India is a small car market, indeed!

Cars having length of 4m or less has completely cemented their position in Indian passenger vehicle market, with close to 75% of cars sold in last three years are small (4m or less in length). Driver of the change is the tax structure introduced by the Government way back in 2006, to make India a manufacturing hub for small and fuel-efficient cars.

In reality, small vehicle doesn’t solve road congestion problem but an efficient public transport system may. On small cars, James May (earlier with Top Gear-BBC) once said “Length is not an issue, as roads are infinitely long but finitely wide, it is just easy to park.” If you look at the larger picture, cap on engine size (1.2L for Petrol & 1.5L for Diesel) ingrained in tax structure, has promoted vehicles which are emitting relatively less pollutant and consuming less fuel per unit.

Hatchbacks are not the real beneficiary of the tax structure out here. Rather it’s the sedan and SUV body shape which has shown remarkable growth. Reason – it is culmination of buyer’s aspiration to own a Sedan or an SUV, with limited budget and manufacturer’s ability to package the same in such small footprint and passing on the lower tax incidence as benefit to customer.

What made this happen?

Roots of sub 4m length car segment or small car can be traced back in 2006 Budget speech of the then Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram. Government’s idea was “To make India a hub for the manufacture of small and fuel-efficient cars that will drive economic growth and employment.”

Tax is compulsory contribution. It is one of the major source of revenue for Government. At the same time Government can use tax system to alter the market forces of demand and supply, as in the case of small cars. Lower taxes will reduce price and spurt demand. Also it can be used as a tool for redistribution of wealth, for fostering economic equality, thus the idea of higher taxes on luxury items.


“On cars, I propose to reduce the excise duty to 16 per cent from 24 per cent, but only for small cars. A small car, for this purpose, will mean a car of length not exceeding 4,000 mm and with an engine capacity not exceeding 1,500 cc for diesel cars and not exceeding 1,200 cc for petrol cars. I am confident that industry will seize the opportunity to make India a hub for the manufacture of small and fuel-efficient cars.”- Budget speech – Mr. P. Chidambaram (Minister of Finance-Government of India)


“I have looked at specific sectors where growth is flagging. These sectors are important because they are growth and employment drivers. Some of them also have large externalities. Therefore, I propose to reduce the excise duty on small cars from 16 per cent to 12 per cent and on hybrid cars from 24 per cent to the general revised rate of 14 per cent.”- Budget speech – Mr. P. Chidambaram (Minister of Finance-Government of India)


With GST coming into effect from July 2017 and subsequent revision in September 2017, very idea of 2006 tax structure is cemented now, till another new policy framework comes into effect.

Fuel preference

As per 2017 data, small cars are predominantly petrol and as body size increases, buyers opt for diesel engine. Most of the buyers want to keep their SUVs on strict diesel diet, would 2020 BS VI emission norms be able to change that?

Body Type

Below table shows that over the years SUV growth rate actually outpaced the growth rate of other segments by leaps and bounds.

If you consider perfect 4m length, across all the body shape, with every new product launch, you will see that there is lot of jostling for top spot. With more number of 4m SUV lined up by manufacturers (Datsun, Hyundai and Mahindra), SUV will soon be undisputed leader.


Hatchback sold in India has always been less than 4m in length. Only exception was Chevrolet SRV launched in 2006, which was 4.3m long and found very few takers. Overall hatchback growth rate is pretty low in comparison to overall industry growth rate, thus decline in overall market share. So it is difficult to establish direct impact of tax structure in promoting hatchback which were inherently small in first place. Essentially government is incentivizing small cars over larger cars. In below table you can see that smaller hatchbacks are losing market share and buyers are migrating to larger hatchback. A clear sign of rising aspiration level backed by purchasing power.


Tata Indigo CS (2008) was the first sedan to take advantage of the tax structure for its diesel version. What Tata essentially did, was to chop-off the boot of Indigo, to make it fit into 4m length and passed on reduced tax incidence as benefit to customer. Major boost came in 2012, when Maruti Suzuki decided to latch smaller boot on Swift to make 4m-Dzire, and despite its odd proportions it was much bigger success than Swift. Now every leading car maker is having at least one product and some did really good work in designing a sedan with such small footprint and carving out generous interior and boot space.


First sub 4m SUV was launched by Premier Auto, called Rio, in 2009. It is the same company which used to manufacture one of the most popular sedan before 90s, called Padmini, but popularly known as Phiat (that’s how it sounds). Ford Ecosport has actually brought the segment into limelight and Maruti Suzuki Brezza later turbocharged the segment. Segment is poised to expand further with upcoming Hyundai 4m SUV.


Tax structure hasn’t had any significant impact on MUV segments. MUV are meant to carry large number of passengers or large amount of luggage or both together. Carving out usable 3 rows of seat in such small footprint is not that easy, unless they make it a boxy-van, which again is not very aspirational from buyer’s perspective.

Utility Vehicle (UV) Chassis

With the advent of new breed of urban, pseudo, compact UV, whatever name you prefer to call them by, monocoque construction is the most preferred chassis.

Company Wise

Maruti Suzuki is champion of small cars indeed. Pick up any segment under 4m, and you will find a Maruti Suzuki product standing at top of podium. On the other side of spectrum it is Toyota with its deeply entrenched and high margin products, namely Innova and Fortuner. For others it is just a pipe dream.

(The article is written by Rohan Rishi. You can connect with him at

2018 Auto Expo – India

The Indian Auto Expo is primarily a biennial automotive show (held once in 2 years) and is Asia’s largest and  world’s second-largest motor show! The Auto Expo was conceived in the year 1985 and had its debut showcasing in 1986.

Auto Expo had always been a platform for OEMs to showcase their upcoming product portfolio and create a buzz beforehand. Customers get a preview of the cars that a brand is going to launch in the coming time. Some cars which were showcased in the earlier Auto Shows have seen phenomenal success in the Indian market (For Ex: In 1998 Auto Expo the showcased products were – Tata Indica V1, Hyundai Santro, Ford Fiesta, Honda City, Tata Safari, Mercedes E-Class etc). Nowadays, OEMs are also using Auto Expo as a platform to launch New Models – this time Maruti launched the New Swift & Hyundai launched the New i20. The OEMs also showcase the Concept/Futuristic models to highlight on their technological superiority.

We have collated the list of cars which were either launched at the Expo, along with the Future Lineup, Concept & Electric Vehicles –

Key Highlights –

  • Kia had a grand stall and showcased the highest number of cars (12 Future Models + 3 Electric Concepts). It has given Kia a nation-wide visibility and has helped it gain the initial buzz it would want before launching new models. It also clarified that it’s first launch for the Indian market shall be a SUV and also ran a contest on naming the Concept.
  • BMW had the highest New Model Launch (5 nos) at the Expo! We also saw the longest line at BMW stall during public days (as they were offering free calendars 😉 ). BMW has been pretty aggressive with their participation and 5 New Launches at the Expo highlights the product offensive strategy by the German OEM.
  • Maruti & Hyundai realized the money spent at the Expo on launching the Newer Models of their legendary Swift & i20! They were the showstoppers at their respective stalls and had an instant connect with the audience attending the Expo.
  • Honda & Toyota neatly utilized the Expo in generating buzz for their upcoming launches (Amaze, Civic & CRV for Honda, Yaris for Toyota). The Japanese OEMs had a similar approach and the pre-launch unveil shall definitely help them create enough buzz before the launch.
  • Tata’s Concept Cars (H5X & 45X) were the most talked about concept cars at the Expo. It really gives assurance that the future lineup of Tata Cars will be a big step ahead in terms of design for the Indian major.

We have shortlisted 6 cars which we believe are going to be instrumental to their respective OEMs in terms of gaining significant ‘volumes’ in the Indian market and seemed to be most promising out of the lot in the expo –

Bajaj Auto Q3-FY 18 Performance

While it is evident that Motorcycles segment has not performed the way Bajaj would have wanted; CVs has been doing extremely good for the OEM in both Domestic & Export markets. The highlight of Q3 performance for Bajaj Auto was that the company recorded:

  • Highest ever quarterly sale of Commercial Vehicles in the domestic market; 110,123 units.
  • Highest ever quarterly sale of Commercial Vehicles ( domestic + exports ); 182,959 units

Exports has been Bajaj Auto’s USP for a long time and the success run continues:

— New and Nascent markets continue to witness healthy growth for the OEM – ~45% for 9M / FY18 and
now form ~13% of total exports by volume.
— Volumes in Nigeria continue to steadily improve, to ~33,000 units per month from 26,000 units in
September 2017 and 13,000 units in March 2017.
— Bangladesh continues to witness healthy growth.
— Exports, by value, grew by 24% to ` 2,401 crore as against ` 1,935 crore in Q3 / FY17.
— Realization per US$ was ` 66.9.
The Company is on track to exceed its annual Export sales target for the year.

For Commercial Vehicles – For the first time ever, quarterly volume, in the domestic market, exceeded 100,000 units! It also recorded:
— Sales volume of 110,123 units is the HIGHEST ever –  105%.
— Sales were largely driven by Maharashtra ( now an open market ) and Delhi ( new permits ).
— Continue to be a market leader, overall share in domestic market ~62%.
 Market leader in the In-city segment; market share ~91%.
 Dominant share in the diesel segment; market share ~34%.
 With increasing focus on the Goods Carriers, share in domestic market improved to ~21%

Empirical Study : Brand Elasticity in Mass Market

Primarily, right Product (having attributes which meets or exceeds consumer’s needs – both emotional & functional) and right Price (delivering value = perceived benefits {emotional & functional} >= price tag) are key ingredient for successful car recipe. Affordable, reliable and consistent After-Sales-Service is key to sustainability. For example -Renault Duster was runaway success, in medium run before competition came in, and Kwid did what Hyundai fail to deliver with Eon, despite Renault having relatively slim footprint across India. Resurgence of Tata Motors as a result of HORIZONEXT strategy is another example.

In spite of having all three vital ingredients mentioned earlier, sometimes companies do felt constrained in selling product in higher price band, because of brand inelasticity across mass market price band – ₹ (0-35) Lakhs. While going through 2017 data set we saw an interesting trend. Companies which have presence in ₹ (0-5) Lakh price segment find it difficult to make a mark in 15+ segments. That gives a glimpse of relation between elasticity of brand over price range. Here Tata and Mahindra have played it safe by introducing value for money (VFM) UVs in ₹ 15-20 Lakhs price bracket, undercutting competitor’s price by huge margin. VFM, how? Consider this, on paper, a fully loaded 140 BHP Mahindra XUV 500 (W10 AT AWD) is priced at ₹ 18.93 Lakhs (Ex-Showroom) and similarly sized and equipped 150 BHP Skoda Kodiaq being sold at ₹ 34.5 Lakhs (Ex-Showroom), in territory of entry level luxury brand. Both have similar fancy features like sunroof, electric seats etc, Skoda is enriched with exquisite features like panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, self-park etc. Yes, XUV 500 sells 10 times more than Kodiaq and in flesh (metal) Kodiaq is much nicer. But the crux is Skoda is still able to sell Kodiaq for 35+ Lakhs, and it is significant because revenue it generates is only 5 times less than XUV 500, not 10 times less as in case of volume.

Volume Distribution across Price Range (Ex-Showroom)

Globally Skoda occupies bottom rung in VW’s brand hierarchy, even below VW. However, numbers suggest that Skoda is more accepted as a premium brand than the parent VW in India. If you leave Polo, it’s Skoda that always had an upper hand in premium segments– Octavia/Jetta, Superb/Passat, Kodiaq/Tiguan.

Maruti Suzuki in past had tasted some sort of failure with Vitara and Kizashi in 15 Lakh+ segment. Both were promoted as pure Suzuki vehicle, by shedding Maruti name all together, a strategic effort for brand differentiation, except for sales channel. Both were available only as CBU with petrol engine, that could be the reason of failure, but Honda was able to sell Civic and CRV in relatively good numbers in the same period with petrol only engine. Moreover, in India, people in general recognize the “S” logo of Suzuki as Maruti only. Suzuki as a brand is still not strong; this is further corroborated by relatively lack of recognition of its two wheeler business, where Suzuki alone is used as brand name.

So, Maruti Suzuki tried a different approach. It began experimenting with sales channel. Rather than launching a sub brand, it has started sub brand of sales channel called NEXA, portrayed as premium channel to sell premium product, seems innovative. If you observe carefully, you will notice that none of the product sold through NEXA channel has Maruti written on it, anywhere. What difference one could observe at NEXA is the ambience, however, staff at regular Maruti showroom are equally courteous and diligent throughout sales cycle and offer similar purchase experience too. Neither Baleno nor Ignis, sold through NEXA, seems premium over Dzire and new Swift. Current product mix seems to be misplaced across sales channel. Also potential buyers need to visit two different showrooms for products which fall in similar price band. Has Suzuki succeeded in creating premium brand image with NEXA? Super success of Brezza, a lifestyle oriented product, sold through regular Maruti showrooms, raises question on efficacy of a separate and expensive to maintain NEXA sales channel.

Another case in point is Hyundai. It tried multiple times in ₹15 Lakh+ segment, but was never successful, whether Santa Fe or Sonata or currently on sale Tucson and Elantra. Each one had an upmarket interior and felt premium. Still potential buyers in respective segment were not willing to pay premium price asked by Hyundai.

That is why in recent past Toyota was planning to launch its budget brand Daihatsu in India. Reason is obvious, gaining volume without diluting brand.

Revenue (Conservative estimates) Generated in Each Price Band  

₹ (15-35) Lakh price band is though low on volume but it is high revenue generating zone, see Ford. Below table also shows the white space for each of the manufacturer. Going by prevalent trend and potential buyer’s aspiration, it seems the best way to fill these gaps is with aggressive looking, well-equipped and aggressively priced diesel SUV or to certain extent a MUV, sedan will sure struggle for volume though.

The figures provided below are conservative estimates for illustration purpose, calculated based on base price (excluding GST/Excise/VAT/Dealer Margin) of each model, diesel and petrol variant considered separately and actual figures based on particular variant of model might vary.

Classic Example When a Good Product Fail to Sell Itself : VW Phaeton (2002-2016)        

Some say Phaeton (2002) was the best VW car made ever, the then technological marvel of over-engineering excellence. It shared its platform with uber-luxury Bentley Continental Flying Spur and Audi’s flagship model A8 and priced slightly less than A8. In 2002 VW had set a production target of 20k annually but production run that lasted 15 years, only 84,253 were produced. It bombed in the US market and they have to pull out from the US within 2 year of its launch. Reason – VW logo. VW name itself stands for “People’s car”, loosely can be translated as an affordable car.  Brand conscious Americans never accepted VW phaeton but Audi A8, despite being similar car under the skin did well in same period. This shows how much brand identity is critical and no matter how good a product is, it can’t sell itself.


Simply taking an SUV route to make headway into the ₹15 Lakh+ segment too didn’t work well for Hyundai! Is this an indication that to get the brand to make headway in 15+ segments:

  • Follow “Value for money” strategy of Tata or Mahindra by undercutting price of competitor by huge margin?


  • Relegate ₹ (0-5) Lakh tight budget segment into sub brand, just like Nissan-Datsun?


  • Create a premium (not luxury) sub-brand exclusively for India, something like Tata Racemo?


  • Is there another way?

Can Suzuki go to an extent to experiment on these lines? It has a lot at stake in India, as roughly 50% volume contribution comes from India. Current generation of electric cars will face similar challenge from mass market adoption perspective, as they won’t be able to deliver value by fitting into the existing price band which is psychologically ingrained in mind of potential customer.

(The article is written by Rohan Rishi. You can connect with him at