Companies & Sectors
The Year That Was: What went around in the car show

Everybody and their aunties from public relations companies have jumped onto the bandwagon of loud songs and dances by famous and not-so-famous singers, cricketers and actors, extolling the virtues of cars they actually do not drive

Everybody already knows that all new and not-so-new cars and bikes and trucks and and of course, buses, and leather seat covers, launched this year have all been awarded a slew of prizes and awards. Amid this, Toyota Etios may well have been awarded the top prize for maximum money spent on squiring the motoring media around on jaunts to check out anything related to Nagoya. (I had visited the lovely Japanese port as a seafarer in 1975 and won a lot in a casino there.)

Everybody also knows that the Tata Nano is bombing. That is a pity. Tata Motors could try to rebuild it, with a removable front like in the BMW Isseta, so that potential buyers could get some more cargo space. As of now, one of the biggest reasons for its misfortunes is the rather small cargo space. The fact remains that if the Nano was supposed to give two-wheeler users an option, it should have been capable of carrying an LPG cylinder. Or running on one maybe - though that's illegal.

In addition, everybody and their aunties from public relations companies have jumped onto the bandwagon of loud songs and dances by famous and not-so-famous singers, cricketers and actors, extolling the virtues of cars they actually do not drive. Suniel Shetty's declamation on his Hummer, at the re-launch of the new improved Ford Endeavour in the summer, was the high point of the year as far as I am concerned. It was even funnier than the one where the lady from the PR agency for one automobile company started asking many of the motoring media present some questions about the other automobile company account they also held.

So when the editors at Moneylife - who are very strict but nice people and let me write what I want to and also have a wonderful sense of humour all the same-asked me to run a '2010 in Indian motoring' kind of article, I said to myself, 'This is your chance!' No word limit either. So here's my 2010, from the word go...and predictions for 2011 too!

# The pricing of fuel has reached a point where nobody knows what it really is anymore. Least of all the people who are paying. It is all about "check the zero" please, and after that never mind, they can charge us whatever they want per litre. The year 2010, as far as fuel prices are concerned, was when some more de-regulation was brought into an already badly-run oil retailing sector. Badly-run because there is still no control on quality, and no proper explanation on what these "branded" premium fuels are all about actually.

Prediction: In 2011, we may reach a point where fuel prices are provided to us in rupees per millilitres, and the sellers won't know the price, either.

# At least a dozen "costliest cars in the world" were released in India in 2010. The reality is that there is still no clear winner on which is the costliest car in the world. But it doesn't matter to the buying plebeians. They have to buy the costliest car in the world, every two months, even if all they use it is for their drivers to cruise for street-side ladies of easy repute late at night. In addition, nobody is really sure if the cars are actually new or not-as was discovered in one case by a person who bought an expensive new toy. Though that was, in all fairness, one of those "costliest motorcycles in the world". Names have been withheld in the national interest and it may impact the mango trade to the US.

Prediction: In 2011, special bank vaults may yet be built for costliest cars, and used as F1 tracks.

# The Formula One circus is coming to India. After all, it's not every day that we can see cars doing the rounds on our roads, going round and round, like what goes round and round and vanishes with a woosh every morning. One Commonwealth Games scam was not bad enough, now we will end up paying for another circus, and see the roads barricaded for days. In addition, is it not true that much of the costs will be defrayed by simply making the "volunteer" officials pay for the privilege? And remember, you heard that here first.

Prediction: In 2011, Formula One will slowly be withdrawn from some other countries, that's why they are called "developed".

# The big thing for 2010 was the soft launch of a six-year warranty for select customers of a certain brand of car, at select locations. In any case, four- and five-year warranties are almost becoming the norm, even the Tata Nano made it to the cut-off here. However, copywriters figured out new ways to add even finer print to the terms and conditions of these warranties-so like menus in Chinese restaurants with red lanterns, we may now need special glasses to figure out what to do if, for example, the engine falls out of the car and we discover that this is not covered.

Prediction: In 2011, automobile manufacturers will still not be able to agree on and provide us with one standard on warranties, as well as indicator and wiper stalks-some will be right-hand drive and others will be left-hand drive.

# Early in 2010, slightly earlier actually, the big thing was LED running lights, fore and aft. People were willing to pay mega bucks to buy cars which had them (read Audi). As the year wore on, like a tired lady of the night flashing a Gucci bag in Paris, LED running lights started making an appearance as after-market fitments on all sorts of cars. Now you can see them on cycle-rickshaws too, the LED lights, that is.
Prediction: In 2011, owners of expensive luxury cars will need some more bling, and they may achieve this by ensuring that their cars have NRI or American drivers, thanks to the recession there.

# Automobile moment of 2010 (international) had to be the display of enthusiasm and reverence for the monarchy by certain segments of the British population, obstructing the progress of the long-standing Crown Prince (of whatever is left of the British Empire), in a Rolls Royce on a street that is otherwise packed with visiting tourists from India. Their security escorts were driving, what else, Jaguar cars made by Tata Motors. And riding Japanese motorcycles.

Prediction: In 2011, the Britishers will probably not be averse to the idea of picking up a few bullet-proof Hindustan Motors Ambassadors from India, even the initials fit. And ride Bullets, too.

# Automobile moment of 2010 (domestic) was likely the sight of thousands of cars from India being exported on pure car carriers headed for all parts of the world. Unfortunately, this does not get much media publicity. The reason for this is that most of the manufacturers still shy away from letting customers abroad know that their car was made in India. Like with India and infotech in the early years.

Prediction: In 2011 this will be reversed, and the badge of honour as far as car manufacturing is concerned will shift towards India, just as it did in the case of infotech.

Other than a whole lot of old technology, internal combustion engine-powered machines, nothing of much new importance actually happened in the motoring world in India. But then, as always, I guess we in India are waiting for the early costs to come down, and once they do, we shall make non-conventional cars better and cheaper than the rest of the world.

Reva NxT, here we come.

As far as the worst of motoring in 2010 is concerned, it had to be about the trend to place instrument clusters in the middle of the dashboard. Not only does it look odd, but it was and is positively unsafe, especially in typical Indian driving conditions
where the centre of the dashboard is used more as a location to place a religious symbol designed to bring good luck and not tell us about engine temperature and speed.

So, the final prediction for 2011, we may just see a "head up" display of the instrument cluster on the front windscreen itself, as is now not uncommon on aircraft. After that, we could really fly on our crowded roads, at low speeds. Because the way things are going, opulence and gadgets will be more important on Indian roads, and not speed and power.


ONGC signs framework agreement with Sistema

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd’s subsidiary, ONGC Videsh Ltd (ONGC) has signed a “Framework Agreement on Cooperation in Hydrocarbon Sector” in Delhi with Sistema, a public financial corporation in Russia and CIS.

According to the agreement, the two companies will consider opportunities for a potential transaction involving (i) Sistema’s majority stake in JSC Bashneft and 49% stake in RussNeft, each of which owns and operates numerous fields and refining assets in Russia, (ii) ONGC Videsh’s 100% stake in Imperial Energy Corp, which owns and operates fields in Russia, and (iii) Any other oil and gas assets which the aforesaid companies may acquire before definitive agreements are signed. The parties further agreed to consider joint investments in each other’s existing and future exploratory assets in certain third countries. ONGC proposes to lead a consortium of Indian oil sector PSUs to consider acquiring the stake offered by Sistema under the agreement.

The provisions of this agreement are intended solely as the basis for further discussions between the parties on the scope, timeline and valuation parameters of a potential transaction. The parties will formulate the terms for potential transaction on 30 June 2011.

On Tuesday, ONGC declined 0.26% to Rs1,301.60 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, while the benchmark Sensex closed 0.86% up at 20,060.32 points.


Moser Baer India subsidiary commissions India’s largest grid-connected solar farm in Tamil Nadu

Moser Baer India Ltd’s subsidiary Moser Baer Clean Energy Ltd said that it has commissioned the country’s largest and the first 5MW solar farm at Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu.

The technical expertise for commissioning was provided by the engineering, procurement & commissioning (EPC) arm of Moser Baer Solar Ltd.

The International Finance Corporation and the IDBI bank has provided debt for the project.

The solar farm has been commissioned using amorphous silicon thin film technology which is best suited for the Indian climatic conditions and is connected to the 110KVA local grid. The project had been awarded by the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency and is being implemented under the generation based incentive scheme of the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, Government of India.

On Tuesday, Moser Baer India gained 0.98% to Rs56.80 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, while the benchmark Sensex closed 0.86% up at 20,060.32 points


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