High seats, flattish hood and a bold stance. Features you typically associate with a sport utility vehicle (SUV) will soon be sported by a Maruti compact car, as India’s largest carmaker seeks to attract customers increasingly being won over by such looks.
Maruti Suzuki India Ltd on Monday said its first SUV-like small car sporting a new design language called #ConceptFutureS will be showcased at the Delhi Auto Expo in February. Swift, one of Maruti’s biggest-selling cars, was based on the original ‘Concept S’ and was unveiled at the Delhi Auto Expo in 2004.
A company statement, accompanied by a shadowy outline sketch of the new car, said the #ConceptFutureS design comes with an upright stance, higher seating and ground clearance and a horizontal hood, giving it a unique, aggressive posture—features seen in many popular compact SUVs such as the Renault Duster, Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Creta.
C.V. Raman, senior executive director (engineering) at Maruti, admitted that the “increasing preference" for utility vehicles and their bold architecture had inspired the company’s design team to think about a new character for its compact cars.
“ConceptFutureS could mark a distinctive shift in how compact cars are shaped and designed in India in the future," he said.
The fresh design can also be seen in the context of the need for many car models to be re-engineered once new regulations on safety and emissions take effect. These would require structural changes, including the use of more steel to allow vehicles to meet new crash-test norms, adding airbags and anti-lock braking systems, and installing diesel particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction technologies to help diesel cars meet the Bharat Stage VI emission norms.
Still, Maruti was not here first—Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd already makes smaller vehicles such as KUV100 which sport an SUV DNA, although it doesn’t call them cars.
Samit Sinha, founder and managing partner at Alchemist Brand Consulting Pvt. Ltd, pointed to Marlboro’s “light" cigarettes and Coca Cola’s “zero" to explain why every brand has to change its equity with a change in customer preferences.
“With this new concept design, Maruti Suzuki has also tried to do the same thing. In the recent past, companies like Porsche, Lamborghini and Jaguar have come up with their version of SUVs. It’s a global trend and Maruti Suzuki has also done the same thing," Sinha said.
According to Aveek Chattopadhayay, a former Maruti executive who now runs brand consultancy Experial, the move is significant as Maruti has been trying to resurrect the image of its entry-level car Alto.
“It (Alto) needs to be seen as a much more desirable option for a first-time car buyer," Chattopadhayay said. “It has seen some competition from the likes of Kwid and Redi-Go, where the design language is markedly different," he added.
According to Harish Bijoor, brand strategy expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., fashion has become an important component of the passenger vehicle industry and carmakers have to deal with technology and fashion at the same time.
“It is important for brands to evolve with age and stay contemporary. I would say Maruti as a market leader chose to walk on the path of internal disruption on both technological and fashion aspects," Bijoor said.
Maruti has earlier attempted to engage younger, fashionable Indians through its premium Nexa network and now through the new design language.
The company commanded a 51% market share of the passenger vehicle market in 2017, up 700 basis points over 2016, in a country where roughly 3 million units are sold every year. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.