On May 25, 2005, when Maruti Suzuki launched the Swift hatchback, the step, in a way, demonstrated its long-term plans for dominating the Indian passenger vehicle market. However, the company was also taking a risk. The reason was, during those days, there were some set notions about a small car. It had to be reliable, economical and somewhat basic in its features. Design would receive minimal attention; while a few clamoured for a bold design, it was believed the ‘mainstream’ small car customer would accept pretty much everything—from boxy shapes to bland, simple lines. That was also the time when the ‘basic’ Maruti 800 was India’s largest selling car and the Alto was gaining a slow acceptance. The Swift, however, was unlike any small car. In fact, it was anything but small. It was big on the outside, had the features of a sedan, and was priced under Rs 4 lakh. What differentiated it from other hatchback cars was its bold and aggressive design—it appealed to the young and had ample room for a family. The design had a European feel. “More than a car, it was a refreshing new thought process,” says RS Kalsi, senior executive director, Marketing & Sales, Maruti Suzuki India.
The Swift also created a new segment—the upper A2—and young Indians raced to buy one. “In many ways, it was the ‘coming of age’ of the Indian middle-class buyer. In the Swift, she could hope to buy a car she had seen on European roads, and be sure it would stand up to the Indian values of being reliable and economical,” says Kalsi. In a little over one year, Maruti sold 53,171 units of the car. At that time, it already had four competitors and yet enjoyed over three-fourths market share. On January 24, 2007, the Swift got a diesel engine, and sales shot up further. By the time the second generation Swift came in August 2011, it was one of India’s largest selling cars, with total sales of 5,72,824 units in six years.
“From four players in the segment during 2005-06 to seven players in 2012-13, the Swift faced a lot of competition. But its performance and sporty looks ensured it stayed on top, undistracted,” says CV Raman, senior executive director, Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India.The second-generation Swift was even more stylish, and had more powerful yet efficient engines. Despite the competition upping its game—by 2016-17, there were 11 players in the upper A2 segment—the Swift maintained its leadership position, by far. From 2011 till 2017, it sold an unprecedented 12,02,119 units—at a little under 2 lakh units per year. “The Swift helped the Indian passenger vehicle industry grow by leaps and bounds,” adds Kalsi.
At the Auto Expo 2018, Maruti Suzuki will launch the third-generation Swift in India, whose bookings it opened yesterday. It gets a brand new design and a host of technologies. “It is built on Suzuki’s fifth-generation Heartect platform, which ensures more strength and rigidity, and helps improve power-to-weight ratio. It is 40mm wider than the previous model and has a 20mm longer wheelbase, allowing more cabin space, headroom as well as luggage area,” says Raman.While the engines remain the same—DDiS 190 diesel and K12 VVT petrol—they have been tuned for better performance and fuel-efficiency. “The diesel now returns 28.4kpl, while the petrol delivers 22kpl. The new Swift also has 10% better acceleration performance than the previous model,” adds Raman.
A major change is the two-pedal technology—both diesel and petrol get the Auto Gear Shift (AGS) technology, or AMT, as an option. Other changes are driver-oriented cockpit design, flat bottom steering wheel and bolstered seats; dual airbags and ABS with EBD and ISOFIX (child seat restraint system) are now standard. “For a decade and a half, the Swift has been among the top-five selling cars—a rare feat,” says Kalsi. He has reasons to believe the new Swift will be far more successful. “The average age of a Swift buyer is getting younger. Customers in the age group of 26-35 years contribute the maximum to its sales,” he says. With India set to become the world’s youngest country by 2020 with an average age of 29, the Swift, for sure, has a huge buyer base.