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Expert Speaks | 27 Dec 2023

Expert Speaks - Amit Chhangani

In an era dominated by magazines, Amit emerged as one of the pioneering journalists who embraced the potential of new media. He founded Motoroids, one of India's earliest automotive websites. From crafting authoritative pieces for both national and international publications to creating captivating video content for the modern age Amit has done it all in his near 20 year long career. In this interview, Amit reflects on his humble beginnings, shares his insights on social media's impact on viewers and talks about the trends in the automotive industry.

How and where did your journey as a motoring journalist begin?

I was born in a humble middle class family in Jaipur. My dad, a government servant in his active years, commuted to work on a moped without any qualms. However, he was an active trade union leader and enjoyed private transportation to massive rallies where he was a popular leader. I had the opportunity to travel in Mahindra jeeps of yore and the more modern Marutis. Traveling in these vehicles in my early years and witnessing the driver making overtaking maneuvers thrilled me like nothing else had before. My love for the sensation of speed started here, igniting my lifelong passion. I convinced my dad to buy me a bicycle, and I learned to ride it. Soon, I was pedaling my way through the farthest corners of town, leaving my family searching for me as I explored uncharted streets.

My first motorized two-wheeler was a slow-moving moped, which I despised for its lack of acceleration and speed. My enthusiasm to push it to its rather humble limits often got me into serious trouble too. To satisfy my craving for thrill on two wheels, I would ride my dad's geared scooter whenever he was out of town. I honed my riding skills on that three-gear scooter. Eventually, my dad relented and bought me a TVS Suzuki Fiero, a reliable, rugged, and indestructible machine that I own to this day.

Owning that motorcycle changed everything for me, and soon I was traveling out of the city to various places in Rajasthan and even journeyed all the way to Nepal via Uttar Pradesh.

My passion for automobiles continued to grow during my teenage years. I covered my room's door and walls with car and bike stickers and amassed a huge collection of motoring magazines, each of which I read many times over. I used to write lengthy letters to Overdrive magazine, then under the helm of my first mentor, Mr. Adil Jal Darukhanawala. While my letters were too long to be published, the team noticed my writing ability and understanding of motoring as a subject.

When Adil left Overdrive to establish teams for Bike India and Car India, he contacted me on my landline number. I remember that it was late in the evening, well past 10 pm when the phone rang, and I nearly trembled when I realized who was on the other end of the line. I interviewed for the position of a correspondent and successfully secured it. There was no looking back after that.

What are some current and upcoming trends in the two-wheeler industry that customers should consider when making buying decisions?

A significant and welcome trend is the democratization of electronics and safety features on modern two-wheelers. Many mainstream vehicles now offer advanced features that were once exclusive to premium motorcycles, such as bi-directional quickshifters, cornering ABS, suspension adjustments, traction control, and IMU sensors. These advanced safety features are available even on 300-350cc motorcycles, and at a very affordable price. So if you're considering a purchase in this segment, extensive research is advised to identify motorcycles equipped with these features for enhanced safety.

Another emerging trend is the increasing connectivity features on two-wheelers. Basic scooters and motorcycles now come with Bluetooth technology, allowing them to communicate with devices like cell phones. This technology offers users valuable data, navigation assistance, music control, call management, and notifications without causing distractions. The range of features offered through connected technology continues to expand. Advanced telematics provide data on acceleration, top speed, lap times, lean angles, and more, which is exciting for enthusiastic riders. From a service, maintenance, and reliability perspective, connected vehicles relay diagnostics data which can alert users about malfunctions in advance, preventing costly repairs or accidents.

Lastly, the all evident shift towards electric vehicles is gaining momentum at a quick pace. Very soon, we’ll see a very significant part of the two-wheeler sales coming from the electric segment. These vehicles should be considered for long term savings in fuel costs and maintenance, if your daily commute isn’t too much.

How do you view the transformation of media and audience behavior by social media?

At first glance, social media appears to empower everyone to have a voice. However, closer examination reveals some downsides too. The lack of transparency and accountability in how social media platforms distribute content is a core problem. Platforms have the power to promote or demote content, irrespective of its quality or factual accuracy. Content that evokes strong emotions, like anger, fear, or hatred, tends to garner more engagement, which has led to the creation of divisive and sensationalist content. This has resulted in misinformation, including in the automotive context, with creators producing clickbait content and promoting dangerous driving practices like overspeeding and stunting on public roads. For the sake of young, impressionable followers, and even the adults for that matter, there must be stricter adherence to community guidelines, and big tech media companies should be held accountable for allowing misleading content to be posted on their platforms.

Content duration is another issue, with shorter formats dominating social media to maximize ad revenue. This trend has reduced attention spans among youngsters and to an extent their ability to focus and learn about topics requiring extended study and concentration.

On the brighter side, some creators have taken it upon themselves to create content which is informative yet light and entertaining. Social media has also opened the floodgates in terms of reach and viewership, and for someone who can tap into that opportunity without using unethical ways, it’s most definitely a boon. As long as there are some mechanisms in place which ensure that malicious, misinformative content is continuously weeded out, social media is a fantastic tool to inform and entertain.

As a suggestion, these companies need to have stronger internal, as well as community driven checks on malicious, misinformative content. The guidelines for content should be stricter and better defined to start with, and content that breaches these broad guidelines should be flagged with great alacrity. Repeat offenders should be banned. It’s more a question of intent on the tech companies’ part than it being possible.

Electric vehicles are gaining prominence. What should users consider when choosing one?

Electric two-wheeler manufacturers have proliferated, but not all have the experience to create reliable and competent products. Users should research available models and variants extensively. Established two-wheeler manufacturers with decades of experience ensure their electric products are well-designed, tested, and reliable. Users should prioritize qualities like solid engineering, practicality, range, feature set, connectivity, storage space, and performance. Reputable manufacturers may cost more upfront but often result in long-term savings on maintenance and better resale value.

What's your perspective on two-wheeler safety, and how can roads be made safer for riders?

Rider training is paramount for road safety. Two-wheeler riders must possess the necessary skills, knowledge of traffic rules, and discipline to follow them. In India, two-wheeler licenses are often granted without adequate training and testing, contributing to a high rate of two-wheeler accidents. The introduction of graded licenses based on cubic capacity could be beneficial. Rider training institutes should play a role in providing skills to aspiring riders before testing. Eliminating human interference and using only simulator tests for granting licenses can ensure riders have the essential skills and knowledge to operate a two-wheeler safely. Creating awareness and educating riders on safe riding is crucial too.

The quality of road infrastructure is another significant factor in road safety. Consistent lane markings and clear road signs are essential for enforcing lane discipline. Strict road construction and maintenance standards need to be enforced across the country. Well-maintained roads can significantly reduce accidents and fatalities.

Modern two-wheelers with safety features like ABS, traction control, combined braking systems, and advanced electronics also contribute to rider safety. Users should opt for well-built two-wheelers with these features when possible.

How would you describe your style of motorcycle journalism?

At Motoroids, our motto has always been to offer in-depth, technically sound analyses of the latest automobiles. I conduct extensive research before testing a vehicle to set the correct context. I analyze the market, competitors, and the product's strengths and weaknesses, providing a detailed review. My reviews are typically in long format, covering every aspect of a vehicle to provide the most comprehensive insights to our readers and viewers. The goal is to leave no important questions unanswered.

What advice do you have for young individuals interested in motoring journalism?

For those interested in motoring journalism, it's crucial to read extensively, particularly high-quality automotive literature. In addition to staying up to date with current trends through well-established online publications, individuals should strive to create unique, factual, and engaging content. A basic understanding of cinematography, video editing, and audio can be valuable, given the increasing use of AV media. However, factual correctness should never be compromised. A good motoring journalist should inform, entertain, or educate their audience in a unique way, providing value to their readers and viewers.

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