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NEW DELHI : First-time millennial and Gen-Z buyers of new cars is the fastest growing customer segment for carmakers in India. For automotive giants like Hyundai, this means additional bells and whistles, even in small cars. The most sought-after feature now is a sunroof that opens up with the touch of a button or a voice command.

Only 18.4% of Hyundai’s portfolio of passenger vehicles used to be sold with a sunroof in fiscal year 2019. Two years later in fiscal 2022, this percentage went up up to 37.4%.

For Hyundai’s flagship mid-sized SUV Creta, 60% of the sales in the first five months of 2022 came from top-end trims that offer the sunroof feature. For its compact SUV Venue, 44% of the sales come from variants sold with a sunroof. To be sure, the penetration of SUV models sold with electric sunroof has gone from just over 11% in 2019 to 41.6% so far in the ongoing fiscal, according to automotive intelligence firm JATO Dynamics.

The biggest reason for this growing trend is an influx of young first-time buyers who are coming to the car market with a sense of aspiration and a sense of income prosperity. For compact SUVs like Venue, for instance, 62% buyers are millennials. 49% are first-time buyers of cars.

“Frankly, it makes no logical sense looking at the weather conditions in India. But people are now spending more time in their cars - especially after covid-19. People prefer to take their cars to drive down to a holiday destination. They choose to take use their own vehicles to commute within the city too. We are seeing customer behaviour change and demand more features, more connectivity and convenience. And I want my car to look good as well," Tarun Garg, Director - Sales & Marketing, Hyundai India told Mint.

The fascination is not limited to the sunroof alone. “India is no longer the conservative market we used to think it was earlier. The benchmarks for the whole SUV segment have now gone up - customers aren’t just looking to buy an SUV, but they want the ventilated seats, they want connectivity features and they want the sunroof - even though they may not use it often," Garg added.

The makeup of the passenger vehicle market is changing. The proportion of sales of cars in the 10 lakh and above segment now makes up 37% of the market compared with 16% in 2018. While prices of cars have risen due to taxation, general and commodity inflation, and new safety-related requirements, much is also due to additions carmakers have done to products in technology and convenience-related features.

Moreover, for the first time in the Indian auto industry, the highest-selling passenger vehicle segments was in the SUV body style, instead of passenger cars. From January to May this year, SUVs formed 41% of total PV sales, while hatchback sales contracted signifcantly and accounted for 35% of total sales.

As a result, carmakers are focussing their efforts on strengthening offerings in various SUV sub-segments, targeting young first-time buyers and even reviving iconic old brands with a spin of modern style and convenience to offer ‘feature-rich’ models.

For instance, Hyundai itself has launched a face-lift of its Venue - adding more than 40 additional features, some of which are industry-firsts like ambient nature sounds.

Hyundai is not alone in offering these premium features. Tata Motors‘ Punch and Nexon are attempting similar fests, as does its modern spin on its old flagship SUV, Safari.

Mahindra & Mahindra’s XUV700, which saw runaway market success, was also the company’s first attempt towards creating a more aspirational brand identity. Market leader Maruti Suzuki, to be sure, isn’t behind. It will soon launch the refreshed variant of its compact SUV Brezza, which will directly take on the Venue, expected to be upgraded with a host of bells and whistles too, early next month. For starters, the Brezza is now going to have a variant with an electric sunroof - the first time ever a Maruti Suzuki will come with a sunroof.

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