Small czars

Small czars
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First Published: Wed, Dec 09 2009. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Dec 28 2009. 02 30 PM IST
The Indian car consumer never had it so good, and it’s only going to get better. We are referring here to the largest chunk of India’s car space, which belongs to compact hatchbacks. With a whole lot of new models rushing into the market in the next few months, the consumer will now be spoilt for choice. And increased competition will only mean better deals.
Listen to Kumar Kandaswami, senior director at consulting firm Deloitte talk about India’s car market
Most of these cars are aimed at staying under 4m in length to attract the lower excise duty necessary for attractive pricing. This also means smaller engines within the constraints established by former finance minister P. Chidambaram (in his 2006 Union budget, he had slashed excise duty on what he defined as a small car—cars under 4m in length and with engines not over 1,200cc for petrol and 1,500cc for diesel models). But even so, expect cash registers to start ringing and, yes, initially this will come at the expense of the mighty Maruti Suzuki Swift, its sibling the Ritz and Hyundai’s best-sellers—the i10 and i20.
And while we are talking of small cars, let me also remind you that the Japanese giant Toyota will show its small car concept for India at the Auto Expo in January. The car will make its production and market debut in the second half of 2010. And by then I’m also expecting the Honda small car to be ready. Both these cars will also target the same price points, and yes—the same consumer.
Ford Figo
One reason why Volkswagen’s Polo will be a gamble for the company is that its own stable-mate, the Skoda Fabia, and a clutch of other new entrants, will give it a stiff fight. Enter the Ford Figo. This is the American car maker’s big launch for India. I have seen the car—and in terms of the styling, shape and size, it looks like a promising package. But what we still don’t know is the exact engine specification or the interior equipment. Ford promises interior trim like never before in the segment, and the prices of both diesel and petrol Figos are likely to be extremely competitive.
Expected price: Rs3.75-6 lakh
Launch: Around March
Chevrolet Beat
In keeping with the aggressive theme of the new cars, take a look a Chevrolet’s Beat. It is a tad smaller than the others, but that is more in perception than actual dimensions. Beat is essentially the new global replacement for the Spark. General Motors (GM) is playing it smart—retaining the now successful Spark as the entry hatch, while positioning the Beat as the slightly upmarket offering in India. The Beat has a 1.2 litre engine with a 5-speed manual gearbox. It drives well, has a good notchy gearshift and is surprisingly spacious—especially in the back. It also has features such as climate control and an in-dash music system, which will attract buyers. The car’s looks are just as aggressive as the planned prices. GM wants to shake things up just as it had a few months ago with the Cruze mid-sizer. So it has kept away from features such as keyless entry or electric mirrors—an indication that we can expect the car to be in the very affordable range.
Expected price: Rs3.5-4.5 lakh
Launch: 4 January
Volkswagen Polo
The model that is being discussed most and also being looked upon to establish new benchmarks in the hatch space is the Volkswagen (VW) Polo. VW is betting big on this car as it will be its make-or-break model in India. You have seen the increased visibility of the VW brand in the country already, and also the launch of other models such as the Beetle and Touareg. All this is just a precursor to the Polo. The Polo will be here in January at the Auto Expo, but will be on-road by the end of this fiscal (March 2010). The car is expected with diesel and petrol engine options, a manual transmission and great interior equipment. If VW does not deliver on the quality levels of the materials used and the price tag, and in ensuring the car is not an inferior version of what sells in Europe, it could be curtains for the big dreams it has here in 2010.
Expected price: Rs4-6 lakh
Launch: March
Nissan Micra
This is one car that is not just India-specific. The Nissan Micra will be made at the company’s Chennai facility for export to Europe and other parts of the world, besides being sold in India. The Micra is also expected to be roomy, and its unconventional styling and funky interiors are meant to appeal to a younger buyer—which is where the big growth in small cars is coming from today. Nissan is working hard to expand its dealer network along with partner Hover Automotive India. It is also aiming at a high local content in the car from Day 1—as high as 80%. This is the crucial factor that will help keep prices attractive.
Expected price: Rs4-5.5 lakh
Launch: March
Coming Soon
Besides all the action in the small-car space, there are a few other noteworthy launches to keep an eye out for:
• The Toyota Prius is the second hybrid model that will arrive in India after the Honda Civic hybrid in 2008. The Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid, is now in its third generation. It has a 1.8 litre, 98 bhp engine mated to an 80 bhp permanent magnet AC synchronous motor. The Prius will debut at the Auto Expo in January at an expected price tag of Rs24 lakh.
• And then there is the very interesting Skoda Yeti. The small compact SUV is almost like a slightly overgrown hatch. It combines space and power, plus off-road capability with good ride height—something Indians love—and yet keeps it all compact at under 4,300mm. This car will create a new segment when it launches in mid-2010 at an expected Rs15-17 lakh.
• There is also a lot of excitement around the soon to be launched Tata Xover. The vehicle will jump straight into the Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova territory with prices expected right in between at about Rs7 lakh. It is expected to be spacious and boast a number of goodies. Given the huge leap Tata Motors has taken with the Indigo Manza, I expect the Xover to be a huge shift from previous MUVs from Tata.
• The other volumes segment of late, other than MUVs, has been the mid-sized sedan space. Dominated by the Honda Civic till last year, suddenly it’s all happening with new entrants such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota’s Corolla Altis flexing muscle on diesel and price, respectively. Which is why I will watch very closely when the Maruti Suzuki Kizashi launches from the big daddy of the Indian market. It will have a 2.4 litre petrol motor, and is likely to introduce segment firsts such as the all-wheel-drive. Expect prices in the Rs10-12 lakh range.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at roadrunner@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Dec 09 2009. 01 15 AM IST