Last week it was reported that some of the most popular compact cars sold in IndiaAlto 800, Nano, Figo, i10 and Polo (without airbags)failed crash tests done by Global NCAP, an independent charity based in the UK. In fact, these cars received zero for adult protection ratings in a frontal impact at 64 kmph, showing high risk of life-threatening injuries in road accidents. Almost immediately, Volkswagen announced dual front airbags as standard fitment on all variants of the Polo. So when I meet Arvind Saxena, the managing director of Volkswagen Passenger Cars in India, at the Auto Expo 2014, the first thing I ask him is: Was the decision to introduce airbags in all variants of the Polo taken as a damage-control in response to the Global NCAP test
Please understand that any decision of adding or deleting a specification in a car is taken at least a year in advance by any manufacturer. It was simply a coincidence that the time the Global NCAP test results for Indian small cars were made public, we also announced that the Polo will get dual front airbags as standard equipment, Saxena says, adding, In fact, we are proud to be leading the cause of driver safety, and we believe the introduction of airbags as standard fitment in the Polo is a major step forward in the context of safety. This step underlines our commitment to producing better carsand better-equipped carsfor the discerning Indian consumer. Soon enough, all variants of the Vento will also get airbags as standard.
So, the Polo you now offer is the safest hatchback in the segment I ask.
Do you know that at the same time the news about the most popular compact cars failing safety tests appeared, there was another report that said the Polo is the safest hatchback in its segment Saxena tells me, as I go through a press release that reads: With dual front airbags, the Volkswagen Polo secured a four-star safety rating for adult occupant protection, in crash tests conducted by Latin NCAP this is the highest safety rating for any car in the premium hatchback segment in the country.
In fact, during a recent road safety conference in Delhi, Global NCAP announced that it welcomes Volkswagens decision to include airbags in each version of the Polo in India. It is encouraging to see that, fitted with two airbags as standard, the Polo offers adults four-star protection, reads the press release. Saxena adds, The anti-lock brake (ABS), another significant safety feature, is also available as standard equipment on the Polo Comfortline and Polo Highline variants.
Moving on to the Auto Expo, where Volkswagen has displayed its new SUV concept Taigun, I ask him about the new car.
We dont have a compact SUV in our portfolio. And the compact SUV segment is growing not just in India but also in many other countries. The Taigun is a step in that direction, says Saxena.
So, by when will it be road-ready I ask.
I wont put a time-line to the Taigun because it is still in the concept stage, Saxena replies.
Maybe two years, I press on.
May be, he replies.
Also, have you thought about the pricing yet I ask.
Again, it is too early for the same. But what I will add is that we, at Volkswagen, equip our cars properly and so the Taigun, certainly, will not be a price-warrior in its segment. We expect that customers will be willing to pay more for the Taigun than what they pay for similarly-sized cars, Saxena replies.
You mean the EcoSport, the Duster and the Terrano I say.
More or less, yes. But there is no doubt that we will offer much better safety, equipment and value. We will equip the Taigun with all the virtues of the Volkswagen brand, he says.
And its powertrain I ask.
Right now it is powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged TSI petrol engine, which produces 108 horsepower and 175 Nm of torque, he replies.
In December 2013 there were rumours that Volkswagen is taking the Passat off the shelves because its sales dropped drastically as the small luxury cars from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are eating into the space I point out.
But then it never happened. We sure have a definite plan for the Passat. Here I must add that competition never reduces sales. On the other hand, competition always increases the segment. The small luxury cars may be eating into Passat or other luxury car sales, but please understand that the segment is growing. And this, in the long run, will help all manufacturers, including us, he reasons.
On the plans for this year, Saxena says that within the segments Volkswagen is present in, it will definitely try and improve its marketshare.
As I am about to take his leave, I ask him about the amazing TSI and TDI engines that Volkswagen introduced in India last year. How has been the customer response to the Polo GT TSI and the Polo TDI I ask him.
We never expected high numbers for TSI and TDI. But what both these engines did was give a tremendous boost to the brand Volkswagen. The technology that people get to experience in higher-end luxury cars, we gave it to customers in the small premium hatchback segment. DSG is not a small car technology, but in under R10 lakh, you can experience in a Polo. Thats what we aim to give our customer.