In search of a new benchmark

In the middle of a couple of car launches to the region’s media, Japanese car brand Nissan chose to slip in a further googly. It announced that it had begun moves along with the nodal standards body of the UAE to evolve a unit to measure the capability of off-road vehicles. Now, you have to understand that Nissan has had a bit of a history in chasing world records, especially in the region. Its move to evolve the Desert Camel Power (I joke not here) as a unit is another step in that direction. The premise is that the measure of a car’s horsepower does not give a proper benchmark for its ability off-road. Yes, even a novice understands that.

Horsepower is a measure that is standardised from the real life ability of a horse, but no longer bears any real connection. Ergo, most horses have more than a horsepower available. Today, the only question normally asked is whether you want brake horsepower (at the wheels) or PS as measured at the shaft. From the presentation that we sat through – Desert Camel Power is meant to measure usable power in desert conditions. That immediately means that unlike horsepower, DCP is subject to ambient conditions. Of course, we were given examples of measurement on slopes of sand with rolling starts and so on. Everything that we till now considered non-standard, by the way. Is there a standard sand surface? Famously the UAE itself is supposed to have seven types of sands. And then what about parameters like density, compression, moisture content and temperature? In the aim to standardise this, will the reference track only be available in a laboratory in the city? And we haven’t yet begun to standardise criteria for the vehicle itself.

Stating the obvious?

Yes, we all know that horsepower doesn’t make for the best off-roader. The best off-roader is one that is designed for the task. You make a moon rover to, well, rove on the moon’s surface. The issue is that most off-roaders that we want to measure are basically all-rounders, comfortable on-road cars with the ability to take in bad conditions to various degrees. A dune buggy has way more Desert Camel power than any of this breed. As for the latter, so much is dependent on the sort of transmission, degree of step-down for low gear, presence of various differentials, type and quality of suspension, ground clearance, ability to vary ride height, wheelbase, approach and departure angles and just the plain weight of all this. Let’s not forget the size and profile and air pressure and type of tyres. Even if you manage to assign values and standardise on all this, a vehicle’s off-road ability is always subject to the skill of the driver. We all know that driver who can get a four-wheel drive stuck a couple of feet off the tarmac. Many also know driver’s who can take a recalcitrant crossover into the Sharqiyah sands. How on Earth are you going to standardise the driver?

What cost the path ahead?

We had a rather mixed message emanating from the press briefing – on the one hand management claimed that their aim was to replace horsepower as a measure of 4WDs, while engineers we spoke to said there was no connection. This is an exercise that could fall away by the wayside after the company has spent some serious money on pushing the idea of an exclusive standard, albeit one that they want other manufacturers to adopt. However some questions arise as a result of this self-gratification exercise. What have the armed forces of the world been using as a measurement standard when they buy their extremely expensive war machines? Do they have the equivalent of an African Bull Elephant power for tanks or Dolphin power for submarines? Or do they just use a panel of experts to select the best performer with a scientifically arrived at result based on a lot of empirical and deduced results. To be fair, even these big spenders use cost as a deciding factor, although we know that doesn’t connect with performance.

We hope that Desert Camel power doesn’t end up being purely a marketing exercise. It is a honourable idea that may not stand the challenge of evolving into a standard, largely because of the sheer complexity of the factors around it. It would help if the company drops the power bit – call it Camel ability if need be. But what happens if after all that hard work, some other company’s product has more DCP’s than they have?

About Raj Warrior
Raj Warrior is the managing editor of Automan Magazine and has been a part of the Middle East’s automotive landscape from the past 15 years. He has run top rung car magazines in India and Oman and is often referred to as the Automan of Oman. With a background in mechanics, mechanisms and software programming, he is able to visualise the intricate workings of the modern automobile and brings a mix of technical and lifestyle based assessment to his writing. He is also an avid Photographer, often shooting the cars and motorcycles he tests for the magazine. As comfortable on a motorcycle as he is in cars, Raj is driven by his love affair with all things on wheels and brings his passion to all his automotive ventures. Raj has chosen Oman as his home base because he loves the country, its friendly people and its great driving and riding roads.

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