Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Skoda Laura – A Great Driving Experience

Posted in Cars by Amit Paranjape on June 4, 2010

  

Skoda Laura (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Having owned a car from the Volkswagen Group for over 10 years now, I must admit that I am a big fan of their vehicles. They are fun to drive!  

 

In this brief post, I will share my experiences with the Skoda Laura. Will add more experiences in future posts. (Note – The current 2nd generation Skoda Octavia in Europe, is marketed as the Skoda Laura in India. The Skoda Octavia that is sold in India is the first generation Octavia…Branding consistency/simplicity is not VW’s strong point, I guess!)  

 
 

The Skoda Laura got new upgraded engines in 2009 – 1.8 TSI Petrol and the 2.0 Diesel. My experience primarily deals with the Petrol Variant.  Over the past year, I have driven this car on many long highway trips, as well as on the crowded Pune roads.  

 

The Laura 1.8 TSI is a terrific vehicle. It is a driver’s car that provides great comfort for the passengers as well. The Turbo-Charged engine provides amazing power and torque. It generates 160 HP and can do 0 – 100 kmph in under 8 seconds. (The same engine is also available in the heavier Passat, Superb and A4 models, and delivers marginally lower acceleration for them, given their increased weight.) The 6 speed manual gearbox  helps in smoother rides at high speeds. Overall the road handling, braking performance of this car are excellent.  

 

 The 1.8 TSI (Turbo Stratified Injection) engine contains some interesting technology. In simple terms, this engine uses a combination of turbocharging and supercharging. (For more details, click here:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbocharger http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercharger  ) This technology reduces the traditional ‘turbo lag’. You can notice the pick up in acceleration at fairly low RPMs (under 1500 RPM), compared to conventional turbo-engines. And the fuel economy remains very good. I won’t bore you with more technical details, but if interested do watch this great video that explains the working of ‘TSI’  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvysuD5MFow and this link.  

 
 

I think it is safe to say that the Skoda Laura 1.8 TSI is the fastest car (best acceleration) available in the Indian market today, in the under 25 Lakhs category (or even under 30 Lakh category). In my view it is the best car in India in the 15 Lakh Sedan Range.  

 Its way ahead of its peers like the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic – especially when it comes to sheer driving pleasure. From a passenger perspective, the ride is very comfortable and quiet, and the rear AC air-vents are a nice feature – not normally seen in this category.  

 My only issue with this model is that it doesn’t sport some of the add-on features, available in its 2.0 Diesel sibling — features like Auto Transmission, 16 inch wheels (the Petrol Variant has 15 inch wheels), and 6 airbags (the Petrol Variant has 2). Though with the addition of these features, the Diesel variant’s pricing is significantly higher (in the 18 Lakh range).   

 [Hope to write my reviews about the new Volkswagen Polo and the recently announced small sedan – Volkswagen Vento in the coming weeks..stay tuned.]   

   

Pune, a global automotive leader – List of major players

Posted in Cars, Pune, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 14, 2010

Pune is the leading center for the automotive sector in India; as well as one of the top automotive centers globally. In the past year alone, 3 massive new plants from General Motors, Volkswagen and Mahindra & Mahindra were inagurated here. The Chakan-Talegaon Belt is becoming one of the most dense automotive clusters in the world. In this brief blog, I am compiling a list of major automotive companies in Pune and some brief information about them. Please add your feedback (additions/details, etc.) and I will update the blog post.                 

            

Tata Nano (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Tata Motors                  

Tata Motors www.tatamotors.com  is the biggest automotive manufacturer in Pune, and the biggest one in India. The huge Pune campus consists of their corporate HQ, R&D Center and Manufacturing facility for their cars and trucks. 

Land-Rover

Land-Rover has recently started assembling some models near the Tata Motors Pimpri-Chinchwad facility.                 

Bajaj Auto                  

Bajaj Auto was one of the early automotive players in Pune. They have big base in Akurdi, Pune (R&D, Corporate and Manufacturing). A large new plant has been recently opened at Chakan.    www.bajajauto.com              

Force Motors (Formerly Bajaj Tempo)                  

Manufacturers of 3 Wheelers, Tractors, LCVs and Large Trucks. www.forcemotors.com                  

Mahindra Two-Wheelers (Formerly Kinectic Motors)                  

Manufacturers of Scooters, Mopeds and Bikes. www.mahindra2wheelers.com  Kinetic Motors has been an important player in the Mopeds and Gearless 2 Wheeler space in India. Their famous models include the ‘Luna’ and ‘Kinetic Honda’.                  

Mercedes-Benz                   

Mercedez-Benz entered the Indian Market in the 1990s, initially with a partnership with the Tatas. Later on, they setup an independent venture, Mercedez-Benz India. The Pune facility manufacturers and assembles a range of their well known luxury cars. www.mercedes-benz.co.in                  

General Motors                   

General Motors entered the Indian market in the past decade. The Talegaon Plant is a massive facility that recently started production. Cars manufactured here include the new Chevy Beat. www.gm.co.in                  

JCB                  

JCB manufacturers construction, earth moving and other industrial equipment. Their Talegaon plant and design center opened in 2006. http://www.jcb.com/india/homepage.aspx                  

Volkswagen                  

Volkswagen opened a massive new plant in Chakan Pune a few months back. Read more about this plant here:     This facility is presently geared towards manufacturing high-volume cars like the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia.   www.volkswagen.co.in                

Mahindra & Mahindra                  

M&M inaguarated a huge plant this past week at Chakan. Spread over 700 acres and built with an investment of nearly Rs 5,000 Crores (1 Billion Dollars), this plant will manufacture various models of SUVs and Commercial Vehicles.  Mahindra is also planning to manufacture new models from Sssanyong Motors.    www.mahindra.com              

Cummins Engines                  

Cummins, the world leader in Diesel Engines opened its Pune facility in the 1960s, in a joint venture with the Kirloskar Group. Later on, they decided to go solo. The Pune facility manufacturers a wide range of Diesel Engines and Generators, and also has a big design center. www.cumminsindia.com                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines, part of the Kirloskar Group were one of the earliest auto-players in Pune. Presently they manufacture a wide range of Oil Engines for various applications. www.kirloskar.com                 

Premier Motors         

Makers of that famous Indian car of ‘The Premier Padmini’. Current models manufactured include Diesel Pickup Trucks and Vans. www.premier.co.in        

Fiat     

The new upcoming Fiat Ranjangaon Plant will manufactures the various models like Punto and Linea. www.fiat-india.com    

Bridgestone 

Bridgestone is setting up a big new plant in Chakan Pune with a total investment of around Rs 2,600 Cr. http://www.bridgestone.co.in 

Hyundai Construction Equipments    

Hyundai Construction Equipments is located on Talegaon-Chakan  Belt              

Research Institutes, Suppliers & Infrastructure Players                  

ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India)  www.araiindia.com   

ARAI is a the premier research and certification institution for the automotive industry in India. It has a beautiful campus on top of a hill in central Pune (near ‘Vetal Tekdi’).   

In addition to the Auto OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), Pune has a wide range of  Tier-1 Tier-2 and infrastructure suppliers. Prominent Industry Players include:                  

Bharat Forge                  

Bharat Forge is one of the top forging companies in the world. They manufacture a wide range of forged auto components. Their Pune facility includes their HQ, Design Center and Manufacturing Facility. www.bharatforge.com                  

Sandvik                   

Sandvik is a world leader in cutting tools. Their Pune facility has been around for nearly 50 years. www.sandvik.com                  

PARI Robotics & Automation                  

PARI is one of the leading industrial automation companies and have setup factory automation systems at many global manufacturing facilities. www.parirobotics.com                 

Software & Information Technology       

Software and IT are increasingly playing an important role cars and automotive manufacturing. Many leading global CAD/CAM/CAE Software Leaders are based in Pune. These include: Siemens (formerly UGS), PTC, Ansys. Important IT Outsourcing Players in this space in Pune include Geometric and KPIT Cummins.       

              

The First Polo Rolls-Off The Volkswagen Pune Plant

Posted in Cars by Amit Paranjape on December 13, 2009

Pune has been at the forefront of automobile industry in India for over half a century. Thus today it quite befitting that Europe’s largest automaker, started production of its most popular small car, from arguably their most advanced manufacturing facility in the world, at Chakan Pune.        

Volkswagen Polo

  

 I was fortunate to visit the Chakan Plant on this important occasion. Got a chance to tour their impressive assembly facility, and also attend the official media briefing by the Volkswagen Management. The Press was there in big numbers, and I am sure there will be a lot of coverage about this event and the new car in the days to come.  The VW Polo, while new to India, has been one of the most popular models for Volkswagen over the years. While the original Beetle was the ‘People’s Car’ many decades back, the ‘Polo’ has been in that league for the past couple of decades in Europe. (Note – The Indian market is familiar with Polo’s sister car, the Skoda Fabia, which is also assembled at the same Plant). The Polo will be formally launched in India at the Delhi Auto Show next month, and is expected to be available to customers by middle of 2010.     

The Polo is quite compact and should fit in quite well in the small car segment in India. The design seems a little conservative compared to some of its other peers in the category such as Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20 and Fiat Punto. The interior feels quite nice and the controls and steering are very comfortable. (VW, like the other large automakers, has standardized many controls (e.g. turning indicator stick,light switches, etc.) across multiple models. Hence for someone like me who has owned other VW cars, these controls feel very familiar). Of course, the real test of a car is when driven – hence its difficult to comment a whole lot at this point of time. But given VW’s legacy, and the reviews I have read from Europe, it would be fair to say that it would be a fun car to drive! A lot also depends on which engine variants VW India finally ends up supporting for this car.         

However, yesterday’s star attraction for me was not the Polo Car, but the Plant facility. As I mentioned earlier, this facility is one of the most sophisticated Plants in the world and has been built with an investment of over 800 Million Dollars (580 Million Euros).  Spread over a land expanse of 550 acres in Chakan MIDC, the factory building itself occupies nearly 30 acres. The facility is designed to produce 110,000 cars per year, once it gets to full capacity. The plant can be reconfigured easily to produce different variants/models. The level of automation is impressive. Presently VW plans to manufacture the Skoda Fabia (production started earlier this year), the VW Polo, and a new Salon Car (to be launched in the 2nd half of 2010). This massive facility was built in a record 17 months. This Plant supports the entire manufacturing process from the press shop, through body and paint shops, to final assembly. Many local vendors have been identified for supplying various parts and sub-assemblies. Initially, the Polo manufactured at the Chakan Plant will have around 50% localization. However this is expected to get to 80% eventually.        

Notes –        

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a big VW fan, having owned their vehicles for the better part of this decade!        

Image Credit: Volkswagen Press-Kit   

Volkswagen India Website: http://www.volkswagen.co.in/in/en.html        

Wikipedia Entry of the Polo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Polo 

For a terrific collection of photos by Ritesh Madhok, of the VW Polo from this event, take a look at:  http://indianautosblog.com/2009/12/images-and-information-vw-polo-production-commences

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