Decoding India’s growing SUV culture
A recent sales figure for SUVs blew my mind more than any multi-digit number ever did in the recent past. Kia Motor India sold a staggering 15,450 units of the Seltos in January 2020 alone – a number unimaginable for any SUV ten years ago. Speaking of which, in 2010, the only affordable UVs in the market were the Mahindra Thar, Mahindra Bolero, Tata Safari and Tata Sumo. Double your budget and you could get a Toyota Fortuner. In the luxury SUV category, there were far more options with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, Volvo XC60 and Range Rover among others. However, the SUV segment got categorised far and wide in the following years.
Three years down the line, Ford launched the EcoSport in India and it was well received by the masses. It was one of its kind, offering premium features and a high ground clearance at an affordable price. It also created the sub four metre compact SUV segment that today is one of the most competitive segments in the industry. Before the Ford EcoSport was launched, Renault also drove in the Duster, another small SUV that resonated well with Indian buyers. It was one of the very few affordable SUVs to offer 4WD as well.
Storming the market - Creta and Vitara Brezza
In 2015, Hyundai chanced on this growing admiration for compact SUVs by launching the Creta – a properly desirable SUV that offered a plethora of premium features in the Rs 10-18 lakh price bracket. The Creta was a convergence of design, performance, safety and technology and that made it an instant hit. In a mileage conscious country, the Creta’s fuel economy was just about adequate, but every other element overpowered this fly in the ointment. Hyundai sold over 13,000 units of the Creta in July 2016 and its cumulative sales figure stands at over 5 lakh units since its launch in 2015.
Maruti Suzuki rode the wave created by Hyundai and launched Vitara Brezza in 2016. Maruti Suzuki already had rugged offerings like the Gypsy, Grand Vitara and the S-Cross, but the Vitara Brezza’s success was unparalleled. The brand sold over 5 lakh units of the Vitara Brezza in just four years and even today Maruti Suzuki is selling close to 10,000 units of the Brezza per month. The facelifted Vitara Brezza comes with a 1.5-litre BS6 petrol engine only and in a crowded space, rivals the Hyundai Venue, Mahindra XUV300, Tata Nexon and the Ford EcoSport.
Bridging the gap between full size SUVs and compact SUVs are the newly segmented mid-size SUVs. SUVs longer than 4 metres and smaller than full blown mud plugging machines like the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour can be slotted into this category. With the MG Hector, Kia Seltos, New Hyundai Creta and the Tata Harrier, this segment too is on fire. Premium mid-sized SUVs are marking the downfall of premium sedans in India and that’s the reason why we see fewer sedan launches in this price bracket in recent times. Given the advantages SUVs have in poor Indian driving conditions, this paradigm shift is well justified.
SUV styled hatchbacks
The first small car to sport SUV inspired design and styling was the Renault Kwid. Design elements typical of big and brawny SUVs made their way into the Kwid – skid plates, body cladding, flared wheel arches and a high ground clearance. Renault also achieved an impressive 98 per cent localisation with the Kwid allowing aggressive pricing. Maruti Suzuki too followed suit with the recently launched S-Presso and the carmaker even calls the Ignis as their ‘Compact urban SUV’. We have both the S-Presso and the Kwid in our long-term fleet at evo India and both cars are fun to potter around town in a hassle-free manner.
If you’re going the green this year, you can choose from the Hyundai Kona, MG ZS EV and the Tata Nexon EV - the only three long range EVs on sale in India as of now. The Kona offers a claimed range of 452km, while the ZS EV can do 350km on a single charge. The Nexon has a claimed range of 300km and all three e-SUVs sprint to a 100kmph in under 10 seconds, making them properly fun to drive. Yes, range anxiety is real, and it’s best to use these e-SUVs around town or for well-calculated intercity runs, at least until the charging infrastructure improves.
India loves SUVs. And this love will further strengthen once the coronavirus pandemic is eliminated. The Auto Expo 2020 showcased what’s in the pipeline and soon enough, there will be more options to choose from than ever before. COVID-19 has forced manufacturers to delay launches and cancel multiple events. But we’re certain that once the mayhem is over, things will look positive again, and we’ll see many cool SUVs plying on our streets.