As the famous saying goes, ‘Laugh alone and the world thinks you’re an idiot.’ Well, I won’t lie, I was laughing alone, and maybe the guys going past did think of me as an idiot. But I couldn’t help it. I really couldn’t.
Anyway, I don’t know if you follow the latest news on economics and industry. Well, I used to, and extensively at that. Now, though, especially after the economic bust and whatnot, I’m not really that into it – it’s boring stuff mostly. And, although recent news may suggest that the global financial systems are showing signs of recovery and growth will be robust, I still choose to play Solitaire on my screen instead.
But, back when I did research and analysis – that kind of truly insipid stuff for consulting agencies – I did a few white papers and studied China for many of them. I vividly remember that McKinsey had published a report that said China’s automotive market will grow ten-fold between 2005 and 2030. And going by the current trend, I don’t doubt that one bit. China is, let’s be honest, famous for doing really despicable quality across industries. Most of the harsh and cheap stuff comes from China. It even beats India, on cost!
Almost half the automotive market share in China is controlled by the local manufacturers, while the other half is distributed between the international players. GM is one such international company doing business in China under a JV with SIAC and Liuzhou Wuling, and it’s doing rather well I must say.
India, on the other hand, has been a completely different story for GM. Ever since it started operation as Opel in 1996, GM has struggled to find its feet in the Indian market. Initial model introductions like the Astra, Vectra, and Corsa, failed to make their presence felt, and GM officially brought the shutters down on Opel in 2006 – but not before it gave India its first tryst with the Chevrolet Sail model name. The Corsa was available in three body types – a three-box sedan, a hatchback, and an estate. The Corsa hatch wore the suffix of ‘Chevrolet Sail.’ Ironically enough, the Astra was the only properly luxurious offering in its segment, and the Vectra was loaded with equipment that no rival could match. The Corsa, too, was applauded for its ride and the petrol motor. In fact, the Corsa Sail was one of the most spacious hatchbacks in the country at the time. But that wasn’t quite enough to make it click.
Well, the Chevrolet Sail brand name is back – not as Opel though, instead it wears a bowtie. The premium hatch segment has been growing rapidly, and the Hyundai i20 and Suzuki Swift making it into the top-ten best selling cars in the Indian market is a testimony to that. Chevrolet tried to capitalize on this ever burgeoning segment with the erstwhile UV-A, but even that couldn’t set the sales charts on fire. The Chevrolet Sail, then, has the burden once again of changing this forever.
The problem with the Chevrolet Sail – the current one – is that it doesn’t really make a statement. Most global GM designs at present are all about making their presence felt, but this one doesn’t really come across as striking and particularly attractive. If you remember, when the Swift was launched, it was either hated by some, or absolutely loved by many – owing to its unique styling. Similarly, the i20 was always considered to be the most stylish car in its segment. The Chevrolet Sail, on the other hand, is quite unassuming to look at. It’s not an ugly duckling, but it’s no Jennifer Lopez either. It’s like that very average girl-next-door whom you pass every day, but don’t quite acknowledge by turning back for another look. The Chevrolet Sail looks very regular – it won’t displease you, but it also doesn’t stand out as a supermodel either. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again, I would willingly embrace an ugly car – at least it has character and boldness. But an unassuming design gets lost in the crowd.
In a segment that’s very entry-level, it doesn’t matter what you make, or how sexy it is. Look at the Alto – it’s a very middle-of-the-road design, but it sells big time owing to the fact that people buying it don’t have much of an option. And the opposite end of the spectrum is really, completely, the opposite. There are any number of inspired designs and ultra exclusive names – right from BMW and Mercedes to Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and you could go on-and-on.
But it’s the segment of society that falls in the middle that likes to prove a point – that takes pride in displaying its achievements. And I wouldn’t really show off a smiling Nancy Kerrigan, but would, most certainly, take Maria Sharapova out to the busiest place in town.
Oh my, I’ve talked nineteen to the dozen about the Sail’s plain design. But there’s a reason for that – you see, the interiors aren’t really much of a talking point either. Don’t get me wrong – yes, it’s extremely spacious and even has supportive seats up front. But the rear bench is too flat for my liking, and the sloping roofline compromises headroom slightly. And the triple-tone treatment on the inside (the centre console is finished in silver, while a beige-and-grey combination finds itself elsewhere on the dash), in an effort to liven an otherwise ordinary cabin.
But now, once you take to the wheel, things start shifting in favour of the car. The feel from the steering is perhaps the best I’ve seen on any Chevy product in India so far – but there’s still some work to do to reach erstwhile Honda or Maruti levels of feeback. The straight line stability is impressive, and the gearshift quality on the diesel variant was extremely positive. The diesel engine is taken from Fiat, and is essentially the same one that powers everything else in the segment – right from the Swift to the Punto. It’s a 77bhp motor that spreads a healthy 205Nm of torque readily from 1800 to 2500rpm. The mid-range is strong, but there isn’t too much zest at the top-end of the rev band. Drivability is fairly good mind you, and you won’t find it lacking at all when puttering around in the city. The Beat-borrowed 1.2 litre, 85bhp petrol engine, however, feels sluggish – to say the least. I was driving the petrol variant when going up the ghats of Lonavala, which was a mistake. Doing 20km/h in second, you put your foot down and there’s a dying buzz from the engine, at which point you quickly change down into first, and suddenly the engine is at its boiling best – but still doesn’t offer much go. Even on flat highways, I had to think well in advance before trying to make an overtaking maneuver. As far as the chassis is concerned, however, it seems that the suspension experts were allowed plenty of tuning time to ensure that it absorbs even the worst bumps without a hiccup.
The Beat, when it came out, excited me – it was like that very popular and funky girl in school who wasn’t bothered about getting good grades. The Chevrolet Sail, on the other hand, comes across as that very average guy who’s bullied by this funky girl all through school. Oh, and I was laughing in the car because I was driving the petrol, going uphill. So, if you live in the hills, buy the diesel – it may not be noteworthy, but it certainly is above average.