Maruti’s Swift sedan coming early next year

Maruti’s Swift sedan coming early next year

India’s largest car maker, Maruti Udyog Ltd, is getting set for the launch in 2008 of a mid-size sedan built around its new global car platform, the Swift. The new car, to be launched in January-February, will give the manufacturer renewed presence in the budget segment of the domestic sedan market, where newer, more contemporary models from competitors have edged out its Esteem model.

A person close to the development said the company would launch Swift with its new-generation 1.3-litre multi–jet diesel engine and in a 1.3-litre petrol variant, priced at around Rs5.5 lakh.

Maruti officials declined to comment on future models.

MUL’s long-standing Esteem sedan has been witnessing flagging sales in the last few years. The model sold little more than 6,000 units in April-July, down from 7,011 units in the year-ago period. The model is currently available for about Rs4.5 lakh, depending on the features included, but suffers from what analysts call model fatigue.

The car, however, continues to win critical acclaim, including last year’s JD Power best entry-sedan award.

Maruti already has two diesel variants of premium hatchback Swift and a petrol offering on the same platform since its launch late last year.

The launch of the Swift sedan will strengthen the company’s presence in the sedan market, where it currently has another of Suzuki’s global new car initiatives, the SX4 model, which replaced its premium sedan Baleno. The SX4 is available for about Rs654,000 and people familiar with its performance said it sold 9,500 units between April-July, driven largely by its premium features at a very aggressive price.

MUL is, meanwhile, increasing production capacity at its Manesar, Haryana, factory. “By the end of next fiscal, the Manesar plant is likely to produce more than 250,000 cars," this person said. The Swift has sold 141,893 units through July, with a waiting period of two weeks to two months for the car, depending on the model and features.

Sales of Indian car makers grew 22% to 10.7 lakh units in the year ended March, up from 8.82 lakh units. With the likes of Volkswagen AG, General Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co. stepping up their interest in India, MUL has been in an overdrive, launching five models and variants in just the past year and promising at least one additional model every year. The launch of the Swift and SX4, its first sedan in six years, was the first of its new initiatives.

MUL will invest an estimated $2 billion in expanding capacity and launching new products. It is also changing its name to Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, which will allow it to better leverage the Japanese car maker’s brand.

During April-June, MUL sold 160,604 units domestically, a growth of 17.1% over the year-ago quarter. Total sales, including exports, were 169,669 units, also up 17.1%. In July, MUL sold 52,839 vehicles within India, up from 44,653 vehicles in July 2006.