As if painstakingly choosing the right car wasn't tough enough, buyers are being lured in with a wide variety of extra add-on accessories that can be even more bewildering. By Sourya Biswas
When we went to cover the Ninth Auto Expo at New Delhi in January, we were overwhelmed to see for ourselves the growth of the automobile industry in India. And this industry refers not only to the vehicles, but also to all the useful features that convert the typical five-seater from a mere car to an experience in itself.
The 25 new launches at the Expo did take our breath away, and of course all the cameras were focused on the Nano, but we were left equally impressed by the gamut of accessories on offer - from LPG conversion kits to iPod-compatible music systems to high-strength alloy wheels. The expo had them all… and buyers for them as well.
Long gone are the days when the Indian car-buyer was saddled with Hobson's choice of a Hindustan Motors Ambassador or a Fiat with the little Maruti 800 thrown in for variety. We remember the days when the Contessa Classic was considered the ultimate executive car and the Premier Padmini an ideal family vehicle. Luckily for us times have changed.
Not only do we have home-grown manufacturers like Maruti, Mahindra and Tata Motors unveiling new creations every second month, we have also seen the entry of the biggest foreign names in automobiles like General Motors and Volkswagen. And many more like Lexus are on their way.
All this has coincided with an economic boom unseen in independent India, and the Indian car-buyer is spoilt for choice. Not only does he want to buy the best wheels money can buy, but also add to the experience. We are talking accessories here, which have now moved from the realm of passing fancy to compulsive necessity. It is now possible to spend an amount of money on accessories, which earlier one spent on cars. We will look at some of these add-ons on offer and although most of them would come standard with high-end vehicles, the possibilities of enhancing most cars on the roads are many.
We will approach this topic the same way we review cars, top-down. So, starting from the exterior we have the car's appearance and safety in mind.
Bullbars or crash-guards have now appeared on Indian roads with a vengeance, though their utility is a matter of opinion. While, they are definitely a must for Maruti Omni vans that lack frontal protection, but what about a majority of vehicles on the road?
Sure they enhance looks and allow the fitment of a lot of jazzy lights, but do they actually protect the passengers inside? Well, for low-speed impacts like the occasional brush with an autorickhaw, a bull bar does protect the paintwork.
But for more serious accidents, it merely transfers the energy from the collision to the two points of attachment instead of over the whole frontal area, somewhat negating the concept of the crumple zone thoughtfully provided by the manufacturer. A bull bar can also block the airflow into the engine and cause overheating. So think before you spend anything between Rs2,000 and Rs5,000 on one.
If your car doesn't have the protection of a covered garage, the first thing you should think of investing in is a body cover to save it from the elements, and the dive-bombing, excreta-dropping denizens of the air. Body covers range from canvas spreads costing around Rs500 to ones made of parachute material priced over Rs1,000. Another surface protection method that has gained currency recently is a Teflon coating.
If you do decide to go for one, get it done just after you purchase your car. This will set you back by about Rs3,000. Although this may provide a shine to your vehicle, it has been known to crack often under the glare of the harsh Indian summer. To protect your car from the vagaries of underdeveloped roads peppered with monstrous potholes and bone-jarring speed breakers, you may decide to go in for underbody protection costing around Rs2,500.
You need to protect your car not only from the harshness of nature, but also the avarice of humankind. This is where car protection systems come in. From simple gear locks priced at Rs1,000 to central locking systems providing ignition cut-off and stereo protection costing Rs3,000, there are a whole lot of protective accessories on offer. Such kits are available from Xenos, Autocop, Delphi, etc, and come with warranties. The best of such systems come with immobilisers with programmed smart cards that need to be in the vicinity of a matching vehicle in order to start it. These will cost higher at about Rs10,000.
Now, it's time to look at the legs your car runs on aluminium alloy wheels are increasingly finding acceptance in today's car market. Not only do they look good, they perform better as well. Erroneously referred to as ''mag wheels'' earlier, alloy wheels have become popular because of their versatility and the high strength to weight characteristics of aluminium.
This translates into a smoother, more fuel-efficient drive. Such wheels would cost you around Rs4500 apiece. Even the humble rubber surrounding those shiny wheels have undergone a sea change with the popularisation of tubeless tyres. For the advantages of tubeless tyres over the regular ones. Costs? Approximately Rs2,500 apiece depending on the size.
Let's move into the interiors now. Although standard music systems may come factory-installed with many cars, you may want to upgrade to a whole new audio-visual experience. Here, you have a plethora of options to choose from, all precisely tuned to your ears, and wallet. From simple CD-MP3 players to 6DVD-changers with detachable screens, from tiny speakers to monstrous eight-inch satellite units, sporting amplifiers and sub-woofers, to convert the ride in to a concert-hall experience.
Approximate costs would be Rs4500 for the base models and Rs8000 for the DVD systems (extra for the screens), with additional speakers and amplifiers coming at Rs3000 apiece. There are a number of manufacturers to choose from – Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer, Blaupankt, Panasonic, etc. There are a few brands like Alpine that serve you highly-personalised in-car entertainment products with several enhancements. These will cost higher at about Rs15000.
But what use is music if you can't sit in comfort? For sprucing up your seats, you have a range of covers on offer, from faux leather ones to the genuine article. These would range in prices between Rs4,000 and Rs20,000, and you can choose from established names like Stanley, Maple and Autofoam, or go to your neighbourhood tailor. A steering grip can also enhance the experience when you are behind the wheel.
If you want to feel at home in your car, you can splurge Rs4,000 on ambient lighting. In the hot summers so typical here, it would be a good idea to go for sun-protection films from the likes of Garware and Llumar, costing around Rs2,000.
Certain accessories may seem a bit overboard, but what may be going overboard for one may be an essential luxury for another. We are talking of features like sunroofs and mini-fridges. While a sunroof from Webasto may set you back by as much as Rs30,000, a 20L refrigerator to keep your beer chilled will cost around Rs6,000.
Certain additions, which can be termed as more than accessories entirely change the nature of vehicles. We are talking fuel-conversion kits here. Although requiring a large initial investment, the addition of such a kit may prove economical in the long run considering the low cost of alternative fuels like CNG and LPG vis-à-vis traditional fuels like petrol and diesel. Such kits may be bought from manufacturers like Nugas and Minda Gas for about Rs25,000.
We have just addressed the major accessories in this article, and there is no end to the number of ways you can jazz up your ride. From door pads to power curtains to neon lights, the choice is enormous. So it's time to buckle up and drive to the nearest showroom to spruce up your favourite companion. And the changes are no longer only cosmetic, nor the privilege of the wealthy few. So what are you waiting for?