The country’s number-one automobile manufacturer continues to pave the way forward in the CNG segment as Maruti Suzuki’s luxury brand, Nexa, enters the natural gas market. The most successful Nexa vehicle, the Baleno, along with the MPV, the XL6, are now available in CNG. We speak to Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director at Maruti Suzuki, who sheds light on the company’s CNG plans and how this market has evolved.
In 2010, Maruti Suzuki took the market by storm by becoming the first passenger automobile manufacturer to offer factory-fitted CNG kits. The options included Alto, Wagon R and Eeco. After 12 years, the company is currently offering ten CNG cars, not including the two Nexa vehicles. According to Maruti Suzuki, last year’s top three selling CNG models were the WagonR, Ertiga and Eeco.
Srivastava admitted that the company has been mulling over the idea of introducing CNG vehicles under the Nexa brand. “After interacting with Nexa customers and carrying out research, they had voiced that CNG is a clean technology which they would like to opt for and at the same time, it also leads to low running costs.”
Committed to CNG technology, Maruti Suzuki has further expanded its CNG range with the introduction of the two Nexa models, pushing the total number of vehicles to twelve. “The manufacturing of the CNG duo — the Baleno and the XL6, has already begun and the sales will start in the first week of November.” The company also revealed that they expect the market penetration of the Baleno CNG in the region of 15-16 per cent, similar to the Swift CNG.
Srivastava further said, “By selling over 1 million CNG vehicles, Maruti Suzuki has managed to save approximately 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.”
After the somewhat stabilisation of fuel prices, both petrol and diesel, CNG has witnessed several price hikes this year making it costlier by Rs 25-30. Maruti Suzuki has categorically brushed aside the price hike affecting its CNG vehicle sales. Srivastava said, “The increase in CNG fuel prices is a temporary phenomenon and we haven’t seen any change in the inflow of bookings or increase in cancellations.” He further explains, “CNG prices are also related to global prices even though the tax element is less. The low running cost of a CNG vehicle is another reason why many are opting for it. For example, a WagonR CNG’s running cost is Rs 2.50 while its petrol version is Rs 5.” He added, “One must also keep in mind that the acquisition cost of a CNG vehicle is only Rs 90-95,000 more than a petrol car.”
Like Maruti Suzuki Arena’s CNG range, which costs around Rs 95,000 more than its petrol counterpart, the pricing difference remains the same for the Nexa models as well. Though the company has managed to keep the price of both the Baleno and XL6 competitive, Srivastava insists that “Nexa customers are looking towards CNG vehicles as eco-friendly options rather than savings of fuel and low running cost”.
Even though Maruti Suzuki isn’t looking at large sales numbers for the automatic trims, the company has plans to introduce the transmission option soon in CNG vehicles.
Long waiting periods are the norm these days and CNG cars are no exception. At the moment, the pending bookings for CNG vehicles are 123,000, but Maruti Suzuki has also increased the capacity of CNG cars. “One of the reasons for the long waiting period was the shortage of CNG controllers, semiconductor chips and other components related to CNG vehicles. The production capacity has increased as last year’s total output of CNG models was 230,000 units, making it an average of 15,000 cars per month. Now it has gone up to 30,000 per month and Maruti Suzuki is looking to sell 400,000 CNG vehicles this year,” said Srivastava.
So, which CNG vehicle is the most in demand this year? According to Maruti Suzuki, Ertiga has the maximum CNG bookings with 72,000 and has the longest waiting period of 37 weeks. The rest of the CNG vehicles have a couple of weeks waiting period.
The Achilles heel for CNG vehicle owners is to find a refuelling pump or is that now a thing of the past? Srivastava explains that the network has increased at a fast pace. “In 2018, there were only 1,400 CNG pumps, and currently, there are around 4,700 pumps across the country. What is gratifying is that pace is increasing and is expected to increase even further. It is expected to touch the 10,000 mark in 2026 and over 12,000 pumps by 2029. As a matter of fact, CNG pumps are now available across 300 cities,” said Srivastava.
Maruti Suzuki has openly said that they want to expand its CNG portfolio but Srivastava has categorically said that introducing a Ciaz CNG doesn’t make any sense as the sedan segment has drastically shrunk and at the moment the numbers don’t justify it. So, does that mean that an SUV CNG is on the cards? Maybe the Brezza CNG? Reports suggest that the company is likely to launch it soon, but more on that once we get some concrete information on the Brezza CNG.