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Old 19th November 2009, 10:37   #1
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Default A tribute to the Sunshine Car - The Hyundai Santro



July 1997, as a 12 year old kid, and as a 7th grade student, I was never serious about studies.
Just had little interest in them, but one thing that I never forgot to read was an automobile magazine, and remained up to date with the latest happenings from the auto industry, even if I could not understand the A to Z of cars.

Then suddenly, while watching a programme at Discovery Channel, I came across a series of repeated TV commercials, truly in international style, showcasing quirky but decent looking coupes and sedans. It seemed that a company wanted to announce some new models or was it some brand building process or...couldn't recall.., since at that time I thought that these ads were for foreign countries only...

(Don't expect a 12 year old to remember everything)

Then while one fine day coming back from school in mid august, turn on discovery at 3 pm, again, I see extended versions of these commercials and thats when I recall the slogan which shows a handshake and proclaims-


After that, the brand's name appears. More on that later..

Meanwhile, again, Christmas time, December 1997, that same company airs a 3 minute commercial showcasing its infrastructure, factories, employees and headquarters in the same discovery channel, followed by the slogan,


Suddenly I start to get excited, and over excited little knowing that this brand will create shock waves in our market when it commercially starts operations after one year.

Little do I realize that this brand will create history by bringing in many firsts in the Indian automobile industry.

Little do I realize that their maiden product will be unlike anyhing we have ever seen or experianced before, and that it will look unlike anything before and most importantly, succeed unlike any nameplate we have seen before in our market.

December 1997, Auto India magazine carries an exclusive auto expo preview and features a red coloured unusual looking hatchback on the bottom right of its cover, just below the Indica and labels it as a "show star"........

Lets embark upon the journey of a car that created ripples in the Indian automobile industry and for the first time ever, gave sleepless nights to the numero uno of the Indian automobile industry, and still continues to do so today.

Lets go back to the history and walk through the memory lane of this little wonder that still stands tall....

Lets pay tribute to the sunshine car, live here on team-bhp, in a series of write ups which will contain the journey right from the start till today, looking back and what in store for the future.

While I am off to IITF , all bhpians here are free to narrate their experiences, or any memories that are/ were attached to their little wonder that stands tall.

Part 2 will come up next in a few hours.
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Old 19th November 2009, 10:38   #2
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So let the history of santro roll here
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Old 19th November 2009, 10:44   #3
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In 1997 we bought the Maruti Zen.
Well paid the money, and were told one week waiting time.
I was in college then, and all this was going behind my back

Well the zen never came, 1 week became 2 weeks, and the salesman would not even pick up the calls. In frustration, my dad cancelled the booking, and went to Hyundai.
As I came back for vacation, I see this hideous thing in the driveway.
however a short drive cleared all apprehensions, and she served without trouble for many years. First repair(silencer rusting) came up around 45K. Otherwise, it was an experience of fill it, shut it, forget it!
The replacement was a getz, so good was the hyundai ownership experience!
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Old 19th November 2009, 10:47   #4
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My first Santro came home in 2000 - people were still comparing its looks to an Auto-Rickshaw !
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Old 19th November 2009, 11:19   #5
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I have a horrible memory and don't have/never had much love for the Santro. Our family had a Maruti 800 and a Zen since 2001, so the Santro was our rival

If I remember correctly, I first read about the Santro after the 1998 Auto Expo in one of the auto mags (either Auto India or Autocar India). I didn't take an immediate liking to it, probably because I didn't like the grille at the front. But I did think the rear looked good. The Matiz was also in the magazine and, for some reason, I had a soft spot for it and wanted it to succeed and the Santro to fail.

After a few years, Hyundai revamped the Santro with clear lens headlamps and a different grille. This is when I started thinking of the car as being pretty cool. The young crowd also started modding their Santros with alloys etc. I definitely would not have minded being seen in a Santro then.

Just as I started loving the car, Hyundai decided to replace it with the Santro Xing which looked nothing like the old one. I remember thinking that the new one lost the character of the old one and it stopped being a cool car for me.

I never really got a chance to drive the Santro except for this one time when our neighbour parked his Xing right behind ours and he gave me the keys so that I could park it somewhere else. I was lucky not to have made a fool of myself. The throttle was ridiculously sensitive, the engine was revving like crazy before I had a chance to get off the clutch pedal (I wasn't used to the bite point or the throttle). It was the same story with the brakes. At that time I was used to driving my dad's Ikon which had worn out brake pads (the Ikon has bad brakes at the best of times). As soon as I touched the Xing's brakes, bam. It was like left foot braking for the first time. Fortunately, all this was at parking speeds.

That's my Santro story.

Sidindica, I read a part of your tribute thread to the Indica and loved it. Looking forward to this one too.
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Old 19th November 2009, 11:57   #6
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The King of scoops is turning into the King of Tributes... Bring it on Sid!!
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Old 19th November 2009, 12:02   #7
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I had just entered college when the Santro was launched. I didn't like it at all especially on the looks front. A batchmate of mine bought the Santro about a year later and I liked the space inside compared to the Zen and 800. My only driving experience of the Santro was moving it around the basement parking. Did drive the Santro Xing though when a colleague purchased it brand new in 2004. I felt the Xing looked much better than the 1st gen.
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Old 19th November 2009, 12:06   #8
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During those days when I used to come down for vacation from Dubai, I used to see many of these awkward looking things running around, the Alto looked like a beauty in front of it. But after that the Santro Xing came and that changed my perception about the car, I just loved the way Hyundai transformed the Santro.
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Old 19th November 2009, 12:07   #9
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Kudos Sid, having a Santro and reading an article from sid gives immense pleasure. Driving santro for almost three and half year i would term it problem free vehicle with regular servicing. I still remember vividly my immediate uncle started working in hyundai dealership in sharayu hyundai Navi Mumbai as a co-ordination manager in 1998, whenever he use to visit our place he would get a blue colour Santro in which we use to take a round and that use to be a happy day for me. My only concerned then was i was not able to drive.
Years after still had that impact of santro since childhood in my memories and there was no second thought when i took test drive of Santro Xing ERLX as my old memories was refreshed. Happy to own this vehicle my running relatively low and just managed just 21k on the odo as for the past one year my commuting is in crowded Mumbai trains. Find it peppy to drive in city with occasional drive to pune via mumbai pune highway
Sids profile picture shows distinguished Bhpian with 5 star i think it should be 7 star atleast for sid, hatts of to your efforts as writing an article in such a way is not and easy task
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Old 19th November 2009, 12:13   #10
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Hyundai Santro Xing(2006)

Our first upgrade from Maruti 800(1992). Have completed 3 years of a little troublesome ownership.

All started with delivery, the one we were suppose to get from their stockyard was late. My parents were in hurry, so picked up a showroom car. Though an excellent car, gearshift had a problem. Coming from 800, we were used to using partial clutch while changing gears, had to adjust to gear changing in santro. All gears were butter smooth, only the transition from 3rd to 4th had problems. it was notchy and won't slot properly. Apart from that it returned decent city and highway efficiency and was hoot to drive in city. Loved the way it accelerated. Raced with my cousin's wagon-r, friend's zen and always came out tops.

Have been faithfully serving us without any problems. The gearshift problem has gone away now.

In the last month, while reversing the car near home, the a.c conked off. The service manager told that some fuse has blown and that has caused damage to a.c. So need to be replaced. So spend 5k on repairs. Apart from that nothing much to report about.

I do remember one vivid scenario. Had to rush Ahmedabad Intl' Airport WITH 1 hr 15 mins in hand, 124 kms from home done in 65 mins without breaking a sweat. My respect for Santro increased two folds then.

The car is stock and top speed achieved is 160 kmph on speedo during the airport dash. Highest fuel efficiency achieved is 21kmpl from Baroda to Udaipur. Lowest achieved is 9.8 kmpl again during the airport dash. Still brings a smile on my face everytime i drive it.

Hats off to Hyundai for launching such a car

P.S: I am not promoting any rash driving or top speed dash. just mentioning what i manage to do. Circumstances made me do that.
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Old 19th November 2009, 12:39   #11
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Hats off to you Sid, again great memory and great writing skills.

I remember those days and those ads. I saw the first Santro in Karnal in early 1999. I hated it and still hate it. It is a top seller and and people swear by it, Hyndai set banchmark for interior quality and fit & finish but their designs are ugly.

I never owned a hyndai and probably never will, but I respect them for their quality and commitment to Indian market.
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Old 19th November 2009, 13:27   #12
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Smile My first car! 1998 Dec top end Santro!

I am on of those who picked Santro @ Launch. As far as I remember, it was Launched in October 1998 and there was enough rush to pick a Santro. Everybody had a opinion on it, most found it likable but oddball. Some folks, like me, were convinced that it was a far superior product when compared to Zen. Remember Zen was a carburetor car at that time. Santro came with frills like power steering, power windows, catalytic converter, MPFI, rear defogger, cigarette lighter etc. It was a generation ahead of Marutis. I still remember Maruti wiseman Mr Bhaskaradu response to Santro and Matiz: "We know India very well, India doesn't need MPFI" blah blah blah... Only to follow-up with these changes when Euro II emission norms came in force.

There were some 60 bookings at my dealership and my luck, I was #58 in the queue. I threatened the dealer with cancellation to get hold of the keys in 2 months.

Santro made me very proud. Something what Nano is doing for its owners today! I went to a trip to Goa as soon as I got the car, everywhere people wanted to see it, touch it, look at it from inside and what not. I had to keep my rear seat folded to avoid people from asking for ferrying.

Best part of the whole ownership experience was that it was trouble-free. Being a new car, there were so many doubters but it never failed its owners. After an year of ownership, I had to relocate to US. In US, people had such a low opinion of Hyundai that talking about it made people look at me with pity. BTW, I being a fan boy at that time went and picked up a brand new Hyundai Tiburon. It was 2L, 140BHP, 2 door sports car like thrown at a price lower than Civic. Hyundai had a whopping 10 year bumper to bumper warranty @ that time in US.
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Old 19th November 2009, 14:00   #13
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the old santro was and is still one of the crappiest looking cars ever.
the new one is a good step in the right direction and obviously the newer i10 etc are pretty decent looking cars.
but no matter what Hyundai does ill never Buy one.
at that time when the santro was released i still remember the zen had received cult status and still is i must say would have any day chosen the zen over the santro and i must say i still would choose it over the current santro also

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Old 19th November 2009, 17:02   #14
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Great stuff Sid, I had almost forgotten the Sunshine car tagline

Even i have never owned a Hyundai, cause my parents and the whole clan have always been inclined towards Maruti, and I also agreed and we picked up the Zen.
I used to detest those Santro Zip models, until the Xing was launched, which wasn't my fav either.
But once when i started working with HMIL, I realised the quality, and amount of efforts they had put in their products when copmared to Maruti, and yes it does show in their cars.

And yes I convinced my bro to pick an Accent couple of years ago which he sold it a few months back and picked a Verna.
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Old 19th November 2009, 20:26   #15
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Part 2: The conceivement of the project and Hyundai's India entry

While delicensing marked the entry of many overseas auto manufacturers, most of them were into joint ventures with Indian companies and that too in 3-box luxury segment (Esteem, Cielo, Astra, Escort, City, and lancer later), not looking for volumes because an average Indian customer did not have enough purchasing power parity to buy one. Maruti's 800 and zen were plain common sights and were the cars that the public actually bought, thanks to their affordable prices and decent performance, and mileage. But these cars were compromised from our perspective, with respect to interior space, comfort and body durability, each made of tissue thin sheet metal.

The other car, the solidly built uno, fizzled after all that initial hoopla due to PAL's disastrous management and the upcoming Indica was still under development. But somewhere in south Korea, management from Hyundai motor company were celebrating their 30th anniversary (just assuming) of foundation and Mr. Kim decided to take an opportunity in the Indian market, harness its potential growth prospects and then they drafted a business plan.

But to succeed n what is to potentially become one of the most competitive markets in Asia, they needed a product, and a mass one at that. That time was about August 1996. And Hyundai did not have even a single model at its portfolio. Its first kei-car, the tall quirky looking Atoz, was planned for a fall 1996 launch at its home turf, and Daewoo, its arch rival, was selling a car based on Suzuki alto called the TICO. Simultaneously, it was also working on the successor to the tico to rival the atoz. More about that later...

A survey was conducted in India as in what do we expect from our next small car, and if this/ that features were provided will it provide a fresher and better alternative to the then best seller, the zen?

Indians showed a preference to extra space, comfort, features, modern technology, but loved one thing-curvy design and not boxy (which was another reason for uno's failure), especially after getting used to the curvy "jelly-bean" design of the old zen.

Meanwhile the discussions were heating up within Hyundai's top brass and when the Atos was launched, it was immediately ruled out for our country as it was perceived too boxy and flat at the rear, something we Indians hated.

So, designers went back to the drawing board and created the car that is unique to our country, with completely new front and rear ends and improved interiors, a design that resembled a modern hatchback at that time. Also, the domestic market car was powered by a newly developed 796 cc 3 cylinder epsilon engine with 48 ps, but for India, and especially to counter the zen from all angles, the power-train's bore and displacement was increased from 796 cc to 999 cc, and another cylinder was bolted on to make it a 4 cylinder power plant.

It was also equipped with 2 intake and 1 exhaust valve, making it a multi valve design, aimed to improve breathing and judging our poor quality fuel, compression ratio as optimized.

In about 1,00,000 kms of testing about 30 odd prototypes under real Indian driving conditions, the engine was caliberated with MPFI and power was optimised at 55 bhp, 5 bhp more than zen's 993 cc carb engine's 50 bhp.

The car also had to sport a unique-for-India name, and thus, the Hyundai Santro was born.

As the testing continued, the company marked an ambitious project of building massive plant with an initial capacity of 2,50,000 cars per annum, expandable to 3,00,000 based upon demand. Tamil Nadu's Sriperambedur was chosen as prime location due to favorable location, government incentives and tax savings promised by TN government. A huge greenfield site was also built and construction of Hyundai's biggest plant outside Ulsan, South Korea (which is currently world's largest integrated automobile manufacturing facility as of today), started with a ground breaking ceremony at September 1996 and was completed in a record 16 months time, in about February 1998, with pilot production planned for June and commercial launch planned for October in that year.

Meanwhile, timing for auto expo 1998 was close and Hyundai was preparing 3 show cars to be showcased at the expo, a red, another blue and a leaf green model. All 3 were loaded to the gills including roof rails, chrome grill, waistline and bumper mouldings and made them to look as flashy as possible, all traits of Korean designs of that time. The red car was meanwhile photographed in a studio and published at auto India's December 1998 issue along with the Indica, also scheduled to make debut at the same expo.

Meanwhile, coming back to Hyundai's hometown rival Daewoo, the TICO's successor was nothing but the matiz, a completely new design from grounds up, which in turn was actually based on a rejected Fiat design sketch that was done by Guigiaro (ital design) for one of its small cars way back in 1995. While Fiat hated it, Daewoo liked it and finalised it for its lineup, though the TICO's M-TEC engine was heavily reworked with new cylinder block, heads and MPFI technology to power the Matiz (conceptually previewed by D'ARTS earlier).

It was planned to be showcased at the auto expo as well and carried a 3 cylinder, 6 valve 796 cc MPFI powertrain with 52 bhp and 730 Nm torque. Contrary to Hyundai's policy of different powertrains for domestic and export markets, the matiz was retained with just one powertrain option for all global markets, including in India.

While the matiz launches in April 1998 in Korea to rival the atoz, it was the auto expo which was to begin what is actually termed as "Korean rivalry" in the months to come while the respective products hit the Indian launch timings.

Now what happened there? Find out next in Part 3, coming up.

(the car photographed is the original atoz in Brussels by me. Notice the different flat and boxy rear design, the main reason its direct launch was rejected for India. The car shown here is a 1999 face lifted model with a different grill.)
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A tribute to the Sunshine Car - The Hyundai Santro-img-297.jpg  

Last edited by sidindica : 19th November 2009 at 20:35.
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