Ashok Leyland Dost driven
Think Ashok Leyland, and what comes to your mind? Trucks and buses of course. They have been one of India's leading manufacturers of commercial vehicles, around since 1948, a year after India's Independence. In fact Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister convinced Raghunanadan Saran, an industrialist to enter into automotive manufacturing who went on to start Ashok Motors and assemble Austin cars. Fast forward to today and the company has a presence in the entire truck range from 7.5 tonnes to 49 tonnes. However, the company has never had any product in the under 7.5 tonnes segment. That's where the joint venture with Nissan Motors comes in. I was in Chennai to drive Ashok Leyland's first ever LCV, the Dost.
Not so long ago, one had no option but to transport goods in big trucks or puny rickshaws into town. All that changed a few years back when 1-tonners such as the Tata Ace arrived, it not only was easier to drive but also offered more comfort. India today has the fifth largest CV market in the world and one can choose over 16 different LCVs. The government is working towards improving rural connectivity and the transition from animal carts to vehicles has led to the increase in LCV sales and will continue to rise every year. Majority of these buyers are younger drivers who expect the vehicle not only to deliver but be stylish and comfortable. Ashok Leyland and Nissan didn't want to be left behind in this fast growing market, and hence after three years of rapid development work, they are now ready to launch the Dost.
The Dost is an India-specific project that has been developed after interacting with drivers around the country. To start off they went about building a vehicle that has a larger footprint than the Ace but smaller to LCVs such as the Bolero pick up. More importance was given to space and comfort. The vehicle has been designed in-house by Ashok Leyland-Nissan's young designers in Chennai. This reflects in the design, it approaches a very simple design language and at the same time it's very practical. The quality of plastics and the fit and finish is on par with MPVs which is a good sign for an LCV. The interiors are more MPV like with good seating position and a large glass area, the space is definitely one of the highest in the segment. The seats recline and fold downwards too, an extra seat has been placed above the engine cover which when combined with the foldable front seats acts as a flat bed for the driver to rest. The Dost also features air conditioning, something not found in an LCV.
From the outside, the Dost doesn't feature a prominent front grille but uses the company's flowing garland nose seen on other Ashok Leyland products. The headlamp is a clear lens unit that features what the designers call hockey stick shaped indicators. Most LCVs in India feature a flat front end but the Dost has a short nose that is not just a cosmetic feature, hidden inside is a bull bar mounted to the ladder frame that acts as protection when there is a collision. The flat bed is also designed to give highest loading area and can take a load up to 1.25 tonnes which is more than most of its rivals. The Dost we drove even featured 14-inch alloy wheels with 185 section tubeless radial tyres. The alloy wheel will be available as an accessory in dealerships which will be dedicated only for LCVs. However, the 185 section tyre will be offered as standard equipment, another segment first. Coming to the engine, the Dost is powered by an all new three-cylinder, 1478cc common rail diesel engine mated to a five speed gearbox. The engine has been entirely designed, developed and tested in-house. Designated the P15, the engine produces 55PS of maximum power at 3300rpm and maximum torque of 150Nm available from 1600-2400rpm. In comparison the Mahindra Maxximo pickup truck produces only 55Nm of torque from its 900cc, two-cylinder engine.
How is it to drive then? Start the vehicle and the engine is surprisingly low on noise and sounds refined, the gearbox position is good and the shift quality is the best I've come across in an LCV. Power delivery is linear and effortless to drive even after being fully laden with the air conditioner switched on. The ECU has been tuned well with good low down torque which will come handy in our driving conditions. The vehicle seemed like it could take even more load. I even managed to cross the three digit mark while the engine feels happy cruising at 90kmph. Handling is good and better than most LCVs. Power steering is also offered and hence less tiring to drive. Potholes and bumps are soaked up well too, most LCVs have a stiff suspension setup but the Dost offers a softer setup which in turn aids in good ride quality and passenger comfort. LCVs generally feature leaf spring suspension, the Dost on the other hand features a unique independent double wishbone front suspension with a transverse leaf spring. The company claims that this offers a combination of ruggedness of a leaf spring with the ride quality of an independent suspension. Leaf springs make do at the rear. The Dost is light too with a kerb weight of just 1250kg.
The Dost will be available in three variants, the basic model will not feature power steering and air conditioning, the middle variant features power steering while the top of the line variant will feature power steering and air conditioning.
The Dost is expected to be priced in between LCVs like the Tata Ace and Mahindra Bolero pickup, which translates to around ` 3-4lakh, which is great value for money. The vehicle is definitely a step ahead for LCVs in India. It offers good power and high load carrying capability, a modern engine and segment first features. Ashok Leyland and Nissan surely have a winner in its hands and this is just the beginning.
V Sumantran, Executive Vice Chairman at Hinduja Automotive informed OVERDRIVE that two more models sharing the Dost platform will be launched next year while the bigger Nissan Atlas range of pickup trucks and the Nissan NV200 (a people carrier van that recently won the New York Taxi cab contract) are also headed our way. The good times for the Indian CV industry are here and the Ashok Leyland-Nissan collaboration will definitely be a key player in this revolution.
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