the-south-asian.com February 2004
BORN TO DESIGN
He is a man who can give you a Mercedes Benz on a Maruti budget. Dilip Chhabaria shot to international fame when he was invited to design the Aston Martin DB8 for the new James Bond film….
Bring me your body and I’ll give you a new soul. This is not a statement of a saint or a savant but a favourite quote of Dilip Chhabaria often regarded as a blue blood among car designers the world over. And why not? Not many dare to make a career choice that he did and even fewer reach where he has today.
Chhabaria recently shot to international fame when he was invited to design the Aston Martin DB8 for the new James Bond film due next year. Apart from that, he is currently designing for four international brands but is tight lipped about them owing to the secrecy contract that he has signed up.
In March 2004 at the 74th International Geneva Motor Show, Chhabaria would be the envy of the world’s top car designers when unveils a gizmo-rich sports car that he has designed for the British auto giant Nobel. Not many in the profession can boast of such a prestigious assignment.
" Its a great sense of achievement. An Indian designing a car for a British auto company is like selling ice to an Eskimo. But I can guarantee once the car hits the road it is going to give the Ferraris and Porsches a run for their money. It will not just match them feature for feature but have a lot more stuff."
It has been a slow and a steady rise to the international designers hall of fame for Chhabaria. Over the years he has been promoting his brand globally and has participated in most of the important auto shows. Which explains why he is now a brand name to reckon with.
Back in the seventies as a scion of an affluent Gujarati family, Chhabaria graduated from the College of Design in California and landed up with a job in General Motors. But not one to be content working for someone else he quit his job and decided to branch out on his own.
"General Motors was not the kind of work I was looking for. It is a bureaucratic organisation with 1,500 designers. One can never hope to get to design a whole car. You are stuck with doing handles and hubcaps. It would have taken me another two decades or so to make a mark. I couldn’t afford that as I was very restless," reminisces Chhabaria.
Chhabaria had no idea the going would be tough. Starting from scratch he began designing accessories as there was no way he could afford a full-fledged auto design studio. He did that for over ten years till he had the required finances for a studio.
Finally in 1993 he set up Chhabaria Designs in Mumbai, India. He was 40 then, an age when most people prefer to play safe. " I took a risk that not many take at that age. This is what makes the difference," says Chhabaria.
The first big break came when he remodelled a Maruti Gypsy. Once he had done the job nobody could make out that it was an Indian make. And that set the ball rolling and orders started pouring in. From motorbikes to the top line S-Class Mercedes Benzes Chhabaria gave them exquisite shapes and forms.
In just over a decade since 1993, Chhabaria Designs is a name to reckon with and is India's leading automotive design house. Chhabaria has personally trained all his employees in car designing. " Establishing the company has taught me a number of things---marketing, finance and even being a courier guy. But then, if you want to reach the top you have to do all these things," says the designer.
He says that for most auto giants it costs over a billion dollars to put a car on the road. And since the stakes are so high there is enormous pressure on designers to deliver.
Interestingly till date Chhabaria does the blueprints of the design himself as he calls himself the cheapest resource available to the company.
" I see a great future for aspiring designers. Times have changed and it’s the look that matters and differentiates one car from the other. There is going to be a great demand and bright career prospect for the budding designers."
Wife Reena agrees. " I’ve seen him grow. He is a man highly devoted to his work. He is so lost in the world of cars that we are sometimes sitting in a restaurant and he is busy drawing car designs on a paper napkin. I am very proud of him especially after he got the assignment to design the James Bond car."
And the business has grown by leaps. From a car a month, Chhabaria Designs now does around 3,000 cars a year. And not just that, with time the company has branched out into designing motorbikes, buses, televisions, refrigerators, computers and even interiors.
That’s a lot on any one’s CV but Chhabaria is not the one to sit on his laurels. He has more plans. Plans that extend to railway engines, cruise liners and even aeroplanes. But the over-riding passion is cars. " That love story started when I was two," says Chhabaria pointing to a sepia picture of him at two with a garland of Dinky cars around his neck.
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