It’s the only car in the country that doesn’t have a formal name—it’s known only by the cubic capacity of its engine. But for millions of Indians, Maruti-Suzuki’s 800 is the vehicle that single-handedly transformed the almost monochromatic landscape of urban thoroughfares. Now, over a quarter of a century later—yes, it has been that long—just when it appeared that the impish icon had come to the end of a very crowded road, the Maruti 800 could get a fresh lease of life.
In an exclusive interview with FE, Maruti chairman RC Bhargava said, “The option of upgrading Maruti 800 to meet Euro-IV emission norms is open. We are yet to take a call on it, but if we decide that it would be upgraded, we could think of giving the vehicle a facelift.” A makeover is long overdue. The 800 last received a major facelift in 1997, followed by cosmetic changes in 2005 and the introduction of an LPG variant in 2008.
Bhargava’s comments are significant, as without a Euro-IV upgrade, strict emission norms would have forced the vehicle to be phased out from next April in 11 cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. The model is currently only Euro-III compliant. Euro-IV norms for the rest of the country are expected by 2015-16.
Bhargava, who was managing director at Maruti from 1985-1997 when the 800 was its bread and butter, said sales of the model have declined as buyers today have a lot of options. “What were the options 10-12 years ago, apart from the M-800? I remember, there was such a long waiting list for it that we had once come out with a tatkal scheme.”
Since it was unveiled back in December 1983, over 27 lakh 800 variants have been sold. However, sales have been waning in recent months, dipping 26.4% in August at 2,734 units, against 3,717 in the same month last year. Sales between April and August fell by half to 12,649 units vis-à-vis last year. The 800 today constitutes a mere 4.3% of Maruti’s total sales.
However, though sales lack lustre in bigger cities, it’s quite a different picture in smaller cities and towns. “Our main markets for the small car are the rural areas,” said Bhargava. Driven by this demand, a new-look 800 could still jostle its way on to the black top for a few more years to come.