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Innovation on Wheels

Innovation on Wheels

Author: Ryan Vogt
Publication: India Today
Date: March 27, 2006

Introduction: A German globetrotter finds his calling in designing adventure vehicles out of a Maharashtra workshop

What does the Hindi word "chinkara" have in common with German's "schnell"? Everything, to 47-year-old German expatriate Guido Bothe.

Resident of Alibag and the mastermind of Chinkara Motors, run in partnership with wife Shama, Bothe produces hand-made adventure vehicles. His most famous is modelled after the smallest Asiatic gazelle, "sleek, graceful, nimble and very quick". The Chinkara 1.8 S Roadster-the S stands for schnell, or "fast" in German-made its debut at the Mumbai Auto Show 2003, receiving much acclaim as India's first indigenous sports car. The vehicle comes customised and takes three-and-a-half months to complete.

Bothe's most recent creation is the Hammer, which made its first appearance at Delhi's DefExpo '06 in February. The vehicle looks like a 1960s Corvette Stingray, with a machine-gun mount on the back and armoured in hand-fitted layers of Kevlar and ceramic. It weighs 1,100 kg and is equipped with a 130 hp engine. Bothe predicts that the Hammer has a "huge" potential market among border patrols, special task forces, forest departments and anti-poaching squads. "Like a hammer, you get in, hit your target fast, then get out fast," he explains.

It is not a high turnover business. Bothe and his 11-man team of welders, moulders, mechanics and fitters have custom-built 11 of the Chinkara Roadsters since 2003; it will take at least 50 of them to be sold for the company to even break even on its investment. Each Chinkara Roadster costs between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 7 lakh and Bothe admits his consumer base isn't large. But he isn't worried. "Success in numbers is minuscule," he says, insisting that Chinkara is in business for the long haul to "look at the fun-factor of vehicles", especially since a growing number of people consider cars as "not just a means of transport".

Shama handles the administrative responsibilities-besides, being an Indian she technically owns the company-while Bothe attends to the workshop, re-engineering and finishing auto parts into the works of his imagination. Since the company's inception, Chinkara has expanded its product line to include all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and speedboats.

In his youth, Bothe had travelled the world, experimenting with extreme sports and at 36, he took a holiday in Maharashtra where he met Shama while sailing with her cousin. "When I went back (to Germany), it was like being in the wrong movie," he says. "People were white and grey. I had such a good time in India, I decided to move here and stay with the good times."

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