Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013

Auto Show

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Expectations were never high, but reality hit home hard at the ticket counter. Year after year, we return, pay 30 bucks at the door, enter a world of disappointment for the inner petrol-head in all of us, walk around aimlessly down booths lined with cold machinery meant for trucks and busses, see a couple of cut price city cars that could only excite arthritis affected old men looking for something that’ll do enough miles till they roll into a grave. The cars, mind you, not the old men.

This year seemed to be no different, at first glance. Toyota had a single Camry, a raging, fire breathing (forgive the sarcasm) hybrid that will make you go to sleep with its looks and comfortable, plush, plastic lined interior. Makes you wonder why anyone would bother coughing up almost four times the money for a hybrid Camry when you can get a Premio and enjoy better equipment, cheaper parts, more resale value.

Moving on, Proton had an interesting offering in the updated and facelifted Gen 2, a car you might just come to love for its purportedly zippy handling and revvy, Lotus tuned CamPro engines. It looks good too, a ray of sunshine in a show filled with Indian sheet aluminum and Chinese plastic. Proton is going to be a major player in the coming years, if they can get rid of their sticky “cheap” label and improve quality even further.

Foton, apparently, exists. A Chinese brand that will surely be ridiculed for its terrible name and cheaper- than-eating-dirt SUVs, their offerings to this farce of an auto show included a pickup truck which looked surprisingly capable of handling rough terrain, before I looked at what adorned its rear three quarters: a massive sticker with a Transformer, fist raised, the words “Conqueror” emblazoned above it. Heads were shaken. Feet shuffled towards the Suzuki stand.

Page_202The Alto now comes with a frog face and hilarious rickshaw guards that looked like they could have been pried off with baby teeth. The new Swift was quite good looking in the metal, inside and out, but the shocking price outweighed all of that: 16 lacs for the best Suzuki has to offer. The price tag was nothing next to the Grand Vitara’s: 60 lacs for an SUV that used to cost around half of that, not more than 4 or 5 years ago. It’s hard to comprehend, let alone justify.

The rest of the makeshift pavilion resembled a truck-stop with an overabundance of pistons, clutch plates, oil filters, and other parts aimed at heavy duty trucks and buses, not to mention air fresheners and hand sanitizers (!). Which begs the question: why in the world are regular people expected to show up at all at this “Auto Show”? If I wanted to buy a piston the size of a gorilla’s arm for my imaginary Hino truck, I’d do it online, not waste time and money to visit an auto show where the car park is more interesting than what’s on display inside.

You can’t blame the organizers or the participants. It’s a country where the government is foolish enough to think that exponential increases in car tax every year is going to solve the country’s traffic problem. It’s a mad world where the fast growing middle class is forced into buying re-used, recycled, abused and tampered second hand and reconditioned cars because buying an entry level luxury car like the Camry requires them to be immensely rich. The dealers know that, the organizers know that. Benz, BMW and Audi wouldn’t be able to compete, so they just don’t bother showing up. Or so we assume.

It’s not all bad though, because petrol-heads, much like the petrol part of their moniker, rise to the top every time. The BDRC stand at the show was proof of that. Not content with the state of the market for new cars, younger people are now turning to customizing early and mid-90′s cars they can sort of enjoy on these potholed streets of ours. Toyota Celica, Mazda MX5, Toyota MR2 (the beautiful SW20), Toyota MR-S (the fat, convertible successor to the MR2), Toyota Altezza, and a glorious Mitsubishi Evolution VI were the highlight of the show, with crowds of people milling about to gawp at some examples of the ever growing niche of tuned Japanese cars. A rare, V8 powered Toyota Soarer personally imported by a young entrepreneur had its own display, a praiseworthy move by the organizers at letting the regular Joe display his pride and joy. More of these might convince me to return next year.

The 12,000 cc six cylinder turbo-diesel truck engine wasn’t half bad either.