Size matters! Indians ditching small cars for utility vehicles & brands oblige

  • Indians are increasingly looking at larger, SUV-ish passenger vehicles as their preferred options for personal mobility.
File photo used for representational purpose. (REUTERS)
File photo used for representational purpose.

The year 2022 will be a cornerstone in the history of the Indian automobile industry. After decades of domination, small and entry-level cars were finally given some extremely tough competition from utility vehicles with more and more potential buyers preferring the latter. While demand for utility vehicles had already been on the rise over the past several years, the popularity of small passenger vehicles was rather muted.

Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) data reveals that production of utility vehicles - this includes compact and sub-compact SUVs - was nearly as much as production of entry-level cars. The pattern and trajectory of rising demand for such vehicles have been such that even Maruti Suzuki - country's largest car maker - underlined its focus on bigger cars and launched the Grand Vitara compact SUV. While the company also stresses on the fact that small cars will remain its strength, there is a recognition that this alone won't cut it no more.

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While UVs helped Maruti sales grow by 22.3 per cent, Mahindra and Mahindra has been reaping benefits from an SUV-only strategy with sales rising 62.2 per cent. The days of the Verito, Marazzo and even the KUV100 are long gone and instead, the likes of Thar, XUV700, Bolero, Scorpio and Scorpio-N are powering the wind in the company's sails.

Relatively new players like Kia India and MG Motor India have run the sprint race in the around three years of their respective India presence and a look at the product portfolio of each may reveal why. Kia began its India innings with Seltos compact SUV and followed it up with Sonet sub-compact SUV. Carnival, its premium MPV, wasn't a great hit but Carens - a cross between an SUV and MPV - has also been received well. Similarly, MG started out with Hector compact SUV and currently also offers the Astor, apart from a few other models.

Over at the Tata Motors' camp, Nexon sub-compact SUV remains a hot seller while the likes of Harrier and Safari enjoy a high degree of popularity. Even when thinking small, the company's Punch has been given an SUV-ish design profile.

Special edition models is one more way Tata Motors has been trying to capture buyer interest.
Special edition models is one more way Tata Motors has been trying to capture buyer interest.

Toyota remains a dominant force in the premium SUV space with the Fortuner refusing to give space to any rival. Even the newly-launched Innova Hycross has been praised for its SUV design language. Did someone say Yaris? That's long been taken off the shelves.

Hyundai also takes a lot of pride in its SUV lineup with Creta remaining a powerplayer in its segment while the company updated its Venue sub-compact SUV last year. In the premium segment, the Koreans drove in the updated Tucson SUV with ADAS or Advanced driver-assistance system.

Among all of these notable players, Honda Cars India remains one of the very few brands without a single SUV or SUV-ish offering but reports suggest it is readying a compact SUV to rival Creta and Seltos in the Indian market, for some time in 2023.

Also Read : 2023 may be the year of electric SUVs

In the luxury space though, it is more even between SUVs and sedans with Mercedes E-Class LWB remaining the best-selling model for the Germans, even though not by much. Audi too says its new models like the updated Q3 and Q5 SUVs were as much in demand as the updated Audi A8 L.

But turning back a full circle, the mass market segment is where the pulse of the Indian automobile industry is still at and there is a major shift of tectonic proportions underway. Does it mean that purchasing power of the common Indian buyer has increased? Does it mean that models in the 10 lakh to 20 lakh price bracket provide a rich fertile ground to brands? And what could it possibly mean as far as the dismal penetration of personal cars in India - yes, still dismal - is concerned? 2023 could well provide a generous look into these evolving trends.

(With inputs from Reuters)

First Published Date: 03 Jan 2023, 10:19 AM IST
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