From the good old magazines-only days to the fast-paced social media-driven times of today, Sirish Chandran has seen it all and has excelled across formats. Apart from having led some of India's most respected motoring publications, Sirish is also among the select few motoring journalists with extensive experience in professional motorsport. In this interview, Sirish talks to us about the makings of a good motoring journalist, what is worth waking up at 4 A.M. on a Sunday, and shares his perspective on the auto industry in general.
What essential skills differentiate a great motoring journalist from a good or an average one?
The first skill would be to write and communicate well because a journalist has to express what a car or a bike is to the reader or viewer, whether it’s in the written form, as a video or as a social media post. Communication skills are fundamental, and I firmly believe that it all starts with good writing. Even the best TV presenters in the world are great writers, to begin with. A person’s strong command over their audience’s language is necessary. Even some form of motorsport experience is essential, since it helps you learn how to push a car or bike to the limit. You learn what the car or bike is communicating when pushed to its absolute limit. An average journalist would not tell you how the car or bike behaves at the absolute limit. The only way you can push vehicles to their absolute limit is by having the necessary skill set, where motorsport experience helps tremendously. You also need to have the ability to understand how the suspension, engine and powertrain behave at the limit. So all in all, the skills which differentiate a good and an average motoring journalist are excellent writing skills and some form of motorsport experience.
Which country has impressed you the most for its collective motoring sensibilities, and why?
The Americans have a very strong car culture, even though their cars are nowhere near the Europeans. Even their bikes are not close to the Japanese, though everybody in the US loves cars and bikes, and their enthusiasm is incredible. Also, the magazines that I grew up reading like Car And Driver and Road And Track have pioneered in-depth road testing, where they set the template for us in India. For the longest time, we have also been looking at the British magazines where they have been the benchmark in terms of writing style and photography. But all in all, it has to be the United States. The country is so vast that you have everything from coastal roads to mountains and hill climbs. Even track days are affordable and fun in the US.
Which phase did you enjoy the most during your journey as a motoring journo?
I’d say the initial days of setting up Evo India. Evo India came up after we set up a rally team here in Pune. Evo Indiawas a by-product of this rally team, and we wanted to create a magazine that reflected the enthusiasm for cars and bikes that we were experiencing while rallying. During the initial years of Evo India, we were running the rally team, and we were taking part in national championships. Our team also won the national championship in the first year of setting up Evo India. So the most fun phase for me was when I was rallying and setting up and building Evo together.
Are two-wheelers more exciting today than they were earlier? Why / why not?
Two-wheelers are more exciting today because manufacturers are now putting more effort into the styling ability front. Manufacturers make a visible effort to make their products more exciting rather than just focus on plain old fuel efficiency and price. I don’t believe that a car or a bike should be a mere tool for commuting from point A to point B. They are supposed to put a smile across your face, and the vehicles out there today do put a smile across your face.
In what ways is social media transforming motoring journalism?
Social media is helping us reach out to a larger audience. It also helps us connect to our audience daily. Via social media, we can communicate what we are doing on a more frequent basis, for example, talking about the new machines that we are testing. This helps the audience know what to expect in the following video or the next issue of our magazine. Social media has helped motoring journalists build a strong fan following and a community. It also helps us get useful feedback on what we are writing. With the help of social media, we also get access to cars and bikes, which we otherwise couldn’t have. We have many readers writing to us about their cars or bikes which are out of production, which we cannot source from the manufacturers. Our readers also give us many ideas for different stories, which also helps us put out more content.
How do you see motoring media transforming over the next five years?
I think it will have to be even more enthusiast-focused because today, hundreds of blogs and channels put out the usual information and daily news of the industry. A journalist’s job is to give in-depth reviews of vehicles to readers because even an influencer can review and say that everything is good. A journalist’s job is much more demanding, as differentiating content is a big deal, and readers would stay with you if you are unique and enthusiastic. Journalism is supposed to be more enthusiastic, authoritative, credible, and in-depth. You have to constantly put out content because readers want to stay connected with you. The more you put out your content, the more your audience increases. You need to be a master at everything. You need to present well, you need to write well, and you have to be able to take good pictures for social media. You also need a great team to put out the content, so it is definitely going to become more demanding. Today, manufacturers prefer working with influencers since all they say are good things. On the other hand, journalists criticise the vehicles, not just for the sake of it, but to make sure that they are improved upon in the next iteration. This also helps in keeping the content genuine for the readers
Is the future fully electric in your view? Or will it be a mix of everything? According to you, which technologies or power sources will eventually prevail?
I don’t think that the future is going to be fully electric. I believe that electric and internal combustion engines are going to co-exist. There will be buyers who would be okay with electric mobility for daily commute in the city. There will also be buyers who want a proper combustion-engined bike for the weekend to attack the hills. They would like to go through the gears, get that aural feel and experience the rise and fall of the revs. Those people will always be there. One shouldn’t go away at the cost of the other. Today’s I.C. engines can easily comply with the new emission norms with the help of hybridisation. The audience is vast, and one can cater to different segments of people with both. I am a fan of electric vehicles for city commuting, but will I wake up at 4 A.M. on a Sunday to go for a long ride on an electric bike? I don’t think so.