Archive February 2019

Whose “Jeep” is it anyway?

For the corporate head honchos, it’s a trademark, an intellectual property, a copyright. For every other soul that exists on the planet, a Jeep is the quintessential multi purpose, go anywhere, distinctive off-road vehicle that doesn’t get marred by any obstacle.

Till the term “SUV” was not coined by a marketing whizkid in the US, every off-road vehicle was colloquially referred to as a Jeep. Be it the FJ made by Toyota or the Gypsy (a.k.a. Jimny / Samurai abroad) made by Suzuki in India. (Legend goes that the name Gypsy was chosen as it sounded very close to Jeep)

The ongoing battle between Mahindra North America (MANA) and Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) raises interest questions. While FCA might be the owners of the Jeep brand and the round headlamp – slat grille fascia, one can’t simply deny that almost all the body-on-frame SUVs that exist around the world are either direct descendants of the original Willys army vehicle or have been heavily inspired by them. For instance, Mahindra has been making Jeep derived vehicles non-stop for the last 70-odd years and unlike FCA, the company has always been under one family since day one.

The Jeep DNA is a part of automotive landscape across the globe. It’s not American anymore. Every country has made the Jeep its own or developed its own homegrown version or made a licenced version for decades.

Let me share a list and this is just the tip of the iceberg:

The Land Rover Series 1 was essentially a Jeep-like vehicle replicated by the Brits following the success of its American counterpart in WW2
This is the Mitsubishi Jeep. Built officially under licence in Japan. In fact, the first generation Pajero gets its underpinings derived from the Jeep platform
Suzuki LJ50 is the predecessor of the legendary Jimny. Can you see the similarities?
The Toyota FJ has all the characteristics that were associated with an off-road vehicle back then: Boxy body, flat fenders and an unmistakable silhouette
This is an official licensed Korean version of the Jeep christened “Korando” by SsangYong

So what does this tell us? The licensed versions mere made for decades and some are still being made even after the licence expired. The earlier owners of brand Jeep were just not bothered as their market was largely untouched. They never really took any strong legal action on these so-called “copies”.

This has made this design so ubiquitous just like say a toothbrush or a bicycle that it would be a little weird for one company to claim that it is the rightful owner of the design. It’s just like Mercedes-Benz doesn’t sue every 4-wheeler maker because Karl Benz invented the automobile or Piaggio or Bajaj doesn’t sue every 3-wheeler manufacturer that exists today.

Note that these so-called “copies” have built Jeep’s legacy across the globe and the brand has nonchalantly used that heritage whenever it officially entered that particular country. Which brings us to an interesting juncture! What if tomorrow one of the makers listed above create a neo-retro version of their “jeep” that looks exactly like the first generation they made for years? Does Jeep really have the moral right to stop them? Do let us know your thoughts.

The “traditional” car enthusiast is a dying breed and we need to live with this reality

Cars are changing. No matter to what extent purists deny that electric powered autonomous cars are the future, the truth is that they are the future. Cars are losing their soul and might soon become an appliance just like the washing machine in which you cleaned your laundry today.

And even before this change has happened, one can’t hide from the changes happening around us right now.

The first toy that a toddler gets today is not necessarily a toy car anymore. Toys, action figures, miniature sports items were what young boys were given as kids even though they did note necessarily belong to a family of car enthusiasts.

How often do you see kids playing with toy cars these days? (Pic Credit: Everdayfamily.com)

Well, why would that kid relate to a model car? When perhaps his (or her) parents today have started seeing owning a car a liability. Even some hardcore car enthusiasts today drive only on weekends and prefer public transport or cabs most of the time.

The glitzy world of touchscreen phones provide far more gratification than a static toy would. Toy makers around the world are facing the issue of finding younger buyers. Kids don’t buy Hotwheels cars any more. At best, they are buying Hotwheels track sets where the hero is not the car but unrealistic stunts and the carnage of cars slamming into each other.

A common sight associated with HotWheels today (Pic Credit: HotWheels.com)

Hence the toy companies’ focus is shifting towards the collector and hobbyist market. Factor in the growing manufacturing costs and prices of model cars (they are not toys anymore) have gone through the roof.

Now let’s look at adults. While we are blessed with classics which provide us simple motoring purity, most of these cars will be forced to retire due to growing concerns of pollution around the world.

The new age cars are brilliant. They are comfortable, spacious and safe. No doubt. But at the same time, they are getting complicated. There is no joy of fixing them yourself. Not to mention, many are sharing the same mechanicals, the only differentiating factor being the styling, badge and perhaps the features in the infotainment system.

I have been attending multiple car meets and I can’t fail to notice that the average age of people attending these meets is steadily increasing. This is in a nation like India which is getting younger. Kids of car enthusiasts are not taking their parents’ hobbies as seriously. They have other avenues today compared to the limited choices with which their parents grew up with. Yes, there are exceptions but these exceptions are very few in comparison to the larger reality.

How many kids can you find in this pic? 
This is the story of most car meets

On the flip side, the level of awareness of cars in general is growing due to ease of availability of information online. If anybody wants to be an active car enthusiast today, the entry barriers are far lesser. There are online forums, e-commerce sites and a gazillion car portals.

A few car guys (or girls) are born. They inherit the passion from their parents and siblings. But most are made. Because cars for most, till now, were a symbol of freedom, the first taste of speed, a shining example of being “arrived” in life. But this is eroding at a frighteningly quick pace.

When the larger base itself is dwindling, naturally, the “traditional” car enthusiast, i.e., the enthusiast who eats, sleeps, drinks cars, is becoming an endangered species.

While we might see a lot of people into cars as a passing fad or out of general interest, the true blue car nerds may cease to exist completely a few generations down the line! Or who knows, they may evolve into something else.