Five or six years ago, when you thought luxury you would picture Champs-Elysées or Fifth Avenue or Bond Street. Right? So, naturally, luxury cars belonged on those famous boulevards or in the south of France and locations such as that. Well, that was then, folks. Today the picture has changed dramatically. The East is the new West—and it’s not just a cliché.
Proof of my observations lies not just in the fact that most global companies are making a beeline for India and other emerging markets, but also in that they are being led by the high-end brands across categories. India is the “next big thing”.
Given the untapped nature of the market, it was natural to see high three-digit growth figures for these brands in a relatively short period. The economic crisis in the West has only added to the imperative of expanding in markets such as India.
This brings me to my main point—India is no longer the last in line to gain access to the world’s latest and most technologically advanced cars. Barring a few such as Ferrari and Aston Martin, most premium car makers already have a presence in the country. Now they are developing new models and features keeping in mind buyers in countries such as India.
5 Series Sedan from BMW: It comes with a computer-controlled infotainment system, active cruise control, parking assist, night vision and different ride settings to suit your requirements.
Take the new Rolls-Royce Ghost. It may be called the Baby Roller, but there is nothing small about the kind of volumes Rolls-Royce expects from it—especially from the Asia-Pacific region. So it sports options such as red interior trim, popular in China, or a hardier air conditioner and adjustable ride height, crucial for Indian conditions. In India, the company sells 10-14 cars of the bigger, more ostentatious, Phantom. With the Ghost, the company expects numbers to go up to 100 cars a year.
The Ghost is also being positioned as a driver’s car. Rolls-Royce believes that unlike the Phantom, most owners of the Ghost will choose to drive it. That may not hold true in India, where people prefer chauffeurs, so the rear interiors are luxurious. Buyers can opt for any material or colour of interior trim. The rear seats also recline and are adjustable, complete with lumbar support—all electric, of course. Options further include seat warmers, a panoramic sunroof, individual DVD screens for both rear passengers, polished-wood pull-up tray tables, individual climate control, access to vehicle navigation and settings, and yes, even an electric door shutting button, in case you find the rear coach-style suicide doors (also called rear-hinged or coach doors, these are hinged on the edge closer to the rear of the vehicle) too heavy. Throw in the mundane features such as cup holders, cigarette lighter/power outlet and vanity mirrors—and you may never want to leave this cabin.
A Rolls-Royce is meant to offer what they call a “magic carpet” ride and it was a challenge for its engineers to ensure this holds true in India too. So Rolls-Royce engineers have worked hard on making the rear suspension stronger, yet smooth.
It’s this kind of attention to the specific needs of buyers in countries such as India that one also sees in the new sixth generation 5 Series sedan from BMW. The car has a whole host of features, so besides the choice of various diesel and petrol engines—and a new optional 8-speed dual clutch transmission—there is plenty of new technology on board.
I meet people all the time who say they would have loved to buy a BMW but bought a Mercedes-Benz because the sporty ride of the BMW model didn’t feel right—especially when sitting in the rear. That was always held to be the essential difference between the brands for many—especially the purists.
Now, for the first time, the 5 Series has ride settings—so you can switch from Comfort to Normal to Sport and Sport+. This essentially changes the car’s gear change ratios, throttle mapping and crucially, the damping too. So it can have a plush ride feel when you want that, and can also ride hard if need be.
Rolls-Royce Ghost: It comes with a panoramic sunroof, polished-wood pull-up tray tables and DVD screens for both rear passen- gers, and climate control, among other features.
This major departure from the typical BMW character helps drive home the point about how the attempt to cater to different markets is influencing the design of new models. So the chauffeur-driven 5 Series customer can now tweak the suspension to suit his or her preference.
The 5 series drives like a dream too—in both the comfort and sport modes. It has an updated iDrive—the computer-controlled infotainment system. It also sports active cruise control, parking assist, night vision, lane-departure warning. The list of features just goes on and on.
Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Bentley are among those now paying closer attention to Indian buyers and their specific needs. And Ferrari and Cadillac are among those using Indian conditions as test studies in the development of their future cars—I hope they will make it here soon too.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com