My first visit to Bombay for nearly 20 years was always going to surprise me. Much has changed since I was last there. International brands are more prevalent, poverty is less overt and wealth is more ostentatious.  Such is the pace of change in this vast metropolis (one suburb, Anderi, has a population equivalent to that of Greater London) that in twenty years I expect it will look little different to the cities of Southern Europe.

What appeared to me to be the most striking change was in Bombay’s road transport. Twenty years ago you were likely to see only three types of car on the city’s roads.  Hindustan Motors Ambasadors dominated the government market and were favoured by those with big families and a traditional mindset.  Fiat Padminis dominated the taxi trade.  The more aspirational consumer favoured the little Maruti hatch back.

In today’s Bombay I saw only one Ambi in three days.  Most of the Marutis had vanished too. Only a few battered Padminis hung on in the taxi trade but they were clearly fighting a losing battle with newer uglier Suzukis. Bombay’s streets are now thronged with Renaults, Suzukis, Skodas, VWs, Audis and lots of Mercedes.  

Skoda, Suzuki, Hyundai .. this Bombay street scene could be anywhere

The once ubiquitous auto rickshaws are now restricted to the suburbs.

The vanishing Bombay Auto Rickshaw

 I passed Aston Martin and Porsche showrooms and saw Land Rover, Jaguar and BMW heavily advertised. There is a Lamborghini showroom and no doubt, somewhere, Ferrari are plying their trade too.  Sadly comparatively few Indian brand cars were apparent. As in China, it seems that if you are aspirational you want to drive a foreign brand car even if it is built locally.

Ubiquitous Suzuki Taxi – so much less classy than a Padmini

 

Bombay’s impressive 3.5 mile long Sea Link, connecting Bandra to Worli. One stretch of road in Bombay where you can stretch a car’s legs!

A rare car in Bombay, Perseus Bandrawalla’s immaculate BMW 330. The car previously belonged to cricketing ledgend Sachin Tendulkar

The Dacia Duster is built in numerous locations around the world, including in India at Madras. It is sold in India as the Renault Duster and, unlike its Dacia sister, is aimed at an aspirational rather than budget market. In Renault form for the India market it comes with full leather seats, aircon and lots of other “luxury” kit as standard. They should sell similar specified cars in Europe!

Whilst in Bombay I saw very few of the much maligned Tata Nano, but I did get to ride in two. Whilst not great to look at they are remarkably spacious , easily taking four adults in a level of comfort surprising for such a small car. The Nano’s 624cc two cylinder engine sounded harsh under load but proved more than adequate for city driving. The Nano supplied to our (Tata owned) hotel as a courtesy car had leather seats , aircon and other bells and whistles. It was a great little car and I I think it would sell well to cool urban dwellers in Europe, particularly if produced (as promised in the future) in electric form.

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