as the 'Taxi of Tomorrow’ and come 2014, the NV 200 will start servicing passengers in the streets of New York. With a fully transparent roof for a clear view of the city's skyline, germ-fighting seats, USB slots for passengers and enough space for three and their luggage in a smaller footprint, the NV 200 is already being hailed as the perfect taxi for New York’s crowded roads.

"The Nissan NV 200 will be the safest, most comfortable and most convenient taxi the city has ever had. New York City cabs have always been iconic and now they will set a new standard. The 600,000 passengers who use taxis to get around every day deserve the cutting-edge technology and top-of-the-line safety features that this model delivers", commented New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at the 2011 New York Auto Show where the NV 200 'Taxi of Tomorrow' was unveiled to the public. What is really commendable is that Nissan has not skimped on safety features for the taxi variant. The NV 200 is the first ever taxi to be crash tested and certified with the partition inside. Moreover, curtain airbags for rear occupants, seat-mounted airbags for the front row, traction control and vehicle dynamic control ensures that passengers don't feel insecure when seated inside.

As much as the Ford Crown Victoria is an integral part of New York, the TX4 (popularly called as ‘black cab’) manufactured by the London Taxi Company exclusively for doing duty in the British capital, is even more so to London. Nissan has not spared it too. The NV 200 London Taxi was unveiled recently complying to all specific requirements including handicap regulations and the tight 25-feet turning circle, which is a major deterrent for most manufacturers from entering the fray. But Nissan has managed to achieve this in a front drive vehicle by modifying the front suspension. Unlike the New York taxis that are powered by a gasoline engine, the London cabs are powered by the same 1.5-liter K9K diesel engine that does duty in almost the entire range of Renault and Nissan models in India. Nissan claims that the NV 200 Taxi is close to 50% more efficient and less polluting than the iconic black cabs.

Further consolidating its position, the NV 200 has also made inroads as taxis in the streets of Tokyo and Barcelona. With major cities in the world adopting it by the hordes despite its frumpy looks, we just have one question lingering in our minds now - Is the Nissan NV 200 the global City Taxi of the future? At the moment, all pointers sway towards a big 'yes'. It would require a long, tiring and dedicated effort from a rival manufacturer to even try and challenge what Nissan has achieved with the NV 200. Kudos to Nissan for targeting a profitable niche and coming out on tops.

With such lineage behind it, will the Nissan Evalia conquer the Indian market when it is finally launched? Watch this space to know.


Mahindra Reva NXR spotted testing in Bangalore

There is little doubt that Reva, India's own electric car manufactured by Maini group based in Bangalore, is getting long in its tooth. With all due credits to the efforts taken by Maini to develop, launch and sustain the Reva in a market that is predominantly unfavorable and a government that isn't willing to subsidize vehicles running on electric power, the Reva in its existing form cannot be considered a credible alternative to a Maruti-Suzuki Alto or a Hyundai Eon. To many, it is just a cute little cartoon-like thingy on wheels that costs much more than what it should. So, when Mahindra acquired Maini Reva, it had its task cut out. The Reva NXR was just unveiled as the replacement of Reva while development activities were still going on back in the company. Though Mahindra got the know-how in making electric cars through this acquisition, it also had the responsibility to get the Reva NXR right.

But Mahindra isn't new when it comes to testing and development. They are known for testing their new models for years together across the length and breadth of India, the most recent examples being the XUV500 and the mini Xylo. So, it comes as little surprise that Mahindra is going all out in testing the Reva NXR and getting it right before launch. Though electric cars are not a lucrative business proposition in India today, Mahindra knows way too well that the Reva NXR is going to be a showcase of its technological prowess and a gateway to the international markets which view electric cars more seriously than we do. In short, the Reva NXR will make Mahindra future-ready, just in case the market shifts towards electric cars. For people like you and me, this is good news as we will finally be having the choice of an electric car that promises not to be a compromise compared to conventional cars.

Though we spotted this test car in Hosur Road in the outskirts of Bangalore from a good distance, the car just zoomed past before we could click a full shot of it. That was a seriously impressive show considering the steep incline the car was climbing. The car also looked to be made of better quality materials with good fit and finish, unlike the toy-like plasticky bumpers that the existing Reva comes with. Though the Reva NXR still looks ungainly and disproportionate from certain angles, we have to admit that it is a huge step up from the frumpy looks of the existing model. Though Mahindra showcased the Reva NXR to the Indian public at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi, the details about its launch date is still not clear. All we can say is that the earlier it is launched, the better it is for Mahindra, as the existing Reva is almost forgotten these days.

Hyundai launches the neo fluidic Elantra in India

Though the 'Elantra' brand is not new in India, most of the people don't quite remember the model as it was short-lived and pulled out of showrooms due to lackluster sales. And those who do, do not remember it for the right reasons. In short, the fourth generation Elantra didn't help build Hyundai's image in India as the company hoped it would. Six years later, the Elantra, currently in its sixth generation rises again from the ashes to conquer the market. Yes, Hyundai launched the all-new Elantra here on Monday (August-13-2012) in 3 petrol and 4 diesel variants. When we spotted the new Elantra testing without camouflage a couple of months back, we knew the launch was close and we were right. While the petrol variants are priced between INR 12.51 Lakhs and 14.74 Lakhs, the diesel variants are priced between INR 12.91 Lakhs and 15.85 Lakhs. Sensing the diesel craze in our market, Hyundai has smartly introduced a base diesel variant, while the other three variants S, SX and SX AT are common between petrol and diesel.

Just like all recent Hyundais that came with 'Fluidic Sculpture' design philosophy, the new Elantra looks absolutely stunning from all angles. When we said way back in 2010 during its unveiling that this Elantra was the best-looking Hyundai and the finest form of fluidic sculpture to date, not many believed us. Now, going by the reviews and reports of the model in press, we think that most of the expert's views matches with what we said then. If Indians liked the fluidic Verna which we are sure they did, they will just love the fluidic Elantra. Period. Though the hexagonal grille, stretched headlights and upward-sloping profile bears a slight resemblance to the Verna and Sonata, look closely and you will be able to appreciate the finer details. While the Verna is a tad too small and the Sonata a trifle big, the Elantra's proportions seem to be just perfect for those fluidic cuts and creases that adorn the car. For us though, the curvy taillight clusters are the highlight of the new Elantra. In terms of design then, the Elantra scores a perfect ten.

The diesel variants come with the 1.6-liter CRDi engine with Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT) that produces 128 PS of maximum power at 4000 rpm and 26.5 kgm of peak torque at 1900-2750 rpm. Since this is the same engine that powers the Verna, those who were expecting a bigger engine or a higher power output under the hood would be disappointed. The petrol variants are offered with a 1.8-liter VTVT engine that churns out 149.5 PS of maximum power at 6500 rpm and 18.1 kgm of maximum torque at 4700 rpm. Both the engines are available with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. As is customary with all Hyundais, the Elantra is loaded to the hilt with features that includes ventilated seats, Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), six airbags, Anti-lock Braking System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, 10-way adjustable driver's seat, dual zone climate control, Hill Start Assist Control, auto cruise control, Alternator Management System (AMS) and solar glass for windshield and doors.

We will reserve our judgement on the ride and handling until we get to drive one on the road but we don't expect anything more than the traditional Hyundai traits of a plush ride and a not-so-sporty handling. As an overall package, it looks as if Hyundai has all the bases covered for a successful re-entry into the premium midsize segment. Will the Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Skoda Laura, Volkswagen Jetta, Renault Fluence and Honda Civic leave enough space for the new Elantra to join the party? Unlike the last time, will the Elantra be successful in its endeavor this time around? Will it finally bust the myth that Hyundais costing above 12 Lakh Rupees just wouldn't sell in India no matter how good they are? This car has to answer all these and much more. The fact that Hyundai has decided to launch the new model with the 'Elantra' nameplate itself and not any new 'i' nomenclature goes to show that they are confident of its success. We have no reason to believe otherwise.


Ford Ecosport spotted testing in Chennai

We need not be telling you that Sports Utility Vehicles are a rage in India, so much so, that everything from the rugged Mahindra Bolero to the plush Audi Q7 are setting the sales charts on fire, literally. Even Renault's Duster that jump-started the Compact SUV segment in India a month back, has garnered more than 10000 bookings. One company which would definitely not be happy knowing all this is Ford. The Chennai-based American manufacturer knows that they are losing out on thousands of potential customers every month they don't have the Ecosport on sale. Unveiled at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi, the Ecosport vowed the press and the public alike with its concept-like design elements and has gone on to become one of the most anticipated launches in recent history. We admit, we weren't left alone and were smitten by it too, when we saw the initial set of images.

Though Ford has confirmed that the Ecosport would be launched only by the first quarter of 2013, this car that was spotted testing near the busy OMR IT Highway in Chennai gives us good hopes that things are on track. Though the swirl camouflage and dark tinted glasses didn't reveal much, the test car's butch shape and compact dimensions gave us a good glimpse on what to expect from the Ecosport and what not. All pointers tend to indicate that the production version wouldn't be much different than the model showcased at the Auto Expo, barring the LED Headlights. And that will make the Ecosport one of the best looking Sports Utility Vehicles around. While the compact dimensions will prove to be a boon in the city, the high ground clearance will be a huge relief on out pothole-ridden roads.

The Ecosport would be launched with three different engine options - a 1.5-liter TiVCT petrol engine, a 1.5-liter TDCi diesel engine and the award-winning 1.0-liter Ecoboost petrol engine. While the first two engines are already available in the new Fiesta, the Ecoboost engine that recently won the International Engine of the Year award, is making its debut on the Ecosport. Ride and handling, a traditional Ford forte, can be expected to rival the best in the segment as well. With all aspects but one covered, the Ecosport looks set to be a smash hit. And that left-out aspect is the 'pricing'. If Ford decides to price the Ecosport with a premium like they did with the new Fiesta, the market might give it a thumbs down. On the other hand, if they play the value card like they did with the Figo, the Ecosport might be a game-changer for Ford in India.

So, what direction is Ford going to take with the Ecosport? Wait and watch.