India is touted to become one of the biggest car markets in the world by the end of this decade. However, there is a lot of uncertainty in the Indian automobile market. Fuel prices fluctuate (usually northwards) abruptly, while the Government tries to cover its mis-governance by increasing taxes on cars when its least expected. But which is the car that Indians are buying the most? It is the Maruti Suzuki Alto!
The Alto used to sell around 35,000 units earlier, but in the last two months, its sales have declined massively to 17,842 units in April and 20,724 units in May. The sales decline is because the Alto is offered with gasoline engines only. The demand for gasoline powered cars is fast decreasing in India. Diesel fuel is heavily subsidized and hence people are opting for diesel cars.
Mind you, the Alto is not the Alto that you see in Europe or Japan. The Indian Alto is the last generation Alto, which is still on sale with some cosmetic changes. The new Alto has been re-badged as the A-Star in India. So, the Indian Alto is a very old car, low on safety, low on space, but still the highest selling car. The reason is the Maruti Suzuki badge, which the Alto carries. Maruti Suzuki (a tie-up between Maruti [local] and Suzuki [Japan] in the early 1980s, but now Suzuki has a majority stake) has been present in India since a long time. There is a vast dealership network. The Alto is a well established brand and is the second cheapest car in the country (the cheapest car is the Tata Nano).
As you can see, the interiors of the Alto are terrible. The rear seats are best for children and the front seats are best for short passengers. The vehicle pictured here is the top end model, which accounts for less than 30% of the Alto’s sales. The more popular model carries a 2-spoke steering wheel and a basic instrument cluster (no tachometer). Power comes in from a 796cc, 3-cylinder, gasoline engine which produces 47 BHP and 62 Nm. The more powerful version uses a 998cc, 3-cylinder gasoline engine to produce 67 BHP and 90 Nm. Fuel efficiency is around 20 km/l (47 MPG Non-EPA). The 800cc Alto is priced at $5,500, while the 1000cc Alto costs $7,300.
The Alto has no safety features on offer, there are no ABS, Airbags, etc. The only safety feature is the engine immobilizer. Still, the Alto sells like hot cakes, which clearly shows that pricing and economy are still the two important parameters a majority of first time car buyers look out for, at least in India.
Faisal Ali Khan is the owner/operator of MotorBeam.com, a website covering the auto industry of India.