If there was a space vacant in the Indian automotive sphere, here is a vehicle that will fit it like a glove. Adil Jal Darukhanawala grabs a first drive of the new mini-SUV from Premier Automobiles on its comeback trail
Yes that’s right, Rio is the name of the new mini-SUV which many car makers plain dumb ignored and it is here that an old venerable name from the motor manufacturing business hopes to reinvent itself. Let’s avoid the riddles and cut straight to the chase which in this case is of Premier Limited announcing its advent back as a speciality car maker in India.
Better known eons ago for its Premier Padminis and Fiat Unos plus the eminently forgettable Peugeot 304 which pulled the company down (or was it the other way around! – the jury is out on this count), Premier under the stewardship of Maitreya Doshi, grandson of Walchand Hirachand, has embarked on a whole new way to get back into a segment of industry which his family helped pioneer in this country.
First the method behind the madness and here it seems that Maitreya Doshi after the highly publicized spat with long time partner Fiat used all his business acumen to monetize his real estate holdings in Mumbai and then re-invest this into his firm’s machine tool division at Chinchwad in Pune. This purely engineering-driven arm of the company began to specialize in cutting edge applications for heavy industry and has made not just a name for itself in its sphere of operation but has also managed to make the firm financially very sound. Apart from being shielded from the economical turmoil, the new business orientation also taught Premier to make do with less and this mantra has been put into place for a very lean automobile manufacturing unit at Chinchwad.
And the product with which Maitreya Doshi aims to get his firm rolling on our roads is unique as well. The basis of this vehicle, which will be sold under the Rio model name, is the Daihatsu Terios mini-SUV of late 1990s vintage. Built to the Japanese kei-jidosha class regulations which specify not just a maximum length but also the maximum width of a car to conform to very low tax rates, the new Premier Rio is a snug cozy compact small vehicle which with its very configuration has placed itself as the proverbial cat among the small car pigeons in the market!
Rights to the Daihatsu Terios were sold to Chinese car maker Zotye Auto which marketed it as the Zotye Nomad and now Premier has done a deal whereby the entire car sans the drivetrain would be brought into India as a CKD unit. Premier has resurrected its old Peugeot TUD5 diesel engine, tweaked it and even changed cylinder dimensions to make it into an engine of its own making and this along with a 5-speed manual gearbox is what powers the Rio.
The Rio drives very well, is sprightly without being over the top, and can more than hold its own with all of the A-segment hatches as well as the entry level B-segmenters. While its looks may scream SUV, its makeup and delivery is more like the smaller hatches but with rear wheel drive and an upright dominating perch which is distinctive of large SUVs. In fact, as I have mentioned before as well, this was a niche there for the taking and everyone saw right through it. Of course if Premier doesn’t price the vehicle perfectly it might just score a self goal but then this was a car waiting to happen and Premier saw the opportunity.