Years ago when Maruti Suzuki introduced its line-up of CNG as well as LPG cars, it was considered that India’s largest carmaker was treading unchartered territories. However, a decade later, Maruti Suzuki is now reaping the benefits of having the largest CNG portfolio with it. The CNG range from Maruti includes the Alto, WagonR, S-Presso, Celerio, Ertiga, and Eeco. This covers a majority of its portfolio offerings in India. No other manufacturer at present has this kind of reach. The very reason why I am prompted to write this story is that not only has Maruti wisely played this game but others have still not stepped up to it. A friend of mine, who desperately wanted a new Maruti Suzuki Ertiga CNG this Diwali, couldn’t get his hands on one. His logic was simple. He wanted a six or seven-seater that will also double up as a cargo machine when needed.
He runs a restaurant and while not ferrying around friends or families, he wanted a runabout that can also pick kitchen essentials. Unfortunately, as you may have seen, there is a long waiting period for CNG models. The reasons given are low numbers being produced and a high demand. There is literally no other modern-day seven- or six-seater that I could suggest to him. He doesn’t want to use a CNG kit that has been fitted from outside the factory either. A conundrum then. This leaves room for other carmakers to step in and fulfill the demand.
The way I see it, Renault and Datsun India have a huge potential here. The carmakers have seven-seaters in place or as we see it, MPVs. These will not only help carry load but also people and in a much efficient fashion. I have had a conversation with Renault India about the possibility of introducing CNG. The company had then replied that “As of now, all our product offerings will be in petrol options.”. There are people out there who want a car like the Triber or even the Go+ with a CNG option and if they get factory-fitted options, The Alliance can even pull sales from the bigger players.
Mahindra is again a player that had CNG for quite a short time with the KUV100 Trip. However, none of the other Mahindra products have a CNG in the passenger car segment. Think of it, the Mahindra buses as well as other commercial segment cars have a CNG option. How hard will it be to engineer it for a passenger car? There are able products like the Mahindra TUV300 Plus (might make a comeback next year) that will do well with a petrol-CNG combination. Mahindra is also thinking of getting the XUV300 in an elongated form. Perhaps a CNG option in this will work well.
Tata Motors, a major player and at the same time foraying into different segments is someone that can also explore this niche space. The company has dabbled with CNG before, having had the Indica, Nano and Indigo in this space. How hard or trying it will be to get in the Sumo nameplate with a CNG offering. The Tata Motors spokesperson on the possibility of getting CNG engines in passenger vehicles, said that, “We will not be able to share details about our future plans. At the moment we are not offering any factory-fitted CNG vehicles. Our customers have the option to get an aftermarket fitment done on the products.”
A CNG engine in bigger cars will help deliver better mileage, lower running costs and more profit to the customers in question. I haven’t listed out Hyundai here as they are said to be working on an Ertiga rival and given their strides in CNG tech, the MPV might get it too. Toyota could also get the Ertiga from MSIL and add the CNG variant as well. From where I see it, given the widespread demand as well as CNG availability in the majority of the places in India, carmakers can definitely look at upping their R&D game. It could fill the void left by the discontinuation of many-a-diesel engines in the market. The returns too will be much higher given the volumes.
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