Mini cars, the only segment within hatchbacks to grow his year, have now become the flavour of the season. Maruti Suzuki, Honda, Tata Motors, Renault and Nissan’s Datsun are planning launches in the next two to three years. Cars in this segment are priced at Rs 3-4 lakh and include top-selling models, the Maruti Alto, for instance.
The focus on mini cars that come only in a petrol or CNG version has intensified at a time when buyers are looking for relatively inexpensive options. To make them a better deal, manufacturers are throwing in premium features like fog lamps, audio systems and power windows. Mini cars currently account for 32% of passenger car sales and 23% of India’s 27-lakh-unit passenger vehicle (including utility vehicles and vans) market.
The first to hit the street will be Maruti Suzuki with the Celerio. The market leader will defend its turf with the first small car fitted with a diesel engine (800cc). While the Alto, M800 and WagonR will stay, a fourth model, the A-Star, will be phased out.
“The sentiment is low and we are noticing a shift from the premium hatch segments to the upper end of the mini car segment. That’s why the WagonR has got a boost and the Maruti 800 too has seen strong growth after many years, especially in rural markets,” a senior executive from Maruti Suzuki told FE.
Meanwhile, Honda is also working on a mini car, smaller than the Brio, that could take on the Alto. Tagged the ‘World A-entry compact’, most of the car will be developed in India and it could be rolled out of an all-new Honda plant in Gujarat.
Nissan’s Datsun will debut in India with the Go hatchback next month. The Go, modelled on Nissan’s Micra, will seek to differentiate itself by offering more space. Nissan and global alliance partner Renault are also working on a second mini car (code I2) which is expected to spawn different versions for both Renault and Datsun.
Tata Motors, India’s largest automaker by revenue, is also keen on the mini car segment and has started work on its Advanced Modular Platform (AMP). The firm has given itself till 2016-17 to roll out models from this platform, starting with a mini car and moving on to a compact SUV.
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Gaurav Vangaal, automotive analyst at IHS, told FE the focus on entry-level cars has been prompted by the fact that this segment could supplement manufacturers’ volumes.
“Any carmaker hoping for market share in India cannot afford to miss the mini car segment. Most first-time buyers start with a mini cars, so it is always a good idea to start building a relationship and nurture that as a customer upgrades,” he said.