Today there are many car makers in India, foreign and domestic but before all these car makers there was one long ago the not so famous Bangalore based 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 company finally shut down in the late 90’s.
The first model produced by Sipani Motors was based on the famous Reliant Robin and it was called Badal. It was India’s first four-seater three-wheeler car which had a fibreglass body with 3 doors and one wiper (primitive cost cutting strategy). Under the hood the Badal was powered by a 1966 Petrol Innocenti 200cc, 1 cylinder engine originally designed for scooters. It was grossly under powered and was a failure. Sipani Motors came up with the Badal 4 which had 4 wheels (yes that was the only feature).
Next was the famous the two-door Sipani Dolphin introduced in 1983 based on the Reliant Kitten. This again was made of fibreglass and was a rear-powered Reliant based carbureted mill 848cc, 4-cylinder engine. An extended estate version was also introduced but both saw a rise and fall in sales mainly because of its unreliability (due to the fibreglass body), spare parts and service was always a nightmare. The Dolphin couldn’t match the Maruti 800 and was discontinued later.
After the failure of the Dolphin, Sipani Motors decided to develop their own model and thus came the 4-door Sipani Montana (they thought adding doors would solve the problem, but in fact it added to the problem). It was produced from 1985 to early 90’s and looked more like the Maruti 800. The Montana broke almost all the laws of aerodynamics and proportionality, it was unwieldy and unsteady. This was also a failure because of the stretched steel chassis often broke into two and had other design flaws along with the usual Sipani problems.
This advertisement sums up the marketing strategy of Sipani Motors.
Sipani Motors didn’t quit, the company came up with the Montana D1, an improved version of the Sipani Montana. The body and frame was based on the Japanese car Daihatsu Charade. Montana D1 was produced from 1989-92. The company built close to 250-280 units in India. This car was powered by a diesel Mitsubishi-Shakti 180D engine originally developed for Tillers (small tractor). The fibreglass body often cracked because of the overpowering vibrations and was enough to try the patience of a saint. For some weird reason Sipani Motors acquired Auto Tractors Ltd. to produce these engines in Uttar Pradesh.
In 1991 the Indian economy opened its gates and there was a mad rush in the automobile industry. Hindustan Motors updated the Ambassador and added Nova to its name, Premier Padmini introduced the S1 (Fiat 1100D) and Mahindra signed a joint venture with Ford Motors. Sipani too realised the potential and had to match the rising competition, Sipani tied up with The Rover Motor Company (direct ancestor of the present day Land Rover) to assemble the Austin Montego as Rover Montego.
Rover exported CKD (or Knock-Down Kits) to India to assemble the Montego. The Montego was the first 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder turbo diesel car assembled in India and it came with a lot of features. The car was a failure because it was ahead of its time and was priced too high (close to Rs.9.5-11 lakhs) and was seen as a luxury car. This was the final car to roll out from the Sipani Plants and it wrote the epitaph of Sipani Motors Ltd.
Most of their cars failed and rising debt of Sipani Motors forced them to end their operations but one thing I appreciate and respect was the “never quit, never give up” attitude of Mr. R.K Sipani who displayed the true entrepreneurial spirit as he fought till the end.
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