Sales of Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R crosses 15 Lakh units in India

It was 1998. The conventional mindset of prospective car-buyers in India was shattered by a tall-boy from Korea called Santro which, in the process, started nibbling at big chunks of Maruti's market share. The top honchos at Maruti Udyog Limited, which is how Maruti-Suzuki was called then, had to bring in something to challenge the Korean upstart Hyundai. The prevailing 'kei' car regulations in Japan meant that they had a whole lot of Suzuki models to choose from for the job. That's probably how the Wagon-R found its way to India, with Maruti launching it in the country in 2000.

It wasn't exactly an electrifying launch so to say, with Maruti's 800 and Zen proving to be way more popular than the new Wagon-R in the initial days and weeks. Gradually, visitors to Maruti showrooms started realizing the practicality of Wagon-R's tall-boy styling and the space and comfort it offered in such a small footprint. Popularity rose, sales soared and soon the Wagon-R was a regular fixture at the top of the sales charts. Sales zoomed past 1 Lakh units in financial year 2003-04, followed by 5 Lakh and 10 Lakh milestones in 2007-08 and 2011-12 respectively. Earlier this week, cumulative sales of the car crossed 15 Lakh units, a milestone that puts the Wagon-R amongst the all-time best-selling cars in India.

Almost 15 years after launch, the Wagon-R is still a best-seller and is close on the heels of Maruti-Suzuki's other top-sellers, the Alto, Swift and Dzire. With still a full month to go, Wagon-R's sales has already exceeded 93,000 units in 2014. For it's part, Maruti-Suzuki has ensured that the car stays fresh and relevant, by doling out facelifts, new variants and limited editions at regular intervals. The second-generation model was launched in 2010-11 and the upmarket 'Stingray' variant was launched last year.

The 998 cc K-series engine under the hood of the current Wagon-R generates a maximum power of 68 PS @ 6200 rpm and a peak torque of 90 Nm @ 3500 rpm. CNG and LPG fuel options are also available, making the Wagon-R a versatile option in the fuel-conscious small car segment. With sales showing no signs of slowing down, we are sure this tall-boy from Japan is set for more milestones in India.


Lotus F1 Team and EMC pull off an epic truck jump

How do you put a season full of miseries behind you and yet look forward to the next with enthusiasm? Lotus F1 Team and its partner EMC might have just answered that question in style. Hot on the heels of a disastrous outing in 2014 that culminated with Pastor Maldonado’s car going up in flames in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the classic ‘black and gold’ Lotus wanted something to cheer about. So, it embarked on an epic stunt that involved a Renault F1 transporter (with the full trailer in tow) jumping over the team’s Renault-powered F1 car.

The stunt goes like this. The truck and the F1 car are seen going side by side for some distance before the truck is driven up a ramp for the actual ‘jump’. The F1 car utilizes the truck’s resulting moments in air to switch sides by driving underneath, which is pretty cool! Yeah, it does look like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie but given that the drivers involved, Mike Ryan and Martin Ivanov, are experienced stunt men that have worked in many Bond, Fast and Furious and Bourne franchisees, it isn't surprising.

Go ahead and watch the awesome video yourself!

In this whole episode, Lotus and EMC have ended up creating a Guinness World Record for the longest ever truck jump in history at 83 feet and 7 inches. That’s a rather unusual record for a F1 team but given the season they have had, we don’t see anyone complaining. Now that it is done, let the men and women at Lotus focus on 2015 F1 season please!


2014 Los Angeles - Mazda CX-3 is a reminder of what we miss in India

If you think that we Indians are alone when it comes to preferring crossovers, think again. These wannabe Sport Utility Vehicles are the in-trend bodystyle globally and automakers are scrambling over each other trying to fill up gaps in their crossover portfolio. Mazda had one such vacuum in the compact end of the segment that's seeing a spate of action in the form of Fiat 500 X, Honda H-RV, Hyundai ix25 and Ford Ecosport. The new CX-3, that made its global debut at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show last week, fills that space rather nicely.

The CX-3 is the fifth all-new model launched by Mazda in the recent past, featuring a full suite of SKYACTIV technology covering everything from the engine and transmission to the body and chassis. Of late, all Mazda models have featured strong design elements based on the Japanese brand's 'KODO - Soul of Motion' design language and the CX-3 is no exception. The bold front end is dominated by the seven-slat radiator grille underscored by the signature wing that extends into the headlights. The long nose paves way for a steeply-raked greenhouse that gently curves upwards before ending flush with the rear windscreen. The blackened C-pillars and the mish-mash of character lines stand out on either sides. The rear is a lot humbler and quite similar to the Mazda 2 but that doesn't mean it's not good.

If the exteriors impressed us, the interiors, atleast from what we see in the images released by Mazda, floored us. Uncluttered and classy, the CX-3's interiors look refreshingly clean unlike the busy interiors that most new cars come with these days. The contrast provided by the dark red accents in the doorpads and floor console kneepads is a tasteful touch as are the three circular air-conditioner vents. Under the hood, Mazda's SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to the SKYACTIV-DRIVE six-speed automatic transmission powers all four wheels through the company's new-generation AWD system that employs a claimed world's first front wheel slip warning detection system. All that tech talk just means one thing to us - the CX-3 has the go to match its show.

Given that pseudo-crossovers like the Fiat Avventura and Toyota Etios Cross are finding favour in our country, imagine the potential that this sexy little crossover from Mazda has. Combining stylish looks with Japanese reliability, the CX-3 can give the Ecosports and Dusters a good fight. If nothing, the CX-3 is a harsh reminder of what we are missing from Mazda's potent stable in India. Let the sighs begin!


Mercedes-Benz launches the new C-Class in India

Merely weeks after making its debut globally, Mercedes-Benz officially launched its all-new C-Class in India today. Initially, only the C 200 petrol variant would be on sale, priced at INR 40.90 Lakhs, ex-showroom Delhi. As it did with other new models in the recent past, Mercedes-Benz India would be importing the first lots of C-Class sedans from Germany with local production expected to start sometime next year.

Based on the new, light-weight Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform, the all-new C-Class adopts the styling direction pioneered by the latest S-Class. Up front, the twin-slat radiator grille adorned with the three-pointed star and the muscular hood with well-defined creases sets the tone for an athletic stance. The long hood, the coupe-like 'sloping' roofline and the short overhangs, together with those prominent character lines, carries the stance forward in profile while the short and stubby rear is an exact replica of the S-Class. The headlights and the taillights are both beautifully-shaped and exquisitely-detailed. Its just that the new C looks a lot like the S-Class, which isn't bad at all.

The interiors are completely revamped too and looks to be a quantum leap over the previous-gen C-Class. The sporty, 3-spoke steering wheel, the circular air-conditioner vents and the tablet-like multimedia screen jutting out of the dashboard are things that we have seen in other Mercedes-Benz models too. The layout is minimalist and clean, which is sure to be a hit amongst consumers. As expected, feature-list is exhaustive too. Satellite navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, LED ambient cabin lighting, panoramic sunroof, a high-resolution 8.4-inch screen controlled by a click wheel and a touch pad, powered front seats and a 13-speaker Burmster audio system are all part of the standard kit.

As usual, safety is top-notch with the original 'Baby Benz' now boasting seven airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS), Adaptive Brake with Hill Start Assist, Attention Assist, Electronic Stability Program, Curve Dynamic Assist, PRE-SAFE system for preventive occupant protection and LED Intelligent Lighting system as standard. Powering the C 200 is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine that generates 181 bhp and 30.5 kgm of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission. Other engine variants, including those powered by diesel, are expected to be launched going forward.

With the arrival of the new C-Class, Mercedes-Benz has what could probably be the youngest model line-up in the luxury segment. The new C is expected to take the fight to BMW's 3-Series and Audi's A4 and bring back volumes and market share to Mercedes-Benz. Will it do that? We are sure it'll, but let's see.

2014 Los Angeles - Mercedes-Maybach S 600 debuts as the brand's new flagship

When the all-new S-Class made its sensational debut last year, the bosses at Mercedes-Benz were already nursing plans to use their flagship luxury sedan to take on multiple roles within the family. One of them included a potential competitor to uber-luxury offerings from Rolls-Royce and Bentley to fill in the vacuum left by the then-defunct 'Maybach'. In simultaneous events held at the Los Angeles Auto Show and Auto Guangzhou earlier this week, that particular box was checked, as the German manufacturer pulled the wraps off the Mercedes-Maybach S 600. Yes, the Maybach nameplate makes a comeback, but not as an individual brand. Instead, Mercedes-Maybach would tread on the lines of Mercedes-AMG as a sub-brand within Mercedes-Benz. While the latter would focus on performance-oriented models, the former is all about prestige and exclusivity.

The Mercedes-Maybach S 600 might be based on the regular S-Class, but the designers and engineers seem to have brought in quite a bit of differentiation between the standard S-Class and the Maybach S 600. At 5453 mm long, the Maybach S is over 200 mm longer than the S-Class in its Long Wheel Base configuration. All that additional length has gone into the rear of the car, making the two 'executive' seats one of the most sought-after ones for the uber-rich. Of course, the ENERGIZING massage function based on hot-stone principle, that we all love in the S-Class, is one of the highlights in the cabin. An exclusive standard fitment in the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 is the AIR-BALANCE package including ionization, enhanced air filtration and fragrancing with AGARWOOD, the exclusive Maybach perfume. Mercedes-Benz claims that the Maybach S 600 would be the quietest sedan in the planet, the new aeroacoustic wind tunnel at the brand's technology center in Sindelfingen playing a crucial part here.

Externally, the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 has a slew of subtle yet noticeable changes. The radiator grille, for instance, is different with three twin chrome louvers. While the additional length makes its presence felt in the profile, what's also noticeable is the shortened rear doors that ends before the C-pillars to give that much additional privacy to those seated at the rear. The forged light-alloy wheels have large surfaces instead of spokes that we usually get. The Maybach logo proudly adorns the mighty C-pillars while the word Maybach etched in the bootlid brings with it tons of exclusivity and legacy. Powering the range-topping Mercedes-Maybach S 600 is a 6.0-litre V12 bi-turbo engine that produces 530 bhp of power and 830 Nm of torque.

The Mercedes-Maybach S 600 goes on sale early 2015, with China and USA being its main target markets. 

Poor big fella, the S-Class. Having performed its role diligently as a BMW and Audi-beater for decades, the luxo barge from Mercedes-Benz, now slapped with a "Maybach" badge, has even bigger shoes to fill in. Will Rolls-Royce and Bentley be worried? We'll see, very soon!


Hurray! At last, 'safety' is being spoken about in India.

It was a casual conversation over dinner last week. A friend's friend, who had approached us a few months back to help him zero in on his new car was downbeat about the choice he made. While he did get himself a spanking new Grand i10, a car that we recommended based on his requirements, he decided to save a few ten thousands by going for a variant sans ABS and airbags, much to our disappointment. That was it. Before he could complete, the entire group was talking about "safety" or, to be precise, the lack of it in cars manufactured and sold in India. It soon became one big collective rant against the car manufacturers and the law-makers in our country. 

So, what made this group of gentlemen and several others pan India suddenly realize the importance of safety in automobiles? Aren't we the ones who choose to flaunt diamond-cut alloy wheels and spoilers over airbags and ESP? Aren't we the ones who wouldn't hesitate to open our wallets for a high-end audio install but think twice to tick the optional ABS in the feature list? Isn't lack of strong demand one of the reasons why Hyundai, that once offered 6 airbags in the i20, to pull the variant out of the market? Aren't we Indians and our car-buying preferences pretty much the reason why our market is in a dire state like this? 

And that brings us back to the conversation over dinner.

Global NCAP's decision to test base variants of popular cars sold in India was just the fillip that we Indians needed to change. One after the other, Tata Nano, Maruti-Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo failed to secure a star rating from the agency in the standard frontal offset crash test conducted earlier this year. A few weeks back, the agency crash-tested the ever-popular Swift and the new Datsun Go as well but the results, unsurprisingly, were similar. Though the absence of ABS and airbags was the primary reason behind all these cars failing to secure even one star, let's also not forget that only the Polo and Figo had stable structures that could withstand the impact. The structures of other cars collapsed at varying levels during the test that equipping them with ABS and airbags would have made no difference to the results. It is this fact and the social media that spread the word that has finally brought about the change that we automotive enthusiasts, journalists and bloggers always wanted.

No, we aren't questioning the realization that has finally dawned on us. In fact, we are so grateful that this happened. An estimated 231,027 deaths last year due to road accidents in our country didn't make us realize this. That's about 26 lives lost every hour of every day of 2013 and it had no effect on the rest of the clan. Rash driving is still the norm, rules and regulations exists only on paper and we continue to show scant respect to our fellow road users. Safety isn't a priority. Money is and creature comforts are!

Now that the awareness amongst the car-buying public is at an all-time high, the onus is on the law-makers and the manufacturers to capitalize. On it's part, the Government of India has joined hands with the automotive industry to create the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP). As part of its efforts to make Indian roads and automobiles safer, a Bharat New Car Assessment Program would be rolled out sometime next year in the lines of Euro NCAP, Austalia NCAP and ASEAN NCAP. There are even unconfirmed reports that the law-makers are considering making safety features such as ABS and airbags standard on all new cars. Phew, finally!

It is about time for car-manufacturers to join the safety bandwagon too. Instead of making stupid comments for not offering safety features in their bread and butter models, the who's who of the industry should join hands in making safety a necessity and not just an optional luxury. It's a pity that, almost an year since the Global NCAP results were out, it is only Volkswagen that has reacted by making ABS and airbags standard on all its variants sold in India. If we were Volkswagen's marketing team, we would have cashed in on the opportunity and splashed full page adverts on leading newspapers boasting this! Sadly, other manufacturers are yet to follow suit.

It may take time, but we are sure that the safety siren has just started blowing in India. We are glad that it is being spoken about and hope that this trend continues.


Renault Lodgy MPV spied inside out in Chennai

Renault's portfolio in India might consist of 5 models ranging from the Pulse hatchback to the Koleos SUV, but it is the Dacia-based Duster that's keeping the French manufacturer afloat in India. For various reasons, the other Renault models have not struck the right chord amongst the Indian car-buying public. But, another Dacia-based model, the Lodgy MPV, might come to the rescue of Renault again. Spied inside out a few hours back while on its pre-launch testing phase, the Lodgy seems to have the potential to take Renault to the next league.

What strikes us first when we get close to the Lodgy is its proportions. This is a proper Multi Purpose Vehicle with three rows of seating and, understandably, boasts an extremely long wheelbase that can be seen in these spy-shots. Beneath the attractive layer of camouflage, it is clear that the Lodgy retains most of the design and styling elements of it's Dacia counterpart. The sweptback headlights, the circular fog lamps, the slab-sided profile with minimal lines and curves, the beefy C-pillar and the sleek taillights with the characteristic bulge in the center are all clearly seen. Like they did with the Duster, Renault might spruce up some bits of the exteriors like the radiator grille and rear license plate garnish with chrome to suit Indian tastes and preferences.

The spy-shots also gives us a glimpse of the Lodgy's interiors. Beneath the partial camouflage inside, the chrome-ringed instrument cluster with three circular dials, the three-spoke steering wheel with integrated buttons, the circular air-conditioner vents and the two-tone dashboard in black and beige are clearly seen. The images also give us a good perspective to assess the space on offer in the front and the middle rows. On first sight, the Lodgy appears to be more spacious than its potential rivals in India that include Toyota Innova, Honda Mobilio, Maruti-Suzuki Ertiga and Mahindra Xylo. Closer inspection also reveals a center armrest in the middle row with inbuilt cup holders and adjustable head restraints in the front and middle rows. We aren't sure about them on the third row though.

If you wish to see this MPV uncovered and can't wait until Renault launches it in India sometime next year, take a look at this collage of Dacia Lodgy from the brand's European website. The Renault-badged Indian version wouldn't look much different.

Though Renault hasn't disclosed anything yet, we expect the Lodgy to carryover power-train options from the Duster. That would mean the 1.5-liter K9K diesel engine in two states of tune, one with 85 PS and another with 110 PS, is likely to be the mainstay of this MPV. With the market for petrol MPVs almost non-existent, we aren't sure of the prospects of a petrol-engined Lodgy in India. Based on the same platform as the accomplished Logan and Duster, the Lodgy will have robust mechanicals that can withstand all the abuse that the Indian roads can throw at it.  

So, will the Lodgy finally bolster Renault from its current position of being a one-hit wonder? If that's the question that you are asking us, we would nod our heads on the positive side. Its conservative styling aside, the Lodgy appears to be a well-rounded package offering oodles of space and practicality, which should work in India.


Sales of Hyundai Elantra crosses 10 Million units globally

Hyundai Elantra needs no introduction. Apart from being a global best-seller, the Elantra, also known as Avante in some markets, is also one of Hyundai's most successful models ever. Recently, it added another feather in its cap by reaching and surpassing a cumulative sales figure of 10 million units globally. That's a significant milestone for the South Korean automobile as not many nameplates in the history of automotive industry have had this privilege before. In fact, Hyundai's press release states that there are just ten nameplates in history including Elantra to have sold more than 10 million units.

Commenting on this feat, "Reaching this historic mark is a testament to Elantra's staying power and the global appeal of a vehicle that delivers attractive design, functionality and class-leading performance," said Tak Uk Im, Hyundai Motor's Chief Operating Officer.

We agree, as the numbers prove him right. On an average, Hyundai should have sold 420,000 Elantras per year and 1,100 per day since it's launch in 1990 to reach this milestone now. Featuring what in our eyes is the best representation of Hyundai's popular "Fluidic Sculpture" design philosophy, the Elantra's success story continues unabated as the fifth-generation model fights it out at the top in many markets including India. In fact, the strong combination of style, features, reliability and value for money that the Elantra offers saw it almost toppling Toyota Corolla as the world's best-selling car in 2011.

By stepping into the 10 Million club, the Elantra joins an elite group of automobiles that include Toyota's Corolla, Honda's Civic, Beetle and Golf from Volkswagen and Model T, F-Series and Fiesta from Ford. Kudos Hyundai!