A vehicle to carry another vehicle? For most Indian consumers that would imply a crane. As such, in India pickups were invariably categorised under the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) category since companies looked to exploit the excise advantage that registrations offered.
Manufacturers were quite convinced of the fact that there was hardly any private demand for load carriers, which could also backup as the family vehicle.
Not any more. The India of the major cities is no longer the nation that our parents peopled. Twin incomes and nuclear families imply a much more pronounced propensity to spend on the ‘fun’ aspect of life. The great Indian outdoors now beckon and brands realise that there is potential to make money in this particular segment. First came clothing and outdoor equipment brands offering stuff for people not shy of venturing outdoors -- Colombia, Timberland and Decathlon readily come to mind. Now, the vehicles are following.
Mahindra launched the Scorpio Getaway way back in 2007 to be the pioneer in this segment. “We realised that the concept of lifestyle is evolving. Incomes have grown and people want to explore. We wanted to give them the product as a companion,” said Praveen Shah, chief executive, automotive division, Mahindra & Mahindra. He also believes that in a growing economy small entrepreneurs would prefer to have a vehicle that allows them to take care of their business needs while also serving as the family vehicle.
Tata came next with the Xenon — a swankier lifestyle twin cab. While the vehicle hasn’t seen great consumer response, R Ramakrishnan, senior vice-president, commercial vehicles, feels things will change. “Internationally people are buying these as one single automobile to satisfy both personal and business needs. The market in India is nascent. It’s nowhere near the US (largest pickup market in the world) or Thailand (second largest). As cost of labour in India goes up, people will move goods themselves and that will aid in growing the segment.”
What separated these two from other pickups was that they were twin cabs with an open space at the back and could be privately registered.
The lukewarm response to pickups has failed to deter Isuzu, which has launched a premium pickup V Cross at this year’s Auto Expo. The Japanese company feels V Cross can be a game changer.
The V Cross is certainly the most polished product on offer in the category. “We are opening the premium end of the segment and are here for the long haul. Isuzu has a long pedigree in adventure vehicles. This is purpose-built for that, it’s not been adapted to tap the outdoors enthusiast,” said Shankar Srinivas, general manager, communications, Isuzu.
He doesn’t expect too much just yet. “We don’t even think there will be big volumes but we are certain the culture will catch up.”
However, Tata’s Ramakrishnan has a cautionary note to add about the Xenon numbers in the premium segment. “Lifestyle has seen very little traction. The numbers are hardly anything. This is largely a product we have developed for markets abroad.”
The future is not ours to see. As to whether the V Cross will be a game changer and prove that there are enough adventure enthusiasts in India, who will pay for a premium outdoor vehicle, remains to be seen. After all how many Indians have dirt mobikes or mountain bikes to load on a pickup? Or for that matter how many would like to lug around camping equipment? But unfazed by any of that, Isuzu does seem to be putting up a very strong challenge to wrest for itself what has after all been a surrogate segment for auto majors in India.