Man and machine Motoring

The timing wasn’t right?

“It’s all my time.”

With correction, one can hope to rid the English language of certain Indianisms. But not this one. No amount of grammar education can obliterate this Indianism. For, it is based on an idea that finds expression in almost all of our vernacular languages. Moreover, it’s an idea that is at home with almost all worldviews. Across nations, in varying ways, people acknowledge the link between time and success.

Fancying that vehicles spoke our language, I could hear the Sipani Dolphin and Premier 118NE uttering this Indianism. In my opinion, these two cars arrived at the most inopportune time. They arrived when Maruti was redrawing the landscape of the Indian car industry.

The Sipani Dolphin from Sipani Automobiles Limited actually arrived in 1982, a year before Maruti 800 did. It offered novel features and not all of them worked in its favour.

Those who bought this car, which was based on the Reliant Kitten, loved its fibreglass body, which gave it an attractive power-to-weight ratio. Many years ago, for this Man and Machine column, I met Dr. Suresh Rau, a friendly dentist with a great sense of humour, who drove a Dolphin. He loved the car. He loved to talk about it, never missing an opportunity to discuss its uniqueness. Whenever he fixed an artificial tooth for someone, he would assure him that it would be “as impact-resistant as fibreglass” and take the topic further, to his Dolphin.

However, for the majority of the Indian middle class seeking to graduate from a motorcycle to a car, the Dolphin did not fit the bill. In their eyes, a two-door car was less of a car.

Devaraj Lionel was also a proud owner of a Dolphin, which he bought in the second-hand market. However, his first choice was the Sipani Montana, which came with four doors just to draw potential buyers who had been put off by the two-door feature of the Dolphin.

“If I had found a used four-door Montana, I would have bought it. I didn’t and I settled for the Dolphin that came my way,” says Devaraj.

Features were not the major contributory factor. Two other factors are said to have had a big hand in the debacle.

Industry watchers and automobile enthusiasts who have first-hand knowledge of the Dolphin days attribute the car’s failure to a lack of smart marketing. And Dolphin buyers were reportedly disappointed with the after-sales service. These were costly mistakes to commit at a time when the Maruti 800 had given new wings to the aspirations of the Indian middle class.

With the Maruti 800 around, the Dolphin was doomed to failure. When it arrived, the Maruti 800 was the giant killer and almost instantly put the established Amby and Premier Padmini in the shade. The Sipani Dolphin was clearly no match for it. However, in my opinion, the Dolphin would probably have had a better run if it had arrived in the early 1970s.

The Premier NE118, which came from the stables of Premier Automobiles Limited and was based on the Fiat 124, missed its time too. An earlier arrival could probably have led to a better reception. It was launched in 1985, and in another five years, it would find itself pitted against the Maruti 1000.

R. Gunasekar, who has owned a Premier 118NE and is an automobile marketing professional, believes the 118NE lost out to the Maruti 1000.

He explains, “Against the backdrop of the Maruti 1000, the 118NE looked less cool and high-maintenance.”


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Printable version | Jul 6, 2022 4:39:06 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Motoring/man-and-machine-the-timing-wasnt-right/article7278924.ece