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30 March 2013

Abhishek Mishra on: cars in the new fiscal year

Things are looking up for some car companies as they aim to make the future perfect

Abhishek Mishra
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The 2013 fiscal year is going to be critical for a lot of manufacturers given how bleak things look right now. Last October, ASSOCHAM predicted industrial growth in the 2013 fiscal would be less than two per cent. And year-on-year, industrial growth had been negative for six months in 2012. Given that the scenario is unlikely to improve soon, manufacturers need to be very careful about the vehicles they intend to launch in a relatively slow economy.

With this in mind, let me list three soon-to-be-launched vehicles that I believe are significant for their respective manufacturers. Not only will these cars be radical, they’ll also have a significant bearing on their company’s fortunes in India.

The first is the Mercedes CLA. A four-door Mercedes coupe priced lower than the C-class has a lot of potential. It may have Mercedes purists up in arms because it’s going to be front-wheel-drive, but for most customers, it’ll be the most affordable Mercedes saloon they can buy. Besides, as BMW found out with its rear-wheel-drive 1 series, 80 per cent of those customers thought their cars were front-wheel-drive. I don’t believe the number will be any different in India if Mercedes were to carry out a similar survey amongst their customers.

In sales volumes in India, Mercedes has been overtaken by Audi and BMW, and that’s primarily because of their Q3s and X1s respectively. Given that Mercedes won’t have a small SUV to take on its German rivals for the next couple of years, the cheaper-to-build and cheaper-to-run FWD CLA should be of great help.

With no mini-SUV to take on the competition, the company may have lost some ground, but it does lead the pack when it comes to expensive four-door coupes. Sure, today Audi and BMW may have their own four-door coupes, but Merc’s CLS still rules the roost in this extremely profitable segment. The CLA, with its CLS-inspired styling, will help get some respectable numbers against the Q3 and the X1. That’s why it’s going to be a critical car for Mercedes.

Ford will be betting big on its EcoSport to help with its fortunes in this country. It has never had as grand a success as the Ikon in India. Sure, the Figo does half-decent numbers, but the new Fiesta sells nowhere close to expectations. The EcoSport, with its radical looks, shows a lot of potential.

Given the buzz the car has created, it is possible that Ford will charge a premium for it in the first few months. And I guess people won’t mind paying too. But I believe if it wants consistently healthy sales numbers for the next two years, Ford should ensure that the EcoSport is launched in the same or marginally higher price range as the Renault Duster. The first six months after launch, I’m sure they’ll be too busy meeting demand to think straight. But if they get the pricing right, they could have their second Ikon moment in India.

Finally, the Amaze saloon will be critical for Honda. Obviously, because it’ll be the first diesel Honda in India. I don’t care about the Brio with a boot, but I am interested in the engine. Honda, once king of the hill, has lost out significantly because it didn’t have a diesel motor in any of its cars. But with this 1.5-litre i-DTEC motor, things will drastically improve. I hope this motor will find its way – in different states of tune, I presume – in the Brio hatchback, the Jazz and the City.

Unfortunately, 2013 will not see the one thing I have been looking forward to: a sub-Rs 10 lakh, four-cylinder diesel, five-speed automatic hatchback/notchback. I would be happy to pay even up to Rs 12 lakh for a mini-SUV with those specs. But that’s not happening anytime soon. I remember how I had wished for mini-SUVs way back in 2003, and they got launched in earnest only last year. I guess I’ll have to wait until 2022 for my new wish to come true.

Tags: abhishek mishra, ford, mercedes, honda, amaze, cla, ecosport