Ashok Leyland's upcoming LCV (Project Phoenix) spotted testing

When it was introduced in 2011, Ashok Leyland's Dost was a pioneer in the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) space in India. With a car-like cabin, power steering and optional air-conditioning, the Dost was a whiff of fresh air in a segment that wasn't known to offer it's drivers much apart from basic load-carrying ability.

Understandably, the Dost was - and continues to be - a reasonable success. But with just a single model offering payloads between 1.25 - 1.5 tonnes, Ashok Leyland couldn't make serious inroads against Tata and Mahindra that offer several models with multiple payloads and configurations. That's set to change with the Chennai-based manufacturer preparing to launch a slew of LCVs, internally codenamed 'Project Phoenix'.

One of those appears to be a pick-up truck that's bigger than the Dost but would still be an option for those seeking 'last mile connectivity' solutions. Caught testing in the busy GST Road on the outskirts of Chennai, the test vehicle was easily recognizable as an Ashok Leyland, thanks to the protruding snout up front. This time, it doesn't protrude as much as the Dost and looks far sleeker. The window-line is steeply raked as well and looks all the more better for it.

In terms of size, this truck is visibly bigger than the Dost, indicating a higher payload. Our sources indicate Ashok Leyland's upcoming truck would compete in the 3.0 - 4.0 tonne category, plugging a big hole in the brand's LCV line-up. While not much is known about this new truck, expect the Phoenix - or whatever this is called - to feature sleek styling and a decently-loaded cabin, just like the Dost.

The Dost is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged diesel engine that generates 60 horsepower and 170 Nm of torque. Whether the same engine would be carried over to the new offering remains to be seen. There could be a bigger engine or more horses hidden beneath that camouflage. So, watch this space!


All-new Mahindra Thar spotted testing again

That Mahindra is working on an all-new Thar is not news anymore. In addition to the numerous spy-shots floating across the web, the Indian car-maker did a marketing masterstroke by sending off the previous-generation model with the special "Thar 700". Among others, this limited edition - the last 700, to be precise - had an unique Aquamarine paint job, factory-fitted alloy wheels, customized seats and a fender badge signed by Anand Mahindra.

While many expected Mahindra to make a splash at the just-concluded 2020 Auto Expo with the all-new Thar, that was not to be. Instead, the iconic off-roader that enjoys a cult following pan-India is still undergoing what we presume are final rounds of testing before it debuts. Caught in the outskirts of Chennai, this soft-top Thar had a camouflaged KUV1OO for company. While the image isn't clear, is that the electric KUV1OO testing alongside? More on that, later. 

As can be seen, Mahindra isn't fiddling with the Thar's legendary Jeep-inspired design. It makes sense. Why fix something that ain't broken? That said, the fact it looks so close to the real Jeep Wrangler - which, incidentally, is also on sale in India - can't be overlooked. Expect Mahindra to spruce things up nicely with LED lights all around and door handles and hood hinges that don't look antiquated like the current model's. Despite the camouflage, the Thar's stance is undeniably attractive with the relatively smaller steel wheels of the test vehicle - which appears to be a lower variant - being the only downer.

Interiors are expected to be thoroughly revamped with Mahindra finally deeming it fit to equip the Thar with niceties like power windows, multi-function steering wheel, touchscreen infotainment system and forward-facing rear seats. With their focus on safety in recent times, there is a good chance the Thar will continue Mahindra's good run of form in Global NCAP crash tests with dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), seat-belt reminders and speed-alert system likely to be standard. 

Under the hood, all-new BS-VI compliant 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine churning out 140 horsepower is expected to be the mainstay. A petrol engine, most likely to be the 2.0-liter 'mStallion' mill showcased at the Auto Expo, is also said to be in the works. Going by the P13 sticker on the test car, it could be this engine that's being given the workout here. With the underpinnings expected to be shared with the TUV3OO, the Thar will continue to feel at home off-road as it does on-road. 

With expectations and interest around the 2020 Thar peaking, Mahindra can't launch this quintessential SUV soon enough. Are you one of those waiting with bated breath to see how the 'desi' Jeep pans out in its modern avatar? You got to wait just that little bit longer!

On the masked KUV1OO accompanying the Thar, is that the all-electric version being tested? The image isn't clear enough to conclude. Let us know if you know more on that.


Hyundai Verna facelift caught testing in Chennai

Mid-size sedans might be running out of favour in the crossover-crazy Indian market but these elegant three-boxes aren't going down without a fight. One such model is the Hyundai Verna which has carved a niche for itself in India over three generations. The current model has been especially popular, often challenging Maruti-Suzuki's Ciaz and Honda's City for sales supremacy in the segment. 

Having been on sale in our country since 2017, the Verna is due for a facelift. While China got a controversial, love-it-hate-it design late last year, images of the Russia-bound Solaris facelift (That's how Verna is called there) that Hyundai released earlier this week made us feel better. Much better, in fact!

Now, we can confirm with authority the Verna facelift that's headed here is inspired by the Russia-spec model. Caught testing in Chennai by Mr. Sai Narayan, here are the clearest spy-shots yet of the soon-to-be-launched Verna, hinting at what's in store for us Indians. 

Beneath the camouflage that's now a bit more revealing than before, an outline of Hyundai's trademark 'Cascading Grille' with a diamond-shaped mesh pattern can be seen. At it's top edges, the grille can be noticed merging with a pair of wraparound headlights. Circular fog lights can be seen on the farther edges of the bumper. The profile hasn't changed much except for the shape of the alloys. Changes to the rear appear minimal with the taillights and boot-lid looking like an evolution of the current model.

So, those of you that have been having nightmares imagining the China-spec Verna on our roads can relax now!

With the Bharat Stage-VI norms coming into effect from April, Hyundai is revamping Verna's power-train lineup. All four engines of the current model - 1.4-liter petrol and diesel and 1.6-liter petrol and diesel - are reportedly on the way out, replaced by petrol and diesel engines displacing 1.5 liters. Both manual and automatic transmissions are likely to be paired to these engines. Zoom in on the window sticker and you will notice this car is the top-spec 1.5-liter petrol with a 6-speed manual transmission. 

We wish Hyundai sweetens the deal by offering the 1.4-liter turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission on the flagship variant.

Interiors are likely to get subtle changes as well and, in typical Hyundai fashion, get a plethora of features and creature comforts to keep the occupants happy. Remember, it was the Verna that introduced ventilated seats - an hitherto luxury car feature - to the masses! Expect the South Korean car-maker to continue that tradition.

When it goes on sale shortly, the Verna will face stiff competition from the Ciaz as well as the all-new fifth-generation Honda City. With similarly-priced crossovers out on the kill, this trio's fight to keep the segment alive and ticking is one to watch out for.


2020 Auto Expo - Kia Sonet Concept previews the brand's next model for India

Kia made a grand debut in India at the 2018 Auto Expo, unveiling the SP Concept and showcasing its full range of cars from the Picanto to the Stinger GT. The SP Concept spawned the brand’s first model for India, the Seltos, which has since gone on to become a smash hit. 

The South Korean car-maker has adopted a similar approach for the 2020 Auto Expo that opened doors in New Delhi yesterday. Making its world debut this time is the Sonet Concept that previews an upcoming compact crossover that will slot in as the smallest in a lineup that includes Seltos, Stonic, Sportage, Sorento and Telluride.

Featuring bold and modern design elements, the Sonet Concept – like every new Kia out there – looks pleasing to the eyes.

Kia’s signature ‘Tiger Nose’ grille dominates the fascia featuring intricate step-well geometry within the mesh. Wraparound headlights emerge seamlessly from the top corners of the grille and incorporates LED Daytime Running Lights. The squared-off wheel arches and those interesting C-pillars that sharply rise to the top before appearing to wrap themselves around the roof give this little crossover an attractive profile. Further adding to the appeal are door handles that sit flush with the body and ultra-thin mirrors. The rear features a light bar that joins the taillights and houses the Kia logo in the middle. Giving that extra dose of sportiness are brushed silver inserts in the front and rear bumpers and bright red highlights in the grille, bumpers, doors and alloy wheels.  

Don’t expect the production model to look too different from this concept. Kia might do a Seltos here which looks very much like the SP Concept!

Kia’s diminutive crossover will share its underpinnings with the similarly-sized Hyundai Venue. Three engines – a 1.2-liter petrol, a 1.0-liter turbocharged petrol and a 1.5-liter diesel – are likely to be offered along with manual and automatic transmission options including the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) from the Venue.  

When it goes on sale later this year, the Sonet will enter a crowded segment currently dominated by Maruti-Suzuki’s Vitara Brezza and Hyundai’s Venue. Other rivals include the Ford EcoSport, Tata Nexon and Mahindra XUV3OO. 

Watch this space to know if Kia emerges unscathed the third time after back-to-back hits in the form of Seltos and Carnival.


2020 Auto Expo - Tata steals the show with the Sierra EV Concept

Years ago, way back in 2013 to be precise, Anything-On-Wheels had posted about the erstwhile Tata Sierra. While the views on how far ahead of it’s time the car was and how the design would look cool even today was well-received, it seems the post and its content caught the attention of the folks at Tata Motors too. Yes, Tata hogged all the limelight at the 2020 Auto Expo in New Delhi with the surprise unveiling of the Sierra Concept!

The best part about the Sierra Concept is not it's striking looks. Rather, it is the way this concept pays tributes to the iconic design elements from the Sierra of yesteryear whilst blending modern touches from Tata’s current-day “Impact 2.0” design language. The 3-door layout of the original Sierra, for instance, wasn’t practical but the large windows that went up to the roof on either side gave the car terrific aesthetic appeal. Under Pratap Bose’s inspiring design leadership, the folks at Tata have not just managed to retain those tall and large windows but also gave the rear passengers a sliding door on the left side to get in and out. The driver’s side, on the other hand, is clean with a greenhouse that mimics the old Sierra.

The way Tata transformed the Nexon and 45X Concepts into Nexons and Altrozs we see in the brand’s showrooms today, don’t be shocked if the Sierra sees the light of the day retaining the concept’s striking form. Of course, expect the lights to grow in size, the wheels to be downsized, the rear-view cams to make way for conventional mirrors and the flush-fitted door handles to be shown the door before the car reaches production. The cabin is clearly an enthusiastic individual's imaginations running wild, like we always see in auto show concepts!

Based on the 'Agile Light Flexible Advanced' Architecture (ALFA), the 4.1-meter long Sierra is touted to be an Electric Vehicle. While the battery size, specifications and range haven’t been announced, it makes tremendous sense for Tata to bring this back as an EV, given the Sierra would be an eye-candy and an image-booster for the brand! 

The Sierra Concept apart, Tata had a busy day at the Auto Expo with the premiere of the HBX Concept and the launch of updated Harrier with a power bump and much-awaited automatic transmission. The rest of the range – Tiago, Tigor, Altroz, the upcoming Altroz EV, Nexon, the just-launched Nexon EV, Harrier, Hexa and the soon-to-be-launched Gravitas – were on display too.


Hummer is coming back as a GMC EV!

Hummer - GM's iconic and controversial brand - known for it's boxy, go-anywhere civilian SUVs that trace their roots to hardcore military vehicles, is coming back. This time, as an 'Electric Vehicle' wearing a GMC badge.

Are you surprised? I'm not, one bit! At a time when SUVs and high-riding crossovers of all shapes and sizes are the rage worldwide, the fact Hummer wasn't brought back already was the bigger surprise. Now that the inevitable has happened, GM is just making sure Hummer comes prepared for the future. And that future, as the bosses at GM themselves declared, is electric!

The sole teaser image released by GM shows the GMC Hummer EV sports familiar design cues. The seven vertical slats, for instance, is a Hummer trademark. While they usually form a chrome-plated radiator grille, the space between those slats are back-lit this time with H.U.M.M.E.R proudly written on them. Don't miss the small 'EV' suffix at the end and the GMC moniker that's placed further down the bumper. Linking this to the silhouette GM released a week back, it's clear GM isn't heading the Tesla route and the Hummer EV will look like pick-ups of today.

While details on the power-pack aren't available as yet, GM released a trio of stats to keep our interests piqued. And yes, with claims of up to 1000 horsepower,  15590 Nm of torque (presumably at the wheels) and a 0 to 100 km/h sprint in 3 seconds, they've done that successfully!

All set for an unveil May 2020, the GMC Hummer EV will be made at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant that recently saw investments to the tune of over $2 billion to exclusively build a slew of electric and autonomous vehicles. 

While there are no EV pick-up trucks on sale right now, the Hummer will have lots to tackle when it goes on sale towards the end of next year. Rivals include Rivian's R1T, Ford's F150 Electric, Tesla's Cybertruck and Bollinger's EV amongst others.

At it's peak, Hummer's portfolio included the monstrous H1, the slightly-smaller H2, the even-smaller H3 and a pick-up spun off the latter dubbed the H3T. Imagining these gas-guzzlers as non-polluting EVs might be sacrilege to aficionados of the brand but that's probably the only way the business case to bring back Hummer could work for GM.