Starting off as a fresh recruit at two newly launched magazines, Kartikeya Singhee worked his way up the rung to become the group editor at one of India’s most powerful auto media outlets. And he did it the old fashioned, untiring, diligent way. Kartikeya has done it all, whether it is magazines, TV, web, video, or cutting-edge AI-enabled billion-dollar mega portals. The man exemplifies how hard work and dedication can take you places, and in this candid interview, he shares his inspiring story with us.
Tell us about your early days as a motoring journalist
My father and brother love cars, and that kind of trickled down to me. Despite having done an MBA in finance and marketing, I was desperate to find any role that got me close to automobiles. I applied to OEMS, part suppliers, advertising agencies that had automotive clients, and magazines. Being based in Pune, I used to land up and sit outside the Overdrive office for days on end just to get a chance to speak with Adil Darukhanawala, the editor of the magazine. Since I couldn’t do the same to Mumbai-based Autocar India, I sent emails and calls endlessly. In fact, John Fernandes from Autocar started to recognise my voice!
I joined the two sister magazines in 2005 and was one of the first few people to join the content creation team along with Amit Chhangani. After two years of trying, I took up a job in sync with my education at a leading market research agency; incredibly, soon after, I got a call from Adil asking if I was still interested. It was an instant “Yes!” for me; however, my father wasn’t for it.
My initial years were very carefree, and immaturity was in abundance. As time went by, I learnt more about what to do and how. There were a lot of odd jobs for us to do then! For instance, the pictures for the “back-of-the-book” vehicle price list pages of Car India and Bike India magazines were taken by the two of us. We took a small point and shoot camera with us and visited every showroom to take these pictures! I’m thankful to Adil and Aspi for giving me that first chance and for all the learnings during my first years as a motoring journalist.
What are some of the most remarkable changes you have witnessed in audience behaviour in recent times?
I think I have seen three generational changes in content. When I started off, the dominance of print was being given a run by the lustre and reach of television, which morphed into digital video. This was followed by growth in digital platforms, including websites and video. Now we are in the social media-led era.
The great thing with all the changes is that the communication channel with the end-user opened up. Now we immediately know what the consumers want, and it has changed how I approach content as well. Your collaborators are your viewers and readers who tell you what they want. It is never static, and things constantly change. It’s essential to keep in mind that you can change the “how” and “what” you do and not who you are with every new trend.
The transition from print to television presented a steep learning curve for me. In print, you could write to your heart’s content, but on television, you hardly had a few minutes to talk because we had to stick to timelines. We had to understand what to prioritise and what to show in those 7 to 8 minutes. It’s even more remarkable now with social content since we’ve moved from 7 minutes to 7 seconds. One needs to be willing to change and go with the flow.
What’s your take on EVs?
We fell in love with automobiles because they almost turned us into these ‘super people’; they remove our inherent human limitations - how fast we can go or how far we can travel. Automobiles give you a sense of freedom and power that wasn’t naturally gifted to us. To me, it doesn’t matter what technology comes into play as long as it takes that feeling further forward.
Yes, I had apprehensions too, but within half a day of experiencing my first PHEV, I was pretty convinced about the electric tech from a usability standpoint. Does it work for me? Definitely. Looking back at automobiles from 100 years ago, we’ll see how far we’ve come in terms of ability and reliability. Same way, more performance and range will come as time goes by. Sure, there will be questions about the range, performance etc., but solutions will come as more and more people spend time solving those problems.
As a motoring journalist, what has been your biggest inspiration and why?
My biggest inspiration and love have always been the machines. I used to work in a friend’s garage back in the day, and that’s how I got more into it. I got all the training on how to work on bikes, especially scooters, and I’d have at least two scooters come to me every day for servicing. Of course, if you ask me today, I’d take ages to service a bike, but back in the day, I had formed this muscle memory on how to work on these things. EVs bring a new layer; the way electric energy is converted into kinetic energy and how all the different components come together to put a machine in motion is amazing. Even the calibration and getting it right is something profound and magical. We’ll need to think of more zeros and ones rather than the “flow” of an engine, but it should be fun.
What are the things you would do to make our roads safer?
First and foremost, educating and training the rider is the most important thing to do. You could have the best of bikes or riding gear, but the gains will not be maximised if the rider isn’t trained. In that context, it’s good to see that there are many brands out there that conduct these riding schools that help educate the riders about road safety. When I returned from my first track school, I was startled to see how much more control and confidence I felt even out on public roads. Suddenly, there was so much more processing and reaction time.
The second thing would be the motorcycle’s fitness and maintenance. More specifically, the tyres. Ensuring your vehicle’s tyres have a good amount of life left in them and maintaining the correct pressure is very important. Obviously, using good quality and well-fitting riding gear such as helmets, jackets, gloves, and boots is extremely important from a safety standpoint.
How do you see the Indian auto industry evolve over the next five years?
I think we are in a beautiful phase of the industry. There is a greater conscience at play now. Everyone now realises that horsepower doesn’t always equate to fun. So earlier, while on one end, you had people who were centred entirely on cost and efficiency, there were others who were obsessed with performance. Both those extremes have kind of sobered down, but people have started expecting more on every count. Indian manufacturers are making some fantastic motorcycles that offer you so much of everything. And since this aspect of expecting a greater plurality from a motorcycle is somewhat consistent across the world, it brings the focus to India, where there’s so much happening.
The next generation of enthusiasts will surely love the bikes that are coming their way. Whether it’s scooters, street style, cruisers, or adventure bikes, there's something for everyone. And then, within every category, you have many more options to choose from. Manufacturers offer so many solutions to the problem of mobility that sometimes it appears to be a multiverse of sorts.
Now I, for one, love small scooters. These machines do a great job of ferrying you around comfortably while also being very convenient and efficient, and there’s still room for many more exciting contenders in this category. So, just the way Italy is called the cradle of renaissance and creativity, in the context of two-wheelers, the same could be said about India, looking at what’s happening here today.
Some words of wisdom for your followers and those who want to take up motoring journalism as a profession?
I would say, don’t take it up if you only see the fun part of it. There’s much more to it than just driving or riding for fun. You need to be dedicated enough to give your best and your life to this career. Also, I learnt from my bosses at Autocar India - Hormazd Sorabjee and Renuka Kirpalani - that you need to treat your passion with professionalism too. That’s the only way you can do justice to it.