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Buyers no longer on the lookout for cheapest car

Buyers no longer on the lookout for cheapest car

New Delhi: For as long as Auto Expo organizers can remember, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd has put up the largest show at the event. It was no different at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan exhibition grounds this time around.

As it has done for the past few expos, the company took over an entire hall—about the size of a football field—and showcased its offerings over seven separate enclosures. There was a central zone that had its new concept car, the R3, and the Kizashi, a 2-litre sedan.

At various side enclosures, it had put on display other models—the Swift, the WagonR and the Alto, among others. It even invited visitors to design their own models on touch screens provided by Microsoft Corp. Video films took viewers through the company’s yesteryears.

But somewhere, the company took a decision not to put on display the model that started its success story and went on to sell 25.3 million units—the Maruti 800.

Maruti’s omission reflects the changing demands of Indian car buyers. A car is no longer an aspirational purchase for many middle-class families. Gone are the days when families bought a car for mobility alone. Visitors at the expo said they saw cars as an extension of their personalities and were no longer willing to settle for a vehicle simply because it was the cheapest.

Also See Mint’s complete coverage of the Delhi Auto Expo

Nishesh Jain, a student at the Sushant School of Art and Architecture in Gurgaon, stopped by the Tata Motors Ltd pavilion mainly to see what the company had to offer in the near future.

Eye on the future: (L to R) Visitor Pradeep Jain expressed disappointment that the Maruti 800 model wasn’t part of the expo this year, and a student trying his hand at an interactive screen at the Maruti exhibit. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

“The Tata Nano and the Fiat Punto were all launched at the Auto Expo, and so I’m waiting to see what awaits," he said.

Jain is in the market for a small car, but there are things he won’t compromise on. An anti-lock braking system (ABS) and a music system are an absolute must as part of the standard equipment. He also plans to buy his car with his own money.

Although the majority of cars launched at the expo were in the small-car segment, manufacturers also realize that buyers no longer want to scrimp and save.

For instance, General Motors Co., which launched the Chevrolet Beat small car, provides the climate control option that enables drivers to select the temperature on their air-conditioning units. Also included are ABS and airbags for passengers seated in the front. All this for a car priced at Rs3.34 lakh.

And buyers have noticed.

Santosh Nag, a marketing executive, said he plans to upgrade from his Alto in the next six months. The Beat would be among his top choices.

“The company has packed in a lot into a small car. Earlier, I would have to spend at least Rs5 lakh on a larger car to get the same features," he said.

Others were willing to wait a little longer and stretch till they had set aside enough to buy a car that is better than an entry-level car.

Anil Kumar, a cable operator, said he would wait for a couple of years before buying a Hyundai i10 or Maruti A-Star.

“I fear my friends will look down on me if I buy the cheapest available car," he said. For him, the features don’t matter as much as the image of the car.

Still, while Indian consumers are not unwilling to plunk down for better features in their cars, they remain value-conscious. The most commonly asked questions to several models standing in front of cars included: What is the price of the car? Is the car available in petrol or diesel or both? How many kilometres to the litre does the car give?

The absence of Maruti 800 wasn’t lost on the owners of the car. “I was a little disappointed that it was not on display," said Pradeep Jain, an executive in a company that makes flavours, who was visiting the expo with his son. He drives an eight-year-old model and concedes that Indians have moved on from buying cars as a utility. His next car will be a Tata model or the Chevrolet Beat.

For Maruti, the decision to exclude the 800 model from display was straightforward. The company decided to focus on the future instead of the past, according to a spokesperson. He pointed out this was also the reason why Maruti chose not to display the Gypsy and the Omni van. Space was not a constraint.

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