It’s a theme I have maintained through this column for some months now—the growing importance of India in the auto world. So with India at centre of so much activity for the global automobile industry, it’s not surprising to see India-specific models being developed. The Toyota Etios epitomized that trend as it debuted last week, but even other models such as the Nissan Micra and soon-to-be launched Honda Brio are testimony to how much input from India now goes into certain global models.
It is also encouraging to see Indian companies making a more significant global presence. This has been by way of increasing exports to the developing and developed world, and also through major acquisitions. Tata with its Jaguar-Land Rover buyout and now Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) with SsangYong are key affirmations of the growing clout of Indian auto makers globally.
So what does all this mean? More new models to choose from, of course.
As the paperwork on the M&M-SsangYong deal wraps up by March, M&M will also work on its plan to bring two key SsangYong models to India. The first will be the Korando C—a compact or mini-SUV which M&M will assemble at its Chakan plant near Pune alongside its own upcoming new global SUV. I reckon it will arrive by June.
Korando means “can do” in Korean, and it is SsangYong’s latest model, yet to be introduced even in Korea. The car looks gorgeous, with the design being done by Italy’s Giorgietto Giugiaro and then tweaked in-house. It looks athletic, agile and contemporary. This is the smallest Korando from SsangYong and is meant to compete with the likes of the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage in Korea, and the Nissan Qashqai and VW Tiguan in Europe. In fact, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen will do well to bring those models to India too. But let me not digress.
The Korando will have the option of 2 litre diesel and petrol engines, but it is the diesel that I am interested in for India. And so I drove the diesel too, with a 6-speed automatic gearbox, though a manual is also available. The car’s engine is a bit rough and noisy, but its handling is sweet. This is due to its compact dimensions and monocoque frame—which means the body itself becomes the car’s stress-bearing frame, unlike earlier cars and SUVs which had a body sitting on a load-bearing frame. The car I drove also had the optional automatic all-wheel drive which sends power to the rear wheels when needed, otherwise channelling full power to the front wheels.
Inside, the Korando is not as impressive as the exterior. The car has the option of goodies such as a sunroof, in-dash CD changer and navigation, electric mirrors and seats, leather, etc. Let’s see how much of this Mahindra decides to bring to India. The rear seats are reasonably roomy, though I would suggest an optional rear AC vent for India. The boot space is also more generous than it appears, with the rear seats folding flat to give you great cargo space.
I would expect Mahindra to get aggressive and launch the Korando C at prices ranging from Rs12-14 lakh for two or three variants, which includes the automatic. That would create a massive flutter in the SUV market. It might also give the bigger SUVs some worries if it is just as aggressive with the pricing for the bigger Rexton.
This is the SUV from SsangYong that M&M is considering for an India launch. I expect this best-selling SsangYong to debut between Rs15 lakh and Rs19 lakh. The Rexton has been the mainstay for the Korean company in the global markets. It is large, has three-row seating, and is a true-blue sports utility vehicle. The Rexton is based on the Mercedes-Benz M Class, and so is powered by a Mercedes diesel engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. The association with the German company goes back to a technology-sharing deal the two companies had in the 1990s. The Rexton is a brute alright, but despite the Giugiaro design, there is a slight old-world sense that creeps in with the styling, since it’s been around since 2001. What we will get is the latest, upgraded avatar, which has refined interiors, and lots of space, of course.
Honda’s Brio made its debut at the 27th Bangkok International Motor Expo on 30 November. The smallest Honda yet, Brio (which means vigour) is aimed at the Thai and Indian markets. It will only make its on-road debut in Thailand in March, and in India by September. The reason I am excited about it is that finally Honda seems to be gearing up for the big time and entering the most exciting segment in the market. That Honda will be a bit late is obvious though, with Japanese rivals Nissan and Toyota pipping it with the Micra and Etios, respectively.
Brio uses a similar design language as the larger hatch from Honda—Jazz—but definitely gives the impression of being compact, unlike the Jazz, which looks bigger. Brio has a very interesting rear hatch door, which is all-glass, and this might become its talking point. Brio is shorter than its rivals but is surprisingly roomy inside. The hatch will sport a 1.2 litre petrol engine to meet India’s small car excise duty norms. Honda will follow the late 2011 debut in India with a diesel Brio in 2012-13. My guess is that the Brio’s sticker price will range from Rs4-6 lakh for three to four variants. Honda will achieve this pricing thanks to its plan to use a majority of locally produced tools and components. With this car, Honda Siel India expects to double its annual sales to over 130,000 units. Honda R&D is also silently working away at a possible sedan on the same platform—just for India—which will take on the Toyota Etios and Nissan Micra-based sedans, besides the best-selling Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com