The Indian car industry is one of the most fascinating auto industries in the world as it is one of the largest and has a lot of potential because it is ever changing. The Indian car market has seen a lot of cars from different car makers from home and foreign manufacturers. However, pre and post liberalisation there have been a lot of cars that flopped and did not pick up sales even though some of them were actually good. Let’s look at the list of such cars:
1. Sipani Dolphin
Sipani Dolphin was a car that was manufactured by Sunrise Automotive Industries Ltd (SAIL) later Sipani Motors setup in 1973 by the entrepreneur R.K Sipani. Sipani Motors tied up with the UK based Reliant Motors Ltd; they manufactured and assembled most of Reliant’s models in India. Unfortunately, every model produced by Sipani one way or the other managed to fail and was an albatross around his neck.
The Dolphin had an all fiber glass body and the original version had only two doors, it was powered by a 848cc 4 cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. Maruti 800 launched in 1983 was its biggest rival and people abandoned the two door Dolphin, the company replaced it with the 4-door Sipani Montana but that too did not find many takers.
You can read more about Sipani Motors and their cars here in this article: Auto360 | Forgotten Age: The Story of Sipani Motors Ltd
2. Standard 2000
The Standard 2000 manufactured by the Chennai based Standard Motors was ahead of its time as it was introduced in 1985 and the production was killed after three years. The body of the Standard 2000 was taken from the Rover SD1 produced by Rover Motors of the UK. It was seen as the best affordable luxury cars in the market as it came with a price tag of just Rs. 2.2 lakh. The car had a powerful AC, good fit and finish, spacious interiors, power windows, hydraulic power steering and a lot of gizmos on the dashboard which resembled a cockpit of an aircraft. The reason why it failed to take off was its engine and after sales service, the Standard 2000 was powered by a 2 liter 4-cylinder petrol engine from a 1948 Vanguard and was mated to a 4-speed manual transmission taken from a Standard 10 Van which was horrible. The car delivered poor mileage due to the mismatch of the fundamentals by Standard Motors, they wanted to make something spectacular but they wanted to cut costs.
3. Rover Montego
Sipani Automobiles is one automobile company in India that has managed to fail with almost every product it made. From the three fibre-glass cars – the Dolphin, Montana and D1, it also went on to introduce one of India’s first luxury cars – the Rover Montego in two variants. The Montego was available as a sedan and as a station-wagon in 1991. It came with a 2-litre diesel engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power steering, windows, AC and all the comforts you could think of in a good modern car. The car itself was a good product, but the price tag of Rs. 11 lakh was too steep for the time. By 1995, Sipani was too deep in financial trouble to continue making or selling these cars and very few were sold.
4. Daewoo Cielo (later Nexia)
The Cielo was launched in India by DCM Daewoo Motors with a lot of fanfare as it was India’s first mass market fuel injected car with a 1.5 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine which churned 80bhp of power and 128 Nm of torque which was mated to a 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatic transmissions produced in Surjapur plant in UP which was at the time the largest automotive plant in Asia. The car attracted the people who wanted a premium looking car in their garage, something different from the common Maruti 1000s or Maruti Esteems. This was the first C-Segment sedan built in India with an automatic gearbox.
The reason why the Ceilo failed in the Indian market was the one factor which Indians look before buying a car from any segment, fuel economy. The car delivered a poor figure and many moved to better and reliable options. Daewoo however misjudged the situation and introduced a more powerful version of the Cielo and rechristened it as Nexia. Under the hood of the Nexia, Daewoo fitted a 1.6 liter-4 cylinder petrol motor with a 16 valve and DOHC head with 92Bhp-130Nm on tap. The car was extremely powerful but it again delivered poor fuel efficiency.
5. Ford Escort
Ford Motor Company entered the Indian market in a joint venture with Mahindra & Mahindra as Mahindra Ford India Limited (MFIL) in 1995 and their first product was the Ford Escort. People were excited as the benefits of liberalisation was being seen, American car giant Ford launching a car for the Indian market was seen as a big event and many people placed orders for the Escort.
The Escort came with 1.6 liter Alpha Petrol and 1.8 liter Orion Diesel Engines. It was a solid car but was slightly underpowered and its main problem was its maintenance costs which was unprecedented for many buyers at the time. The initial batches of Escorts made in India had multiple problems and was unreliable and it quickly faded away as other car makers came up with better vehicles.
6. Tata Estate
The Tata Estate was the first car made by Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO) later, Tata Motors. It was the first attempt into the passenger car business by the Tata Group and was produced between 1992-2000. Tata Estate was a station wagon and its body was a rip off from Mercedes Benz W124T Station Wagon. It had a 1.9 liter 68 Hp Diesel Engine mated to 5-speed manual transmission. It was one of the first cars in the Indian market to have power windows, power steering, and had a tachometer.
However it had multiple problems from the start, the Estate was based on the Tata 207 pick-up truck platform which was done to cut costs, it helped them to save Rs. 10 crores at the time. The car had faulty electrical systems; high fuel consumption which resulted in poor mileage figures which never came close to what the company claimed and had issues with its suspension.
Tata also made bullet proof versions for VVIP customers. Increasing costs and competition lead to the ending of the production of the Estate.
7. PAL Peugeot 309
The Peugeot 309, introduced through a joint venture with Premier Automobiles Limited (PAL) in 1994, had all the potential of being a cult car and was very well accepted when it came into the Indian market. It had a very fuel-efficient 1.5 litre diesel engine and a capable petrol, 1.4 litre, 75 bhp engine too. The 58 bhp diesel engine from the Peugeot 309 was also used in the Maruti Esteem diesel, Zen diesel and the Hyundai Accent diesel. The Peugeot 309 was a tough car, with great ground clearance and decent road manners. However, the company failed to market it or provide good service back up. The joint-venture died due to labour problems and financial trouble with PAL and so did the car in 1997.
8. Tata Sierra
The Tata Sierra was one of the most radical SUVs launched in the 1990s, for its design and the kind of features it brought to the table. Powered by a 2 liter, indirect injection diesel engine that churned out 68 Bhp-118 Nm, the Sierra was an underpowered beast. Things improved on the performance front when Tata Motors turbocharged and intercooled the 2 liter diesel mill. However, the three door design meant that ingress and egress was difficult, making the Sierra unsuitable for the elderly lot.
Tata Sierra TV Ad
9. Opel Astra
In 1996, Opel set shop in India as Opel India Pvt Ltd (OIPL), under the umbrella of the General Motors India Private Limited. The same year, it rolled out its first offering for the country from its newly set up vehicle manufacturing plant in Halol, Gujarat – the second generation Astra.
With its European looks, robust build quality, a pothole engulfing suspension setup, and a 75 bhp strong 1.6-litre MPFI petrol engine, the Opel Astra earned a name for its own with India’s section of small, yet well-off car buying populace. There was even a 1.7-litre diesel engine rated at 67 bhp, but that was a dud. At a time when features like power windows, power steering, power side mirrors, electric rear defoggers, central locking and a sunroof were the stuff of dreams in India, the Astra had it all, with the top-end Club trim levels retailing for a shade over INR 10 lakh, it also delivered poor mileage figures and the Mitsubshi Lancer was the winner as people turned to it because it checked all the items in the box.
10. Mahindra Voyager
The Mahindra Voyager was based on the Mitsubishi L300 Delica van, which has some reputation as a go anywhere, expedition vehicle in four wheel drive guise. In India though, only the rear wheel driven variant was offered. The Voyager was positioned as a comfortable people mover for the market here, and featured a 2.1 liter turbo diesel engine sourced from Peugeot. The vehicle’s price tag of 5.25 lakh rupees ensured that it found few takers here. However, the vehicle, along with the Armada, represented Mahindra’s baby steps into the passenger car segment, a space that the Indian automaker is now comfortable in.
11. Daewoo Matiz
The Daewoo Matiz was a hatchback ahead of its time. Launched in 1998, as a competitor to the likes of the Hyundai Santro and the Maruti 800, the Matiz was a brisk seller. However, Daewoo couldn’t capitalise on the car’s success, soon going bankrupt. The safety that this car’s body shell offered was outstanding at it time. Though diminutive in terms of size, the Matiz packed in decent space. Powered by a 796cc, triple cylinder engine with 12 valves and a DOHC head, this motor was a class leader in terms of the technology it brought to the table.
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