India's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki's entry-level hatchback Alto in 2019 wrested the pole position it had ceded to stablemate Dzire in 2018, recording sales of 208,087 units in the calendar year. Dzire clocked sales of 198,904 units registering a near 25 per cent decline in sales.
Alto also witnessed a decline by almost 19 per cent but was the only car in the top 10 to clock more than 2 lakh units in the full year. At least four models, all from Maruti including Dzire, Swift and Baleno had clocked more than 2 lakh unit sales in 2018.
Dzire had upstaged and ended Alto's 13-year hegemony at the top in 2018 but with the market in a free fall -- India's passenger vehicle industry declined by almost 14 per cent in 2019, the steepest in more than two decades -- Dzire bore the brunt. Maruti's Swift, Baleno and compact SUV Brezza also registered double-digit fall in sales, so did the only three non-Maruti cars in the top 10 list, which are all Hyundai. The Elite i20 was the best of the lot with sales of 123,201 units, down 13 per cent over 2018. The Grand i10 which received a full lifecycle change in August saw a steep 23.5 per cent fall at 102,693 units while the mid-size SUV Creta witnessed a 17.5 per cent decline.
The only two cars that managed to grow their tally were the Wagon R and Eeco. The former benefitted from its next-generation version that was launched in February and topped sales of 155,967 units, a 2.6 per cent growth. The seven-seater Eeco was the sole new entrant benefitting from the discontinuation of the old warhorse Omni in April due to the new crash safety norms. Eeco saw its sales grow by 35 per cent at 114,105 units.
Notwithstanding the return to the top, Alto's reign seems to be coming to an end. The launch of the S Presso in the last quarter of the year, Maruti's first new entry-level small car in more than a decade, has begun to impact Alto's sales. Its tally in 2019 is well well under its peak annual sales of 2011 when it hit 311,367 units. It was then also the best selling small car in the world in a single market between 2011-14.
Is it the end of the road for the Alto? Not quite. At over 200,000 units per annum, it is still bringing in the numbers. It is still to be seen whether S Presso can give Alto a run for its money after the novelty factor of the "mini SUV" styling wears off. Many in the past have tried the trick in the past only to peter off in the end. The last one to do so-the Renault Kwid is no longer competition while Hyundai's Eon has ridden into the sunset. There is no denying though that Alto's reign at the top is indeed nearing its end.