Most carmakers like to take the safer option by following what’s trendy, but there have been a few who decided to take a different approach. Many car makers in India have taken big gambles and many have paid off, but sometimes the nail doesn’t hit quite right. Sometimes they take a step too far leaving the consumers intrigued but puzzled. Among the many big gambles that carmakers have taken in India, here are five cars that were launched in India which were well ahead of their time.
In 2011 Maruti Suzuki was betting big in its attempt attempting to break into the premium sedan market in India. Their contender — the gorgeous Suzuki Kizashi was launched on February 2. Maruti Suzuki wanted to break away from its “affordable car brand” image with the Kizashi. Powered by a 185hp 2.4-litre petrol engine with a 5-speed manual transmission, or CVT option (180hp). The engine offered a direct injection system, which was said to deliver better fuel efficiency and fewer emissions. But there were a few issues with the Kizashi. Firstly, at the time, India wasn’t a major petrol engine market and there was no diesel offering. Second, Maruti Suzuki decided to introduce the Kizashi in India as CBU (direct import). That meant that the Kizashi was priced well above its weight and the Indian consumers just didn’t bite. After four years, the poor sales performance of the Kizashi led Maruti Suzuki to pull the plug on the Kizashi from India.
Originally the Subaru Forester was rebased as a Chevrolet when it was launched in India. The Forester is considered as one of the pioneers of the compact SUV. In India, the Forester was offered with a Subaru four-cylinder boxer engine, a manual gearbox, all-wheel-drive and an SUV/wagon styling. But, the expensive price tag, petrol-only offering, poor after-sales service from Chevrolet and high maintenance cost sealed the fate of the Forester in India. Only a handful of these tough Chevy branded Japanese SUVs were sold in India between 2003-2007 before the manufacturer axed the model. However some Foresters can still be spotted on Indian roads even today and we salute these brave owners who threw sense out of the window, took the risk and continue to keep the Foresters alive today.
Oh, how people laughed when a small Indian automaker tried to take steps that could and should have been the next game-changer. Premier who is still an auto parts company, most famous for making the Premier Padmini, decided to take drastic measures to mark its arrival into the 21st century. Premier took a Daihatsu Terios, which was being sold in China by Zoyte Auto to give us India’s first sub-compact SUV — Premier Rio in 2009. It was launched with a 1.5-litre Peugeot diesel, later offered with the 1.3 Fiat Multijet. Eventually, it also got a petrol engine option. But its looks, build quality, poor performance and the Premier badge didn’t resonate with buyers who still were trying to wrap their heads around a sub-4-metre compact SUV. The Premier Rio was left as a simple page in the history books. A decade later, the most competitive segment in India is the sub-compact SUV space with nearly ten different car brands fighting for the crown of supremacy.
The Skoda Octavia was the brand’s entry ticket to the Indian market. It arrived and took the market by storm with its distinct elegant looks, stellar performance and premium build quality that put some luxury carmakers to rethink their cars. However, the same could not be said about the Octavia Combi wagon. While Estate cars and Station Wagons are quite popular in Europe, Indian buys prefer the sleek looks of sedans or go full bore with the SUV shape. Despite its capabilities arriving in the fully specced out L&K trim with the 1.9-litre diesel engine or the tricked out 150hp, 1.8-litre turbo petrol vRS spec, the Octavia Combi made as big of a dent in the Indian market as the Subaru/Chevrolet Forester. It was soon pulled from the Indian market, never to be seen or heard from again.
Saving the best for last, introduced in 1991, the Tata Sierra turned many heads on Indian streets. The Sierra was a three-door SUV that offered a closed-off rear cabin, measured over 4.4 meres long and offered 4WD. Under the bonnet was a 2.0-litre, four-pot, 8-valve turbo-less diesel borrowed from Peugeot which generated a whopping 63hp! While the performance from the engine was quite poor, the X2 platform gave the Sierra some good street-cred as it was said to be decent off-road. It came with luxuries like a glasshouse rear cabin with added sound-deadening for refinement, it was the first car to be manufactured in India with power windows, air conditioning, adjustable steering wheel and a tachometer. But the Sierra was well ahead of its time, just like the other cars on this list and by 2003, it was axed entirely due to poor sales.
Tata Motors earlier this year revealed the Sierra Concept which is a modern-take that pays tribute to the OG. While Tata Motors has not said if the Sierra Concept will ever see production, it has said that if it does, the all-new Sierra would definitely be an electric vehicle.
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