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Tribute – UCAL Selvan…

The demise of C V Karthik Narayanan (CVK) marked a loss of a multifaceted business leader. CVK, a grandson of Dr C P Ramaswamy Iyer, took charge of Standard Motor Products of India Ltd from his father-in-law K V Srinivasan. 

Founded by K Gopalakrishna (KG) Standard Motors, part of the Union Motors group, was an iconic brand for a couple of decades. KG set up the facility in collaboration with the British Standard-Triumph International after distributing the cars imported earlier. SMPI initially assembled the cars out of CKD and SKD packs. The brands Vanguard, Standard 10, Companion, Herald… with sturdy and efficient engines, commanded a modest clientele (I started my auto journey with a Standard Herald in 1969 then priced Rs 18,000; it performed so well and was low on maintenance). 

CVK focused on the light commercial vehicle Standard 20, priced low and offered decent performance. In the era of licences and controls, it was popular and profitable for the company even producing at low volumes of a few hundred. 

In the late 1980s, with great optimism, CVK introduced the Standard 2000 sedan as a luxury car. Launching it, then President R Venkataraman hailed it as ‘a beauty and an engineering marvel.’ 

To manufacture these CVK imported the machine tools and the entire equipment from Britain after the British company discontinued production of this model, at a modest price (of around Rs 85 lakh). However, powering it with the old Vanguard engine was not effective and resulted in low mileage. Big Brother Hindustan Motors’ C K Birla found it a competitor to his equally gas guzzling Contessa and succeeded in pushing out the Standard 2000. SMPI turned sick and CVK focused on UCAL Auto Private Ltd, UCAL Products Pvt Ltd and UCAL Travels. With land prices soaring, the large land mass acquired by KG was a boon. 

CVK will also be remembered for his monumental work in translating the popular Tamil writer Kalki’s historic novel Ponniyin Selvan into English. 

CVK’s daughter Gayathri Sriram is the Senior Vice President, Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industries. 

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