Travelling on the roads in India is a mixture of joy and terror. Firstly, the joy part: the roads here are filled (quite literally) with a wide variety of vehicle types, representing different decades and varying degrees of road-worthiness.
From seemingly ancient trucks inching their way up the slightest incline, to Hindustan cars adding fantastic (and still functional) character to the roads as they vie for space with today’s global platform models. The public transport buses wear the scars of decades of service, and as you squeeze past them on the road you get a close-up look (often a little too close for comfort) at the many repairs that have been made using ingenious methods. Perhaps not pretty, but a testament to the robust build quality that underlies these older vehicles.
The one thing that always seems to function with great reliability, whatever the age or condition of the vehicle, are the horns. These are an intrinsic and indispensible part of any road journey. So it was a curious experience to be travelling in a Toyota Prius after my arrival in Mumbai. We proceeded in an eerie silence, completely at odds with the din of the traffic packed around us. Yes, the driver did use the horn but my money was on the black and yellow Hindustan taxis and buzzing tuk-tuks as to who would make the most progress through the congestion.
This offers up the extremes of India’s vehicle parc; some of the latest platforms are being manufactured here and more are to be introduced in the near future. Yet there are still many ageing vehicle architectures that continue to be popular, suiting the current infrastructure and economic conditions. My visits to OEMs here offered a mixed picture of growth, production volumes and approaches to manufacturing in India, but what has become clear is that, regardless of the current economic slowdown, the country is still set to rise up the rankings of global vehicle producers as investment in some seriously impressive production facilities continues.
While it’s great to see more new (or at least newer) cars on the road in India I have to confess to a certain sadness that the eclectic mix of vehicles that offers those moments of joy, in between the near misses (this is the terror part), is likely to disappear. And as much as I admire the technology of cars like the Prius they don’t bring a smile to my face as readily as the tuk-tuk with the ‘Ben Hur’ chariot spur on his front wheel!