Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Journey from Jeep to SUV in Business Bhaskar

India’s Freedom Icon: WW2 Jeep’s SUV Evolution

The beginnings of the Jeep were laid by the Willys Overlander Corporation’s during the Second World War. Characterized by its lightweight and high ground clearance, the Jeep could go anywhere, even mounted on train tracks as a makeshift locomotive. The origin of the word Jeep is in the abbreviation G.P. or General Purpose given to it by the US Army.
The status of the Jeep as an icon found it being used by leaders, statesmen, and even the Pope. In India, Indira Gandhi’s images on a Jeep are an enduring memory. The post independence Indian Cinema is also replete with the iconic status of the Jeep as a symbol of freedom.
After the War, the first variant of the Jeep to be sold as a civilian vehicle was the CJ 2A. In India, Mahindra was the first to import first assembled versions and then manufacture the Jeep, under license from Willys Overland.
Somewhere over the years Mahindra became complacent and there stopped the evolution of Jeep in India as compared to its global evolution. 
The years of socialism were years of market denial to international competition, and a lack of interest in innovation, in a more or less under supplied market.
In 1960 Nissan introduced a new 4x4 called Patrol 60 (P60). The vehicle was available in two wheelbases with three body types. The P60 entered service with the Indian Army in 1963-64, along with the Nissan Carrier, D4W73 1 Ton. Both vehicles were fitted with the same powered by a six-cylinder 3956cc in-line petrol engine developing 110bhp at 3200rpm. Maximum torque was 26.9kgm at 1200rpm. It had a three-speed gearbox with two-speed shift-on-the-fly 4wd transfer case and a power take-off. Some reconnaissance Jongas were equipped with PTO Winches.
The 1980s saw some competition to Mahindra in the form of the military condemned Jeeps, which were refurbished; with after market direct injection Japanese oil burners and some petrol motors.
In, 1985, Maruti Suzuki Gypsy launched a 970 cc 4WD off roader codenamed MG410, with a carburetted F10A engine that made 45 bhp  mated to a 4-speed gearbox. The 4WD transfer case had 2 speeds. It had a freewheeling mechanism on the front axles made by Aisin to unlock the front axles from the hub when 4WD is not used, later discontinued. 
In June 1996, Maruti added a new all aluminium 8-valve G13BA engine displacing 1.3L and made 65 bhp and was mated to a new 5-speed gearbox. It was codenamed MG413W and called the Gypsy King.. In March 2000, Maruti introduced the 16-Valve MPFI G13BB engine and power was increased to 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS). The MPFI Gypsy King received a brake booster as well. In January 2012, due to institutional sales to Police and Armed Forces, it remains the mainstay on 4WD in India.
Another manufacturer in the fray that gave some competition to Mahindra was the Trax and notably its very capable short wheelbase 4WD in the Judo, from Force Motors. 
Tata entered the fray with the Safari in the end 1990s, but despite the truck biased heavy utility vehicle it was, the Safari was received poorly. The Tata UVs in the 407, Sumo, and Safari did not make an entry till the mid-late 1990s. They had the same time honoured problems of poor engineering, rattle and hum.
The onset of the new emission norms in 2005, the price of fuel and the lack of comfort and safety features saw a grim time, when the cheap, go anywhere utility vehicle or sport utility vehicle (SUV) underwent a big change and nearly became extinct.  
While the Jeep Wrangler in America offered Anti Lock Brakes (ABS) as far back as 1993-4, the India market even in 2012 remains steeped in the socialist inertia, that means gaping panels and poor engineering, and a scandalous lack of safety norms like disc brakes front and rear, side door guard beams, air bags and tail gate, center stop light considered standard world over.
Cut to present day, such basics as the ones described above, have still not crossed the fabled Rubicon trail in the India of 2012. SUVs in India remain Spartan and as is won’t tend to sacrifice functionality for form. From underpinnings, suspension, inner ergonomics and interiors, all remain unloved. Far from heated seats and air conditioning, most UVs and SUVs remain cannibalized and not work of pride.
To be fair, the news isn’t all bad despite the crisis in Europe and the slowdown of growth linked to inflation. On offer today are SUVs that straddle a large range. For the purpose of keeping the comparison grounded and functional the list of possible desirables, depending on your need to go off road and actually use such things as differential locks, hill ascent and descent, and automatic gearbox.
On offer are a variety of SUVs some more capable, others more in the region of tarmac only city slickers.  The launch of the Mahindra Thar was once such event that brought offroading back to the Indian value buyer,
As the fuel prices goes through the roof, the new trend in India is that of the mini SUV. From the Premier Rio, to the Ford Ecosport, to the Renault Duster, to a new Maruti SUV, this market is on the cusp of a revolution. The latest SIAM numbers show the SUV sales grew at 32%.
From the archaic leaf springs, the time of multi-link suspensions, disc brakes at least on the front wheels, if not all 4 wheels are also here. ABS, ESP, air bags are no longer alien to our roads. Pre-tensioned seat belts, on the fly 4WD and even automatic gearboxes are not an unreasonable demand.
In the fray are the Mahindra XUV500, the cash cow Bolero and the mudplugger 4WD Mahindra Thar with Jeep genes of the CJ5, an equally accomplished mountain goat and desert fox. The Mahindra Scorpio remains a hypbrid between the Jeep and a car, a soft roader that again changed many paradigms in indigenous design and broke barrier in comfort and fuel economy. 
Tata has its Aria UV, and a set of new underpinnings and interiors for the aging but refurbished Safari Storme. Paint jobs, lighted and stiffer bodies, the move from tradional ladder on frame to monocoque suspension as seen lately in the Mahindra XUV500 are again the fruit of competition that the consumer will benefit from increasingly going forward.
Given the condition of the Indian roads and poor road safety, the SUV remains a viable choice, not just for saving your body but its also represents a freedom for the soul.
For that wind in the hair elation or for that comfort of heated seats in winter, from the lunar landscape of Ladakh to the mystery of the moonless Rajasthan desert night, India needs its rugged yet capable off roader. 
Jeep and SUV manufacturers though need to make the leap of faith that will bring contemporary technology and comfort to the Jeep in India.

This Article Originally Appeared in the Zindagi Ki Raftaar supplement, in Business Bhaskar, as a Hindi Translation.

Monday, 27 February 2012

When It Gets Crowded Up There

Sway in gentle streams when it gets crowded up there
move gently in the darkness
slower than you'd move a baby
slower than the sun moves

when twilight enters the chaos realm
and ghosts dance across walls
when noise becomes a din and wails sing out
cover your eyes and hide

It moves up and down
the yin will have a yang
as sure as misery
joy and light will come

Look carefully in the shadows
for cues will come now or later
the fatigue of the climber
will change to exhilaration in the cold sun

The Idiot Orangutan

There you are again
a constant pain in the arse
gone for a while
and then back in full effect

As I reel from these mealy-mouthed platitudes
and these inane questions to nobody
the fruit of so many wrong years
and of decades gone wrong

The vigilante in us
that idiot orangutan
is it a smile of knowledge or the grimace of hate
everyone decide for themselves

This litany of half truths and lies
illusions of glory
and yet we let our brothers and sisters
be slayed in infamy

As your brains fall out of your mouth
and I cringe in repulsion
yet somehow still suffer you
oh! democracy indeed

You are lost without a cause
the need for anger another opiate
as then all is justified
but you will burn too

Thursday, 9 February 2012

How the Fear of Trolls, Hecklers & Satirists in Social Media in India, Keeps Traditional Media Honest

Social Media in India has an Astonishing Quality of Analysis; a Lightning Speed of Feedback, and a Seamless Reach Across Borders and Socioeconomic Strata.
The first signs of the recognition of Social Media emerging as an alternative source to traditional news media came during the Bombay Terror Attacks starting 26 November of 2008. 

Wikileaks and the Internet fuelled unrest in the Middle East later, the world of news, and messages had changed forever. Even the Chinese, could not escape its human wrath.
Largely fed from online networks and communities that uploaded, discussed the attack live across its duration with pictures, Tweets, text messages, Facebook status updates, and anguished Blogs. Some exaggerated, some spread rumour and speculation but largely remained credible, germaine and astonishingly lucid.
The News timeline has gone on largely as it had before, as India moved through, victories and defeats, terror attacks and joy, its scams, scandals, smear campaigns, the chest beating, the legislation, the Baba Ramdev’s and the Anna Hazare’s. Social Media in India has been first of the ground on train tragedies, bombings, natural disasters, controversial books, writers, dissidents, separatists, the right, the left and its centrist.
As traditional media ownership, gets increasingly polymerized, and management control overtakes editorial mores; the transformation of the news business to product has gained currency. The line between editorial, advertorial and advertising has become increasingly blurred. 

There are beacons of truth, now and again; those who tried to stay true to the original journalistic ethos, but most succumbed to vagaries of economic strife and advertising revenue. Somewhere along the way Indian journalism increasingly forgot the principles of transparency, of public morality, of being the voice of those who did not have one.
The mainline or traditional media, print, broadcast and radio, are today easily controllable sources of the news business, of truth and propaganda, often toeing the company line as organs of the state’s direction setting and its thrust, as they faithfully did during a command and control, Nehruvian socialism. 

The liberalisation and the heady days of the 1990s made no change to this herd proclivity. As India moved to a liberalized rhythm, and successive governments underwent transition, no one saw this inflection point coming. The explosion of technology led content generation as the harbinger of change was never expected or planned for by the thinkers and communicators of the state.
Most today are still remain in active denial of facts such as, “Almost half of all ‘home based’ Internet users are ‘heavy users’ of Internet, spending more than 2 hours a day on weekdays. Less than 1 in 3 of them spend that kind time on other media.” Or that, “Net surfing is among top 3 favorite ‘indoor entertainment’ for 3 out of 4 of them. 9 out of 10 of them (86%) use some ‘social media’ (Networking, Communities, Blogs, Tweets, and Reviews).”
Let us examine traditional journalism and its practitioners, long broken into a system of boundaries and delineation suddenly they were set upon by a world of known’ unknowns. Public trust in government, traditional media has plumbed newer lows as a multitude of scams has hit recent India again and again. 

In the turbulent environment of popular public discourse, as intelligence agency recorded private conversations are leaked, doctored, stings are used in smear campaigns; misinformation and feints have started to define traditional media management, as its dark but acceptable arts. As multiple outrages later, terror is politicized, and double standard of abdicated law and public order is practiced to a politically sectarian end, by vote bank necessitated malcontents, it further play havoc with this trust. 

The suspicion of the common man and the flicker of his moral compass have all become pronounced, these have found outlet in user generated content of social media, the slickest of the players have being found out, shamed and outed by Social Media. It is a medium that has remained largely self-balancing, such is the medium that loose tweets cannot be denied or defended. Sophistry has ended political careers or at least resulted in the political doghouse.
As the heckling and the satire hit vanities of media barons and media divas close to their personal eco-systems, as media changed to two-way conversation from the earlier one way, fire and forget missive. Suddenly, the chance of the shameless plug being found out were real, paid news was being exposed, equity for news coverage, all were fair targets by the confounding Facebookers and the infuriating Twitterati.
The praise and the brickbats are instantaneous, as are the recrimination, the analysis, its quality and veracity are way above average. Professionals, doctors, spooks, soldiers, bankers, policemen, everyone is out there. These are people with jobs: “Almost 2/3rd of all Internet users are ‘employed’, and 71% of the employed ones ‘head’ of their households.” They have money: “2/3rd of online Indians belong to SEC A, B and C, with claimed ‘average’ monthly family income of `18,720; 1 in 4 have a credit card.” And they have an opinion, on everything!
Some screamed ‘troll’, others wished it away as a fad, and while no one in traditional media wanted to acknowledge this as a delightful source of information, an early warning system. Social Media was the open secret of crowd sourcing, this harvesting of a terrible knowledge, from user generated content, across social networking platforms, to find inspiration, search for ideas or to just renew a jaded, habit struck intellect.
As Social Media aided by Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube broke cover, they increasngly started to threaten both traditional print and broadcast media’s grip on breaking news. Online news and streaming media turned rivals to traditional media used to a comfortable monopoly thus far; all this became a frightening reality.
As losses to online advertising revenues start becoming sizeable and started cutting the lunch of conventional media spends, the suits and the editors, realized that the Internet and Social Media phenomena are here to stay. The active Internet base in India as per findings from the India Online 2011 Report from JuxtConsult stands in excess of 65 Million users, up 28 per cent since last year. Mobile users surfing Internet on their mobile phones grew slowly (25%) to reach only 14.4 million (3.5% of all Indian mobile users). However, 86 million mobile users (21%) use some kind of ‘data’ service. That is a target audience that cannot be wished away, certainly not by advertisers, and they pay the bills at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Twitter feeds are already being faked; proxies for political parties who tried to turn the same tricks as they did on conventional media, on the Internet were quickly exposed, identifiable by their ubiquitous IP Address, anonymity no guarantee for misbehaviour or slander. Yes, there are the abusive and the prurient, the vain and the profane, religious nuts and communist retrogrades. It is open house for Internet is a mirror to society and one can argue on why Indian society should be allowed the comfort of selective showcase viewing, now that the socialist façade is crumbling into a modern India that can laugh at its blemishes, for there is a lot to admire too.
The days of the Siberian gulag sounding PIB (Press Information Bureau) that produces press releases that are largely ignored by most media for they are crusty, staid, badly written, poorly researched and tardily disseminated are not over by far but their irrelevance is increasing by the day. These text only monoliths find no favour with the media rich, pictorial, video or an infographic competitive social media, that can be shared seamlessly across caste, creed and socio economic strata.
Today as the PMO and the MHA start Twitter handles, the secrecy paranoid official India is being dragged kicking and screaming into Social Media. The Armed Forces need a social media policy, as does the Police and all government offices, NGOs, Banks, Utilities, Ports, everybody who deals with the public, if they are going to have a chance of having any say at all.
The future of journalism has changed. The forced exodus to hybrid media has already begun, based on technology but still relying on the robustness of authenticated, feet of the street, news. Content was and still remains king, storytelling still the spine of the new business. Journalist, communicator alike, government or enterprise or non-profit, all realize the lay of the land.
Many old journalists used to a primal rhythm don’t like it. They moan about the lack of analysis, and it’s a longer but factual periodicity as divergent to breaking news and topical news. The argument is exaggerated and has more in the nature of inertia than fact. Looking back at cackle of typewriters and teleprinters, who could’ve said, what the world would become.
The standards of probity, of integrity and transparency of an independent media have not changed but translated across an interactive two way medium that listens and talks back. Social Media has kept conventional media honest and if anything returned the emphasis to these values. It marks the return of true investigative journalism, one that keeps governments honest. 

It is nobody's case that print will die or TV will become extinct or radio for that matter, those in tradional media will all have to adapt to the digital medium, some sooner, others, losses later or an extinct never.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The KTM Duke 200 and What it Means For Motorcycling in the India of 2012.

A Motorcycle can mean different things to different people: From thrill seeking, to commuting, from utility to touring, from freedom to drag racing nuisance. In the India of 2012, motorcycling, despite many obstacles, of notion, of bravado, and of efficiency, promises to come into its own finally.
In the best of years, India has been a price sensitive market, where the upwardly mobile, would in the normal logical course choose a small car, rather than spend the same few Lakhs of Rupees on a higher displacement motorcycle. A market where the motorcycle buyer would in the normal course chose a lower pricing over added functionality. These are typical responses fashioned by India’s socialist years, tough years of limited choice and obsolete technology. Somewhere in these instincts, of brevity, of thrift, the emotion, desire and style associated with Motorcycling globally had become rare sights.
From the days of the iconic Royal Enfield Bullet, the flash in the pan Yamaha RD 350, the now vestigial Jawa, the Yezdi, somewhere along the 1980s and 1990s India had changed to a through and through 100cc displacement game of commoditized mobility, devoid of any real character or distinctive style. Then came the years of joint venture motorcycling through license raj and red tape, like metal horses straining to break free.  The fight between bean counters, economic efficiency versus good design and emotion seemed to go on and on, to a jaded end.
So why do I say this now? What is so different? And what has changed? The demand never waned, what has changed today is the pricing, the functionality and the range of displacement of motorcycles, available, from sub 100cc to Litre and Litre plus displacement, from less than Rs. 50,000 to 20 Lakhs plus. What has changed is the durability, comfort and safety on offer as standard. Indian motorcycling has changed in its demand for better quality and it has a pocket to match.
The launch of the Yamaha R15 with a no-compromise posture on bells and whistles and contemporary looks changed and all that but not really as it was still underpowered, tuned to the boy racer, and its price was still a sticking point. The naked 150 cc variants in the FZ and faux tourer in the Fazer, again came close, but somehow the price and functionality equilibrium, just wasn’t right.
Another motorcycle that was eagerly expected and did not make for a happy ending was the Honda CBR 250 plagued with quality issues, rusting and high pricing. While the folks at Honda seek to mitigate these niggles made worse by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It is this magic sweet spot of price and functionality, looks and power, handling and ride, modern design and safety that the KTM Duke 200 seeks to finally fulfill.
Getting down to details. With a torque rating of 184ps per tonne that comes from a 25PS of very linear power delivery and a 19NM of torque, with a weight of 125Kgs without fuel, with its high strength, and low weight components of the highest quality, the Duke 200 comes close.
Powered by a single cylinder, 200cc, liquid cooled, DOHC, four valve engine, the Duke 200, features first in class features such as a Trellis Frame, Upside Down forks by European specialists WP, an aluminium swing arm, and a multifunction cockpit display. The Duke 200 also comes with a six-speed gearshift, top class road feedback, progressive braking, and fat sticky tyres just like a modern naked motorcycle in 2012 should do.
Launched at an attractive introductory price of Rs. 1,17,500 (ex-showroom, Delhi), aided by the value engineering of Bajaj Auto Limited and the global motorcycling prowess of KTM Sportmotorcycle AG, the KTM 200 Duke seems to have hit an inflection point in the journey of the Indian motorcycle.
As always, a lot will be determined by strengths in distribution and many a happy marriages have been ruined by after sales service, and the pricing of OEM parts. I am sure Stefan Pierer and Rajiv Bajaj know the cautionary tales, sense this opportunity and the risks, for them, their companies and the desperate Indian motorcyclist.
Let’s hope everyone has a happy journey as the wheels of the Duke 200 turn on Indian roads.

An edited translation of this story appeared in Hindi in the Business Bhaskar.

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