Rev up the road rage

Updated: Dec 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
It is probably one of the biggest tragedies facing motoring in infotech rich India that most of the people on top of the pile, delegated with the responsibility of pulling customers in to buy automobiles on the strength of the technological aspects of the product, end up pushing them on brand basis instead. Even if the brand is reaching the status of expensive rubbish everywhere else in the world. One probable reason for that could be that their very careers and jobs may be at stake, since change and innovation always brings in a new and less insecure breed, willing to take risks on what appear to be sure shots to them.

So most of what weve seen in the year 2006 in the motoring world had to do with numbers being thrown around. Unpriced superbikes, 1 crore SUVs, 2 crore cars, 3 crore limousines, 5 crore super cars. No idea how they improve your ownership experience in India, except on the page-3 kind of photo-ops, But Buy Them. Write about them. Because. This is the brand, so this is why you may need to spend 5 crores on it. Never mind the simple truth that in the rest of the world, the same over-sized big brand automobiles are very rapidly becoming as socially acceptable as smoking tobacco in public places, and governments local as well as national are looking at them again with a view to raising even more revenue out of buying and operating them. In the vast reaches of urban as well as upstate California and the crowded inner streets of The City of London, the message is clear go for the small and efficient car, or we shall come after your wallet and cheque book.

Sure, huge SUVs have their place under the sun, usually in regimes of the sort we see in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Good for them, the numbers move there in the thousands, but do we want to be like them Or are we going to be, simply, India The land where value for money predominates

So whats it going to be for India in 2007, then, after discounting the few hundred oversized overpriced toys and baubles the sellers of wares would have us exchange our wealth for To figure that out, I propose we take a look at what I call, for want of a better description, the Baleno example.

Marutis 1.6 litre Baleno, as sold in India, was and remains one of the best cars ever made for Indian roads. Roomy enough inside and with an engine that meshed very well in the low-speed city environs and opened up as fast as most anything else on the highways, this was and is a sensible car that should have been positioned and sold as such. But no, they had to pretend it gave luxury, when it did nothing of the sort. Then when it didnt sell as luxury, they didnt know what to do with it, so they kept bringing the price down at regular intervals.

Which eventually made sure that the sensible buyer stayed away because she thought it was luxury at a cheap price, and the buyer looking for luxury stayed away because it was sensible price thus not luxury. And now, sadly, MUL has buried what could have been their turnaround vehicle at one time. Hopefully the replacement will be called something else, and start afresh as a value-for-money large car.

So what will the nuts and bolts of motoring in India, in 2007, be like This is what I think, based on feedback from those in the production and financial practices in automobile companies. Not what the marketing guys wish would happen, but what those who are on the ground think will happen.

l The top-end luxury vehicles will sell in the single digits and dozens levels in India, but the noise will be in the higher three digit decibel levels. And lose value as soon as they roll off the showroom floor, because there are and will continue to be just too many unsold top-end luxury vehicles in our world. As well as capacity. Which is one reason why manufacturers like Porsche and Volkswagen are finding and making common cause. A sensible Porsche, seating four comfortably for a change, anybody And at a decent price too Dont be too surprised.

l Smaller city focused cars, both by way of size as well as aimed at specific cities or regions of the country, will come into their own next year. A value for money vehicle, small or large, does not need the add on cost of being everything for everybody in India. Cheaper air-conditioning, for example, for parts of the country where it is required all year round by introducing newer low-cost technologies.

l Some amount of shared manufacturing capacities. This is already a fact of life for components and sub-assemblies, where even development costs are shared between rivals. Subsidiaries of one manufacturer supplying a rival is an established practice. Now it will be the turn of the eventual product, which is increasingly simply a collection of aggregates from a variety of sources, often common. Quality of end product being easier to check in this day and age takes care of the one remaining probable area of conflict. What goes inside the making of a motor vehicle is not a secret anymore.

l India will be able in its ability to make tough and simple small cars and bikes for the domestic market into a world product. Rise in fuel costs or otherwise notwithstanding, the effects that this will have. Small cars abroad will become the politically correct thing to ride around in. Vast dealer networks will be replaced by Internet and direct delivery options, it is just a question of time and the ability of manufacturers to think beyond the traditional methods of delivery of products and service. (Here, within the Indian scenario, we need to only look at how we have adapted to ATMs, to understand how we shall adapt to direct delivery of motor vehicles).

l And finally the disposable motor vehicle. This is a concept which is going to be a bit of a surprise, but is something one manufacturer has been working on for some time now. Where some critical components can and will be used in the next vehicle, so you will have the option of buying, simply, a cheaper shell of the newer model. One set of suspension and tyres worn out, picked up all your city dents and scratches, and crave for the latest Never fear, the engine and electronics as well as other long-life parts will match the new baby you bring into your garage.

Happy and safe riding and driving in 2007. It can only get better.