In mid-2005, when the first Swifts were rolling off the assembly line, BT visited Maruti Suzuki's Gurgaon factory. A visibly happy Jagdish Khattar, then Managing Director of the company, said confidently that his marketing team would sell around 5,000 Swifts a month as soon as production stabilised. Three months later, there was Khattar's signature on an advertisement issued by Maruti Suzuki, apologising for the company's inability to produce enough Swifts to meet the demand.
Currently, Maruti manufactures 10,000 to 12,000 Swifts a month, but there is still a shortfall. From the beginning, the demand for Swift has far outstripped supply. Fast forward six years. Maruti is now phasing out the old Swift for a newer version. "From the day the Swift was launched till its last day, there was a long waiting list for both the petrol and diesel models," says Mayank Pareek, Executive Officer, Marketing and Sales, Maruti Suzuki. The company has sold over 600,000 Swifts in India so far. And as it readies to launch the all-new Swift in September, it will start 38,000 waiting buyers - over three months' production at current levels.
The waiting list is the result of an innovative marketing step. In mid-June, as its plans for the new Swift launch firmed up, Maruti asked its dealers to send emails to all those on the waiting list for the old Swift. They were asked if they would prefer buying the new product, which would cost a bit more. Half the current list of 38,000, Pareek says, comprises people who had booked the old Swift, but preferred to shift.
The Swift was not the first premium hatchback on Indian roads; that was the Hyundai Getz - not a great success, though. But it was the catalyst that sparked an explosion of demand in the segment. Despite this demand, there are primarily only two major products in the segment - the Swift and the Hyundai i20. Add bits and bobs from other manufacturers and sales in the premium hatchback segment are around 22,000 cars every month, or about 16 per cent of the overall automotive market.
Yet, in an increasingly crowded market, and one in which interest rates are also rising, can Maruti keep up the buzz around Swift? "Swift had proven itself. The new Swift will give buyers a whole new set of features to keep it at the top of the premium hatchback segment," says Shashank Srivastava, Chief General Manager, Maruti Suzuki. But the company is taking no chances. Once its second production line at Manesar comes on stream by September, it will raise the new Swift's production to 18,000 every month.
Will the new Swift sustain the success of the old one? Only a brave man would bet against it.