It has been a familiar theme in my column, and over the past few months Indian buyers have also shown us that it’s pretty much what they really want too. Like many across the world, they too are looking for something that is affordable, efficient, easy to use—and yes, ideally a sports utility vehicle (SUV).
While the market has shown a healthy growth rate for the SUV segment, the volumes haven’t broken through as yet, since most SUVs are still considered expensive. The ones that aren’t are seen as less sophisticated and dated—I’m talking about the Mahindra Scorpio and Tata Safari here. The launch of the Renault Duster has finally introduced some competition to these vehicles and also opened up a potential volumes bonanza for the industry.
But it’s not just the prices of compact SUVs that I find interesting. It’s also that they are actually more car-like to drive, park and manoeuvre, and also easier to maintain. They aren’t bulky, so more buyers take to them easily enough. And that brings me to the car I want to talk about today. It’s really well-built and is just right from a size and appeal point of view too. That’s the Volkswagen (VW) Tiguan compact SUV, built on the same platform as the Golf and previous generation Jetta.
The Tiguan was designed to be hip, aspirational and capable too, when it first debuted in 2007. But despite being pegged for India at the start, it’s still not here. That’s primarily because the car has enjoyed such unexpected success in Europe and other markets like China that VW couldn’t meet the demand for it. So shipping any kits for assembly in India was out of the question.
I recently drove the 2012 facelifted Tiguan 2.0 TSI while in the US—from New York to Vermont and back—another market where the Tiguan has done well. The 2-litre TSI petrol engine is quite the gem. It’s smooth and ample on power, but the gearbox was not as exciting as the latest generation seven-speed DSG gearboxes from VW that I have driven on some of its other cars in Europe. Of course, the Tiguan is offered with a 2-litre diesel engine option too, but that’s mostly for markets in Europe.
The car performs well, is quick on the go, and given its compact size and lightness, is easy to manoeuvre too. Handling is as I would expect from a German car, which means it’s precise, tight on corners and a touch sporty too.
The primary reason I feel this car could still be extremely important for the Indian market is because this is the kind of car more and more Indian buyers will be looking for. As I have said already, they will want the space and convenience of an SUV, minus the bulk. They will also want a premium cabin—something cars like the Duster do not offer. But the problem for VW has also been confusion on just how to position the Tiguan in India.
Given where VW group companies have positioned their products already, and given what the competition is doing with theirs, it’s really tough to find space for the Tiguan. Its similarly sized cousins—the Skoda Yeti and Audi Q3—already bookend it with a Rs 16-19 lakh and Rs 27-32 lakh range, respectively. And anything in the Rs 20-25 lakh range is way bigger and more imposing—like a Toyota Fortuner for instance—which would make the Tiguan unattractive and too expensive.
And that is frankly a bit of a tragedy. If the Tiguan could be built by VW in India, it could be priced right, and I genuinely believe it could generate a massive volume pull for VW, which has seen its fortunes wane a bit of late, and needs a strong differentiator in the market right now. This would also need a repositioning of the Yeti to be able to take on a cheaper, utilitarian role, with the Tiguan being priced more in line with where the Yeti currently sits.
So is this just wishful thinking? Well I do know that market research in the past has indicated to the VW brass that the Tiguan is the way to go in India. Now all eyes are on the proposed auto benefits that may come once India signs its FTA (free trade agreement) with the Eurozone. If that goes through, cheaper imports may actually give access to a more flexible pricing strategy, and ergo, the volumes I believe such cars could generate. I also think they would be kinder on the environment in the long run, as compared to the larger hulks, so it’s a win-win, isn’t it? Of course, what matters in the end is what the guys at VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters are thinking. All I can do is hope they’re thinking on the same lines as me!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org