It’s hard to remember that just five-six years ago, India roads looked so very different.I don’t just mean the number of cars or the variety that we have today, but also how much more aware and discerning the Indian buyer has become.
Of course, we saw big changes in the years preceding that too—remember how in the late 1990s cars didn’t even need to have body-coloured bumpers? That changed by the turn of the century. Then the Hyundai Santro helped take features such as seat belts, fog lamps and power steering from being luxury add-ons to standard equipment. And now it’s all about having a car that embodies efficiency, performance, value and, yes, plenty of sex appeal too.
Past glory: The Swift, launched in 2005, attracted many buyers.
Just like the Santro helped us upgrade and demand more from all small cars, the one car that stands out for lifting our aspirations in the small car space in terms of style and substance is the Maruti Suzuki Swift.
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The car is soon to be replaced in the Indian market, having achieved a lot since its debut in May 2005. The Swift’s design, which captured both retro chic and modern-contemporary cues, was an instant hit in India. Buyers swarmed to Maruti showrooms to get a look at the first “modern” Maruti car. The reason it stood out over the Indian auto manufacturer’s earlier products was that with this car, one of Suzuki Motor’s global cars was finally making its desi debut soon after its global unveiling. This has been followed by many others since—and Maruti’s portfolio started looking more global than desi. We are talking about cars like the A-Star, Ritz, SX4 and, more recently, the Kizashi. It spelt a new direction in terms of the interiors and plastic quality for Maruti too.
I still remember the electricity generated by Suzuki’s global announcement during the Swift debut at the 2004 Paris Motor Show—it said the Swift would be made in Hungary, Japan and India. So the Swift was meant for India from the word go, and finally put India on Suzuki’s global map. I remember phoning in the news, and rushing to get a good look at the car. That kind of frenzy and euphoria—and resultant market success—have yet to be mimicked by any subsequent launch.
Car renaissance: The new Swift is likely to be launched in August.
I believe the Swift also changed perceptions. Younger or first-time buyers in India were now daring to exceed their expectations, and expand their EMIs (equated monthly instalments). The Swift became the segment generic, the benchmark. Soon, everyone talked about wanting a B+ car—technically, the Swift had made its debut in the B segment of the Indian passenger car market, but offered features and driveability that appeared to be from a higher segment. Other cars like the Hyundai Getz and Chevrolet Aveo U-VA added to the buzz, and in fact outscored the Swift on interior space. But the good looks, competitive pricing, fuel-efficient engine and Maruti’s reputation kept the Swift right on top of the pile.
In 2006, Suzuki signed an engine technology alliance with Fiat, which gave it a licence to make the Italian car maker’s immensely successful 1.3-litre common rail diesel engine. The plant was set up in India, which is how we got the Swift DDiS in January 2007. As if the Swift wasn’t enough of a hit, the diesel version went on to make it even more successful. The subsequent addition of a sedan version, the Swift Dzire, in March 2008, only added to that—despite the car not being very well engineered, and tagged “butt-ugly” by its critics.
Since the debut six years ago, Maruti has sold 606,000 units of the Swift hatch and 285,000 units of the sedan. The car has had waiting periods of as long as eight months—and buyers have waited. It’s a rare case of a car having huge bookings even as Maruti decided to pull the plug on it and stop production. This was done in June, to facilitate the transition to the next generation of the Swift, which will debut in mid-August. The new car is a tad bigger, yet it maintains all things Swift—including some of its styling DNA. It will debut in both diesel and petrol avatars, and prices are expected to be only marginally higher than the outgoing model’s. I cannot wait to drive the next-generation Swift, which made its international debut last year—fittingly enough, at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. It has been on sale in Europe and Japan since the end of 2010, and will now arrive in India. Besides needing to accommodate a new assembly line at its Manesar plant in Haryana, Maruti also delayed the arrival of the new Swift to try and ease demand for the outgoing car—facilitating a smooth transition. Despite this, the old Swift had more than 25,000 bookings post June. Buyers have now been offered the chance to either cancel bookings or switch these to the new car—with guaranteed priority on delivery. Most of them have—despite not knowing the new car’s price. That is the draw of the Swift—both as a brand and as a car.
So as the next-generation Swift arrives, I once again expect it to shake up the market. It will once again be the modern, compelling buy from Maruti’s stable. And as if this wasn’t excitement enough, the new Swift Dzire will also debut soon enough—I expect a January debut at the Auto Expo in New Delhi.
I reckon the Swift family will once again begin to dominate not just the sales charts, but our mind-space too. And yes, I will share my thoughts after I’ve driven the new Swift—that is a promise!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org