Saturday, January 1, 2005

Rear view
Alto and Santro rule the road

H. Kishie Singh looks at the movers of the year

It has been a good year for the auto-aficionado. Some of the old players are there and holding their own against the onslaught of the new entrants. And there have been some new mouthwatering entrants. How successful they will be only time will tell.

Among the old players, Maruti and Hyundai continue to battle it out. In November 2004, Santro Zing (1100 cc) sold 12,061 units as opposed to 9,156 units of Maruti Alto and 8,958 units of the mighty 800. These three cars continue to dominate the market. The Wagon R, a slow mover initially, is picking up sales as it sold 10,000 units in its peak month this year.

The Maruti 800, the only car in segment A (scheduled as per price and engine capacity), has taken a fall in sales, and may be on its way out. Neither size nor price is in its favour any longer.

The segment B, which ranges from Rs 3.50 lakh to Rs 4.50 lakh or from engine capacity 1000cc to 1300 cc, is the most popular as shown by the sales of Santro Zing, Alto Spin and Wagon R. The latest entry into the segment is Getz from Hyundai. It’s slightly higher priced, making it to the premium B segment. That is a new segment — out of B but not fully C. One reason is that Getz is available with ABS braking system. No other manufacturer offers this option. This is why it comes in segment B plus.

This segment is the most popular with the emerging middle class of today, with the upper middle class having moved up to segment C, where Esteem, Accent, Ikon and Palio continue to dominate and battle it out. Corsa — with a segment-B engine capacity and segment-C price — is not giving competition to anyone.

The segment D saw some intense competition. This is the luxury segment and all prices are Rs 10 lakh or over. It comes as no surprise that the Toyota Corolla leads, averaging about 1000 units a month this year. The GM Optra follows with 800 units a month. Because of its diesel engine, Skoda sold well. Honda Accord, with a higher price but in segment D, is also a good seller, while Hyundai Sonata and Elantra are not setting the sale charts on fire.

In the stratosphere segment, there are Mercedes Benz, Porsche, BMW and the like. Some of these manufacturers are not worried about sales figures. They just want to make their presence known. They are content to sell a few hundred units a year.

Ford Endeavour is a hot pick in the luxury segmentWhat has changed the Indian scene this year is the popularity of the sports utility vehicle — SUV. The latest entry, a couple of months ago was Toyota Landcruiser Prado. Though it is a top-of-the-line SUV off-roader, a 4-litre V-6 petrol engine and the price tag of Rs 35 lakh has earned it a cold shoulder from buyers. The same holds true for the Suzuki Grand Vitara. It has a 2.7 litre V-6 twin cam petrol engine and is priced at Rs 17 lakh. Another SUV, Hyundai Teracan with a 2.9 litre CRD-i turbo diesel engine, has also been sidelined.

Ford Endeavour is a hot pick in the luxury segment

Possibly the best buy, and with soaring sales figures is the Ford Endeavour. Big bold and beautiful, it has a choice of 2x4 or 4x4 at Rs 13 and Rs 14 lakh, respectively. It is the price that sells. It has a 2.5-litre turbo-charged diesel engine, and is a people mover with three rows of seats.

General Motors brought in the Tavera, again a 2.5-litre turbo-charged diesel engine. It is no 4-wheel drive and is still selling. What the Indian buyer wants is a SUV look-alike, diesel engine and three rows of seats — a people mover, not necessarily a 4x4.

This brings us to the Toyota Qualis. It is a best-seller but is long in the tooth. It was already old when it came to India years ago. The mechanicals are fantastic. A local dealer is servicing Qualis taxis with 5 lakh km on the odometer and no major repair. It is the shape that puts private buyers off. However, rumour has it that a new version of the Qualis is expected soon.

Gazing into my crystal ball, I reveal a tug-of-war between the Hyundai Getz and Maruti’s yet to be launched Swift. Maruti is not sitting back to let Hyundai or anyone else for that matter steal a mile over it.