Lifestyle SUVs are a niche segment in India. There are only five models — Mahindra Thar and Force Gurkha (compact), Jeep Compass and Meridian (midsize), and Isuzu V-Cross (premium) — with total sales of about 60,000 units in 2022 (data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and carmakers).
These so-called lifestyle SUVs formed just about 2% of the total passenger vehicle sales of 3.5 million in 2022.
Of these 60,000-odd units, the Thar took a lion’s share with over 45,000 unit sales, and the Compass and the Meridian with over 10,000 units sold.
However, with the launch of the Maruti Suzuki Jimny (expected in March-April), this niche segment will grow three-fold to go above 150,000 units, carmakers and automotive analysts told FE.
Shashank Srivastava, senior executive officer, marketing & sales, Maruti Suzuki India, told FE that with the launch of the Jimny, this segment will expand substantially, and fast. “The target buyer for the Jimny is the lifestyle customer,” he said. “There are a growing number of buyers who want vehicles that can be driven in all terrains, who want to flaunt their status with special vehicles, and who are increasingly exploring places that are not easily accessible by other cars. The Jimny fulfils all such needs.”
Although there is no structured definition of ‘lifestyle SUVs’, carmakers define these as SUVs that are used for adventure and exploration, fulfill the need of exploring places that are not easily accessible by other cars, have a 4×4 driving ability, can be customised heavily to suit a buyer’s need to flaunt, and have a sturdy build quality that keeps the user comfortable even in rough terrains.
Srivastava said lifestyle SUV customers are in the age group of 26-45, have an emotional connect with their vehicle, and the vehicle is usually an additional purchase in the family. “The Jimny, however, will be both the first purchase and the additional purchase,” he said. “Unlike some other lifestyle SUVs, we are offering five doors.”
Gaurav Vangaal, associate director, light vehicle forecasting, S&P Global Mobility, told FE that whenever Maruti Suzuki enters a new car segment, it increases the overall size of the segment. “We have already seen it with the Vitara Brezza,” Vangaal said. “In 2016, the Vitara Brezza was the second sub-4 metre SUV to be launched in India (after the Ford EcoSport in 2012). Almost immediately the sub-4 metre SUV segment took off, with Honda launching the WR-V and Tata launching the Nexon in 2017, Mahindra XUV300 and Hyundai Venue in 2019, Kia Sonet, Toyota Urban Cruiser and Nissan Magnite in 2020, and Renault Kiger in 2021.”
He added that the same will happen with the Jimny. “The lifestyle SUV segment, which was about 35,000-40,000-unit strong in 2022 (with the Thar as the major player), will expand significantly with the Jimny,” Vangaal said. “People trust the Maruti Suzuki brand and it has a massive reach countrywide.”
Som Kapoor, EY India Automotive, Future of Mobility leader (consulting), and partner, told FE that lifestyle SUVs are a very fast growing segment in India. “With more and more younger and urban customers buying cars, I think there is a huge potential for this segment,” Kapoor said. “There is a massive customer connect with lifestyle SUVs, especially those who want to personalise the SUV, want connectivity and a lot of technology on the dashboard. They also want their vehicle to stand out and they prefer unique external design touches. Lifestyle SUVs meet all such needs.”
While the Jimny is expected to outsell the Thar in 2023, an automotive analyst told FE that Mahindra is rethinking the Thar. “A drawback of the Thar is that it’s a three-door SUV, and some families tend to stay away from three-door SUVs because of the inconvenience in getting in and out of the second row seat. The Jimny is a five-door SUV and will obviously meet the needs of families as well,” he said. “But Mahindra is soon expected to come with a five-door Thar. The carmaker won’t just give its lead away.”