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Plougher to the people
It's gotten the government's nod as a road-legal tractor. Best part is, it's the country's first road-legal ATV too.
In a country like India, there are many laws that in some way or the other, are baffling and even defy rational thinking. Like the law on suicide for instance. Suicide is illegal. We’re with the govt on that. But if you happen to fail in your attempt, you’re considered a criminal who could be fined and even sent to jail for a year. No psychiatric help for you, no sir. But if you succeed, its cool, you’re quite literally good to go. Then there’s the legal age to consume alcohol. Indian law dictates that only persons over the age of 25 can. So, once you’re 18, you can get married, legally reproduce and even cast your vote for government, but no sir, drinking is not allowed. One law that really gets us is the one which states rickshaws are legal (in some states), while ATVs aren’t (period). In many countries, including India, ATVs are vehicles strictly for use off-road and illegal on road. Neither are ATVs allowed to run on the street nor are they even marketed as street vehicles, because they are said to not meet with certain technical guidelines and safety requirements that deem them fit to ply on public roads.
US off-road vehicle giant Polaris industries has tried getting its ATVs and other off-road vehicles registered for usage on roads in India. But their attempts, sadly, failed miserably.. So, as appealing as you may or may not find driving an ATV on Indian roads, the government is sure to come at you with its torches and pitchforks should you do so. So, you’d have no option but to ferry your ATV out onto some privately owned land on some trailer, or keep it parked there. But this has all changed now, thanks to one persistent man who saw all this as too much of a hassle. After three years of sourcing most of its bits from China, setting up vehicle assembly in Goa and spending a surprisingly short amount of time going through the legalities of it all, N P Naik, founder and director of Goa-based Agro Tractor Vehicles (yup, that’s ATV in short) accomplished something a well-established multinational company like Polaris couldn’t. He got his ATV registered for public road usage. Although it’s been passed as a tractor, it’s not like he managed to pull a fast one on the government. Because the vehicle in concern here, the 900d, is technically a tractor in every practical sense as well.
Essentially, the government’s definition of a tractor is a four-wheel vehicle designed to work with suitable implements for various field operations and/or trailers to transport agricultural materials. And that’s the rather dull-sounding window of opportunity the Powerland ATV jumped through. Show the 900d some farmland and it actually can be as versatile as a conventional tractor. The ATV can tow, pull, plough, spray, run power tools like a water pump and even power homes with some of the optional indigenous kit on offer. The traditional shape that you think of when you think ‘tractor’ – with huge rear and smaller front wheels isn’t specified, so it doesn’t have to look like a conventional tractor either. Now as beneficial to farmers as it may be, we’re going to save the tilling, ploughing and other agricultural tests for some other day. We see it as India’s first road-legal ATV. So, it’s but natural that we first unleash the 900d in a scenario which was once considered taboo for its kind – the big city. The Powerland 900d definitely looks like nothing else on the road and will stand out from a crowd wherever you go.
Whether you’re taking on daily chores like going to the market, or for that matter, pulling over at a signal, a commotion is bound to ensue. It looks like a proper off-road vehicle but with all the road-legal bits like a speedo, turn indicators, mirrors, reverse lights, the whole shebang. Parking in a public space is a major concern with practically everyone including some of Mumbai’s finest law enforcers unable to resist the urge to click selfies with the 900d. I genuinely did get pulled over a couple of times for allegedly riding an illegal vehicle but a quick read of the paperwork and I was off sowing seeds of doubt across town astride the tractor once again. The 900d is powered by a 745cc, V-twin, liquid-cooled diesel motor that’s sourced from ‘Changchai’ China and developed by Powerland with a special ECU. Wonder why this 750cc ATV is called the 900? Well, that’s because Powerland was to put in a bigger capacity motor, but chose to stick with the smaller unit, and undergoing a name change would involve even more paperwork, money and inevitably more time to get it passed.
The motor is mated to a CVT transmission that comes from a Canada-based company. The 900d is certified under Bharat TREM lll to meet the current agricultural vehicle emission norms. As you would imagine, this isn’t your average ATV. The engine is extremely buzzy. The diesel engine revs to 3600rpm, banging out a rather unimpressive 19bhp and 45Nm of torque in the process. Now if you’re looking for some powersliding action, this thing will disappoint. From the get-go, power delivery of this 410kg ATV is borderline lethargic on the road. But that’s not to say that the 900d isn’t a hoot to ride. You’ll feel like a kid who’s just won free tickets to a theme park. The stability of four wheels with the ride experience of a motorcycle, it’s definitely one of the most fun things you’ll ever ride in the city. It isn’t built for speed, the 900d, with the digital speedo reading out a max 50kph with the throttle pinned wide open. The brakes aren’t all that good either, while the CVT gearbox is a lot less responsive than the average CVT scooter.. Good thing is that it leaves other road users so shocked to see you’re not being chased by cops and/or curious to check out the ATV, that they eventually pull aside to let you past. But even the best planned overtaking manoeuvres takes some time to execute.
Though the ATV does come equipped with a combo braking system, there were a couple of instances when I had to come to a halt in a jiffy, and let’s just say that I felt really lucky not having to back up out of the car in front. It may be a little crass at first, but I learned to appreciate the 900d. Unlike the other tractors you’ll see on Indian roads, this one has an undeniable charm about it. At Rs 4.75 lakh, on road, Mumbai, it’s not going to be the first vehicle you’d own, so it is a recreational vehicle of sorts. And it does help in that sense. The independent suspension setup is on the stiffer side, which means that you’ll feel most undulations on the road. But the ride quality is definitely better than the average two wheeler’s. Low-speed handling is a bit of a task too, because you have to put some shoulder into all your directional changes, just as you would with any ATV. But things lighten up at 35-40kph. What isn’t like a conventional ATV is the broad seat that sits behind the 20-litre tank. It doesn’t allow you to get a good grip with your knees.
This and the stiff-set suspension can be a little unsettling if you hit a large bump and aren’t prepared for it. And losing control of an ATV on the street can cause a lot more damage than let’s say, falling off a bike. But it’s just so much fun. Riding the Powerland around town is a decision you won’t regret. Just that we recommend you practice riding somewhere safe before. Having a reverse gear sure felt handy around town especially when it came to hiding the 900d in a low key parking spot. It’s a feature that some, more expensive ATVs in the market don’t have. Whatever said and done, the 900d may make slow progress both on and off road, but it will definitely get you there. On this test, I took the ATV out for a spin on some uninhabited off-road sections to understand the full extent of this vehicle’s capabilities. The tyres managed to find grip on the most slippery surfaces including some slush sections and river crossings. In the pouring rain, I found balancing on the ATV to sometimes be more of a task than it should be.
The suspension wants to throw you off at every corner and the seat, though comfortable when driving at a leisurely pace, could have been a little narrower to allow for better grip when giving it the stick. While for the most part, riding the Powerland 900d always feels like a proper ATV, there are times when it feels like a proper heavy tractor as well. You’ll have to try real hard to get stuck on this thing. You can shift from 2WD to 4x4 on the fly, which gets you out of sticky situations in a hurry, or should you choose to play good samaritan and help an aged farmer level his field. The 900d comes with a winch up front, which is standard fitment that will come in handy should you get stuck while kicking it on some off-road trail or just tilling your land. Now there may be rules that don’t exactly make sense to you and me, but it’s thanks to certain loopholes and the vehicles that pass through them like the Powerland 900d that let the world make sense again.
It not only gives testament to the saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, but manages to live up to what it is designed to be – a real workhorse, while proving to be a source of thorough enjoyment while at it. It may not be the best of its kind, but it’s the relentless effort of the owner that deserves special mention here. One man’s tireless effort has unearthed a loophole in the system which could actually benefit us. The 900d may feel a bit off in terms of build quality, but it’s the first of its kind. It’s allowed to be this way. Would I buy one? Hell no. But that’s because I can’t afford it. This one’s fun, but there’s still much room for improvement. And that’s what we expect to see in the second model which will be out in a couple month’s time. Thanks to Powerland, recreational vehicles could now be more accessible to the public. No longer do you have to own a plot of land to own an ATV. Just that you’ll be known as the guy who just parked a tractor in his garage when you do.