The domestic automobile industry would only be too eager to see the back of 2019. It has been the worst in living memory with sales sliding by over 15 per cent in the calendar year. There was no dearth of new launches though, and while many suffered due to the adverse market conditions, a few hit the bull's eye too. We list out the best and worst in cars that 2019 had to offer.
South Korean auto major Hyundai's younger sibling Kia Motors entered the market with a bang this year. The Seltos lived up to the hype and completely dominated the middle of the road SUV segment. Impeccably styled, powerful engines mated to a range of transmission options, Kia did not take any chances with the pricing either slotting it at an aggressive Rs 9.69 lakh that went all the way upto Rs 16.99 lakh spread over a ridiculous 16 variants. In other words, there was a variant for each customer. The response from the market was enthusiastic - more than 50,000 units in under five months is testimony to that. It ended the reign of the four-year-old Hyundai Creta in the segment and single-handedly catapulted Kia as the fourth largest carmaker in the country. The entry of the next generation Creta in 2020 is expected to offer tough competition to the Seltos but for now at least, it has more than done its job.
Hyundai's counter to Maruti Vitara Brezza in the compact SUV space was eagerly awaited and on most counts, the Venue has not disappointed. A modern looking compact car with new age connectivity features and oodles of attitude, the company priced it just right for it to shake the dynamics of the segment. What also helped was Maruti's premature announcement that it would not build diesel vehicles anymore from April 2020, a statement that they have begun to retract from as the deadline edges closer. The full impact of it was felt on the Brezza that is still powered by a singular and dated 1.3-litre diesel engine. The Venue in contrast comes with three engine options, including a 1-litre turbocharged petrol version coupled with three transmission options. The car would end the year with sales of nearly 70,000 units providing Hyundai with its only bright spark this year. The battle with the Brezza, which would get its petrol engine next year, would be fascinating to watch in 2020.
Like the Kia, the entry of Chinese auto major MG Motor with the Hector SUV is another case study in brilliant marketing. Acutely aware of the frayed geopolitical relations between India and China, MG sought to blow up its British heritage rather than its Chinese origin to market its wares here. The product itself was projected as futuristic with a clear emphasis towards its connected features. MG also stripped the rear bench seat in the Hector to present it as a 5-seater SUV instead of a 7-seater MPV. With its butch styling, two engine options, choice of manual and DCT automatic transmission and a price tag between Rs 13-18 lakh, the Hector struck a chord with the consumers with sales of more than 15,000 units in this year so far.
The Triber was the surprise package of the year that bust the myth that a proper 7-seater configuration cannot be developed in a small sub 4-metre platform. The French carmaker was not the first to attempt such a thing; its alliance partner Nissan's Datsun sub brand tried it out a few years back with the Datsun Go+. The disaster that it turned out to be probably suggested this was a no-go area. Renault however, has a winner on its hands following up from the Kwid a few years back. On paper, it still doesn't look appealing with a puny 1-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that makes all of 72PS power and 96Nm of torque, hauling the 7-seater. It punches above its weight though, and utilisation of space inside is a master stroke. With more than 20,000 of Tribers on the road, Renault has done what one expects a Maruti or Hyundai do in India.
Maruti S Presso
No matter how bad the market maybe, market leader Maruti Suzuki almost always delivers at least one new bestseller in a year. This year it was the S Presso, its first entry-level offering in well over a decade. Styled like a mini SUV, it has a weird gawky stance but has still managed to hit the home run with its set of customers. Powered by a 1-litre engine that also does duty in the Alto, it makes no pretensions about performance but with a price tag of less than Rs 4 lakh, it knows it is not required to do a lot on the -road. The stand-out-of-the-crowd styling itself does most of the heavy lifting and with sales topping 10,000 units a month, this is another volume churner for the Japanese automaker.
Much before the MG Hector came about, Tata made another attempt at cracking the Rs 12-18 lakh SUV segment this time in a 5-seater format with the gorgeous looking Harrier at the start of the year. Based on a platform derived from Tata's luxury subsidiary brand Jaguar Land Rover, Harrier remains one of the most good looking vehicles on the road. Yet, the positives started and ended with the styling of the vehicle. Without a petrol engine and a Fiat borrowed 2-litre diesel engine that has a peak output of 140PS instead of Jeep Compass' 175PS, it felt underpowered. Lack of an automatic variant also hurt its prospects. Less than 15,000 units in the full year makes Harrier one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
The 10th generation Civic was one of the showstoppers of the Auto Expo 2018, so when it was launched in March, Honda believed it would herald the return to the roots for the firm. The Japanese carmaker unable to counter the onslaught of SUVs, has lost its way a bit in India and a general perception of being stingy on features and deteriorating quality of its products contributed towards that. This time, it also offered a diesel engine with the Civic but the 1.6-litre version failed to do the trick. Alongside the Harrier, this one is also one of the standout designs of the year but in a market infatuated with SUVs, it couldn't do the trick as sales remained south of 5,000 units.
In India, the blue oval has gained a reputation of making good cars that don't sell well and the new generation Figo only underlines that. The first generation version of the car launched a decade ago was a bona fide success, but Ford has not been able to replicate it with subsequent versions. There is little to fault with the car per se, but it does not make a compelling proposition for customers to disregard the weakness of the Ford brand in India. Reduced to being just a one trick pony (EcoSport), Figo is another addition to the long list of duds from Ford. Put an S or an H badge on it, and it would have been one of the bestsellers. For now, less than 10,000 units of the Figo were sold this year.
If Ford is a one trick pony, Nissan is a complete horror show. The belated entry into the mid-sized SUV segment with the Kicks was expected to herald its comeback. Instead, it may end up hastening the death of the brand in India. The Kicks did not bring anything new to the table and after Nissan decided to price it close to segment leader Creta instead of undercutting it, its fate was a foregone conclusion. As the Kia Seltos proved later in the year, the segment was waiting for a new player to come in, but Kicks could not stand up to the challenge. It sales figures could not remained less than 5,000.With over a dozen absentees, slowdown casts a shadow over Auto Expo 2020