Some popular car body types haven’t worked in India — such as station wagons and two-door mass-market cars (three-door if you include the boot opening). There have been a few experiments — Maruti Suzuki launched the Zen Carbon and Zen Steel about two decades ago, followed by the electric car Maini Reva, and then Volkswagen Polo GTI (though at about Rs 26 lakh, it wasn’t mass-market).
“Two doors are considered too few in India, even though a car may have four seats,” an automotive analyst told FE. “That entire process of folding front seats to enter the rear seating area is cumbersome. Two-door cars didn’t work earlier because most cars were used by families.”
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Today, however, new mobility challenges have come up, which necessitate a car body shape rethink. “Indian cities are getting highly congested, there are parking hassles, rising pollution and rising fuel costs, which calls for Kei-kind of electric cars in India,” the analyst said. “Most Indians anyway either travel solo or with one person, so they don’t need big cars.”
Kei cars are a Japanese vehicle category for the smallest highway-legal passenger cars — the best example in India is Maruti Suzuki Wagon R (four-door Kei car).
Now, MG Motor India will launch a Kei-type electric car, called the Comet.
Studies show that most Indians either travel solo or with one passenger. For example, a Nielsen and MG Motor survey has noted that 71% Indians travel alone in a car or with one passenger, and 88% travel less than 30 km per day. It also found that parking woes are common in Indian cities, most prefer personal mobility, urban travel is woeful, and 50% respondents said they spend more than Rs 6,000 per month on fuel.
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Small electric cars are getting popular across the world. For example, Nissan Sakura was voted Japan’s Car of the Year for 2022-23. It has a 20 kWh battery, costs about $14,000 and has range of 120-150 km for daily driving. “Even though the Sakura is a four-door car, it is compact and shows that if a carmaker can sell such cars at decent prices, people will buy,” the analyst, who works with multiple carmakers, told FE.
“I think the time for a two-door electric car is now. Global popular models include Citroen AMI, Fiat 500 electric and Wuling Air EV,” he said. “But in India’s case, such cars should appear aspirational. Tata Nano was micro and perfectly suited for Indian cities, but it was perceived as cheap, not aspirational.”