Compact SUVs, priced under Rs 10 lakh, are big on style and talk pretty tough

  • Sumant Banerji, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2015 17:02 IST

When Pune-based architect Sachin Nagpal, 28, was scouting around for a car last year, he was spoilt for choice. With a budget of Rs 10 lakh, he could have opted for a premium hatchback such as the Hyundai Elite i20 or Volkswagen Polo or chosen a mid-sized sedan like the Honda City or the Maruti Ciaz.

After some deliberation, Nagpal zeroed in on the Ford EcoSport and the Renault Duster and ended up buying the latter.

"I already had a Getz so even an i20 would not have been that much of an upgrade," Nagpal says. "Five years ago, I would have had no option but to buy a sedan, But I am not a chauffeur person. And a compact SUV such as the Duster is perfect for my lifestyle. It is big, powerful and edgy."

Long considered to be toys for rich brats, sports utility vehicles have suddenly become a rage and everybody wants one. Thanks largely to manufacturers lowering the price barrier and bringing in vehicles under Rs 10 lakh, compact SUVs or high-bodied crossovers are proliferating.

The beginnings
It all started in 2012 with the Renault Duster and was followed by Ford EcoSport next year. A fortnight ago, Maruti and Hyundai, the two big daddies of the Indian automotive industry, threw their hats in the ring with the S-Cross Crossover and Creta. Others such as Mahindra, Tata, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors will follow suit soon.

“Compact SUVs have hit the sweet spot defined by constrained urban spaces and the preference for a commanding view of the road. While limited seating capacity renders them somewhat ineffective for rural areas, these vehicles make perfect sense in urban markets, which are characterised by the growing number of nuclear families,” says Anil Sharma, principal analyst at consultancy firm IHS Automotive.

“Sales of these SUVs in the country will see a massive jump in coming years as more and more models are introduced. We estimate 14 new nameplates will be introduced in the market by 2018,” Sharma adds.

The fact that such vehicles have a high ground clearance that gives it a domineering stance on the road without being overbearing like the rickety old SUVs of the past is what makes them so attractive. And it is a trend that finds resonance everywhere else in the world.

“The craze for such vehicles is a global phenomenon. Even in China, otherwise a market where people prefer very large cars, our ix25, which is the precursor to the Creta, is in huge demand,” says Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice president at Hyundai Motor India. “People love that feeling of being in control without compromising on the ease of driving a small car or the features of a sedan. Compact SUVs tick all these boxes.”

The real deal?
While many users are excited about the advent of the soft-roaders, purists like Chandigarh’s Sunny Badyal, who want a rugged vehicle with all-terrain driveability, scoff at pretenders such as the Duster and the Creta.

“The only true SUV priced below Rs 10 lakh is the Thar but it is so dated that nobody buys it. The only other vehicle that excites me is the Pajero but that is very expensive,” says Badyal. “Just higher ground clearance doesn’t make an SUV. Can you cross a rivulet in the hills in these vehicles?” he asks.

The evolution of the segment may throw up something for people like Badyal as well. Mahindra and Mahindra, the market leader in the segment, for instance, will roll out a compact SUV named TUV 300 next month that it says is inspired by a battle tank. “It is positioned at the urban rural segment,”says Pawan Goenka, executive director, M&M.

The entry of Jeep next year will probably complete the SUV chapter for India. Considered the last word on offroading, the Wrangler Rubicon and the Grand Cherokee may not fit the pockets of the majority in India, but their entry will please the SUV fanatic. Jeep will also develop its own version of a small SUV in India. It will not be cheap but will lower the entry point to the brand globally.

“Jeep needs no introduction, marketing or advertising,” says Kevin Flynn, president and managing director at Fiat Chrysler India that owns Jeep. “For those who know Jeep, nothing else will suffice.”

Whether you are a connoisseur or a commoner, your next car could be an SUV.

From HT Brunch, August 23
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