Would 2015-16 be the fiscal when the automobile industry would shift gears and help India regain its position as the fastest growing market in the world?
If the number of launches that are planned between now and March 31, 2016, is anything to go by, then it does seem plausible. The list is as exhaustive as mind boggling.
Maruti S Cross and YBA
So much has been written about the compact SUV segment that adding anything would be repetition. Yet, what is surprising is that the biggest in the business like Maruti and Hyundai have still not participated in it. So Maruti would finally throw its hat in the ring with the S Cross that is basically a cross version of its erstwhile sedan SX4. This vehicle has been around in Europe for quite sometime and was also showcased at the Auto Expo in February 2014. Though it got overshadowed by the Ciaz concept there, it is unlike most other cross vehicles that we see on the road today. And considering it is a Maruti, you can never not get excited by it. The company would also bring in a premium hatchback codenamed YBA later this fiscal to steal some of the thunder from Hyundai Elite i20.
If Maruti is here, can Hyundai be far behind? The ix25 was showcased at the China last year and since then there has been widespread speculation about its launch in India. Hyundai has been launching at least one major product every fiscal (Grand i10 in 2013-14, Elite i20 in 2014-15) and the ix25 would be the one for 2015-16. It will go head to head almost immediately with Maruti's S Cross but given Hyundai's global pedigree expect this one to win the battle on style, quality and performance while S Cross wins the war on value for money and price. It is a belated entry for both these products but the appetite for a sub Rs 10 lakh SUV is still strong in India. Duster and EcoSport should worry.
Mahindra will take the compact SUV story forward with the S101 that has been spotted testing at various locations for the last few months. The entry of EcoSport and Duster has impacted Mahindra badly and it is fast losing its halo when it comes to utility vehicles. It did try its hand at a compact SUV earlier, chopping the last row from the Xylo to produce a half hearted Quanto. The latter's failure would not have done any good to Mahindra's morale and the S101 is its attempt at settling some scores. Very little is known about the car yet and it is an uncharted territory for Mahindra. The going will not be easy but you can never rule them out for thinking out of the box and surprising us and the market. At least that is what is needed for their own good now.
In about a fortnight from now, Lodgy will perhaps be the first big launch of the fiscal. French carmaker Renault struck gold with the Duster almost three years ago but besides riding that wave it has little else to show for itself. All its other cars--Fluence and Scala sedans, Koleos SUV and Pulse hatchback--have been massive duds. The Lodgy will be positioned sweetly between the Mobilio and Innova and will strive to strike the perfect balance between the two.
When the Jazz made its entry in 2009, it was one of the first premium hatchbacks in town (i20 debuted a few months earlier but market was waiting for Jazz). Honda priced it so ridiculously high (Rs 7.2 lakh upwards) that it never took off and a belated price correction 2 years later (slashed by Rs 1.7 lakh) did not help matters either. The car was subsequently discontinued in 2013 to make space for Amaze and new City. It makes a comeback this year armed with a diesel engine, the same trusted petrol powertrain and perhaps a better pricing strategy. The three pronged battle between Elite i20, YBA and Jazz would be the one to watch out for this fiscal.
Tata takes its comeback story forward with the Kite hatchback and sedans this year. Expected to be positioned below the Bolt and Zest respectively, the two cars may end up replacing the ageing Indica and Indigo. The two cars will also get a new 1 litre three cylinder diesel engine and the same 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol engine of the Bolt and Zest. Test mules around India suggests these cars will have radical styling and not repeat the mistakes of the Bolt (looks similar to the Vista) and Zest (production constraints even with low demand).
Ford Figo hatchback and Aspire compact sedan
Ford India has a habit of launching one successful product and then hitting the snooze button till a crisis forces it out of a slumber. It has been a trend since the days of the Ikon (a success then a fizzle out) then the Fiesta (same), the Figo (repeat) and finally the EcoSport (getting there). The Aspire sedan will be Ford's first attempt in an increasingly crowded segment and the hatchback may replace the existing Figo. The car looks great and Ford's famous build quality may prove to be a critical factor here. The Figo surpirsed many with its pricing in 2008. An encore would not do any harm to the Amercian carmaker.
General Motors Trailblazer
If Ford as a habit of getting into a crisis and then rescuing itself, GM India is perennially on life support. They do not have any small car, compact sedan, compact SUV or mid size sedan to offer this year but will launch a Toyota Fortuner rival in the Trailblazer. A typical American butch, this vehicle is huge and lavish and those looking beyond the staid Fortuner may finally have something to lap up. Ford would also bring in its own Endeavour replacement Everest this year too.
Audi A3 hatchback
The battle at the top of the luxury car market in India is intense and Audi has been bringing in its affordable cars to thwart Mercedes. Last year we saw the A3 sedan make its way to India and was followed by a convertible version of the same in December. This year, Audi will complete the product range with the A3 hatchback. While it essentially shares everything with the sedan except the boot, it will probably rewrite the rules of affordability and value for money for the industry. History is against luxury hatchbacks from making a killing in India from a Fiat 500, VW Beetle, Mercedes A class and BMW 1 series, all flattered to deceive but if anybody can pull a rabit out of the hat, it is Audi.
Mercedes AMG GT
It does not have the gull wings or the drama that surrounded its predecessor the SLS AMG, but the new safety car for Formula 1 racing-- AMG GT-- is as powerful a machine as it gets. Powered by a V8 4.0 litre biturbo petrol engine this 2 seater 2 door hyper sportscar gallops from 0 to 100 kph in a mere 4 seconds (GT S does it in 3.8 secs) and has a top speed of 304 kph, something you would never get to in India unless you are on the F1 track or flying off a cliff. Entry to this car will be restricted only to those who have Rs 2 crore and more to spare but it would not be that fun if this were for everybody. Or for every road.