New launches, and newer customers

Written by Shweta Bhanot | Yogima Seth | Updated: Oct 4 2009, 02:45am hrs
The domestic automotive mart is just about emerging from the after-effects of a downturn-induced slump in volumes. Put it down to festive revelry, an improving lending regime or the slew of new launches, consumer footfall at dealerships is on the rise. And the conversion rate is heartening. Experts suggest that one in every four to five visitors are walking away with the machine of their choice. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have cracked open several sub-segments as is evident from the recent wave of new products. In effect this has unlocked potential for various products that would have looked sort of out of place in the Indian automotive landscape, until only a couple of years ago.

One such segment, which radically altered the sports utility vehicle (SUV) ballgame, is that of the soft-roaders. Head to the mining outbacks of Jharkhand or Bellary and youll find white Tata Safaris or Honda C-RVs, complete with their VIP licence plates, at motion sickness inducing speeds. So manufactures thought, why not give them more 4X4 toys to play with Then again, the dilemma is that the upwardly mobile dont want to be seen as a motley bunch with a monstrous carbon footprint. Enter soft-roaders like Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-trail, Land Rover Freelander2 and Audi Q5.

So what is a soft-roader No rocket science here. Old-school SUVs are built on a ladder-frame, making them bulky fuel guzzlers that require special skills or an expert driver to take you from point A to point B. Soft roaders are a carved out of a singular monocoque, often a crossed over extension of a sedan platform. Effectively from the basic options of Safari, Endeavour and Scorpio, the market recently witnessed new entrants across the value chain. Not that the old-school ladder-frame format is outdated, Toyota unveiled its flagship Land Cruiser 09 and more recently the Fortuner at Rs 18.45 lakh, ex-showroom New Delhi. Ford too, upped its Endeavour ante with a redesigned variant available with an auto-tranny along with Audi that free lidded its mighty new Q7.

Another segment thats beginning to evolve and has great growth potential is the premium hatchback segment. This is a revolution safely credited to the Maruti Suzuki Swift. Much has already been written about the great Indian hatchback affair. So, OEMs went back to their global design studios to check if they could fit their international super-minis into the desi jigsaw puzzle. Within a year, the Skoda Fabia, Fiat Grande Punto, Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz are all out there to eat into each others market share. And soon to follow is Volkswagen Polo by early next year. So, while marketing managers or OEMs are sweating it out, the customers are asking for the competition.