Photos by Anand Philar
The average Indian terrain, which includes our famously pot-holed roads, is verdant hunting grounds for SUV manufacturers (Sports Utility Vehicle or SUV, is the technical nomenclature). While, most of today’s SUVs from varied automobile manufacturers are actually super luxury gigantic cars used by their owner-drivers to carefully negotiate the twists and turns of traffic-jammed roads, only the Mahindra jeep or Suzuki Gypsy are actually used for off-road sporting activities. Having said that, there are a few adventurous and well-heeled owners who would not mind dirtying their tyres by taking their Landrover or Fortuner into the great outdoors. But, by and large, most consider their SUVs as Simply Ultra Vogue vehicles to be seen in!
A bit of history
The seed was planted in India as early as 1940 when the British were still here and the rugged tea planters explored the hilly regions of South and North East India for developing tea estates. The hilly terrain needed vehicles that would not buckle under pressure. The Willys Jeep was the unanimous choice, with its 4-wheel drive and rugged structure, having proven its utility value in the World War II. The word ‘Utility’ was also born then and unknown to the automobile industry, a Utility Vehicle was what the Willys Jeep turned out to be. This is probably the precursor to today’s SUV or Sports Utility Vehicle, only, those days, it must have been more of a Multi Utility Vehicle! Needless to say, the defence and police forces embraced the Jeep for its sheer ease of use, access of difficult terrains and ruggedness.
In 1945, two enterprising brothers named J.C. Mahindra and K.C. Mahindra joined forces with Ghulam Mohammed and started Mahindra & Mohammed as a steel company in Mumbai. Two years later, India won its independence, Ghulam Mohammed left the company to become Pakistan’s first finance minister, and the Mahindra brothers ignited the company’s enduring growth with their decision to manufacture Willys jeeps under license in Mumbai. The company became Mahindra & Mahindra.
More than 70 years later, they are still India’s premier utility vehicle (UV) company. In addition to making groundbreaking UVs like the Scorpio and Bolero, Mahindra offers cars, electric vehicles, pickups, and commercial vehicles that are rugged, reliable, environmentally friendly, and fuel-efficient.
Along came the Maruti Gypsy, a four-wheel-drive vehicle based on the long wheelbase Suzuki Jimny SJ40/410 series. It was primarily an off-road vehicle, or a vehicle for rough unprepared roads. It is manufactured in India by Maruti Suzuki. The defence and police forces embraced this model, even as auto enthusiasts made good use of it for rallying purposes. Sadly, Maruti never took the trouble to upgrade it for modern usage, even as others saw a gap and started flooding the market with latest offerings – Renault Duster, is a case in point.
Today, the Indian roads are inundated with scores of SUVs from every automobile manufacturer worth their salt. SUVs are more of a status symbol than meant for its original purpose of off-roading and other automotive sports-related activities. Never mind that Indian roads are still the great outdoor off-roading venues!