New Delhi: The Indian market today has over 40 main models of cars, which are sold in nearly 200 variations of engine and trim levels. Several more are expected during the year. Those who think this is a confusing number should know that 4,000 different models are sold worldwide and that countries like Thailand, with a smaller car market, sell over 200 main models.

Murad Ali Baig, Auto expert & columnist

Traditionally these cars are grouped in several categories:

* A1’ or A’ Class are mini cars that are less than 3.5 metres long like the 3.30 m long Maruti 800 that had long been India’s largest selling model. In 1997-98, this segment accounted for 65% of India’s sales figures but consumer demand moved to bigger cars and sales sank to less than 10% last year.

*A2’ or B’ Class cars are typically 3.5 to 4 m long. Though the Alto, Matiz, Santro, Spark, Wagon R and Zen are all 3.495 m long they are classified in this segment. But bigger cars like Indica, at 3.66 m and the Getz, Palio and Swift and are also in this segment. This segment accounted for just 22% of the market in 1997-98 but rose sharply with the launch of the Santro, Matiz, and Indica to 43% in 1999 and further went up to comprising 67% of the Indian market last year. The smaller models accounted for 64% of these sales.

*A3’ orC’ Class prestige segment cars are between 4 and 4.5 m long. The Fusion at 4.06 m is the shortest while the 4.xx long SX4 is presently the longest. In between, ranked by length are Ambassador, Accent, City, Ikon, Fiesta, Lancer, Logan and Verna. This segment accounted for nearly 20% of India’s sales last year.

*A4’ orD’ Class, of full size family saloons between 4.5 and 4.75 m long that include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cedia, Civic, Corolla, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Octavia and Optra.

*A5’ or E Class’ segment are the luxury models that are between 4.75 m to 5 m long and include the Accord, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Corolla, Mercedes, E Classe, and Sonata. These account for nearly 5% of the sales.

* ‘S’ Class represent the small but expensive super luxury segment sometimes called the S’ Class which has the Audi A8, BMW & Series, Mercedes-Benz S Classe and a few of the exotics like the Bentley, Maybach and Rolls-Royce.

There are also some further classifications:

* Hatchbacks like the Zen, Santro or Indica are cars without boots.

* Saloons, sedans or 3 box cars are 4-door cars with proper boots.

* Estates are saloons which have an extended roof to provide additional storage space like the Tata Marina or Palio Adventure.

* Coupes are sporty 2-door cars with a roof that is not yet in India except for a few imported Porsches.

* Convertibles and roadsters are 2-door sports cars with open tops. Roadsters are usually smaller and more expensive but also more powerful.

* MUV’s or multi utility vehicles like the Balero, Tavera or Sumo are practical people carriers with rather limited off-road capabilities.

* SUV’s or sports utility vehicles are spacious utility vehicles with sporty off-road capabilities like the Safari, Scorpio and imported BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, etc., with powerful engines and expensive trim to offer rough road performance with style and comfort.

But number of cars in these classifications is about to change. If the Tata, Bajaj, TVS and other ultra low cost cars that are on the anvil are launched in 2008, the sagging A1 segment will become huge and will shake up not only the car market but 2-wheelers as well

Murad Ali Baig is one of India’s foremost auto experts. Feedback to his column can be sent at