The shop wasn’t doing any good. Given the neighborhood, business should have been brisk, but the two HM Ambassadors and the lone Sipani Dolphin just stood there, gathering dust. The signal turned green and we drove off in our ratty Premier, spewing white smoke that reeked of doctored gasoline. Little did we know that a couple of decades down the line, the pale, pre-owned car dealership would give way to a brand new Jaguar Land Rover outfit, with shiny new F-Types and Range Rovers gracing the floors. Or, a couple of blocks down the road, a massive Hero Motocorp hoarding would be advertising themselves as the world’s largest two wheeler manufacturer in the world. You might just call it evolution, but the economy was in tatters back then, leading us to believe that the future of Indian motoring will never go beyond smoky Padminis and Ambassadors.
But, like always, there were people who believed otherwise, and rode the winds of change. A powerful entrepreneurial vision, coupled with a whiff of national pride led these personalities to put India on the global motoring map. Today, apart from having significant presence in international motorsport, India is the seventh-largest automotive producer in the world, as well as the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer – and it’s the collective handiwork of the following people, whose contributions have helped shape the industry’s dynamics and general car culture.
This guy’s the boss – he created India’s first genuinely homegrown car, and bought the icons of British motoring industry to do us all proud.
Ratan Tata’s contribution to the Indian automotive space has become the stuff of legends. Presently the chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata was the chairman of the Tata group since 1991. Under his headship, the Tata Indica was conceived in 1998, and it earned the coveted title of being India’s first indigenously produced automobile. In 2008, he oversaw the phenomenon called the Tata Nano, the country’s cheapest passenger vehicle, and one at which the world gazed with positive inquisitiveness. The very same year, Tata Motors acquired the prestigious Jaguar and Land Rover marques from Ford, and formed a new company, Jaguar Land Rover, marking the coming of age of the Indian automotive industry.
This man gave us the Scorpio – a vehicle that is vehemently synonymous with the Indian car culture.
Anand Mahindra is the genial chairman and managing director of Mahindra Group. What started with simple vehicles capable of tackling the Indian terrain is now a USD 16.5 billion multinational conglomerate. Back in the late-90s, a visionary Anand committed significant financial resources to develop a new small SUV, specifically designed for the Indian market. The adventurous move paid off with the launch of the all-new, manufactured-from-scratch Scorpio SUV in 2002, which went on to become a runaway success, apart from developing a cult following in the country. Furthermore, he administered the acquisition of Bangalore based Reva Electric Car Company in 2010, leading to the formation of Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited – one of the pioneers in all-electric vehicles in the country.
Under his leadership, a 70% share of Korean car maker SsangYong was acquired by Mahindra & Mahindra in February 2011, indicating that India is indeed spreading her automotive wings globally. A venture into the two-wheeler space also came with the acquisition of Pune-based Kinetic Motor Company Ltd. (KMCL), and Mahindra Two Wheelers was born in 2008. Anand also played a pivotal in launching Mahindra Racing, which became the first Indian team to participate in the FIM MotoGP World Motorcycle Racing Championship series in 2011 and the Italian National Motorcycle Racing Championship (CIV) in 2012. Mahindra Racing is also the eighth and only Indian team to race in the all-electric Formula E series.
Simply put – Pawan is at the helm of the largest two wheeler manufacturer in the world
Pawan Munjal currently serves as the Vice chairman of Hero motocorp, and is company founder Brijmohan Lall Munjal’s third son. In December 2010, when Hero announced it was to part ways with Japanese two-wheeler major Honda, the market was rife with speculations of a dire future for the Indian company without its erstwhile partner. Today, under Munjal’s lead, Hero Motocorp is the largest two wheeler manufacturer in the world, albeit having secured that place with Honda’s engineering assistance in the past. Currently, Hero sells its products in 19 countries across Asia, South and Central America and Africa, with the company set to commission manufacturing units in Colombia and Bangladesh in 2015-16. Munjal says he plans to have in place 20 manufacturing/assembly units to expand its presence in 50 countries in a decade.
He put a desire inside of the average Indian youngster – a desire called the Pulsar
Rajiv Bajaj is the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto since 2005, and the son of Rahul Bajaj, chairman of the Bajaj Group. Without this man’s vision, the country wouldn’t have witnessed the Pulsar range of motorcycles, which, introduced in November 2001, can be single-handedly credited for redefining affordable Indian performance motorcycling. The Pulsar range also revived the fortunes of the ailing company benefiting the Indian auto industry. What’s more, Bajaj Auto, under Rajiv’s headship, picked up a 48% stake in Austrian two-wheeler major KTM in 2008 and turned the company’s fortunes around with the introduction of the formidable, locally assembled Duke series of performance motorcycles in the country. To this day, the Duke and RC series of motorcycles from Bajaj owned KTM are the undisputed kings of affordable performance motorcycling in the country.
If you consider your Apache fast or your Star City the best commuter ever, thank this man
Venu Srinivasan is the Chairman of Sundaram-Clayton Group which includes TVS Motor, which was conceived after TVS parted ways with Suzuki in 2001 after a 19-year old relationship. With Venu at the helm, TVS Motor Company is the fourth largest two-wheeler manufacturer in India and one among the top ten in the world today. With popular, high-selling motorcycles like the Victor and the Apache under its belt, the latter being a powerful rebuttal to the Pulsar, the company currently operates out of four manufacturing plants – three located in India (Hosur, Tamil Nadu and Mysore, Karnataka and Nalagarh, Himachal Pradesh) and one in Indonesia (Karawang). What’s more, a Venu led TVS recently partnered up with BMW Motorrad to develop a sub-500cc motorcycle for Indian and international markets.
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Formula One reminds us of him, turbo-charged or not.
The original, national hero in international motorsport – Narain Karthikeyan is the first Formula One motor racing driver from the country. He made India proud with his Formula One debut in 2005 on board the Jordan team, and was a Williams F1 test driver in 2006 and 2007. In 2011 he returned to F1 with HRT (Hispania racing Team), and continued with the team till 2012, before HRT crumbled apart. In between, he was battling it out with a Toyota Tundra in the 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. But before that, he was also the first and only Indian to participate in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race. On 11 May 2009, Karthikeyan finished sixth in his first ever Le Mans series race while driving for the Kolles Audi team in the second round of the 2009 championship held at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Think you had balls? Think again – this guy participated in, and completed the Dakar Rally
The Dakar rally is not for the faint-hearted. Traversing through treacherous terrain, taxing weather, and countries raging with civil war, the Dakar Rally has been unanimously hailed as the pinnacle of endurance racing. So in a proud moment for Indian motor sport, 31-year old C S Santosh from Coimbatore became the first Indian to participate in and finish the grueling event. Piloting his Red Bull sponsored KTM 450 rally bike, Santosh finished at a commendable 436 position out of 550 in the 2015 chapter of the Dakar Rally, which saw motorcyclists, quad bikers, and truckers traverse 9000 Kms of challenging South American terrain, which included Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.
Indian, chiller, billionaire, possesses taste and owns an F1 team – how cool is that?
Apart from the swashbuckling billionaire’s interests in beverage alcohol, aviation infrastructure, real estate and fertilizer sectors, Vijay Mallya also co-owns the Formula One team Sahara Force India, making him the first Indian to own an F1 team. Mallya headed a consortium to buy out the Spyker F1 team way back in 2007 with Dutch tycoon Michiel Mol for €88 million (810 Crore INR), although he has been financially involved in the sport since his Kingfisher brand sponsored the Benetton team in the 1990s. Apart from that, he is also known for his fine taste in automobiles.
We know what you’re thinking, but this guy has evolved positively, and was definitely THE trendsetter in his realm.
Indian automotive design is synonymous with one name – Dilip Chhabria. He founded DC Design back in 1993 when car designing was still in its nascent state in the country, and reaped the benefits. Dilip shot to international fame when he built the first prototype for the Aston Martin V8 Vantage at his facilities in Mumbai, to be displayed at the 2003 Detroit International Motor Show. Today, DCD has produced more than 600 uniquely designed cars; from supercars and body-kits to a complete re-haul of the humble Ambassador (Ambierod). DCD has also provided design and prototyping services to the likes of Renault and GM.
DCD, apart from having a manufacturing facility in Talegaon, Pune, also designs and refurbishes aircraft interiors. However, his entry to this list is quite controversial, much like his vehicles’ exterior styling, some of which is generally acclaimed to be in slightly poor taste, but he makes up for it with well-appointed interior designs. India’s first indigenously designed sports car – the DC Avanti, expected in the Indian market this month and is a brainchild of this very man.
A fast car loving billionaire, racer and a big influence on the nouveau enthusiasts – Gautam is one of the faces of contemporary Indian car culture.
Gautam Singhania is the Chairman & Managing Director of the Raymond Group, the world’s largest producer of worsted suiting fabric. But what gets him admittance to this list is his unabashed love for super-cars and racing. As a president of the Super Car Club of India, Gautam organizes the annual supercar rally in Mumbai, which sees an assortment of the best supercars from the country, catering to the rapidly rising supercar enthusiast culture in India. Gautam also has a win under his belt in the amateur category of the Allstars European Drifting Championship in Malta last year, apart from possessing a Ferrari 458 Challenge, which buys him exclusive track days with Ferrari. He was also responsible for getting the LaFerrari hyper car to India for the first time in India, purely for showcasing purposes. Apart from that, Singhania’s private garage is home to some of the most exotic cars in the country, including a twin-turbocharged Lamborghini Gallardo that is rated at upwards of 1200 horsepower.
So where is all this headed? With an average annual production of 17.5 Million vehicles, of which 2.3 Million are exported, it is estimated that the Indian automobile market will become the 3rd largest in the world and will account for more than 5% of global vehicle sales.
If you think the list is incomplete, and there might be a lot of unsung heroes lurking underneath, feel free to share. We’d love to hear from you.