Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ford EcoSport : Road Test

Is the Ford EcoSport with its high and wide go-anywhere stance with the exterior package being clothed in SUV-style sheet metal and yet drives like a front wheel drive hatchback? We take it for a nice spin around Goa to give you a more in-depth analysis
Ford EcoSport drive 
Nothing better suggests the very concept and build of the newest Ford in India than the spanking EcoSport which is ready for a mid-June launch, more than a year and a half after we first saw a full size mock-up at the last Auto Expo. It hasn't always been to Ford's great strength in using its SUV-experience in the US to try and develop an SUV-ish vehicle for emerging markets and even though it did try once to come close with the Fusion, the smallish alter-hatch flattered only to be deceived on the pricing front. Mind you the Fusion was delightful but priced out of reach and this impacted and/or signified most moves Ford has made in India so far. But then this is not about Fusion or the past but about a new move forward and thus EcoSport.

First off the very basic aspect of the visual is the strong retention to the original concept and here Ford certainly has broken new ground for a car that has much riding on it. Never before did Ford ever launch an all-new car in India (well we could be forgiven for saying this but then this car is also made in Brazil) but this time round the timing and the basic proposition are spot-on, even though we do not as yet know the pricing. Additionally, the onus on the technology applied plus the all-new thought on downsized engines should pay off big (on operational costs) as well without skimping on the pleasure-to-drive aspect which is so fundamental whether it be an entry-level hatch or a big bore sports car!  
It is a proven fact the world over that everyone and his or her grandmother aspires to drive and own an SUV. If that weren't so why would Chidambaram and his cabinet buddies impose a blatantly arrogant tax on cars which are ideal to traverse broken down roads which the very same bunch have apparently not mended? But this is not the time to digress and yes there did always exist a sweet spot for small compact automobiles which could have that high and wide go-anywhere stance with the exterior package being clothed in SUV-style sheet metal and yet drive like a front wheel drive hatchback.

If anything Premier Automobiles found this spot but the Rio hasn't exactly found the sweet bit as yet! And therein lies the gap between it on one hand and the Renault Duster on the other and one has to see how Ford positions the EcoSport in this band or beyond it (yes they can do it as they have demonstrated so ably to their chagrin in the past!). Price positioning on value will be key because that may make or break this model which has been hyped for so long.
 Ford EcoSport drive

While Ford can rest easy till it makes the big move on pricing, let us concentrate on the hardware at hand and what it feels like in its real world deliverance. Sub-4 metre is the small car holy grail, especially given the tax-inducement in India and Ford's designers have worked to this paradigm measurement with great success and also very well disguised excess. It is all about having the right proportions without being overly muscular in some places and looking awry and ungainly in others but credit the Ford designers for doing a fabulous job on the visual aspect.

Employing Ford's kinetic design philosophy, if ever a car screams go-anywhere so stylishly then it has to be the EcoSport. From its large Aston-clone grille dominating the front end  to the excessively raked windscreen and sculpted sides plus that obviously wedgey glazed area culminating in a wrapped up rear windscreen, this is surely a finely turned out offering, stylish without being an overt dandy and looking substantial the way an SUV is perceived to be.

 Ford EcoSport front grille

Add the short overhangs and plus the all-black wrapped around the car for the rest of the painted sheet metal to be based upon, the entire package looks appealingly strong. The wheel arches are finely pencilled as are the two character lines on the sides, with the headlamps and the tail lights being the front to end links for the crease at the waist line. To be true to the concept in so many ways when translated into series production is a commendable thing and Ford has done just that with the EcoSport.

Even with its high squat stance riding on ample 205/60 R16 tyres, the EcoSport means business but without sacrificing its aerodynamic efficiency. If anything the EcoSport shows the value of time spent doing ample CFD work and in the wind tunnel tweaking the exterior and also the underfloor area has resulted in it having one of the most finely tuned exteriors able to cut its way through the wind. An aerodynamic co-efficient of drag of just 0.371 marks the EcoSport as a most slippery performer, even though it might not appear overtly to be so!

 Ford EcoSport rear profile

Riding on a 2520mm wheelbase, the EcoSport is just a millimetre shy of nudging the 4-metre mark and that is of course sans its tailgate mounted spare wheel. And this spare mounted for all the world to see further adds to the go-anywhere perception of the vehicle. Mind you the tailgate which is hinged sideways has obviously been designed with countries which drive on the right hand side in mind, as it swivels open from right to left.

This obvious glitch aside as also the wiper and indicator stalk switches on the steering column for the right hand drive roads, everything else about the EcoSport falls naturally to hand. Open the doors to step in or out and the ease with which you do the deed highlights natural form to make things easy for kids, women and the old. It is, however, when you get into the cabin that you realise how compact this 'SUV' really is.

 Ford EcoSport steering

There is enough space for driver and front seat passenger with adjustability for the driver. The view forward from behind the wheel is expansive barring for that modern day bugbear - the thick chunky A-pillars which do create blind spots at certain angles. Being behind the wheel though is a very pleasing and comfortable aspect for the pilot.

A well-designed steering wheel with audio controls and brushed aluminium inserts sets the tone while the pronounced dashboard lifted straight from the Fiesta but with slight detail changes looks pretty much par for the course. The angled air con vents on the central panel as well as on the extremes of the dashboard have been made to be both functional and add to the visual delight, much the same as the rotary switch console for the climate control system.

Ford EcoSport media display and instrument cluster

Analogue instruments thankfully find favour in the EcoSport but there is a driver information display placed venally atop the dashboard which spews out real-time data should you need to keep tab on driving distances, mileage, etc. The quality of the materials employed is not flashy but functional and the fit and finish is impressive, from the door pads to the roof lining, from the form of the seats to the way the tactile bits feel reassuringly good.

There is an element of feel good about the front end of the cabin which has been carried over at the rear as well but only if you want to seat two in reasonable comfort! Mind you the wide stance one makes of the EcoSport from the outside disappears within thanks to average shoulder space which rules out comfortable seating for three.
Ford EcoSport air bags

If you want to see a paragon of space efficiency then look no further than the Honda Amaze but the EcoSport can only have a small child wedged between two adults and that too with none of them being comfortable in the least bit! I think that some of that design flourish on the exterior has been carved at the expense of the useable width in the car as if to reflect on the compact SUV theme!

However, there is ample leg and head room at the rear for two adults but then again the lack of a central armrest plus the glaring lack of grab rails on the ceiling do make us ask as to is this it or is it still WIP - work in progress? I asked one of the Ford boffins at the media drive about this and he also had a valid point - what to do if shoulder and head air bags were to be specified? I think the whole point of his argument was lost because those specifying the air bags would be the rarest of rare - in India that is, but those cursing Ford for not keeping grab rails would send across loud and clear signals, maybe using colourful colloquial language to ram home their point!
 Ford EcoSport split seat mechanism

In favour though is the split rear seat which can help increase the meagre luggage space behind the rear seat. Ford suggests the EcoSport can gobble up 346-litres of luggage capacity which on the face of it is good but really lacking in the face of competition. Nevertheless, the compromise to be made in design and style elements plus also of course the SUV character style means that I for one could live with this sort of occupant and luggage space and I am sure that there are many like me who could do with a small personal mobility machine with exciting looks.

The good thing though is that it is not just about the visual drool appeal that has us excited but for sure what is under the hood and how that works to move the mass is the one key area where Ford has made the biggest advance to seduce the mind! And that too most emphatically ever in its second Indian foray beginning since the early 1990s.
Ford EcoSport engine

So many speak about small engines being loaded with top-drawer physics to do the impossible but here we have a small sub-one-litre triple with turbocharging and direct injection plus a few smart yet logical thoughts punching above its weight. Mind you others have also made three-pot motors but here the thought is to make virtue out of a packaging solution even when you have the odds stacked up against you. I will not repeat what I have said about the new technological marvel that is the 999cc EcoBoost motor suffice to say that it works brilliantly in doing more with less!

Ford will be offering the EcoSport with three engine options which include the 999cc EcoBoost plus the 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines which do duty in the Fiesta. All three engines come mated to the standard 5-speed manual gearbox also employed in the Fiesta though the 1.5-litre petrol can also be specified with the six-speed Ford PowerShift automatic transmission. We haven't had an opportunity to drive the larger engined EcoSports but then the paradigm shifter EcoBoost makes such talk redundant. It might not have four-wheel drive but even with front wheel drive Ford has equipped the EcoSport with enough tech to ensure that it apes an SUV in certain situations - Hill Launch Assist is one where it helps the driver make a start on an incline in utmost safety.
 Ford EcoSport drive

Before I move on to the actual driving assessment, a mention must be made about the structure and the suspension. The overall monocoque is a pretty robust yet well thought out piece of engineering which makes do with normal suspension aggregates (MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam set-up at the rear) to deliver a good balance of ride and handling. Special boron steel along with other grades of ultra-high-strength steel have been used to make the super-structure not just light but strong with high levels of impact resistance to dissipate crash forces away from occupants.

First things first and that is all about the way the three-pot motor has been mounted in the vehicle along with the clever out of sync thought to cancel the primary vibes which afflict most such triples. Having to make do without a balancer shaft necessitated many new innovative thoughts and all of them were in the direction of reducing NVH and that is one of the strong aspects of the drive experience - refined, relaxed and comfortable. How many can attribute this to the performance aspect I don't want to wade into suffice to state that to get to doing more from less has begun with exceedingly low levels of NVH from the design stage itself and this is a big strength of the EcoSport.

 Ford EcoSport drive

The engine fires up whirringly with none of that primary rocking and yet gets into a steady idle straightaway. Once on the move as you go up through the 'box, what strikes you is a seamless stream of torque which is thick yet not obtrusive, and all the while hinting that there is more to come should you need it. Of course there is a way to modulate your right foot on the loud pedal because this is where it can reward you big, both on performance and also on fuel efficiency and this lightness of foot has to be the way to getting more from less!

I like the surge of the engine when needing to overtake on tight Goan roads or on the highway where dropping a cog from fifth produced a good burst to move past long artics and then hold steady at around 2200 to 2400 rpm. This is the modern way of the petrol engined world, one which engineers have tried to make it ape a diesel without sacrificing the feel and refinement plus zest of a spark ignition offering.

I think that it rewards in very many ways and should one perfect the light-of-foot approach to driving then you will have the pleasure sans the pain. Speaking of which I was happy with the way the simple turbo spooled up quickly with barely any lag except of course if in time honoured Indian driving habits of lugging it from way too low engine speeds in too high a cog then the inevitable does result. So while Ford's engineers have revisited the basic tenets of the internal combustion engine, many a driver would do well to re-approach the way he or she drives to get the best out of this brilliant motor. Of course we haven't been able to put it through the test regime but overall the feel and the delivery mark it out as ultra capable. Just for the record, the ARAI test has pegged the EcoBoost-powered EcoSport at 18.9 kmpl.

Ford EcoSport front profile

The manual 5-speed gearbox is delightful in not just its cog swapping action but also in the feel and the short throws which provide a sporty edge to the pleasure. If that is not all, the surety of precise steering from the EPAS electrically assisted steering gear is another delightful detail - unobtrusive but highly effective. This also has the Pull-Drift Compensation system incorporated within to sense out road surfaces and deliver the correct steering inputs for better directional stability. The Active Nibble Control built into the steering system further cancels out vibrations and other details from spoiling the steering feel without cancelling the feedback to the driver. The EcoSport delights with its 10.65 metre turning circle making it a highly manoeuvrable animal in the urban environment.

Ride and handling is an area where the EcoSport has got a good balance going. Many a time I have heard many so-called proponents suggesting Ford makes the best driver-oriented cars only for them to come croppers when it comes to all-round family usage. The EcoSport is one car where the car delights with good manners in the handing department yet tops it without compromising on the ride element. For all round family usage this is critical and maybe Ford has heard this for long and acted on it to a degree. I made it a point to be driven while seated at the rear on the rutted Goa roads and I was impressed enough with the way the EcoSport rode the bumps and the craters yet remained composed without unsettling me in the back. Made me aware of the lack of grab rails though!

 Ford EcoSport

Another very important feel good detail on the car is the climate control system though it can take time to cool the rear. We had the top line Titanium trim version where it came with 16-inch alloys wrapped in MRF rubber, rear parking sensors, keyless entry, leather seats (would have much preferred good quality fabric stuff here for India) and steering wheel, push button start, a slew of air-bags and of course SYNC, the new gen connectivity platform that it has engineered with Microsoft. This is the first expression of this system in a Ford car in India and uses voice commands from the driver for activating music, making calls, etc. It is also hooked up to 108 helpline should it detect the air bags have been deployed or the fuel pump has been shut off, both cases indicating a mishap or such making quick rescue aid attempts possible.

I could go on and on about this delightful little gem but knowing Ford and the way it has worked in India so far, I would like to see it play off its price positioning for this vehicle and also to see how well it delivers in the real world in the long term. These are key indicators of which one would be answered by mid-June while the latter and more telling aspect would only be revealed some months down the line. Whatever be it though, the die has been cast. Small triples can never stay as they have been, it is the EcoBoost manner or nothing is the way forward.

The do-it-yourself bike cleaning/polishing guide

You love your bike, but just the love isn't enough. Here are a few simple steps to follow which will make sure your bike stays just the way it did when you got it out of the showroom

 The D.I.Y Bike cleaning guide

 Step1: The first step always begins with a nice clean wash. Just hose the bike down with water and scrub it using any of the car shampoos available in the market. The shampoo helps in removing the dust and grime without applying too much effort without harming the paint. Use a piece of foam or a soft cloth to scrub the bike. Make sure you don’t douse the electricals in too much water and damage them.

 Hosing down the bike

Step 2: Once done with the washing, the next procedure is to rid the bike of all the excess water. Use a dry soft cloth to wipe the bike clean. It is extremely important to clean or blow dry areas where water tends to accumulate like the fuel lid as shown in the image above, battery terminals, the spark plug area etc. Not removing the accumulated water also leads to rusting of nuts and bolts which can prove to be a major headache in the future.

cleaning the nooks and crannies

Step 3: Once the bike is wiped clean, we get to the polishing. There are many popular brands available either in the form of wax polish or the regular polish. Regular polish is however easier to use. Apply the wax or the polish on a piece of foam and apply it on the bike in circular motion as depicted in the picture above. Once evenly applied all over the bike, leave it to a haze for atleast fifteen minutes.

 Wiping off is easy

Step 4: The last and final part of the session involves wiping off the polish haze with a clean soft piece of cloth. Wiping off the haze can get a little more tedious when wax polish is involved, but regular polish gets wiped off much more easily leaving a squeaky clean glossy surface. A motorcycle gleaming like it is just out of teh showroom is a marvelous thing to behold. Everything looks pristine, the metal has that perfect glint, the tires are free of dirt and road debris, and the seat is practically begging for a ride. Despite the hard work of getting to this state, there is much pleasure in getting this result.

 Before and After

Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force Concept

Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force Concept 

Mercedes-Benz has created its share of iconic vehicles, but only one of them is currently on sale. (Time will tell on stuff like the SLS or C63 AMG.) Of course, we’re talking about the Geländewagen, styled with a slide rule in the early ’70s to military specifications, launched in 1979, and is still sold today in surprising quantities to armed forces, off-road enthusiasts, and the jet set alike. It’s no wonder, then, that the GL-class—intended as a Geländewagen replacement—couldn’t kill it.
But at some point down the road, the G must be replaced. There probably aren’t more than a few years left in the G-wagen’s life, after which increasingly tough pedestrian-protection regulations will render it unsaleable in many markets. The Ener-G-Force concept created for the Los Angeles auto show is evidence that Stuttgart is actively working on a plan for when that day comes.
While the GL happened under former chief designer Peter Pfeiffer, this fresh take was overseen by Pfeiffer's successor, Gorden Wagener. The inspiration for the ENER-G is provided by the Los Angeles Design challenge, which asked for designs imagining a Highway Patrol vehicle for 2025. It’s no surprise, then, that this G-inspired design looks something like a Mercedes-badged all-terrain pursuit vehicle from the future. According to Benz, its "front end leaves no doubt about the commanding presence of the police."

Designed for this brave and environmentally friendly new world, the Ener-G-Force is powered not by an internal-combustion engine, but by a hydrogen fuel cell and four in-wheel electric motors. The "hydro-tech converter" is fed by "recycled" water stored in tanks on the roof. If it sounds a bit outlandish, just remember that Daimler has a history of predicting a hydrogen-powered future, and has invested piles of R&D dollars toward the tech. Moreover, this vehicle is conceived for the year 2025, and by then the cops probably will feel the need to make up for decades of crappy Crown Vic fuel economy. The range? Five-hundred miles, says Daimler.
Stylistically, the concept takes key lines, elements, and proportions from the original G-wagen, but you need to see the vehicles side by side to appreciate the similarities. They include the upward-kink on top of the D-pillar, the turn signals mounted on the hood, and the low-mounted horizontal taillights.
But despite the elements incorporated from the G, there are a number of visual cues that set the Ener-G-Force apart. The B- and C-pillars are not attached to the glass, the daytime running lights are designed to resemble a "G," and this off-roader rolls on massive off-road tires fitted to 20-inch wheels. The side skirts are adorned with F-Cell branding—for fuel-cell technology—and they open to provide access to the batteries. There is a futuristic light bar that partially hangs over the windshield, and the tailgate sports an integrated toolbox and tire iron. A roof-mounted camera watches the road ahead to prepare and pre-load the suspension for maximum traction and comfort—Mercedes calls this Terra-Scan.
Is the Ener-G-Force, then, the next G-wagen? Not necessarily, but it provides strong hints.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage : First Ride

Harley-Davidson have just made their CKD line up in India even more exciting with the inclusion of the Fat Boy and the Heritage Softail Classic. We take the big boys out for a spin!

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage in action
Phat Boy!
Talk about the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and the mind immediately takes you a couple of decades back when The Terminator 2 movie came out. Schwarzenegger was either trying to destroy the future or save it as the unstoppable T-800 cyborg. His high-speed rescue of young John Connor while steering his Fat Boy with one hand and doing one-handed shotgun pumps with the other was the ultimate in movie macho. I was simply overawed by what a big Harley could do in the right hands. So when the time came, I immediately straddled the Fat Boy leaving Arun with no choice but to take the Heritage Softail Classic.

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage static shot

Back to the Fat Boy, India gets both versions, the standard and the Special with the latter sporting a new reduced reach handlebar, a lower narrower seat shape and a matte black and aluminium finish instead of chrome and boy was I glad about getting the special.  It looks simply fantastic and the absence of chrome makes it look even meaner. The bike turns heads wherever it goes with fat tires, fat bars, a fat fender and a big, powerful, black powder-coated, counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B engine.

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage in action

The nostalgic style isn't just about the confident stance, chrome and old-school detail but about how you look riding it. It’s about the feel. With its classic, relaxed riding position, you're not just cruising. You're in charge - kicked back on a throne of machined metal surveying your domain. As far as Harleys go, the Fat Boy is a living legend - and it's no wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger chose one in ''The Terminator 2.'' The big tank, 200mm rear tire, shotgun-style tailpipes, beefy front fork, and gorgeous bullet-hole wheels are just some of the styling elements that highlight this much aptly named two-wheeler. 

Powering the Fat Boy is a 1,690cc pushrod V-twin and 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission (a little ''6'' digit lights up on the instrument panel when the sixth gear is engaged). The double-lever heel and toe-style gear shifter makes shifting easy, while the massive torque shoots you forward with a bang. Devoid of heavy fairings and saddlebags, the Fat Boy proves more nimble and responsive than its siblings.

 The Fatboy Special had the optional Screamin Eagle air-filter & exhaust system

With 132 Nm at just 3,250 rpm, you can easily get away from most tough spots while enjoying a sweet exhaust note. In fact our bike equipped with the aftermarket Screamin Eagle exhaust simply thundered down the road with the traffic ahead paving the way for the bike. Performance is there for the taking and overtaking those never ending trailers on the highways becomes a passing blur. Acceleration is relentless in any of the six gears and not being careful will see the bike power-sliding its way from starts.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action
Heritage Class:

I would be lying if I said I didn’t lust for the matte black Fatboy before Abhishek swiftly clinched the keys of it and assigned the Softail Heritage to me. But I wasn’t too disappointed as the Softail too is no slouch when compared to its more famous sibling. While it might not posses the Hollywood links as the Fatboy but when one thinks of a Harley-Davidson, the first image that strikes your mind is a big motorcycle with a gleaming V-twin nestled below a huge tank and that’s what the Softail is – a pure-bred cruiser. 

White side-walled tyres on chrome finished spoke rim

When you gaze your eyes on this American muscle on two-wheels, you are swayed by its enormous size. But even with this bulk the proportion of the bike has been well captured all around and it doesn’t look overgrown or swollen from any angle. The Softail is all about details, the huge and flowing fenders, white side-walled tyres on chrome finished spoke rims with a chunky wheel hub, huge bulging tank and big handle bars. Harley has given the bike dollops of chrome which are clearly visible on the V-twin heart of the bike, the massive front forks, the commanding 7-inch triple headlights and the double barrel exhaust pipes.
Old-school studded-leather saddlebags
Adding to the bike’s charm are the old-school studded-leather saddlebags and gorgeous contoured leather seat. Also with the shiny black paint job of our test mule, the chrome bits on the bike were beautifully highlighted. All though the basic design of the bike is almost 25 years old it has stood the test of time quite valiantly and it can still hold its own among the plethora of other bikes in the market.  

Visually the heart of the Softail is a sight to behold with the black powder-coated V-twin powerplant featuring machined cooling fin tips and chrome drenched rocker covers that give the engine a quintessential Harley-Davidson appearance. Powering the Softail is an air-cooled Twin Cam 103 cubic engine which has been honed on the lines of the classic Flathead, Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead 88 and 96 engines. Talking about numbers the 1,690cc mill is capable of churning out an approximate peak power of 76PS @ 5,200 rpm and a torque rating of 130Nm @ 3,000rpm. On paper, it might seem as if the bike is underpowered owing to its double-digit power rating but it’s the torque which makes all the difference in the Softail.
V-twin powerplant featuring machined cooling fin tips and chrome drenched rocker covers

The boffins at Harley tuned the engine for maximum low-end torque so that the rider doesn’t feel wanting for power in any gear and for this purpose employed the counter-balance technology on the long stroke mill.  It was time to ride and as I rested my rear on the sofa like seat and I was impressed by the well sorted out ergonomics of the bike. The tall and wide handle bar is easy to reach out to and gives the rider a commanding view of the road whereas the full-length footboards with heel-toe shifter further enhance the comfort. Hit the start button and the Twin Cam 103 cubic comes to life with a mild rumble and even though the engine is rubber mounted, one can experience the bike shuddering and vibrating at idle. 

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action

Initially I was overwhelmed by the astounding 341kg kerb weight of the bike and was hesitant whether I would be able to negotiate this beast through the traffic-clogged streets of Mumbai. But once in motion, both my apprehension and the vibes form the V-twin smoothened out and I was enjoying piloting the Softail until I encountered the notorious Mumbai traffic. Suddenly the engine temp was rising at a speed of knots and my left leg was getting toasted and suddenly the bikes weight was making its presence felt and it was a task to manoeuvre the bike through the thick traffic. I was longing that the traffic should iron so that I could hit the highway soon and my wish was fulfilled soon.  

Once on the open highway, the character of the Softail transformed dramatically and I felt as if I am riding an all together different machine. The engine temperature dropped, my arms and feet were relaxed and I was relishing the cool breeze of air which was cooling me down as I was drenched in sweat negotiating the Softail through the traffic in the summer heat. I whipped open the throttle to let the V-twin showcase its magic and the sudden surge of torque pasted a wide grin on my face. The same can’t be said about the six-speed Cruise Drive transmission which lets out a distinct clunk sound every time you engage it, so don’t expect a butter smooth shift like those of the Japanese brigade the clutch was beautifully weighed and I didn’t end up with a sore arm after the ride.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action
The Softail is in its own element when u slot the bike in sixth gear and enjoy the soft burble of the exhaust pipe in the background while coasting at 120km/h. I was also little apprehensive about the bikes 131mm ground clearance fearing it would bottom out over speed breaker and bumps but it just glided over such hindrances with finesse. The Softail conferred the twisties of the Khopoli Ghat with ease albeit the floorboard scrapping in few corners. Harley has employed ABS on the Softail which has been quite cleverly housed in the hub of the front wheel but the single front disc prove inadequate in stopping this beast which is my biggest qualm on the bike also the optional windshield would help in plummeting the windblast at high speeds.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special static shot

Even though both the bikes are powered by the same engine that is where the similarity ends. The Fatboy is a power cruiser full of enthusiasm and wants to slide and power its way out at every possible opportunity. On the other hand, the Softail Heritage is a relaxed soul which is designed to gobble up as many miles as possible in utmost comfort. Also by making both the bikes CKD, Harley-Davidson has been successful in bringing down the prices on the machine by as much as Rs 5 lakhs, which means the Fatboy Special is now available at Rs. 15.6 lakh and the Heritage at Rs. 16.25 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) making it a very laudable move on Harley-Davidsons part. We feel that other two-wheeler manufacturer should also be inspired by Harley’s strategy and start CKD operations which would benefit both the customers and brand. So all you Harley aficionados who were craving for these mean machines but were holding yourself back owing to the bike’s pricing, well this is the right time to make your move.


Two-wheeler sales witness a slump

Economic slowdown along with spike in inflation has adversely affected consumer sentiment, which in turn has led to slower sales of two-wheelers, with volumes dropping in the past five months

100cc motorcycles in action

 Sales of motorcycles in India fell by 9.20 per cent in June 2013 - fifth consecutive month of decline -- while the total two-wheeler sales were down by 4.50 per cent last month, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Sales of passenger cars and bikes have been hit hard in the past few months, as stubbornly high inflation, rising fuel prices and a subdued economy have prompted consumers to put off discretionary spending. So much so, SIAM has called for a stimulus from the government to improve outlook for the important industry.

 Suzuki GS 150R static shot

India's two-wheeler sales have contracted in the past four months (Feb-May 2013), the longest losing streak since the 12-month period ended February 2008, as a challenging economic environment has kept the consumer demand muted. The slowdown in the growth of two-wheeler sales has occurred a couple of months after CPI for Industrial Workers (CPI-IW) hit the double-digit mark in April 2012. Since then, the CPI-IW has been hovering in the 9-12 per cent range. The new CPI (combined) has been around 10.0 per cent mark since April 2012 before softening in April-May of this year.

Honda CB Trigger in action
On the other hand, the growth rate in two-wheelers has moderated from mostly double digit levels to single digits before contracting in Aug-Sept. 2012. The steep rebound in October 2012 was more of a blip, with sales moderating yet again in the subsequent months till date. The last time two-wheeler sales in India took a big hit was between March 2007 and February 2008, as the global financial crisis had a negative impact on India's economic growth, which resulted in subdued consumption demand.

 Honda Activa static shot

Two-wheeler sales then steadied for a while before contracting for four straight months between October 2008 and January 2009. The recovery in two-wheeler sales from the 2007-08 slowdown lasted till July 2012. Sales are not a significantly big-ticket item in the overall consumption basket of an average Indian household. Also, sales of two-wheelers, especially of the commuter variety (100cc-125cc), form a major chunk (~ 78 per cent to 83 per cent) of the total automobile volumes.

TVS Phoenix 125 in action

 They are a good indicator of the rural demand, where the commuter bikes (with lower 100-125 cc motor) and scooters are the preferred mode of transport. The economic slowdown of the past 2-3 years, along with the spike in inflation, has adversely affected consumer sentiment. That in turn has led to slower sales of two-wheelers, with volumes dropping in the past five months.

However, a good start to the southwest monsoon, upcoming festival demand, government's pre-election spending and steady fall in inflation are likely to lead to better consumption demand in the coming months. Two-wheelers will be one of the natural beneficiaries of the impending recovery in the domestic consumer sentiment.

HM's BS IV-compliant diesel Ambassador launching soon

Following extensive test driving, senior functionaries of the taxi associations and the dealers found the BS IV-compliant Ambassadors distinctly superior to the current BS III model.

BS IV-compliant Ambassador  being tested at the companys track
BS IV-compliant Ambassador being tested at the companys track in Uttarpara

Kolkata subconsciously perhaps does hold a fair degree of pride knowing it is the only major metro in the entire country, where one can see an Ambassador all hale and hearty turning down its meter and offering you a comfortable taxi ride to your desired destination.

But hale and hearty doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. BS III compliance is ancient history; it’s only because of special consideration from Kolkata’s road transport authorities that Hindustan Motors has been allowed to sell its BS III Amby all these years. C K Birla Group’s flagship company is however intent on building a brighter and cleaner future for its Ambassador and the first step in that direction would be to launch a BS IV-compliant diesel-powered Ambassador.

The new 1.5-litre BS IV diesel-powered Ambassador was recently presented in different configurations for the very first time to office-bearers of Kolkata’s different taxi associations at the company’s plant located in Uttarpara.

Following extensive driving sessions on the test track located within the facility, senior functionaries of the taxi associations and the dealers got an actual feel of the forthcoming car and found the BS IV-compliant Ambassadors distinctly superior to the current BS III model. 

Bimal Kumar Guha drives new BS IV Ambassador
Bengal Taxi Association’s general secretary, Mr. Bimal Kumar Guha, all set to test drive
HM’s 1.5-litre BS IV-compliant which the company will be launching soon

Bimal Kumar Guha, general secretary of Bengal Taxi Association who got a first-hand experience driving the new BS IV-compliant Amby, said, “I myself drove the BS IV Ambassador over several laps of the test track and found that the new vehicle offers higher power and torque, better vehicle control with power steering, improved gradient negotiating capacity, better cooling and overall better driveability with no compromise on fuel consumption. Of course, it meets the emission norms. I could not detect any smoke.” 

Tarak Nath Bari, secretary of Calcutta Taxi Association, who also drove the more environment friendly BS IV version stated, “Driving the BS IV Ambassador, today, was a pleasant experience. The forthcoming vehicle is positively better than the current BS III vehicle. The drive proved that the new vehicle fully matches the technical specifications provided by HM. It is real value for money and will positively make better business sense to buyers, particularly in the taxi segment. Kolkata had been waiting for BS IV diesel Ambassador for quite some time.”

The introduction of the new BS IV-compliant Ambassador will now open for Hindustan Motors 17 metropolitan cities where sale of BS III cars had been banned from April 2010. HM will be launching the BS IV diesel Ambassador in the market very soon with a new name. 

Hindustan Motors rejuvenation strategy for its Ambassador will not end with the launch of a BS IV model. It will be followed by the debut of a sub-four metre compact version of the Ambassador. A separate hatchback version with better interiors and upgraded technology is also in the pipeline. Watch this space for model specific launch dates as and when announced by the company.

2014 Honda Brio based MPV to be fast tracked

The Brio platform hosts a hatchback and a sedan in the form of the Brio hatchback and the Amaze compact sedan. This very platform, aimed at emerging car markets will now give rise to a compact MPV. The Brio based compact MPV will debut in the Indonesian car market, a market that loves MPVs. Honda Indonesia plans to speed  up development of the Brio based compact MPV by appointing Masanori Hashimoto, the head of development of the Earth Dreams turbo diesel engine range, as the head of research and development at Honda Indonesia.

2014 Honda Brio based compact MPV render

A speculative render of the 2014 Honda Brio based compact MPV

This appointment is expected to streamline the decision making process by having a senior Japanese Honda official to oversee the project. So, each decision needn’t go back and forth between Honda Japan and Honda Indonesia for clearance. The Brio based MPV is expected to rival the Toyota Avanza and the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga in the Indonesian car market. Given that Honda has hedged is bets on the Brio platform in India, the Brio based MPV is expected to eventually arrive into India as well considering the stiff demand for compact sized MPVs in the country.
The Brio based MPV is expected to be engineered to accommodate both a petrol engine and diesel engine. The diesel engine in question will be the 1.5 Liter i-DTEC unit that has made its debut on the Brio Amaze compact sedan. This diesel engine will power a range of compact Honda cars sold in the Indian car market. The next generation versions of the Jazz hatchback and the City sedan are two such upcoming models that will be powered by the 1.5 Liter i-DTEC turbo diesel engine. The Brio based MPV and the Honda Jazz compact SUV are the two other cars that are expected to be powered by the 1.5 Liter turbo diesel motor. Also, Honda is considering a smaller 1.2 Liter-3 cylinder turbo diesel engine for its future range of small cars.

Source Otomotif.Kompas Render Courtesy TheophilusChin