Hip, Hot and Happening

What’s the matter with the car I’m driving?
Don’t you know that it’s out of style?
Should I get a set of white wall tyres?
Are you gonna do the miracle mile?
Now-a-days you can’t be too sentimental
Your best bet’s a true baby blue Continental
Hot funk, Cool Punk, Even if it’s old junk
It’s still Rock n Roll to me.

–from Billy Joel’s song "Its still Rock ’n Roll to

Billy Joel would have been disappointed. His song was old
fashioned then. It is archaic now. The slug-out between the Fiat and Ambassador,
and later between the Premier Padmini and the Ambassador, seems as old as
Methuselah himself. A car is no longer four wheels, a chassis and a hood that
can carry a family of four or six in comfort. Since the slew gates opened in the
mid-90s, the Indian automotive market has been inundated with the best brands
the world has to offer. Ergo–like power dressing, we now have the era of power
driving. Today, the cars vying for visibility on Indian roads include the Opel
Astras, Mitsubishi Lancers, BMWs and Mercedes’ of the world.

They bring with them a strong brand, a great deal of style
and a lot of features. Prepare to be sneered at, therefore, if you don’t know
what MPIJ means, or if you are innocent of such knowledge as which car offers a
GPS (global positioning system). And sorry–you’re not getting the answers

To kick off the new year a little differently, Dataquest
asked Indian IT’s top chief executives which cars they drove and why. What was
the first car they owned and what is it that they look for when buying a car in
today’s changed auto firmament? For more on that, read on…

Thomas, CEO and MD, IBM India
Abraham Thomas has a case of the blues. The first car he bought at the age
of 18 was a Daihatsu Charade in light blue. The Honda City he has now is a dark
blue, as have been most of the cars he’s owned in between. He also has a beige
Mitsubishi Lancer, but that, he says with a wave of his hand, "is used by
my wife and children. Blue is the color I love".

Thomas changes his car every three years or so, looks at
safety features first and then comfort, when buying a new one, and while in
India, prefers to be driven around rather than drive himself, which is what he
does back home in Singapore. There he drove a SAAB 9000, which, he says,
"was a joy to ride thanks to features like acceleration, control, safety,

Narayanan, President & COO, Cognizant Technology Solutions
Narayanan bought his first car 16 years ago. And of course, it was a Premier
Padmini. "I exercised the choice between the two cars that were available
and I chose the Premier Padmini. You all know what the other choice was,"
he quips.

Today, Narayanan owns an Opel Astra Club and knows exactly
why. "I have a fancy for German-engineered cars. The best car I ever owned
was an Audi four-door sedan. German engineering provides a certain solidity and
reliability to the car," he says. Opel is a "German engineering
product," hence the choice. Narayanan is also a self-confessed backseat
driver. "I prefer to have a driver, but do the driving through constant
instructions to the driver. I dislike the traffic, and hence the driving."
He adds with disarming candidness–"My driver dislikes me. I’m a very
painful passenger."

Narayana NR Murthy Chairman and CEO, Infosys Technologies
Stories abound of Narayana NR Murthy’s simple lifestyle. One goes like
this–when Infosys got its first-ever order (from Mico), Murthy went on a
scooter to collect it. And someone suggested to him, politely, that it might
have been a good idea to hire a car. Infosys’ chairman did not, in fact, own a
car till 15 years ago and his first ever buy was a Fiat. Today, he owns a silver
gray Opel Astra because, he says, "It’s a great piece of engineering. I
am an engineer and I value engineering excellence." As for what he looks
for in a car, the answer remains disarmingly simple–comfort.

Kannan, Director & CEO, Pentasoft Technologies

Kannan is one of the few on this list who started out with an Ambassador 15
years ago, followed by various cars from the Maruti stable. Today, he owns a
Mitsubishi Lancer, which he favors for its elegance, comfort and features. His
car-buying decisions are influenced by some very basic considerations–brand,
compatibility with Indian roads and service back-up.

Pramod Khera, CEO, Aptech
The first car Pramod Khera ever drove was a Premier Padmini. He preferred
that over the Maruti 800 because it looked sturdier and he was told that
maintenance costs would not be too high. "These things were important 15
years back," he says. Today, he owns a Mitsubishi Lancer but his
fundamental requirements haven’t changed much. He likes the Lancer for its
steadiness and ease of maneuvering. As for speed, here’s his side of it–"Speed
is not of much help in Mumbai!" Khera employs a driver for week-day
travelling, but loves taking the car out by himself for long weekend drives.

ML Tandon Chairman, Celetron India
Tandon started out with an OldsMobile. Today, he owns a BMW 7 Series and his
"other car" is a Mercedes 500. Tandon has long been partial to the
Merc. He owned a 300 Series 20 years ago and has had the 500 for the last 15
years. "Both are fun to drive," he says. "The BMW handles better,
while comfort, legroom and reliability are better in the Mercedes." His
buying decision is influenced by "responsiveness, pickup, maneuverability
and prestige".

Manoj Chugh CEO, Cisco Systems India
No big surprises here. Manoj Chugh, like many at the time, was driving a
Fiat 15 years ago. Today, he owns a Honda City–a car he is partial to because
of its comfort and safety features. In fact, Chugh’s basic requirement of a
car consists largely of comfort and ease of driving. Like some others, while he
does prefer to drive on his own, he employs a driver. ANd that’s simply
because "you get more work done while on the move that way".

Balu Doraisamy Managing Director Compaq India
Compaq India chief Balu Doraisamy is an extremely private man and this is
not the kind of information he wanted to share. However, he made a one-time
exception, and here it is. Doraisamy drives a Mitsubishi Lancer, which he favors
for its size and comfort as well as an excellent AC. His first car was a Nissan,
bought about 20 years ago. From there, he moved on to a BMW and a SAAB. Given
traffic and road conditions, he prefers a driver in India and opts to drive
himself when overseas.

Vaswani President, Wipro Infotech
Twenty years ago, Wipro Infotech’s head honcho was driving his father’s
Fiat. When time came for him to buy his own transport, he chose a motorbike. In
fact, it a wasn’t until a few years ago that Vaswai chose to buy and drive his
own car, his very first being a Maruti 800. Unlike most of his peers, Vaswani’s
been extremely loyal to his cars. The only other car he bought since his first
was a Maruti Esteem–which he still drives. He’s got utilitarian tastes —
the car’s overall performance is fine and it is comfortable to drive–and he
wants nothing more. As for the Esteem, "I don’t want to give it up till
it gives up on me," he says.

Rajeev Kaul Managing Director, Microsoft
Twenty years ago, Kaul was driving the scooter most of India was driving–a
Bajaj Chetak. Coming as he does from a younger generation from most of the
others featured here, no surprise that his first car was a Maruti 800 15 years
ago. Today, he drives an Opel Astra for the same reason he bought the Maruti a
decade-and-a-half ago–ease of driving and a comfortable ride.

Bhaskar Pramanik Managing Director, Sun Microsystems
Pramanik is a self-confessed gadget freak. No surprise, therefore, that he owns
and drives a Mercedes 200 CDI and also on occasion, an Opel Astra. Why? The
usual suspects, really, as far as the Mercedes is concerned–performance,
features, styling and power. As Bhaskar says, "the Power is fantastic… on
demand." Other things that he watches out for are speed, ease of driving,
suspension and road-handling, and the Mercedes performs superlatively on most of
these, though ease of driving may be a bit of an issue on narrow Indian roads.
Like Rajive Kaul of Microsoft, the first car Pramanik ever bought was a Maruti
in 1985. Since then, he has had a Contessa, an Esteem VX and a Merc 190E.

S Ramadorai CEO, TCS
The first car the TCS head ever owned and drove was a Volkswagen Beetle.
This was in his days before joining the company, when he was still in the United
States. When he moved to India, he had to abandon the Beetle for a Standard 10
and a while later, for the Padmini 118 NE. These days Ramadorai owns a Honda
City–a car he’s partial to because of its reliability and durability, though
he no longer drives himself. "I prefer a driver these days because it gives
me the time to read and reflect."

Ajai Chowdhry Chairman & CEO, HCL Infosystems
Chowdhry has very fond memories of the first car he every drove. "When we
started HCL, 25 years ago, we had to meet our delivery commitments to our
customers in IIT Chennai. I still remember picking up the first few desktop
computers personally from the airport and delivering to my customer in my Fiat.
There are fond memories of my first car." Today, Chowdhry owns a BMW. One
of the surest ways of offending a car enthusiast is to ask him "Why
BMW?" If he deigns to reply to this rather blasphemous question, he’ll
tell you–"Because BMW is God." Chowdhry didn’t say that, but
simply mouthed–"Engineering excellence." Now, what more can one add
to that?

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