The Sigma seems an ideal large vehicle for the small town
The 60-year-old Premier Padmini seems to be trying to make a comeback riding on the diesel powered Sigma, a compact multi-purpose diesel vehicle with the new Premier logo.
Sigma, recently launched in Pune with a price tag of Rs3.95 lakh for the base EX model and Rs4.35 for the deluxe variant, will roll out from Premier's new manufacturing facility at Chinchwad. The Sigma has been developed in technical collaboration with China Motor Corporation, ROC-Taiwan, an affiliate of Mitsubishi.
More like a van than a car, the Sigma has an unstylish and outdated look of the '70s and '80s and seems to have been introduced keeping a hawk eye on the gaps in the Indian auto market in the small towns. While the spacious diesel-powered vehicles like the Qualis, Bolero and Scorpio, are ideal for the large Indian joint families, they are terribly unsuited for the narrow roads and small parking spaces of most Indian towns. On the other hand, the smaller cars available in the market don't offer much by way of seating and luggage capacity and also don't come with diesel options.
This is where the company probably feels the Sigma fits in. Having relatively compact exteriors the Sigma is available in five-, seven-, eight- and nine-seating options, and offers a choice of a twin-AC, single AC or no AC.
The Sigma is powered by a two-litre naturally-aspirated diesel Isuzu-designed engine that develops 58 bhp at 4,500 revs with high 12kgm @3,000 rpm torque and a four-speed manual transmission gearbox that powers the rear wheels. It has front disc brakes, high 165cm ground clearance, monocoque body, ample interior space (3,695mm in length, 1,475mm width and 1,919mm height), winged rear windows, seven-all front facing seats, roof mounted central AC and hatchback door. The vehicle is Bharat Stage II compliant and is claimed to offer a mileage of 19.99km per litre under test conditions.
With the engine buried beneath the two front seats, the Sigma's other similarities to the Maruti Omni include sliding entrance doors and ample rear luggage space.
Hence - basically a bigger and more spacious Maruti Omni with a diesel engine to boot.
As for the interiors, it may well happen that truck and bus drivers would find it easier to drive the Sigma than passenger cars drivers simply because the steering wheel - parallel to the floor - is similar to those in buses and trucks and without the benefit of power steering.
For such a vehicle with such spacious interiors, the Sigma is surprisingly difficult to get in to mainly because the seats are designed to recline only up to a point.
It has a sluggish pick and takes 11 seconds to reach 60 kph and just manages to reach 100 kph. Exceeding this is inadvisable as the vehicle may lose poise at higher speeds. Clearly a vehicle meant for cruising for those with large families.
The suspension setup includes McPherson struts at front with coil springs and stabiliser bar, while the rear is cushioned by leaf springs and shocks. The Sigma rides on Goodyear 165 / 80 R 13 rubber tyres.
The company has chosen to locate its auto assembly site at Chinchwad near Pune, where PAL's machine tool division was located rather than at Kurla in Mumbai where Premier holds 11 acres of industrial land (after having accommodated Fiat India on some of it) and 25 acres of residential land.
Initially, Premier will assemble CKD kits brought in from Taiwan, before getting into complete manufacturing. The Sigma's body is originally from Mitsubishi, while Hindustan Motors will produce the engine based on an Isuzu design at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh.
The assembly operation will ensure that investments at the start-up stage remain minimal, since it has installed an assembly line and outsourced everything else. The assembly line has an annual capacity of 12,000 units and the company is targeting an annual capacity of 15,000 units at the Chinchwad plant, where expansion work is in progress.
According to Atul Akolkar, head, sales and marketing, Premier Automobiles, the company has invested Rs25 crore in the Chinchwad plant and will further invest between Rs50 and Rs75 crore in the next three years.
The company is putting in place a new 50-strong dealer network across the country. The first phase of the launch will be in the West and the South. The Sigma will be introduced in the North and the East in April 2005.
An eight- and nine-seater variant of Sigma will be launched later after gauging consumer response. PAL will also come out with a model for the cargo segment.
Premier has discarded the PAL short form, as it carries the baggage of the past. Hence, it will have a brand new logo with a capital 'P', that will be unveiled later this month. "Everything about the company is new - logo, manufacturing plant, location, workforce, products and dealerships," says Akolkar.
The only thing new to watch out for now is the sales.