In the past there have been some cars that made a brief appearance on Indian roads and then were very rarely seen as the company pulled the plug on them for slow sales due to a variety of reasons. Some of the cars were ahead of their time. In some cases, the car companies didn’t have the muscle to market the cars. And in some cases the cars themselves were duds.
We put together the Indian List of Horrible Failures picking the 10 cars that actually had potential to be hits but ended up as duds, with hardly any being sold. Take a look and do tell us if you can think of more that deserve honorable mentions.
Sipani Dolphin (1982-1990)
Why it flopped: Unheard of company, poor marketing. The Maruti 800 killed it
Sipani Automobiles is a little known automotive company based in Karnataka. They have made cars like the three-wheeled Badal (based on the Reliant Robin) and which later morphed into the Dolphin (based on the Reliant Kitten) in 1982. The Dolphin had an all-fibre glass body and initially came in a two-door variant only, with a 848 cc, 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. The car was quite a spirited performer and was a delight among enthusiasts. But being a two-door fibre-glass body, it didn’t find many takers. In 1983, the Maruti 800, forced the Dolphin on to the back foot, and it was replaced with the Sipani Montana – a four-door variant. This too failed to find many takers. Sipani attempted to take on the 800 with yet another car, the Sipani D-1, a 1.5 litre diesel-engined fibre-glass car in 1989, but that too failed, because of the lack of marketing muscle and poor after sales service. The car died by 1990.
Rover Montego (1991-1995)
Why it flopped: High prices and dismal marketing and after-sales from Sipani
Sipani Automobiles is one automobile company in India that has managed to fail with almost every product it made. From the three fibre-glass cars – the Dolphin, Montana and D1, it also went on to introduce one of India’s first luxury cars – the Rover Montego in two variants. The Montego was available as a sedan and as a station-wagon in 1991. It came with a 2-litre diesel engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power steering, windows, AC and all the comforts you could think of in a good modern car. The car itself was a good product, but the price tag of Rs. 11 lakh was too steep for the time. By 1995, Sipani was too deep in financial trouble to continue making or selling these cars and very few were sold.
Standard 2000 (1985-1988)
Why it flopped: Underpowered engine, terrible gearbox and horrible mileage!
The Standard 2000, made by the Chennai-based Standard Motors, was ahead of its time in India. It was introduced in 1985, but died just three years later. The body of the Standard 2000 was lifted straight from the Rover SD1. It was available for Rs. 2.2 lakh then, and was seen as one of the best affordable luxury cars in the market. It had a good AC, amazing fit and finish, spacious interiors, power windows, hydraulic power steering, and a dashboard with so many gauges that it resembled an aircraft. The biggest let down, however, was the engine. Standard used a 2-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine from an old 1948-design Vanguard. This was mated to a terrible 4-speed manual transmission that was taken from the Standard 10 van. The car also gave horrific mileage of about 6 kmpl. Some Standard 2000 owners junked the engine and gearbox and put in imported Toyota and Nissan diesel units that fared decently, but they failed due to lack of parts and poor marketing by Standard Motors.
Maruti Baleno Altura (2002-2005)
Why it flopped: No takers for station-wagons in India, too expensive
Maruti has seldom failed with a car. But one of the biggest flops it had was the Baleno Altura – the stationwagon variant of the Maruti Baleno. The Baleno itself didn’t do pretty well compared to the competition. However, the Altura, powered by a 1.6-litre, 94 bhp petrol engine, was introduced in 2002, after the Baleno sedan. However, the Altura failed to entice buyers despite its good looks and practicality. The problem again was price, as it was priced at Rs. 7.5 lakh at the time, a bit too expensive compared to the competition. Altura production was stopped in 2005, selling very few units, while the Baleno sedan was discontinued in 2007 after a fairly good run.
Mahindra Voyager (1997-2000)
Why it flopped: Expensive van, ahead of its time
Before Mahindra managed to make good utility vehicles that could carry passengers in comfort, it attempted to take on the Maruti Omni, by introducing a bigger van in a tie up with Mitsubishi. The Voyager, introduced in 1997, was powered by Mahindra’s 2.1-litre Peugeot diesel engine that did duty in the Mahindra MM540, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. It was one of the first MUVs to come with lots of interior space and comfort, and with dual-row air-conditioning. However, for a price of over Rs. 5 lakh, it found limited buyers. Production of the Voyager stopped in 2000, after an ill-fated run.
PAL Peugeot 309 (1994-1997)
Why it flopped: The company flopped, the car was a gem!
The Peugeot 309, introduced through a joint venture with Premier Automobiles Limited (PAL) in 1994, had all the potential of being a cult car and was very well accepted when it came into the Indian market. It had a very fuel-efficient 1.5 litre diesel engine and a capable petrol, 1.4 litre, 75 bhp engine too. The 58 bhp diesel engine from the Peugeot 309 was also used in the Maruti Esteem diesel, Zen diesel and the Hyundai Accent diesel. The Peugeot 309 was a tough car, with great ground clearance and decent road manners. However, the company failed to market it or provide good service back up. The joint-venture died due to labour problems and financial trouble with PAL and so did the car in 1997.
Opel Vectra (2002-2004)
Why it flopped: Quirky electronics, ahead of its time
The Opel Vectra was a luxury car that had the potential of leading the D-segment in India. It was priced around Rs. 16 lakh when it was introduced in 2002. It had a robust 2.2-litre, 146 bhp petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. However, the car was ridden with problems related to its very complicated electronics. It had all kinds of on-board diagnostic software but just couldn’t stand up to Indian driving conditions and hence spent most of its time in service stations. It sold for just about two years before General Motors pulled the plug on it. The company was anyway killing the Opel brand in India, focusing instead on the Chevrolet brand.
Ford Mondeo (2002-2007)
Why it flopped: Too expensive, ahead of its time
Ford’s attempt to enter the luxury market in India also met with very limited success. The Mondeo is a car that has sold well globally, but in India, it just didn’t catch the fancy of buyers in the D-segment, when it was introduced in 2002 as an import. It was a great driver’s car and caught the fancy of some enthusiasts. But in general, buyers didn’t think it was value for money compared to its competitors like the Accord and the Camry. It was powered by a 2-litre petrol engine that put out 142 bhp of power with a five-speed manual transmission. It also had a 2-litre 128 bhp, duratorq, diesel variant that was a lot more fuel-efficient, but the petrol was more fun to drive.
San Storm (1998-today)
Why it flopped: Pseudo-sports car, underpowered, poor marketing and sales network
India’s first and only convertible after the erstwhile Standard Herald was the San Storm made in Goa in 1998. San Motors was bought out by Kingfisher head honcho Vijay Mallya in an attempt to market India’s first convertible sports car and a coupe variant as well. The two-seater car was made entirely of fibre-glass making it very light. It had a Renault-sourced 1.2 litre engine that put out 60 bhp of power – just about at par with regular hatchbacks and hence not much in terms of sporty performance. It had a five-speed manual transmission and very little luggage space. The car can still be ordered from San Motors in Goa, but has not sold even a few units in the past few years.
Chevrolet SRV (2006-2009)
Why it flopped: Too expensive a hatchback for the Indian buyer
The Chevrolet SRV was the Chevrolet Optra hatchback variant that was introduced in India in 2006. It was more premium than most premium hatchbacks of the time, priced at around Rs. 7 lakh. It was a true hot-hatch, with a 100 bhp, 1.6 litre petrol engine. The mechanicals were all based on the Optra sedan. The car had plenty of interior space and good handling, with a reasonably spacious boot for a hatchback. But because of its premium pricing, and the fact that the Indian market was not ready for such a large hatchback, it was discontinued in 2009, barely three years later with only a limited number being sold. Parts are not a problem though as the Optra sedan is still in production.
These 10 cars are what we think is the list of cars that really failed in India. Cars such as the Tata Estate, a station-wagon variant of the Premier Padmini (the Starline), and the Mahindra Scorpio Petrol Rev 116 can also get honorable mentions. And there are others too that just aren’t selling in India, like the Maruti Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander, which may cease to exist if they continue their dismal performance. Have you owned or do you think any other car should make it to this list of failed cars in India? Let us know in the comments below!