Every time I see our Prime Minister step into or out of his Range Rover Sentinel or the Toyota Land Cruiser, I ask myself, “Is this the vehicle our PM should be travelling in? Can there not be an ‘Indian’ official vehicle?”
Some will justify the need for BR-7 level armour and therefore the inability to customise any local vehicle. Some may justify that Land Rover is owned by Tata Motors and so Indian enough! To me, neither works.
Every large economy that has a thriving domestic automobile industry tries to have a domestic brand as the official vehicle for the head of state to use. Otherwise, close to 70 percent of the world is happy with the Mercedes-Benz S-class or the BMW 7 Series for this task. Apart from the obvious, like the US, UK, Germany, and Japan that use their own brands, I dug up a few more interesting bits of trivia. The French President travels in either a PSA (now Stellantis) vehicle or a Renault one; currently a DS 7 Crossback and a Peugeot 5008. Erstwhile USSR used to have the ZIL limousines till the dismantling of the federation; Putin has gone back from using Mercedes-Benzes to an Aurus Senat, a new Russian badge. China have had the Hongqi limousine since the 1960s; currently Xi Jingping uses an L5 limousine. The South Korean president uses the Hyundai Nexo SUV – a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle!
What is the big deal about an official car, one may ask? Not much, says the head. A lot, says the heart. It stands for all that is good and laudable about the nation – design ethos, culture, engineering prowess, and confidence. It is representative of the automobile industry that is a key pillar of the economy and in nation building. The Aurus, Hongqi and DS 7 may technically not be exactly at par with the S-class Pullman, but emotionally they operate at a level much higher when you see your head of state moving around in one.
Does India need an Indian official vehicle? I say we do. It has got to be one that embodies values like design, engineering, ability to go anywhere, economy, connectivity, and sustainability. So, I am envisaging a hybrid SUV, fully connected, with external and internal iconic Indian design elements like the Ashokan Lion Capital, the peacock, calligraphy, and the paintings of Bhimbetka. It has to incorporate patterns and graphics on the bodywork, representing different cultures of this diverse land. It should use 100 percent natural and recyclable upholstery. Throw the challenge to various Indian automotive brands and I am confident they will come up with some stunning solutions.