Friday, 12 July 2013

Micro Level Trends – India's Auto Culture – Creating Indigenous Roots Whilst Avoiding The Disingenuous Lessons.

Although recent weeks have seen a momentary sell-off and rebound in certain 'big cap' indigenous companies, the obvious fact is that India's late 20th and early 21st century growth story has been phenomenal.

However, as a member of the previously seemingly all powerful' BRICS, like its counterparts, the last year or so has seen a notable slowing of what was 'warp growth speed'. This the outcome of BRICS policy-makers seeking to cool respective economies having seen modern industry and service sectors develop for the benefit of top-tier entrepreneurs and their middle-tier employees. The wealth creation of the last 15 years or so directly transforming the lives of millions, whether from improved employment standing, or indeed from the filter-effect as personal income is spread amongst families, either directly in the urban home, or from remittances sent back to rural areas.

Given its massive population of 1.22 billion India, second only to China but with far greater population density (>1000 per sq km) and so sociological issues – especially so infrastructure vs population expansion. It means that the size of the country's development challenge is viewed as more problematic by a plethora of influential bodies, from world health agencies to philanthropic funds to investment banks.

Moreover, whilst other countries have distinct internal regions and identities, perhaps none are as differentiated as that of India given its splintered histories of: caste, religion, colonial influence, political ideology (free markets vs mixed markets vs communism) and the interests of various powerful families.

Nevertheless, since the early 1990s and market deregulation, portions of yesteryear India have been transformed, even if other sections of old India have hardly changed. The nation has undoubtedly created a new role for itself with global information technology and service provision, creeping ever further up that sector's value chain. Though not as high profile, many if its automotive firms have served their own capabilities through foreign interest joint ventures, and though not without endemic friction, have managed to drastically improve internal operations and end of line product quality.

To the point now where Chennai has become known as “India's Detroit”,

The National Car Parc -

The 'economic miracle' seen over the last 20 years has of course been most prevalent on India's roads as sections of the country's car parc, especially so in large conurbations, have both swelled in numbers and reduced in age, transforming the appearance of cities and in doing so adding to the aspirational economic buzz of all India.

Today over 40 million cars exist countrywide, this number excluding the enormous level of scooters, motorcycles, 3-wheelers and light and heavy commercial vehicles.

Statistics from SIAM (Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers) indicate that in the year leading to April 2014 passenger car related production will increase by about 6% and commercial vehicles by about 8%.

The New Displaces the Old -

As with any speedily growing economy, even in today's slowed period, spread wealth engenders new consumptional desire, itself satiated by a plethora of new products from domestic manufacturers and increasingly foreign producers, often with Indian CKD facilities for local assembly and supplier development.

Hence the new ultimately displaces the old.

But also a natural part of globalisation and outcome of 'international integration' is that India's young and middle-aged (and some older) begin to better appreciate internationalist influence vis a vis local traditions, and as such new mixed ideologies emerge, whether that be in food, film, music, or indeed cars.

The domestic and the foreign merge in new combinations, as does the yesteryear and tomorrow; this perhaps the central theme of the 21st century as newly advancing nations inter-marry what has been powerful western iconography with the indigenously engrained.

This is now under-way with India's old cars, from the more rarefied atmosphere of high priced vintage to the world of classics restoration and increasingly 'home-grown' and 'body-shop' customisation.

Yet within the latter arena, there is an undoubted a 'feast and famine' reality for wannabe Harley Earls, Bill Mitchells and Boyd Coddingtons.

[NB investment-auto-motives previously highlighted the latent creative automotive potential of India's youth, citing the now famous Peugeot 206 advert in which a young guy converts an old car into something approximating the latest incarnation of the compact car].

The 'Feast and Famine' of Yesteryear Cars -

The 'boom and bust' economic history of the country has meant that during strong growth periods the country was able to adopt external vehicle tooling via technical transfer agreements, such as Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini, respectively from Austin and FIAT during the 1960s,with prominent use in the taxi sector, and the Mahindra 540 Jeep, a near clone of the WW2 Willys Jeep.

And of course from Suzuki for the Maruti 800 in the 1980s. However, the stalling of the national economy during the intervening years meant that no continuous and so cohesive business and consumer bases were created for a notionally natural evolutionary flow of incrementally improved vehicles.

This, until recently with the rise of the new middle class, has meant that new vehicle market progression and so national car parc progression was effectively stepped in nature; new vehicles a leap forward from the incumbent old. This seen when the Suzuki-Maruti 800 and the Hindustan Contessa were introduced for two-tier private use, and two-tier governmental use.

Today both cars are viewed as the old incumbents now that foreign brand small cars such as Hyundai, Ford and Toyota and that BMW, Mercedes, Audi have become within reach for some.

The consequence of this economic history then has been to positively develop India's internal automotive supply chain, and so create levels of internal basic competence, a competence which itself underpinned what at the leading edge has become a strong and very much modernised sector thanks to Indian-Foreign joint ventures and M and As.

However, perhaps less positively that economic history also meant that the country's available range of 'national' vehicles was very narrow if plentiful (Jeep, Ambassador, Padmini, 800); which in turn means that India's own historic auto-culture is likewise today relatively narrow.

Yet given the societal impact of these vehicles, the massive economic web of upstream and downstream activities generated, (manufacturing component parts to assembly to sales to maintenance to repair to end-of-life parts cannibalisation), and reliable (once wholly captive) business models, it is little wonder that for industrialists and policy-makers the active lives of these icons were not so easily ended, but in the interest of India's development necessarily had to be.

Hence Padmini sales ended in 2000. Contessa sales similarly in 2002. The slow but ongoing technical evolution of the Ambassador (now called 'Classic' and with the Veer pick-up variant), fights a tide of declining sales figures and so only a matter of time before production ceases. Maruti's 800 production for India has at last been ended, though the factory still produces for export markets until 2015/6.

Only the Mahindra 540 Jeep appears to have been credibly reborn as Thar in 2010, both to serve military clients, civilian forces, enthusiast off-roaders and to act as the brand cornerstone for the M&M 4x4 range (so following the actions of JEEP (USA) and Land Rover by economically retaining 'living history' in specialist fields).

Hence, in popular auto-culture there has been both “feast yet famine” of supposedly yesteryear vehicles by way of volume versus choice. Though those very vehicles are for the most part still in daily service to a host of user types

Exceptions to the Rule -

The departures from this consist of the few remaining 'Maharaja Collections' of pre-WW2 luxury British, European and American cars (Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Hispano Suiza, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Packard, Cadillac, Lincoln), 'Old Colonial' vehicles, 'Emergent Classics' which tend to be lesser but still respected marques during the pre and post 'Independence' era, and of course any remaining imported foreign cars since 1947.

Of these, the 'Maharaja Collection' cars tend to stay within the family holding, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lagonda etc, many of which have been neglected as family fortunes dwindled. However, given modern rarity value of specific vintage vehicles, some highly 'Indian' custom-bodied Rolls-Royce's with 'processional' or 'hunting expedition' status have been restored to their near their former glory, effectively as value-enhancing antiques.

The 'Old Colonials' were obviously ostensibly British vehicles, brought-out by the central governmental and military agencies for various duties, aswell as personal cars brought out by the higher ranked officials; some of which entered the next catergory.

The 'Emergent Classics' are cars that include some of the forementioned, but also the likes of Mercedes, Buick, Studebaker, Ford (T and A), Chevrolet, MG (TA-F), Austin-Morris (large and small), Lea-Francis, Standard, Rover, Vanguard, Riley, Hillman, Citroen, Peugeot, Opel, and now encompass later models such as VW Beetles, FIAT 500/600/Spyder, various Jaguars, Mercedes sedans and US 'Muscle Cars' from the '60s and '70s. Where criteria related some owners belong to the VCCI (Vintage and Classic Car Club of India). What is of note is how it seems many of these cars appear to have been hidden-away during the independence era, so as not to be status symbols during the 'all as one' era.

[NB some of the cars have been over-adorned, such as snake-head horns on roadster fenders so as to mimic famous Maharaja cars – who used the snake to instil fear/respect into their people].

As for foreign imports between 1947 to the 1990s, perhaps only the regional vehicle licensing authorities will have a true idea, but wealthy business families and government – the two often closely connected – imported various upmarket cars for business, official and personal use, especially so from the 1960s onward.

A Rising National Auto-Culture -

Of course from the earliest times of 1920s machines the public's appreciation of the car has snowballed, but especially so since the motorisation of the country between the 1940s and 1970s

As the original Willys Jeep became a classic in the US, so the structurally derived M&M Jeep gained traction so to speak in India, especially so in the Punjab where 'seeing a good thing' Sikh businessmen sought to leverage the fascination by recreating a Willys type US Military-esque aesthetic on M&M vehicles, this trend later growing into a broader customisation trend with various (at least by western standards) gaudy paint-schemes and bolt-on additions made to the vehicles..

But, given their ubiquity and broad used market prices, it has been largely the amateur based modification of Ambassadors, Padminis and Maruti 800s that have been the kingpin of Indian auto-culture to date.

In this regard, the personalisation / customisation manner has unsurprisingly been very reminiscent of US trends in the 1950s, Northern European trends in the 1960s, Southern European trends in the 1970s and early 1980s, Eastern European trends in the mid to late 1980s, and likewise Brazilian trends in the 1990s.

In as much as those who could afford to buy an aesthetically aged car would seek to differentiate it by adding what were modern yet generic cosmetic and basic performance accessories – from wheels to rear spoilers to sun-strips to sports seats to sports exhausts to inlet vents - plus seeking to mimic famous motor-sport paint-schemes, or create their own (these often referring to the vehicle brand) whilst painting over often rusted chrome bumpers and bright-work with black or body-coloured paint.

This essentially the standard option given the limited financial resources available to young men and sometimes women, and their limited customisation facilities. It seems that only a minority of enthusiasts prefer to retain true vehicle originality, given the usual desire for a stand-out statements that gain kudos from other guys and attention from the opposite sex.

Hence, in India, like many other developing places previously, it has been a case of “new twist on an old theme”

Engineering Education -

Since the formation of the mining industry, textile industry, the railway system and other industries, the role of the engineer has been revered by the masses, an engineering education seen as a passport into the middle classes and to gain roles of local influence and so status. In the early days of the 'British Raj' such opportunities were restricted to the Anglo-Indian community, generally the sons of mixed marriages conveyed into engineering management and local station and track management roles.

But as the fruits of Independence took hold, and to a greater degree merit overtook nepotism, so more opportunities opened up for the broader masses, from apprenticeships to post graduate roles. Though it must be stated that often simply a new form of inter-generational nepotism emerged given familial connections to and reliance upon the railway.

Nevertheless, like general medicine, pharmacology and the bar, engineering became an esteemed profession. And unlike in the west (except for Germany) where in a “post-industrial age” it offered little reward (monetary, career or otherwise), and so rightly witnessed depleted numbers, the fact that India still has yet to mature economically means that for the most part professional engineering has maintained its attraction to the masses.

Hence, for the national and individual good, successive Indian governments and industry leaders have long recognised the need to mould its youth: by creating ever more subject attuned engineering educational paths in both private and state-run establishments.

Yet, in reality, typical of an EM country (and indeed many so called developed nations) the fact is that middle and higher professional learning is only realistically available to a relative minority – the fortunate few. Whilst national statistics indicate that 83% of 15/16 year old people are in education, there is a dramatic fall-off in numbers thereafter given the cost of education to both state and private purse and the pressures (though easing) to conform with making a living, getting married and having children – these obvious limiting factors to higher learning.

However, scant research in this topic – via a reported E&Y report - gives reason for hope It now appears that 20% of teenagers enrol in tertiary courses (ie post mandatory school), though drop-out figures were not provided. And since 2001 the female engineering graduate intake has doubled.
A separate nationally published report from the AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education) highlights that in 2012 there was an intake of 3.4 million for technical diplomas, and as of 2013 there are 3495 degree level engineering institutions with an annual enrolment of over 1.2 million students.

Educational Fakery -

The spiritual / religious fakir, sadhu, yogi, swami has long been viewed as a person of learning and distinction, hence Ghandi's influence with his university learning and ascetic, humble manner. Someone who typically lived as a beggar existence was based upon charitable alms, or as often money/food/shelter swapped for spiritual learning.

Unsurprisingly, such a way of life also offered possibilities for confidence tricksters, those who could 'spin a yarn', gain trust and exploit open hearted (gullible) others.

[NB Rudyard Kipling's novel 'Kim' highlighting both the 'pure' path of the guru and the hustling path of his young 'follower' Kim].

As prevalent in China and other EM nations, the very existence of an educationally aspirational populace, albeit with only a small income, itself offers income opportunities to the 'fakers'.

The empty promise of a good education as springboard to a better life used as leverage when 'fronted' by slick marketing. In this respect the creation of the internet has been a godsend to such exploiters, with little more than an impressive website, often illustrated by pictures of supposed (ie false) students, staff and facilities, using convincing face to face sales-people, with their obligatory impressive laptop, projector and screen.

As such 'educational fakery' has become rife.

Whether it be the creation of false institutions claiming public funds, using contrived syllabuses and non-existent student enrolment, or whether they be privately run places which heavily advertise and gain first term or initial annual fee, but in reality offer little in the way of facilities and qualified teaching faculty, either imminently but often gradually, dissolving once monies received and any (if indeed any) initial official supervision satisfied.

Circumstances appear to have improved with some scams caught and many 'skeleton' colleges closed down, but it will remain a crucial issue given the innate, ever ongoing, lack of professional supervision within the state system, the fundamentally poor achievements of state education (for many reasons) and the large grey area between the public-private educational realm that enables such scams to operate.

Auto-Engineering Mania -

However, the appetite, indeed 'hunger', from India's youth is enormous, perhaps especially so when such educational and professional ambitions can be connected the widespread adoration of vehicles.

Of course, the majority of young males, whether from urban, rural, wealthy, 'middling', lower or indeed bottom-tier backgrounds tend to (stereotypically) have four prime interests: cricket, the opposite sex, music and cars. Whilst cricket proffers the idea of competitiveness and teamwork, girls proffer social interaction and increasing equality and music as a social glue, whether from an ipod or at festive gathering, it is vehicles which offer directly accessible engineering learning.

This is typically self-taught for millions, whether from maintenance and repair of a family tractor and pick-up in rural areas, the father's HGV truck for independent hauliers, a used scooter or motorcycle, or for a minority the 'hand-me-down' family vehicle.

So where needs must, many Indians have necessarily had to become adept at vehicle mechanics and general amateur engineering.

Back Street Creativity -

The internet is abound with Indian youth redesigning the HM Contessa as a new national musclecar, this idea no doubt born from the many personal Contessa projects which have spawned over the preceding 15 years or so, some well executed, some less so.

In tandem with owners clubs such as the Contessa Club, this then points to a possibly emergent sub-culture, and thus possible commercial basis, for the development of so called iconic Indian cars.

View youtube and various older vehicles and personal 'classic' projects can be seen.

[NB One titled “Contessa India's Only Muscle Car by Tarun mp4”. Whilst similar in name, this has no connection whatsoever to myself Mr Turan Ahmed, investment-auto-motives, of London, England].

There are various actors, individuals and groups, perhaps the most prominent being Team-BHP, itself trying to grow a tribal following via the internet and meets, and the lesser known but academically connected TMW-Craftsmen.

Academia Meets Commercialism -

It has been known that for industry and students alike the transition between the college/university and the workplace can be less than smooth given the typically very different environments. Though it should be noted that given the structures and strictures of colonially created bureaucratic systems spanning across education, state and industry, India has historically had less transitional friction. However, as supra-national and state centralisation is de-constructed and newer sectors and entrepreneurial efforts emerge such transitional friction has surfaced.

Hence the importance of 'sandwich learning' which as the name suggests involves a set period working within industry to bolster real world learning, contextualise academic learning and acclimatise students to the workplace.

Whilst such initiatives and relationships have been well entrenched between universities and conglomerate industry, in order to create the managers and leaders of tomorrow, it now appears that the industrial sandwich or at least parallel industrial exposure amongst local colleges and local firms , so as to help create a similar capability a local level.

The following initiative, noted for its pros and cons, has the hallmarks of such an initiative:
Team Motor Works / Craftsmen -

'Team Motor Works' is advertised as based opposite the Raheja College, SantaCruz (West), in Mumbai 53.

Thus located in a Mexo-Californian sounding area, seemingly seeking to emulate a US West Coast perception, and is self announced as “Craftsmen”. It seeks to create a name with overtones relating to 'West Coast Customs' and 'MetalCrafters'.

These name used by a well known American custom body-shop, which undertakes one-off and small series specials such as performance cars and concept cars such as the 'Iacocca Mustang'. And also by an precision fabricating firm in Massachusetts. As well as overtones of yesteryear hand-made quality.

TMW/Craftsmen touts itself as offering :

“India's First Muscle Car Prototype” (The Contessa Project)...”Handcrafted car made in a Workshop in Mumbai”...”With a team of young engineers”...”and Suraj Bhalla ('the Mustang Man / Daytona Man')”...”The Daytona HM Contessa”.

However, it must be stated that the end result does not actually qualify as a true “muscle-car” in the American or worldwide sense, given its small engine size within a large (if shortened) body. Its 0-60km/h time of 7 seconds is slow by modern and historic standards, given that 7 seconds has been an acceptable 0-100km/h (or 0-62mp/h) time for the last 45 years or so.

Historical Snapshot -

The original and ascribed definition has always been a 'big block (ie powerful) engine in a small body”. The trend originated from installing large car's large engines into medium-body and small-body cars (by American standards) a customisation trend which had been seen from even before WW2 with Southern 'Moonshiners' even supposed 'Stock Car' racers.Then taken-up by returning servicemen across the USA, and by young men during the 1950s economic boom. Thereafter put into formal production by Detroit's Big 3 by the early 1960s, especially so under Pontiac, Dodge/Plymouth and Ford (Ford-Shelby) monikers. Creating renowned model names such as GTO (itself mimicking Ferrari's 'Grand Turismo Omologato'), Charger / Challenger/ 'Cuda (Barracuda), RoadRunner, Falcon Cobra and Shelby-Mustang (aswell as others).

The Indian Project -

Base Car and Modifications:
The Hindustan Motors Contessa – itself a version of the 1972 Vauxhall FE VX 4/90 – has been given a 'muscle car cloaking' (overtones of Pontiac GTO to Buick Rivieria MkIII). An obvious inspiration given the Contessa's own late '60s/70s GM international styling themes as a badge engineered Vauxhall Victor/VX; itself a stylistically muted interpretation of the GM full-size car range of the time; the Riviera perhaps the most flamboyant.

So the bodyside is heavily altered: the wheelbase shortened by cutting the car into two sections, removing a portions and welding together, the rear door removed, the front door extended, the B-pillar moved back, new front quarter light window, and a new 'Riviera' curved rear quarter-light window shape added. The rear sill-panel exhaust outlets reflecting hot-rod side-pipes and various renowned nameplates. The front sees new pointed bumper, new grill and deep wrapped chin spoiler with integrated side-lamps, trunk area retained with new lip, a centre mounted 'Shelby petrol filler cap, and the rear panel given what appear the tail-lights of a similar period Japanese large sedan. Various internal cabin enhancements added, though retaining OEM dashboard items “for driver function”.

The original Isuzu 1800cc engine and standard gearbox and differential remains.

[NB Though slightly lightened in overall mass, it is this low performance (pick-up truck) engine with unaltered transmission ratios prohibits actual muscle-car performance].

Thus giving a standard 2-door 'American coupe' (ie not fastback) appearance; though without the Riviera's true pilarless DLO, nor its echoing lower swage-line, though using slightly 'top rolled' rear-quarter panel and no pseudo 'boat-tail' rear-end. Instead given 1970 GTO-like 'blisters' across front and rear fenders, though they uncomfortably cross the round wheel arch, thus neither stylistically referential nor fully functional as a motorsport style 'blister' to widen the wheel well.

The choice of wheel type however has been good, though not exacting, aesthetically in keeping with the period and general visual cues. And almost obligatory, the ride height has been lowered to remove the tyre to wheel arch gap and visually lengthen the vehicle.

Also added are custom interior trim fittings such as centre console. Though with apparent period detailing, it is disengenuous – as has been stated - to say the car is “1966” given that it did not appear until 1972. “Inspired by '66” would be better.

[NB the Riviera was far more personal (luxury) car of the time than muscle car. The prestige aspect seen by the boat-tail parody, the 'boat-tail' itself a parody even in the 1920s when the shape was for was for more 'show than go', more so reflecting upmarket 'lake-land' lifestyles than the aerodynamics of speed record cars].

[NB Ironically, with the short roof-line and perceptionally extended bonnet, in proportion the end result steers toward a smaller, visually softer incarnation of a 1970s Bristol Brigand/, 1980s Blenheim].

Through the later part of its gestation, at first the vehicle was painted in yellow with few trim fittings, but presently in a Shelby-esque blue with obligatory white centre stripe.

Procurement Issues:
Whilst standard Contessa parts and trim are available, the choice of increasingly rare 'new old stock' for any such project inclusion is becoming rarer. Items such as the rear tail clusters re-appropriated may incur future sourcing problems, unless there is direct strong contact with a supplier that has tens or hundreds of such items. And even so pricing pressure for such rare parts are increasing with the global trend for older Japanese vehicles, especially so with JDM (japanese domestic market attributes).

This specific item can of course be altered to another similar rear lamp bezel and lens, but the scarcity, sourcing and pricing issue may still remain

Given the nature of the initiative, the target customer group and the undoubted low budget for advertising, the use of youtube video posts to reach a broad domestic and international audience is the natural option.

The posts intend to not only show the build progression, but also the knowledge of the participants in a staged conversional context.

From a European perspective there is a lot of PR chatter, which (with all respect) has very much become the modern Indian manner when speaking English, what can be called the “Ameri-Indian” way (the way Indians of all ages have adopted American-English fast-paced speech patterns, itself from NY and LA influence).

Also within TMW-Craftsmen advertising is the role of the enthusiastic 'client', even when driving a partially finished product with no installed dashboard etc. The fact that he urges others to do the same, ie selling the product's and group's virtues, so early in the process likewise suggests a less than simple (ie involved) client-firm relationship.

The Outcome -

Whilst the project can be all too easily criticised in execution, depending upon one's aesthetic, technical and commercial knowledge, the fact is that the very creation and appearance of the car and its similar “muscle-car” and “hot-rod” counterparts from locations across India must be congratulated.

Such efforts crystallise and solidify the dreams of millions of boys and girls and indeed men and women. And crucially demonstrates that a vision to reality 'recipe' consisting of great enthusiasm though few resources can come to fruition with patience and effort.

[NB Unless you have personally stripped and rebuilt a car, from a bare-bones shell, there is little understanding of the amount of work involved].

By various Western, Asian and indeed Indian standards the facilities are crude, but similar to what Americans would have called a 1950s 'Back Yard Chop-Shop' - before that name became associated with criminal car-parts dealings. 'Chopping' the A/B/C pillars was required to reduce height of roof and window apertures, and 'chop' the body section to reduce or lengthen wheelbase and track.

As such the initiative should be highly commended for trying to further the 'twist on an old theme' of Indian auto-enthusiasm, and seeking to do so with increasingly insightful engineering and styling prowess, so seeking the ideal of true design (where science and art effectively meets harmoniously)

“But, But, But” -

However, the venture also unfortunately raises other concerns, specifically the organisational, funding and overall commercial set-up, but most critically a question regards the issue of student education.

As seen previously with 'Educational Fakery', across the world, but seemingly especially so in an economically emerging Asia, the issue of non-existent and sub-standard education has raised an ugly spectre.

Possible Exploitation of Automotive Education -

The TMW / Craftsmen initiative may have been originally established with high-minded goal and within the Mumbai context wholly accordant to the rules and regulations pertaining to student placements working in industry or indeed external student project-work.

[NB investment-auto-motives admits to having no insight whatsoever regards India's national or regional work placement policies and standards].

Thus TMW / Craftsmen may be completely 'on the level'.

However, from an independent, external perspective, it also unfortunately has the veneer – by way of specific elements - of something questionable: as viewed from the video postings provided.

“The Shop-Front” -

Any well planned underhand activity will seek to obviously appear credible so as to draw enthusiastic attention from the required 'targets', whether in this case they be educational bodies and students themselves.

And the notion of an “Indian Muscle Car” well accords to both student interest, Indian auto-industry evolution in the high margin 'specialist' and 'after-market' fields, and befitting those two criteria, is thus seen as a prime engineering educational platform by national policy-formers and local colleges. Thus seemingly a “win, win, win” for student, industry, educationalists and politicians.
But such a formula could be exploited by much hype and little substance; so to creation of the 'shop front'.

The TMW / Craftsmen videos likewise highlight automotive 'eye-candy' by way of a BMW sedan, a newer Audi sedan, and various 1960s Ford Mustangs (seemingly an original car, a recent modern Mustang and a 'hybridised' original car with modern model front bumper.

So providing the commercial and educational initiative with apparent authenticity and gravitas.

Personnel :
As for the initiative, is led by a Suraj Bhalla (Principal Craftsman) a man who from his various youtube posts endeavours to become the 'Boyd Coddington of India'. His name is also variously written as Suraay (?) He undoubtedly has a passion for cars, the original Ford Mustangs in particular, and has a good working knowledge of vehicle systems.
More so, appears to have what for many youngsters is a glamorous 'Bollywood' lifestyle with expensive cars, foreign travel and an aura of being 'cool'.

One of his video's reflects on the apparent massive amount of work needed to rid a 5 year old Maruti of its rust. Though quite why any client should seek to rationally spend so much money on a 5 year old car appears illogical, especially since in a vehicle of that age the rust problem will inevitably have been limited to skin panels so not requiring a full strip-down of the shell. However, some owners are prepared to spend fortunes on modifying vehicles, which though hard on the pocket does allow body-builders and technicians to further their work.

Such a extensive works however might raise concerns by Indian authorities about money laundering. Thus TMW (Bhalla) should maintain scrupulous project accounts and verify that project funds are from legal sources

Bhalla also suggests that his students/apprentices, should not go and work for their family firm, but instead earn respect for themselves externally, ie under him. This then suggests that only wealthy and middle-class people are able to come into the Craftsmen fold. This in turn indicates that at some later stage the family wealth of these people will be tapped into, either by injecting funds into the business or by more probably opening a similar TWM-Craftsmen operation elsewhere under their control, but as a 'paid-in' franchise. It also obviously also undermines that particular family's succession planning and intrinsic managerial capabilities.

Of the Craftsmen R&D team, two full names given, the aforementioned and a Harssch Agrawaal, thereafter various nicknames and common abbreviations such 'Deep', 'Bobs', Gabz and Mridol. Thus highlighting the leaders and his #2 enjoy full name-checks (credits) whilst other contributors – presumably the students - are virtually anonymous.
The main concern herein is the apparent absence of basic safety equipment at TMW / Craftsmen.

Yes, the innate working culture in much of India is lax, haphazard and dangerous (see ship-breaking as an example), because of the 'life is cheap' attitude and willingness of bottom-tier people to work as told in sparse conditions.

However, whilst TMW Craftsmen propagates supposed knowledge and professionalism, the absence of even basic welding/brazing eye-goggles and gloves, as well as spray mask and again) eye-goggles is astonishing. Even with goggles and gloves injuries can occur, but they greatly add to the safety margin.

There is a workshop sign that reads “On Daily Wages” which indicates that TMW operates a flexible staff policy, very possibly necessary depending on order book levels and of course reduces fixed and variable staffing overheads, which provides budgetary advantage. Yet given the premium cars sat outside – whether self owned or client's – the fact is that basic safety equipment is obviously affordable. Any concerns of its theft, which is well justified. Means that it should be demanded to be purchased by workers, though obviously its cost amortised over averaged daily rates.

Likewise, the tendency to wear trendy open-toed flip-flops/thongs, whilst staying cool in both senses, affords another potential problem.

Without such safeguards it appears that TMW is willing to forsake safety for profit, and this becomes reputation damaging.

[NB India's healthcare bill might well be reduced dramatically with the proper formulation and adherence to healthcare rules, but such efforts would also impact the profitability of private doctors; little wonder the masses wish to become doctors!].

Project Timetable:
It was stated that the project took 9 months to complete.

The video-diary first shows the gearbox removal/servicing as of January 2012, followed by an excerpt of the body-shell being cut as stated in September 2011. Also there appears little logical continuity of the build process regards the removed and painted-red suspension components vs the engine and transmission work.

Obviously the video-diary should be chronological, with if possible a time-lapse, showing the full deconstruction and re-build process


TMW-Craftsmen offers its students theoretical and practical vehicle systems learning, yet that was only conveyed by a few highly unprofessional pages of paper attached to a back wall, with very limited information regards the syllabus, simply vehicle sub-system area (Body, Chassis, Engine, Transmission etc) with what appeared an accordant 250-300 teaching hours per section.

To depict a complete vehicle design and engineering course in such a manner is sadly not convincing.

Formal Design Brief:
No obvious design brief shown
No general description
No detailed design file
No concept drawings

Formal Engineering Scope:
No specific engineering brief
No original specification data and datum points (standard car GA etc)
No orthographic projections of final prototype vehicle (finished car GA etc)
No statement of works
No fabrication drawings for adaptation of the body-shell
No fabrication drawings for newly made parts

Formal Cost Analysis:
It seems all undertaken in an unprofessional 'suck-it and see' manner, not worthy of best practice even in India (academia and industry) , let alone elsewhere within core and after-market auto-industry sectors of advanced countries.

Whilst this approach allows for adaptive flexibility through the build process, does not identify basic design engineering principles, nor production engineering principles, which themselves underpin true commercial parameters such as man-hours, bill of build materials costs, bill of sundries costs, apportioned facilities overhead and variable costs etc

The Commercial Agenda ? -

Having undertaken a basic review investment-auto-motives believes that TMW-Craftsmen's actual intent, and ultimate business model, is in fact seven-fold?

1. Educational Income from Students
2. Restoration of Original US Muscle Cars
3. Creation of 'Indian Muscle Cars'.
4. Restoration of Original US Chopper Motorcycles.
5. Creation of 'Indian Chopper' Motorcycles.
6. Create Core Brand for Commercial Expansion (eg aftermarket)
7. Creation of Franchised network of customisation shops across India

To do this TMW and similar operations must identify and nurture a new generation of, low cost, classic car restorers, who themselves are from monied backgrounds so that they can carry the mantle onward elsewhere.

Simultaneously, creating a web-effect of income generation for TMW-Craftsmen's singular or major shareholder(s).

Initially, having the pupils pay for the what would effectively be an apprenticeship of American muscle car restoration whilst also going through the problematic development process of re-creating a singular or series of 'Indian muscle-car(s)' from the plethora of Contessa's still available in the country.

To then sell these cars to a new auto-tribe of professional, mid income earning enthusiasts as Indian interpretations of iconic Fords, GMs and Chryslers. The business model giving strong per unit profit margins over what could potentially be many hundreds (possibly even thousands) of Contessa adapted vehicles.

Meshing Education and Commerce -

The auto-sector has a vital history between academia and commerce, with the likes of 'naked' Ariel Atom road and track car born from the academic vision of Coventry University's ex Lecturer Simon Saunders and a few students; a team that bore the bones of the original concept and prototype.

Such publicity spawned similar efforts such as the futuristic Super 7 in the form of the “Toniq R” from ex-Huddersfield students Baxter and Williams, with the massively important assistance of Stuart Taylor Motorsport and Hemlock Engineering; even if today in road legal form much of the original R visual cleanliness has disappeared.

The Ariel Atom and Toniq R examples demonstrate that academia and commerce can mesh together to create new product variations, these similarly “new twists on classic themes”. However as Saunders and Williams will attest, the route to final development and then to market can be tortuous.

And in these two instances, the founders had the assistance of very skilled supplier cooperation to make it happen, including the ability to create one-off 'prototyped' items that allowed bespoke fitments.

Unlike these extreme examples the Craftsmen Contessa project starts from a complete car, so the obvious commercial imperative is to utilise as much maintained carry-over and off-the-shelf pre-engineered content as possible.

However, where as Atom and Toniq R where effectively fully formed concepts, the former of high unique engineering content whilst the latter relying much on proprietary content from specific kit cars, the fact is that the concept was fully formed before being released from academia.

From this viewpoint, it can be simplistically seen that the western approach is that of a heavy bias to academic concept origination thereafter matured externally, whilst the Indian approach is that of little or no academic origination but workshop technical adaptation of the previously fully formed.

Thus, because of historical difference and core competencies, western and eastern perspectives regards bespoke and custom-car development is necessarily different.

The very fact that India has such a large hand-crafting population, across many disciplines, from metal-work to textiles to clothing to gold and silver personal adornments, and that it has had to be inventively pragmatic, means that there is a natural political and industrial imperative to put this capability to use.

Building a National Reputation for Automotive Hand-Crafting -

The Indian IT revolution during the 1990s and 2000s which served the world, from call centres, to programmers to now apparently specialist service consultants, helped to form the bedrock of the modern middle-class. Up until 2008 ever increasing demand and a large but ultimately limited capable labour supply drawn from graduates saw wage and salary rates rise, so creating that aspirant consumer class which desires the best of Indian but also the new and western.

That new middle-class, itself now partially suffering, is however a world away from the plethora of uneducated unskilled and semi-skilled people which make up the majority of the workforce. The mass of low cost labour, and the need to create jobs for them, has thereby impeded the industrial reforms required in various sectors, from ship-dismantling to the railways.

Whilst automation has taken place in various sectors, in automotive assembly perhaps most notably (though not for all models), the low skilled and low cost mass labour force can offer its services to what could be a newly developing and potentially thriving sector – vintage and classic vehicle restoration, aswell as of course using similar skills to underpin a new world of customised cars.

To Conclude -

This being web-log #351, given this number's overtones, it was deemed appropriate to review emergent auto-culture within the powerful economic engine that is India.

(Perhaps revisiting the subject again at web-log #427).

Whilst far from a complete inspection of the true detail of the matter, it is hoped that investment-auto-motives has been able to provide a broad overview of how the discipline of automotive engineering may be spread yet wider by the renewed interest in older vehicles, so providing new avenues of impetus and value creation for academia and industry alike.

Both the efforts of those leading the way, and those less visible, should be appreciated.

Vitally, the manner in which such activities are undertaken – especially regards college sandwich courses and post graduate employment – deserves far greater attention by supra-national and local authorities.

Lastly, the business models 'invisibly perceived' by investment-auto-motives, whilst ambitious, well integrated, and able to construct new light industrial and service possibilities, should now offer greater financial and physical safety to a still necessarily flexible workforce..

If such a legacy could be achieved through auto-heritage in the emergent giant that is India, then the Shelby Cobra will have positively superceded the demon that was the Maharaja's Python.