Many believe that the entry-level compact sedan will be the segment to watch out for in the next few months. Yes it is true that a number of new launches are likely to fire things up; I think the real volumes-related action, and therefore the new launch rush, will remain in the large hatchback space.
So we’re talking cars such as the Hyundai i20 and Skoda Fabia—both of which got minor facelifts this year, I might add! It is the kind of car that more and more Indians want to buy. A hatchback that offers more space, style and safety is no longer clubbed with smaller budget cars such as the Hyundai Santro or Maruti Suzuki Alto. These larger cars are now seen as having a premium quality, and are therefore considered more aspirational.
A feast for all: A roomy cabin, comfortable seats and a smooth ride are the features of Ford Fiesta.
So what does this mean for the market, and indeed for you the consumer? Well, there will be many more options to choose from, of course! To kickstart, there will be the Toyota Etios sedan-hatch twins that will be launched on 1 December. The car is expected to be priced attractively, at Rs 3.90-5.50 lakh for the hatch variants. But while this one will slug it out with everything from the Chevrolet Beat and Hyundai i10 to the Ford Figo, there is the more premium hatch that’s also worth keeping an eye on.
And here we step into Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz territory. And the car that’s likely to come in and spoil their sales party is the next-generation Ford Fiesta.
I say next generation because we still have the earlier generation car in India, with a compact sedan-style body. The new sixth-generation Fiesta, which debuted in Europe last year, is now heading to India. For months, the buzz has been that the sedan avatar of the car (which has been selling in China and the US since mid-2010) will replace the current car in India soon.
But guess what? It seems the hatch will come first. And here’s why. Ford’s Asia-Pacific boss Joe Hinrichs and Ford’s global CEO Alan Mulally both shared with me how they see India staying a predominantly hatch-driven market. And so, to achieve scale and a noteworthy market position here, they have to address that end of it, with more than one offering, and quickly. Enter the Fiesta, which fits that requirement to a tee. The second reason that logic works is that Ford has plenty of elbow room to price the Fiesta competitively, since the very aggressive prices on the Figo leave lots of room between smaller hatch and compact sedan prices. The Figo starts at Rs 3.54 lakh and tops off at Rs 5.34 lakh for the high-end diesel variant. Compare that with the i20’s Rs 4.53–7.50 lakh and you know what I mean.
I got a chance to test the Fiesta in Europe recently and was reasonably impressed. The car I drove was an entry-level base trim, or Trend version. It sported a 1.2-litre petrol heart, while Ford offers 1.4- and 1.6-litre engine options for both petrol and diesel models.
The Fiesta’s cabin is roomy, the seats are comfortable, and most controls are easy to reach. The dash and instruments are slightly basic, but smartly styled. I shan’t get into details, because none of this would be guaranteed on a future India-specification model. The car’s trip computer and air conditioning are good. I was surprised by the response of the small engine. It’s not zippy but is more than effective on the highway, while in city driving the 5-speed manual gearbox affords an easy engine response. I don’t expect Ford to bring in an automatic transmission option on the Fiesta to India. However there is a growing awareness among buyers, who seek the convenience of an automatic, so Ford would do well to think of it as an option.
The Fiesta is easy to manoeuvre, and is trouble-free to park despite what appears to be a portly exterior. Coming to the styling, the Fiesta embodies Ford’s recent Kinetic Design language, which entails having an upturned front grille going into the bumper, headlights that swoop upwards and a relatively higher tail-light fixture. The car looks smart, modern and has a flair for that je ne sais quoi—thanks to those headlights.
So if I’ve got you excited enough, here’s the downer. Ford is barely being able to keep up with orders for its Figo, so given its current plant capacity, launching another volumes offering may not seem wise. Add to that the nearly 80% local parts Ford would like to include on the Fiesta, and it may take some time before the manufacturing plan is stitched up. The Fiesta has clear brand presence, so Ford should strike while the iron’s hot.
So when is it expected? Mid-2011, and I’ve already mentioned the price range Ford will stay in. But given how much of a positive vibe the Figo has generated for the brand—in many ways for the first time—my view is that the time is now. Ford should try and advance this launch to early 2011, and follow it up with the sedan variant in the second half of the new year.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com