Force Motors postpones SUV launch

Looks like Force Motors has pushed the launch date of its new SUV to May 2011 instead of March earlier. Apparently, the company has decided to extend the vehicle’s testing period to ensure it has no flaws when it’s launched in the market, where it’ll battle big guns Mahindra Scorpio and Tata Safari. Expect Force to price its yet-to-be-named SUV in the Rs. 12-15 lakh range.

Based on spy photos of Force’s test mules, we infer that it could be the Indian version of the Chinese-made Foday Explorer III. The engine will likely be a 2,148 cc Daimler that produces 148 hp, although some publications have also reported the possibility of a 2.2-litre, 220 hp engine.

The current Foday Explorer sold in China is as big as a Ford Endeavour. If priced at the expected Rs.12-15 lakh range, this could be the biggest SUV in India for that price range. Foday Explorer has three-row seating – all front facing. The seating arrangement is similar to Tata Aria’s, two at the front, three in the middle and two in the third row. Cargo space is above average.

Force Motors postpones SUV launch
Photo: Force Motors' upcoming SUV will be based on the Chinese-made Foday Explorer

The SUV’s driving dynamics will be engineered by Lotus Engineering, a leading global consultancy for driving dynamics. A ‘C-in-C’ chassis is being designed and developed by Force Motors, with the suspension, ride and handling characteristics being fine-tuned with the help of Lotus.

Initially, Force Motors may offer the new SUV only as a rear-wheel drive option, with a 4WD version planned later. Production of the SUV will take place at the Force Motors plant at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh. The company has invested Rs. 150 crore for manufacturing the new SUV. It must be noted that the Pithampur plant also manufactures the Man Force range of trucks.

Force Motors Current Models

Currently, Force Motors sells Traveller (passenger van), Trax Judo (MPV), Trax Gurkha (SUV), Trump (small truck) and a tractor.

The Traveler (popularly known as Tempo Traveller) that Force Motors offers today is based on the Mercedes-Benz T1N Sprinter. The joint venture with Mercedes-Benz was further strengthened with the signing of the collaboration for the manufacture of the Tempo Traveller in 1986. Currently, Force Traveller is available with two bodies: Traveller Ambulance and Traveller Scholar-School Bus. The Traveller is powered by a TD 2650 FTI (BS-III), 2596 cc engine that produces 80.4 bhp at 3,200 rpm of maximum power and 215 Nm at 1,800-2,000 rpm of maximum torque. The Tempo Traveler can seat 10 in case of an Ambulance and 20 (maximum) in case of a Scholar-School Bus version.

Force Motors postpones SUV launch
Photo: Force Trax Gurkha 4WD

Force Trax Gurkha 4WD is powered by the TD 2650 FTI, 2,596 cc engine (BS III) that produces a maximum power of 75 hp at 3,200 rpm and a maximum torque of 195 Nm at 1,800-2,000 rpm. Trax Gurkha has advanced off-roading features such as a manually lockable front and rear differentials, with shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, but the under-powered engine fails to fully utilize the strong chassis. The seating capacity of Trax Gurkha 4WD is 7. The build quality is utilitarian at best and priced close to Rs 8 lakh.

The Trax Cruiser is the MPV version based on the Trax Gurkha. It is powered by a 2,596 cc, 4-cylinder, DI, BS III engine that produces a peak power of 61 hp at 3,200 rpm and a maximum torque of 158 Nm at 2,000–2,200 rpm. The Trax Cruiser is offered in 9-seat and 13 seat versions, and comes with optional power steering.

Unlike its other products, which fall mostly in the commercial vehicles segment, Force Motors’ new SUV will be addressing the private car segment, specifically the entry-level SUV category. If our assumption is correct, the sales and distribution network of Force Motors, which currently sells the commercial vehicles may not quite suit the requirements of individual customers. Will the company develop an exclusive dealership network? How will the people react to a brand, not known in the SUV space though it exists for more than 2 decades in India selling commercial vehicles? Will the new SUV live up to the expectations of an SUV buyer? Only time will tell.

Source: Autocar India