Generally, the American motoring press doesn't think much about India. Sure, when there's big news like a $2500 new car or someone remembering that, holy crap, they still build the Ambassador, we'll write about it, but for the most part we've done a pretty good job ignoring the sixth largest car market in the world. Let's change that.
But, luckily, we haven't done that good a job. A few months ago, I wrote an article about these small Indian vans I really liked. There wasn't anything that particularily motivated me to write the original article; these were just some little, low-HP vehicles that I found fascinating because of just how well their designs suit the peculiar needs of their markets. They're like animals perfectly evolved to thrive in a harsh environment.
Then it got interesting. Among the usual comments from people suggesting I lay off the pills/booze and seek out some counseling was this comment:
Got your message in a bottle, Jason...
And may I compliment you on your lateral thinking and openness of mind to different models of innovation?
We'd be delighted to have you drive a Maxximo, but for that you ought to consider a vacation in India...and throw in a side trip to the Taj Mahal...
Chairman, Mahindra Group
At first I suspected it may be a fake — the heads of major automobile corporations usually don't respond personally to my articles. Generally, the accepted form is (if they even bother) sending over a couple of hired goons to work me over in a parking lot somewhere.
This time, though, everything seemed to be on the up-and-up. I got follow-up emails from Mahindra, and, after a tiring amount of visa paperwork, found myself on a 19 hour flight to exotic India.
Mahindra is one of India's top three automakers, and specializes in Jeep-type vehicles, trucks, and SUVs, all of which are well-suited for the still pretty rugged conditions in much of India. Mahindra arranged an absurdly comprehensive tour for me, covering about five cities, two factories, seven or so separate car models to drive, an off-road rally, and they even found me some local politican's Ambassador to drive, just because I really wanted to, and despite the fact that they don't even build it.
They were incredibly generous of time, resources, and effort, and treated me far, far better than I technically deserve, in any context.
So, over the next week I'll be posting about what I found in India car-wise; about the Mahindras (and some other cars) I drove, about how Indian drivers are completely, bafflingly insane and entirely without the emotion we Westerners call "fear." About the crazy, wildly decorated cargo trucks, about what the Indian car market is like, what you see on Indian streets (many more cows than you're likely used to), and pretty much anything I can think of.
I'm extremely thankful to Mahindra for sending me over and taking such good care of me. This isn't advertising, though, and I'll be totally honest about what I found, as always. Cramming me full of curry and showing me the Taj Mahal (which has no cars in it at all, by the way) will certainly make me thankful, but you can rest assured that my reporting will remain as objective as possible.
So hopefully this will help explain just why next week will be full of so many articles about Indian cars and Indian car culture. Overall, I was impressed with what I saw, especially considering that common car ownership in India is really very recent, with the explosion starting around 13-15 years ago. Though nobody would confirm anything, I wouldn't be shocked to find that the next decade will bring some Indian cars to our shores as well. I'm looking forward to that.
I'm excited to show you everything; this'll be fun.