Tuesday, 28 February 2012

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good summary

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