Size matters: Mini SUVs are forcing Indian consumers & manufacturers to think small
The Mini or the sub 4 metre SUVs are getting on to the want list of an increasing number of Indian auto consumers and enthusiasts.
To sweeten the deal for consumers many of these vehicles come with features that consumers may have had to pay a lot more for. Manufacturers are focusing on safety features like airbags, vehicle stability and anti-lock braking systems as well as more lifestyle oriented features such as keyless entry otherwise seen in high end sedans. EcoSport for instance offers a new feature SYNC with Ford AppLink, which enables users to access smartphone applications through voice commands.
Ford was the first to identify the evolving needs of Indian consumers, looking for an answer to meet urban mobility challenges such as congestion, parking. Since its introduction two years back, the core value-for-money proposition of Ford EcoSport continues to be strong for customers looking for a quality product starting Rs. 6 lakh. Recently, Ford India celebrated the 200,000 sales milestone for the car.
The appeal: practicality and marketing that positions these as an everyday versatile vehicle. "The consumer wants to experiment with different body-styles and may prefer a mini SUV to a hatchback or sedan. The tall stance works well for the ego and its road presence, and better ground clearance serves it well on potholed roads," says Deepesh Rathore, founder & director, Emerging Market Automotive Advisors (EMAA).
"Technology is certainly a key differentiator and Ford EcoSport being an extremely intuitive vehicle certainly helps. The vehicle gives customers smart features to stay connected while improving safety and comfort behind the wheel with features like SYNC with AppLink which enables users to access smartphone applications through voice commands and curtain airbags," says Anurag Mehrotra, Executive Director, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford India.
Honda's BR-V, its maiden venture into this segment, is said to be based on the Brio platform. Powered by a 1.5 litre petrol engine, it sports safety features like ABS, airbags , EBD and vehicle stability assist, even if Honda is unwilling to officially commit to the launch. Jnaneswar Sen, senior vice president – marketing and sales, Honda Cars India will only say, "We are looking into the segment; every manufacturer is looking at it."
Hyundai is exploring opportunities to increase its product portfolio in the SUV segment as it sees many white spaces where it could have a full model SUV line up. The Korean car major which recently launched the Creta SUV is said to be exploring a mini SUV on the i10 platform. However, company officials say there are no plans to launch such a product in the near future. Others like Maruti Suzuki (with a sub 4 metre mini SUV which will borrow styling cues from the XA- Alpha), Volkswagen, Datsun, and Skoda are also looking at the mini SUV segment.
Competitive pricing coupled with safety and technology features like AMT (automatic manual transmission), meet the needs of the price sensitive customers.
The appeal is to consumers of compacts and sedans. The growth of mini/compact SUV segment will be in the range of 20% - 25% as it's an emerging segment with low base volumes. As the market matures, consumers want cars that can express their lifestyles and mindset, says Sen of Honda Cars India. The future of the sub 4 metre segment will depend a lot on the incoming GST structure as price proposition is the key to this sub segment, says Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice president - sales & marketing, Hyundai Motor India.
Industry experts say that India is a big car market, and most buyers are not first timers. Yet, "the buyer wants to stay small, and try something new" avers Rathore, of EMAA: a well packaged vehicle with more utility but priced competitively like a hatchback.
While earlier SUVs were body-on-frame machines (like the Safari or Bolero), now it's the monocoque body style which weighs lesser making it more fuel efficient, an important buying criteria.
EMAA forecasts sales of 3.06 lakh mini SUVs per annum by 2018. Total utility vehicle sales for the April to August period stood at 2.17 lakh units, and the mini/compacts UVs accounted for 56% of the total sales, according to the SIAM (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers ) data. Encouraging figures but still a long way to go before the proverbial drive into the sunset.