Why did the most affordable sports car in the world fail in India?
It used the engine that once powered the Renault Clio.
We all have an inclination for high-end Luxobarges and SUVs that we clamor to own in our tender age. However, there are those like me who care about only one thing, speed. This explains our desire to own sports cars. But as the common aphorism goes, “they are awfully expensive to own.” Share your dream of owning a supercar and there will be scores of people with reproachful eyes informing in a dissuasive demeanour lamenting about the horrors of maintaining them and how they can’t be frugal and can’t be..
But would the scenario revel if I counteract with the statement that I am buying a “brand new” sports soft-top convertible for roughly INR 6 Lakh which has the pretensions of eking out 13 Kmpl while also being moderately rapid and city-friendly ? Believe me, I remember a time when an Indian automotive manufacturer launched a sports car for the masses (the last mentioned price on the internet is accurately INR 6.04 Lakh) in 1998 which sported all the trappings of a sports car. He had the simple dream of fulfilling the dreams of all who had sports car posters pinned up on their walls, risibled at the growl of a supercar and took long strides after them to make the day memorable.
The car I am talking about was launched by San Motors Ltd. and it was named the Storm, a perfect name as it was to take the market by storm. At least that is what the founders of this err whammy supercar Anjana Milind Thakker, Jasjiv Singh Devinder Singh Sahney and Milind Subhash Thakker would have thought.
Delving into the looks, It would be safe to say that the design was tantalising enough for 1998. However, you might adore it today as such stately yet elegant designs have long bid adieu to the world. The curvy and triangular headlamps might remind you of the Tata Indica V1. To give the car its distinct panache, one could find a portly and elongated hood, body-coloured bumpers, a wide lip and functional fog lamps.
The midriff mien of the convertible was the most enticing with its crisp lines and 13” 5-spoke alloy wheels. On the flip side, cost-cutting was evident in the form of mirrors that weren’t properly stuck to the doors. The rear also aroused interest as it spurred the retro-modern charm with its round congruent taillamps, boot-mounted spoiler and ‘STORM’ lettering as if it were a Ferrari. But that’s no preposterous thing, right?
If you are an inhabitant of Goa, you might have come across this car as most of the owners who feasted themselves with this beauty were situated in that affluent place of India. Moreover, the car’s engine was mated to the body in Goa. The remainder of the body was assembled in Bangalore.
A clever bit about this car is that the mitochondria of this car was thought with great acumen. It was a Renault D7 F 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated engine that produced 60 PS and 94 Nm of torque. This engine has powered the blisteringly swift Clio hatchback between 2001 and 2007. What further made things look better is that the car weighed just 820 Kg which meant a superb power to weight ratio. A 5-speed manual gearbox was standard and the only option to have. The ground clearance was deliberately restricted to just 135 mm for surefooted driving experience. 0-100 Km/h- 13 seconds flat (great figure for the millennials’ era), top speed-144 Km/h (not bad). While it was a feisty performer on the road, the company claimed the car could extract 11.9 kmpl in the city and 16 kmpl on the highway ticking the right boxes well for the parsimonious people.
It also had the modern-day gadgetry of power windows, power steering, child safety locks, front fog lights, rear defroster, leather seats and the all-pervasive, air conditioner.
Fun fact: The Reliant Motor Company of UK, the one which is responsible for the conjuring of the abysmal Robin 3-wheeled car was intrigued by this convertible and was in talks in the initial phase of the marque’s inception to import the Storm, both in its coupe and cabriolet guises. However, that plan never got materialised though reports claim that the import dates were planned. There was a time when Dream Machines, a car dealer in the UK was consigned to import and locally sell San Storm in Heathfield, East Sussex.
But if things were all hale and hearty, why didn’t this affordable sports car formula go on to be uber-successful? Well, there are numerous reasons for that. Firstly, the company being a startup, didn’t have the adequate capacity to market this car pan India. As a result, people at large were unbeknownst with the company and the car.
Secondly, in India there is a popular saying, ‘Jo dikhta hai, wahi bikta hai’ meaning that people buy what they see. San had just forayed in the automotive business and hadn’t earned an enviable reputation that could lure customers to buy the car.
Thirdly, there weren’t adequate touchpoints. A country like India which has its boundaries dispersed massively, a huge number of dealerships and service stations are required to reach out to people. Sure, some metro cities were covered but as this was a budget car, there was a substantial opportunity for the automaker to find buyers in B-tier cities as well.
Fourthly, there were more vehement, impeccably built and feature-rich cars rolling out from the stables of other regular local and transnational companies such as Tata Motors, Hyundai, Mahindra, Honda and a slew of others. Though they never saw the opportunity then to build a sports car, their sedans and hatchbacks could easily overthrow this two-door coupe. People will always give features a prerogative over anything else.
Lastly, in India where people generally live in joint families, not many would be wanting to settle for a sports car and would have preferred MUVs such as the Toyota Qualis, Mahindra Bolero and the Tata Sumo instead. A sports car can never have an affair with practicality, isn’t it?
Did it lay foundation for other brands?
What happened to the company then? Well, they had plans of introducing a buggy-like vehicle in 2004 called Dune but seeing the lukewarm response their maiden product received, they were thrown into doubt and this plan too, didn’t fruition. As of today, the company has desisted from operating further in India. However, in the sixteen years that followed, we have seen attempts from Tata Motors’ Tamo division when they unveiled the Racemo concept and Mahindra with its Funster Concept at this year’s Auto Expo. However, expect these cars to cost between 25-30 Lakh INR in case their plans aren’t marred by the ongoing pandemic. That said, this ‘movement’ is still in its infancy and in a quiescent phase currently.
As all good things must come to an end, so did this brand and the potent car. Let me know which car you think deserves to be written about.