This year will see a slew of car launches, and not just at the top end. The most exciting ones will have one thing in common: a "small car" as defined by length, with the price tag of entry-level three-box sedans. In short, "big" small cars. The Hyundai i20, Honda Jazz, Chevrolet U-VA and the upcoming Volkswagen Polo all try the size game for excise breaks, but will cost closer to the Maruti Swift Dzire and the Hyundai Accent. The aim: unit sales larger than for big cars. So what badges will these big small cars bear? And which are the richie-rich models?
CHEVROLET BEAT, VOLKSWAGEN POLO, FORD FIGO
This trio of small cars that will be launched in early 2010 could shake up the market with their advanced technology even though none of the manufacturers has Maruti Suzuki's massive production and distribution muscle. Making a play for the higher end of the small-car market, each of these will have engines under 1200cc (petrol) or 1400cc (diesel), with similar performance and economy levels. Prices: from around Rs 3.5 lakh up to Rs 5 lakh for the premium versions. For Ford and VW, the Figo and Polo will be their entry vehicles into India's small-car market (four out of every five cars sold is a small car).
The Polo will also be available in a three-box version made for India. The price range will be Rs 4-7 lakh. The Chevrolet Beat is expected to be launched this month. Both the Polo and the Figo will hit the roads around March and April. This new generation of small cars will have additional safety features and electronics that were previously available only in larger cars. The Beat, for example, has a LCD panel information display on its dashboard. In terms of fueleconomy, expect all cars to be fairly equally matched at around 12-14 kilometers per litre. Who will win this small car war? We don't know, but expect fireworks.
NISSAN SMALL CAR
Nissan's brand-new factory outside Chennai is almost ready as is its yet-unnamed small car based on Nissan- Renault's new 'Versatile' smallcar platform. The company will start production of these small cars by March-April. The price range is expected to be Rs 3-5 lakh.
SUZUKI WAGONR (NEXT-GENERATION), SUZUKI KIZASHI, MARUTI EECO, MARUTI R-III
The WagonR is Maruti Suzuki's second-highest selling model after the Alto, moving over 12,000 units every month. It is also the model most likely to be impacted by the likes of the Beat, Figo and Polo. Maruti-Suzuki's gambit: an overhaul, featuring its new K-series engines (Price range: Rs 3-4 lakh). Prices are expected to remain steady and sales should start by mid-2010. The Kizashi is Suzuki's foray into the luxury segment and if launched (Maruti-Suzuki CEO Shinzo Nakanishi appeared ambivalent about the prospect) will take on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry (Price range: Rs 15-20 lakh). The Eeco will replace the Versa, being aimed at large families and taxi operators (Price range: Rs 4-6 lakh). The R-III is expected to be a large utility vehicle big enough to take on the Toyota Innova, but only the concept will be showcased at the Auto Expo this month. The R-III concept is based on the SX4 platform and may be produced by 2011.
This launch is still a bit uncertain given the troubles of the Mahindra-Renault partnership but it is the latest car to be produced by Dacia, Renault's Romanian subsidiary, and will be badged as a Renault in India. It uses the same underpinnings as the Logan but is more upmarket inside. If launched, this will be a large hatchback in the Rs 4-5 lakh price range.
This might not be the final brand name but the concept showcased at the Geneva Auto Show a few years ago is about to come into production and will be Tata's flagship (replacing the Safari) as a utility vehicle taking on the Toyota Innova and Mahindra Xylo. However, the Indicruz is expected to be a premium vehicle, not for the taxi segment. Tata Motors has been testing pre-production Indicruz on highways in and around Pune. Prices are expected in the Rs 8-12 lakh range.
The Yeti is a sort of in-between car-part off-roader and part large hatchback. Like all other vehicles in the Skoda range it is based on a Volkswagen platform (the Polo in this case). The Yeti is expected to share engines with the Skoda Fabia and Volkwagen Polo. The price could be higher than that of even entry-level sedans, but it will attract outdoorsy types with a 4x4 option in top-end models who do not want a simple car. The price range is Rs 10-12 lakh.
The Economical Family Car or EFC is just a code name of what is certainly going to be Toyota's biggest launch in India to date-a small car. And while Toyota has no plans of starting to sell this vehicle before late 2010 at the earliest, the car will play a crucial role in helping it retain the crown of being the world's No. 1 carmaker. The EFC will offer cheap and affordable transportation (price around Rs 3.5 lakh) with the Toyota badge. However, is this car entering the market a couple of years too late with Volkswagen, Ford and Nissan all entering the same space.
The Korean giant has been quietly content in Chennai, its plant struggling to keep up with demand for the i10 and i20. Yet, rumours of a sedan version of the Avante have been swirling for months. The company has declined to comment but it is a fact that Hyundai has not had a vehicle in this particular segment ever since it withdrew the Elantra. If it does come to India, the Avante - which has been winning plaudits across the world- could debut in 2010 with a price tag of Rs 10-14 lakh.
ELSEWHERE IN THE MARKET…
BMW 5 GT, AUDI A8, MERCEDES GL, TOYOTA PRIUS
There will be quite a few luxury vehicles launches in 2010 for those who do not have to worry about their bank accounts. The German trio will be entering different segments - BMW with long-distance grand tourers, Audi with a revamped A8 hyperluxury car and Mercedes with the GL series sports utility vehicle that will potentially help it regain space conceded to BMW and Audi. The GL series is Mercedes' most aggressive SUV to date. The Toyota Prius will be an import and is targeted at those who have pots of greenbacks and also worry about the environment.