When I was a kid, I had a really perplexing confusion between Peugeot’s 309 and Tata’s 609 CV. “Which “09” for whom?” was actually the dilemma. That was the time when my dad used to appreciate that car whenever he spots one. I loved this car too, it was distinct and catchy in its times. So, why am I writing about this car now? Today when I was driving on the highway, I spotted a beautiful white 309. I nostalgically drove behind it for sometime till the time it steered off towards a suburb. And I knew that moment that I will recollect its bygone era of hardship in my blog.
You must have heard the story of how the 309 entered India. Peugeot is one of those jerky jerks (mostly European, another being the goddamn Fiat!) who always looks down at Indian market. And so we rightly piss them off!! I mean, they aren’t serious about business in India most of the time. They neither do timely investments nor select right products to endear customers. Notably, these two car makers joined hands with the renowned domestic idler PAL (Premier Automobiles Limited). They just produced cars and dumped them to scarce dealers, with no efforts to build brand identity and trust among customer. And we know the rest, these brands ceases to spurt up in the imaginations of any common Indian car buyers.
Coming back to the car, PAL-Peugeot started importing this car in 1994 as CKD units from its France and Spain, assembled at PAL’s Kalyan plant. The production of 309 was already terminated few years back in Europe and was replaced with the new Peugeot 306. Since these guys were not sure of their own strategies and plans, they tried to play a safer game with the dated 309 which actually backfired. In the face of modern competition with new rivals from Maruti, Ford, and Daewoo, the boxy styling and diminutive design overall appeared little outdated. The company may have felt that the new 306 sedan of Europe would be well ahead of time for the market, which was actually expanding due to liberalisation. If at all 306 was introduced, it could have lasted longer in competition and appealed buyers.
The 309 wasn’t inferior either. It had many strengths that hardly matched its rivals. The car was well built with solid chassis, its length-width-height ratio was perfect for a small sedan – it looked more like a compact sedan with notch-back design (though it exceeded today’s 4-meter norm by 50mm). All wheels had independent suspension setup, which gave the car fantastic ride-comfort and terrific handling. The 1.4-litre petrol engine (GL) produced 70 bhp of max power and 110 Nm of max torque. The Peugeot had by far the best diesel engine at the time, a 1.5-litre (GLD) indirect engine with 57 bhp of power and 97 Nm of torque. Both the engines and other features were similiar to Euro-spec base variants, but were great for Indian standards at the time. The car weighed just 960 kg (petrol) and 990 kg (diesel) for a superb power-to-weight ratio in spite of a heavy body.
The 309’s interior design was little odd and outdated, but if we compare with its arch rival Maruti 1000/ Esteem (1st gen), the Peugeot was better in terms of layout design and quality. But the dashboard plastics could not withstand India’s heat and developed fissures in most cars, but only after 8 or 10 years. There was an analogue clock beside speedo-dial, which was little odd and deceiving. There was no power steering, but has outstanding A/C that matched no vehicles of its class. The foldable rear seats for luggage, anti-slant bars, front-wheel disc brakes and floating toe-links were few other highlights. The top variant had rear-wash wiper and bolted wheel covers that made this car look splendid. I have spent hours in just observing this car that time since it was very distinct from the rest. I do so even now when I spot one!
Peugeot 309 never got the appreciation and success in India as it rightly deserved. Initially the demands were good but did not grow at all later. PAL’s dealer network and service was ridiculously poor, spares were hardly available in the open market. To make it worse, in 1996, production was stalled by a strike and a lock-out at the Kalyan plant, the time when assembly was being ramped up. Industrial disputes shocked Peugeot and relations between the JV partners also soured. PAL also unethically signed up with Fiat to produce its cars, leaving Peugeot mid-way irresponsibly. Similar fortunes were on the reserve for Fiat too! Peugeot had to leave everything and run back to France, and went missing abruptly for more than a decade.
They came back in 2011 only to miss in the oblivion for the second time. It was too late for re-entry and brand building never took place. With very few thousand units sold, the lovely Peugeot 309 died an aberrant death. So if at all you spot a 309 on our road after almost two decades, it is a gemstone and the owner is an appreciable collector.