Is Maruti Suzuki more focused on CNG and hybrids than pure electric?

Maruti Suzuki has been emphasising on petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrid powertrain technology for its green mobility approach. Why does this strategy stand
With the Ciaz being one of the first to get this tech, other models in the portfolio with petrol-hybrid powertrains are Fronx, Ertiga, Brezza, Grand Vitara, and XL6, while half of the cars in its entire portfolio come available with petrol-CNG options.
With the Ciaz being one of the first to get this tech, other models in the portfolio with petrol-hybrid powertrains are Fronx, Ertiga, Brezza, Grand Vitara, and XL6, while half of the cars in its entire portfolio come available with petrol-CNG options.

One of the biggest high-traction keywords in the automotive world over the last few years has been electric cars. The Indian automobile market is no different. While electric vehicles are witnessing the largest penetration in the two-wheeler segment, the passenger vehicle space too is seeing an increasing influx of electric cars. Interestingly, while most of the car manufacturers in India have been bringing EVs to their portfolio, the country's market leader Maruti Suzuki is quite sluggish in its approach to introducing electric cars. Instead, it is betting big on petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrids, which despite being cost-effective and greener compared to petrol-only models are not immune to the question of zero-emission.

Interestingly, Maruti Suzuki's approach to greener mobility through the petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrid powertrains remains beneficial for the company at a time when consumers and the automobile industry are increasingly inclining towards battery electric powertrain technology. A key noteworthy point here is that despite the tax structure under the GST regime not favouring hybrid vehicles, Maruti Suzuki is not shying away from its petrol-hybrid product strategy. At present, where electric vehicles are taxed at only five per cent, hybrid are slapped with full fare taxes of 43 per cent.

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Why Maruti Suzuki in strong favour of petrol-hybrid?

In a crowd of petrol-only and diesel-only powertrains; petrol-hybrid, petrol-CNG and pure electric technology are considered as safe and cost-effective solutions in the long run offering advantages to the consumers and environment. However, delving deeper, it is found that electric cars in India come with significantly higher sticker prices compared to their petrol-only or petrol-CNG counterparts. This may satisfy the question of zero-emission mobility but may not satiate the owner's desire to own a cost-effective car if he or she drives less distance.

The cost of ownership for Indian car buyers has been rising rapidly owing to multiple factors such as increasing inflation, and sky-high fuel costs among others. Adding woe to worry is the rising prices of passenger vehicles as almost every carmaker in the country announced price hikes for their respective models recently.

In such a situation, petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrid tech blend the best of two worlds, creating a win-win situation for consumers as well as for automakers. While petrol-CNG technology ensures lowered tailpipe emissions and lowered cost of ownership by offering a greater range within similar price brackets as petrol-only vehicles, petrol-hybrid vehicles come bridging the gap between petrol-only and pure electric technology.

Watch: 2022 Maruti Suzuki XL6 facelift: First drive review

The sticker price of petrol-CNG or petrol-hybrid cars may be higher compared to petrol-only models, cost of ownership in the long run for these greener powertrain technology-equipped vehicles is lower, eventually saving the owner's hard-earned money. The petrol-hybrid technology ensures lowered tailpipe emission and a longer range with significantly improved fuel efficiency thanks to the electric motor and battery pack that work in unison with the internal combustion engine (ICE).

In India, despite the rapidly evolving consumer preferences towards premium vehicles, consumers are still conscious of the cost-effectiveness of large-ticket products like passenger vehicles. This is where petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrid technology are proving to be a winner and Maruti Suzuki seems to have understood the pulse of the buyers. Currently, about 56 per cent of Maruti Suzuki's portfolio in India consists of petrol-CNG cars. The carmaker aims to have 25 per cent hybrid, 15 per cent electric and 16 per cent flex-fuel passenger vehicles in the country in the near future.

Speaking about Maruti Suzuki's focus on petrol-hybrid cars, Puneet Gupta, Director at S&P Global Mobility, said that despite the automaker pushing hybrid cars in India, its final goal remains the same to provide clean sustainable mobility solutions. “Japanese believe in small stepwise improvement “kaizen" and thus feel hybrid is a perfect intermediate solution between ICE and EV transition, while culturally, communities like the Chinese believe in radical concepts and thus are bringing solution which directly caters to clean fuels. Now since India is a Japanese-dominated market they are pushing hybrids in India but the final goal remains the same to provide a clean sustainable mobility solution," he added.

Watch: Do Hybrid Cars Make More Sense Than EVs In India? | All Things EV | HT Auto

What's driving hybrid cars' popularity?

Getting the optimum mileage is a key factor in satiating the high cost-sensitiveness nature of Indian buyers. The more mileage out of a full tank means less spending on fuel. Besides that, range anxiety is another concern for car owners, which is also linked to the mileage figure of the vehicles. The more mileage a vehicle can churn out, the less range anxiety the owner feels. Petrol-CNG or petrol-hybrid technology addresses these issues. This is the key reason behind the popularity of Maruti Suzuki's petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrid cars alongside other factors like the brand value of the OEM.

Avik Chattopadhyay, former head of marketing, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India believes the reason behind the popularity of hybrid cars is that this technology offers the perfect transition to clean energy solutions like electric and hydrogen. “Being the market leader, Maruti Suzuki has the responsibility to hold the hand of the common car owner through the evolution process till the clean energy solutions are fully proven and error-proof, at a mass market level," he explained Maruti Suzuki's strategy for hybrid cars.

What's next for Maruti Suzuki's CNG & hybrid strategy?

Maruti Suzuki currently offers its smart hybrid technology in six different models. With the Ciaz being one of the first to get this tech, other models in the portfolio with petrol-hybrid powertrains are Fronx, Ertiga, Brezza, Grand Vitara, and XL6. The carmaker is expected to launch the hybrid version of the Swift hatchback when the car gets its fourth-generation avatar in the near future. Considering the Indian market, it could get a petrol-CNG variant as well. Based on the new Swift, the new Dzire too could come carrying petrol-hybrid and petrol-CNG powertrain options.

In an economy like India, petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrids are much better options keeping practicality and cost-sensitivity factors in mind, compared to pure ICE in the journey towards clean energy mobility. Given Maruti Suzuki's market share clout, the automaker seems to know that petrol-CNG and petrol-hybrids are the perfect way to move ahead right now and for the next couple of years before it finally shifts to pure electric propulsion technology.

First Published Date: 14 Feb 2024, 11:50 AM IST

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