German carmaker Volkswagen is in the midst of planning a compact saloon for India. Fast emerging as one of the most profitable segments to be in, the sales of compact saloons are booming despite the downturn in the market. Maruti’s Dzire, for example, even in these difficult times, averages approximately 16,000 cars a month. New entrants to this sub-segment are doing well too. Sales of the new Honda Amaze have steadily been rising. Honda sold a total of 9564 Amazes this month, and the trend is still on the up.
As a result, putting together the right compact saloon has become priority number one at Volkswagen India, with the engineering and product teams working flat-out to get the right car to the market.
But what makes for a successful compact saloon? Sure, it’s all about the right price to begin with, but as customers today evolve, there are other essential elements to the cars that are important too. The right amount of space, enough features to excite potential customers and the right powertrain are just some of them.
No wonder then, Volkswagen is pulling out all stops to get things right. Word from inside the company is that the German carmaker, crazy as it may sound, is working not on one car, but two! However, only one car will be finally chosen for production.
The first of this pair of cars VW is looking at to fulfill the compact saloon role is, obviously, a truncated or chopped Vento. The Vento may basically just be a Polo with an extended wheelbase and boot, but the sub-four-metre version will address many of the shortcomings of both cars. Built on the same 2552mm wheelbase as the Vento, this car will have more space on the inside than the Polo, and because it will be taxed as a compact, it will be much more affordable than the Vento. That’s two birds with one stone. Also, because VW will have to pay less tax, it will have a larger budget to spend on features, options and accessories.
The company, however, is facing a design challenge as the car will have to be heavily modified, both at the front and rear, to make it duck under four metres, and it could look odd. To compound matters, VW wouldn’t be able to sell this car in other markets, so justifying the expense will be difficult.
Volkswagen is also looking at the alternative of an even more affordable sub-four-metre car. While the Vento is based on the Polo (PQ25 platform), the company could create a saloon version of the Up city car (PQ12 New Small Family platform) for markets like India, where legroom at the rear is important. The Up currently has a wheelbase of 2420mm. That’s shorter than something like the Dzire at 2430mm, yet longer than the Amaze’s 2405mm. But Volkswagen is unlikely to be able to package the interiors as tightly as Honda has; the latter masterfully uses a slim dashboard and flat seats in the Amaze and Brio for great space efficiency.
The German carmaker could, however, build the Up saloon on the Taigun’s longer 2470mm wheelbase; the Taigun, after all, is built on the same platform as the Up. This would help the manufacturer leverage tremendous economies of scale since the Taigun has all but been signed off for India.
However, whichever car VW opts for, it will have to move forward on a couple of issues before the car comes to market. For a start, there’s the issue of the diesel engine. The company’s 1500cc diesel is already being worked on (coded EA189), but it will have to be ready if VW chooses to go with the sub-four-metre Vento or the car won’t qualify for an excise cut. And should the Up-based saloon be selected, VW will have to work hard to fit its new 1,400cc three-cylinder diesel (coded EA288) under the hood. This engine will, in all likelihood, power the Taigun. But VW will have to extend the nose of the car to make it fit; the engine is a bit too wide.
The other thing Volkswagen may have to do for the Indian market is lower its sky-high quality standards. All Volkswagens, Polos included, are built to the same exacting global standards, which often surpass the quality levels of many competitors. Most of the time, these details are invisible to the untrained eye. And spending money on something the customer can’t see, unfortunately, is a luxury VW can’t afford if it wants to stay competitive with the players in India.
VW is clear; it wants the best possible compact saloon for India, and that’s great news if you are in the market for one.