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Get set for an SUV storm

Manufacturers have lined up a slew of sub-Rs. 10 lakh SUV and MUV launches this year. And why not, when the buyer loves the genre. If you are in the market for a sports utility vehicle (SUV) - caste, colour, creed, complexion no bar -2013 could well be the year for you. Sumant Banerji reports. It's all about utility

india Updated: Jan 19, 2013 01:55 IST
Sumant Banerji

If you are in the market for a sports utility vehicle (SUV) - caste, colour, creed, complexion no bar -2013 could well be the year for you.

The rising prices of diesel notwithstanding, vehicle manufacturers have lined up at least a dozen new utility vehicles ranging from the compact Ford EcoSport to the premium Volvo V40 cross-country, this year.

While Ford will attempt to divert some of the limelight away from the big success of last year - the Renault Duster - it is Maruti's under development XA Alpha, its first indigenous SUV based on the best selling Swift platform, that is clearly the most awaited.

Showcased as a concept at the Delhi Auto Expo back in January 2012, it may just find its way into the market in the latter half of this year.

Other big ticket entrants include Nissan's own version of the Duster, Chevrolet's Enjoy, the first mass market Chinese MUV to hit Indian shores, the Ssangyong Korando and the ultimate off roader, the iconic Jeep.

There would also be refreshes and facelifts, none more important than the Mahindra Scorpio. And for a dash of premium flavour, there will be the Volvo V40, the Sino-Swedish firm's answer to BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

"The utility vehicle segment provided the silver lining this year with very strong growth aided by a number of launches," said Vishnu Mathur, director general, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. "There are many models slated for launch, so growth in the segment would stay."

Long considered toys for rich big boys, SUVs have suddenly become the rage, and everybody wants one.

In a market where car sales have declined, the sales of SUVs and utility vehicles has surged by almost 60%, thanks largely to manufacturers lowering the price barrier and bringing in vehicles under Rs. 10 lakh, enabling a large cross section of traditional sedan consumers to opt for an SUV.

"I considered the Hyundai Verna for quite a long time before I opted for the Duster," said Suraj Jugran, 36, a chartered accountant.

"There is nothing the Duster can do that the Verna cannot. But a friend told me you are not old enough to be just constricted to a sedan. Hence the Duster. Its edgy and cool."

Traditionally, utility vehicles have lagged the growth trajectory of small cars and sedans. This year there has been a complete role reversal, part of it due to the differential cost of petrol and diesel.

While there are no diesel cars available in the entry-level small car segment, almost all utility vehicles offer diesel as an option.

The bigger reason though, is the entry of affordable SUVs such as the Renault Duster, Maruti Ertiga and Mahindra Quanto, which have won over people like Jugran. The momentum will only gain with the EcoSport and Enjoy this year.

"There are two reasons why SUVs are finding so many takers these days. The first and obvious one is the increased gap between diesel and petrol fuel prices," said Pawan Goenka, president, automotive sector, M&M.

"But the more important reason is that many new SUVs are available now in a very wide price range and to suit different customer requirements. The SUVs now give all the comfort of a passenger car and the flexibility and functionality of an off-roader. This makes them more desirable. The trend is here to stay."

Added Sandeep Singh, deputy managing director and COO, Toyota Kirloskar Motor: "The family man buys an MUV for the extra row of seats while individuals prefer a SUV because it is a status statement."