By on February 10, 2016

VW ameo 1

How automakers address the sedan question in India is particularly interesting. It doesn’t involve increasing legroom or wheelbase. It doesn’t involve creating a reason to increase the average transaction price of those cars. And despite India having some of the deadliest roads in the world, it doesn’t involve safety.

In India, most automakers go in the exact opposite direction with their sedans — by building them shorter and cheaper, but no more safer — yet they remain just as comfortable inside as the models on which they’re based.

There are some automotive markets in the world that are large enough to force automakers to substantially change the specifications of their cars. The Chinese market gets long-wheelbase versions of the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Volvo S60. These cars tend to be used by lower-level politicians and businesspeople who don’t want to pay the higher prices of larger cars but still want extra legroom. The North American market gets a Volkswagen Passat that’s notably larger than the version available in the rest of the world.

Yet, in India, cars that are four meters or less in length are only taxed at 12.5 percent, provided their diesel engine displacement is 1.5 liters or less or their petrol engine displacement is 1.2 liters or less.

Back in April 2012, then-TTAC contributor Faisal Ali Khan touched on the upcoming phenomenon, predicting that stubby sedans would become popular in India because of Indians’ negative views toward hatchbacks. I couldn’t agree with him more after spending much of December 2015 in the country. Most of the taxis I saw were of the stubby sedan variety. Cars that were used by lower-level government officials were largely of the stubby sedan variety. The Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire, Tata Indigo eCS and Mahindra Verito (you probably know the last one as the Dacia/Renault Logan) made up many of the stubby sedans on the road. Much of this was due to an excise tax reduction (down to 8 percent) during the second half of 2014.

 

I know. This is much uglier than the hatchback. But it's surprisingly popular throughout India.

I know. This is much uglier than the hatchback. But it’s surprisingly popular throughout India.

A stubby sedan on your dealers’ lots makes all the difference in the Indian market. For instance, Toyota doesn’t offer a sub-4-meter sedan in India. The closest they offer is the Etios. Neither does General Motors, whose closest offering is the Chevrolet Sail developed by GM China. The base level version of the Etios tends to be 100,000 rupees (around $1,500) more than any sub-4 meter sedan, while the Sail tends to be closer to 50,000 rupees more. In a market where these cars sell anywhere from $7,500 to $12,000, these figures tend to be substantial amounts. Couple that with the razor-thin margins on cars in this “city car” class and creating a stubby sedan to increase sales volume isn’t a bad idea.

 

This didn't make the cut.

This didn’t make the cut.

As a result, more manufacturers over the last few years have brought out stubby sedans. Hyundai has the Xcent. Ford decided to release a Figo Aspire sedan, a version of its smaller-than-Fiesta Figo hatchback. Tata introduced the Zest to provide an updated take on the stubby sedan. Honda debuted the Amaze, which is seen more often around most Indian metros than its hatchback counterpart, the Brio. All of these cars sell in large numbers, whether the customers are taxi companies or private citizens. And most recently, in the best example of this trend, Volkswagen released the Ameo.

 

The new stubby little sedan from VW.

The new stubby little sedan from VW.

If you’ve ventured outside the United States and Canada, you may notice the Ameo has the same front end as a Polo. But if you’ve ventured into Mexico, India, Russia and a few other Asian countries, you’ll know VW already makes a sedan version of the Polo called the Vento: It has a longer wheelbase and offers more rear legroom for its passengers, but its 4.4 meter length incurs an excise tax of well over 20 percent in India, putting it into premium car territory. For a company like VW that’s trying to substantially increase sales, creating the Ameo is almost a no-brainer, regardless of the extra engineering costs.

 

The Vento.

The Vento.

And yet the stubby sedan approach doesn’t sacrifice comfort. I rode in many different stubby and non-stubby sedans while I was in India, including both the Indigo eCS and the long-wheelbase Indigo XL, which possessed an insane amount of legroom. Honestly, I didn’t feel there was much difference in comfort between the two cars despite the differences in wheelbase. (I should also note that there were four other people with me in the back seat when I rode in the eCS.)

 

TATA-MOTORS-Indigo-CS-4893_4

I rode with seven other people in this car. Never again.

You may think Indians wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice cargo room in their vehicles to have a more “prestigious” body style. After all, it’s always the Indian family that has an ungodly number of suitcases at the airport, and auto rickshaws in India tend to be crammed with as many people as possible. However, Indian buyers like being separated from their cargo when riding in a car. In addition, an Indian consumer will take the cheaper option if there’s a possibility of saving a substantial amount of money with fairly minimal sacrifices. It’s due to this that I would go as far as to predict that VW will discontinue selling the Vento in India, as most buyers think they’re spending less on what is essentially the same car with the Ameo. Those customers who want something bigger will likely go up a class and buy a Jetta, which is considered a premium car in India.

Much of the Indian buyer’s focus on sedans is due to the fact that hiring a driver is still relatively cheap, especially if you live in a less developed part of India and can afford a car. In some major cities, a driver’s salary could be as high as 50,000 rupees per month, or around $750 US dollars, which is fairly cheap if you have the money to purchase a car for many times that amount. Due to heavy traffic and the high prevalence of stickshift-equipped vehicles in India, those who can afford a driver end up hiring one to remove the stress of driving.

Ultimately, the stubby sedan will be staying in India for the foreseeable future. The infrastructure in cities isn’t keeping up with the increase in the number of cars on the road. Excise taxes will always remain the lowest on the smallest vehicles. People like to be separated from their cargo. Anyone who uses a driver will always want a sedan, no matter how short it is. The only part I’ve yet to figure out: how many people can cram into the back seat of an Indigo eCS before I actually become uncomfortable?

 

The Tata Zest

The Tata Zest

 

The Honda Amaze

The Honda Amaze

 

The Hyundai Xcent.

The Hyundai Xcent.

 

The Ford Figo Aspire. Ford probably wanted to renew the trademark on the name.

The Ford Figo Aspire. Ford probably wanted to renew the trademark on the Aspire name.

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49 Comments on “Only in India: Attack of the Stubby Little Sedans...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Wait… visibility and normal size wheels? You can’t do that!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      you can do it just so long as there’s a bunch of other stuff you don’t need to care about. I was able to drive a Honda Amaze for a weekend a year or so ago. Cutesy little bubble-top sedan, but I wouldn’t want to be in a collision with it. And it doesn’t seem like India has particularly strict emissions limits since the car I drove was an iDTEC diesel and was rather stinky.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      I’d say the Sonic sedan is the closest we come around these parts. I had 2 rentals, and I was honestly impressed. It was very space efficient, great visibility, and the 1.8/6AT was very well calibrated.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        I have an older lady friend (early 80s) who bought a Sonic sedan when her not-that-old Impala decided to crap its engine.

        She bought the Sonic because it was the cheapest new car at the Chevy dealer where the Impala was towed. She absolutely hated the Sonic. The size, how it drove, the comfort (or lack thereof), she detested it.

        She had it almost a year and traded it in on a new Ford Focus hatch, nicely optioned. She said it is by-far a better car, she enjoys it so much more than the stubby little Sonic.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Am I incorrect in assuming that anyone of these cars is more useful/practical than a SmartFor2?

    And since the Smart is sold in North America as a city car/runabout, then how much would it take to convert at least some of these to meet North American safety standards?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think that is Satish’s point, a stubby sedan can do so much more.

      I do wonder if this Indian trend has anything to do with its decades long history with the Hindustan Ambassador, itself a stubby looking sedan.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindustan_Ambassador

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      more than they’d get back selling them.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The relevant issue isn’t whether India-specific designs can be sold elsewhere, but one of why India has unique tastes in small cars.

      Some markets, including the US, Brazil, India and China are large enough to warrant their own unique vehicles. There are enough consumers in India to justify production of a car that wouldn’t be popular globally. Differences in consumer tastes and taxes help to explain why Indians get a body style that nobody else cares about.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Assuming most of these end up within a few mm of 4m to maximize space, the fortwo is over 1.3m shorter, which is a reasonably significant difference. For that matter, even the forfour is shorter.

      But then, we already get the odd car that small. I know my Mazda2 is under 4m (I assume the related Fiesta, and the Nissan Micra and Mitsubishi Mirage are as well), and the supremely useful Honda Fit is just barely larger than that. I’m not sure there’s any more demand for really small cars than what we already have, certainly not enough to justify federalizing anything different. Although, if any of them could be offered under ten grand and still make a profit, that might be something that’d sell in Canada.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    That’s why they call it the developing world – because you can still develop things without having them crushed by safety and environmental diktats.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      more like “foist your obsolete junk on third world buyers.”

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Your statement is not consistent with reality.

      It certainly appears as though wealthier (and more regulated) nations get more numerous and more advanced automotive “developments” than less-regulated ones.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Would you prefer to own a car that didn’t meet safety “diktats”? Or breathe the air in a nation full of cars that didn’t meet environmental “diktats”?

      Unless you own at least $10 million worth of stock in Volkswagen, I suggest you re-evaluate your passionate commitment to defending priorities that are healthy for corporate profits but unhealthy for you. The Winterkorns and Murdochs of the world really aren’t going to be a bit grateful for your loyalty, you know — they’re mercenary in that way, too.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I think it would suck, but I might have a good job in the nation with limited environmental “diktats” but I could wear a respirator when going outside. I can breath easier but may not survive an auto collision in the nation without safety “diktat”. Give me safety or give me death.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          Seems like a false dilemma.

          Why not just have a good job in a nation with both environmental and safety regulations? Best of all worlds.

          It’s not impossible, millions of people around the developed world have done it.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Because that’s unpossible for more than a small portion of the population. There are only so many well paying service, STEM, and *meaningful* gov’t sector jobs in the “new” Amerika.

            EPA edicts hurt industry because ultimately industry has always been “dirty” to some degree. On one hand without things like EPA you can end up like Bhopal but on the other it helps contribute to the server and bartender “recovery” we find ourselves in at present.

            Why is the nation’s worker participation rate at 1978 levels despite overall population growing more than 1/3rd in the same time frame?

            http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2015/07/16/unemployment-is-low-but-more-workers-are-leaving-the-workforce

            Oh and on the overall subject, EPA is doing a bang up job NOT arresting people or enforcing Clean Water Act laws in Flint, MI. I hope Greenies are so proud, though truthfully and without rhetoric I find it appalling an established organization like Greenpeace is NOT going apesh*t over the situation in Flint but they were able to “risk all” to stop oil drilling in the Arctic last summer. They are such heroes, taking on something which didn’t matter while their fellow human citizens are being poisoned en masse.

            http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/9/the_arctic_30_how_greenpeace_activists

            Good of them to find a moment to tweet:

            “Flint isn’t the only city grappling with lead in their water… Sebring, OH, is too”

            https://twitter.com/greenpeaceusa/status/692467369030111232

            You go girl, send out as many tweets as it takes! Maybe a sternly worded letter to the editor next?

            This is Western environmentalism personified:

            http://images.csmonitor.com/csmarchives/2009/10/article_photo1_341.jpg?alias=standard_600x400

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            “Why is the nation’s worker participation rate at 1978 levels despite overall population growing more than 1/3rd in the same time frame?”

            Demographics.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            That too?

            http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS15000000

            Gen Y is larger than the Boomers and a child born in 1990 turned 16 in 2006 when the chart begins. So why the obvious escalation of not in workforce, shouldn’t it be more of a slow progression as Ys enter the workforce and Boomers age out eventually decreasing?

            http://money.cnn.com/interactive/economy/diversity-millennials-boomers/

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            We should kill off retirees and stop sending kids to college full-time. That would raise the labor force participation rate.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Finally, a plan.

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            Greenpeace explicitly is not focused on things like the Flint leadpocalypse.

            They describe their goal as being to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and generally do not put significant effort into local-scale human-centric problems such as Flint. They actually appear to be actively anti-human in many ways.

            You can disagree with their priorities, but their behavior does not appear to be inconsistent with those priorities.

            As for “getting a good job” the fact that everybody won’t do it does not mean that you can’t.

            Get an engineering degree or similar from a top-20 college and you will never have to worry about finding a good job again; EPA or no EPA.

            My preference is to not return to 1960s levels of pollution for the sole purpose of making it easier for people to find jobs. Honestly, I’d rather just pay people not to work.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            An example of right-wing logic:

            “Women should stay at home and raise their children!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

            “WHY IS THE LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE FALLING NOW THAT MORE WOMEN ARE STAYING HOME TO RAISE THEIR CHILDREN?!?!?!?! OHMIGAWD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Concise post.

            “You can disagree with their priorities, but their behavior does not appear to be inconsistent with those priorities.”

            True, it hadn’t occurred to me the group’s true purpose is facilitating a Marxist circle jerk on seals, walruses, and whatever sea lions are available in a given region.

            “As for “getting a good job” the fact that everybody won’t do it does not mean that you can’t.”

            I agree so much I have already implemented your
            proposal.

            “My preference is to not return to 1960s levels of pollution for the sole purpose of making it easier for people to find jobs. Honestly, I’d rather just pay people not to work.”

            People are already being paid to not work, long term though this is not tenable. The shift to a pyramid shaped society vs diamond shaped one has been occurring for at least the last twelve years. Eventually the base of the pyramid is going to get nice and pissed off, what happens after remains to be seen.

            @pch

            Because Soviet (or Marxist) long term strategy never involved funding subversive movements in order to destabilize Western society. Never. Not once.

            “Russian GRU defector Stanislav Lunev said in his autobiography that “the GRU and the KGB helped to fund just about every antiwar movement and organization in America and abroad,” and that during the Vietnam War the USSR gave $1 billion to American anti-war movements, more than it gave to the VietCong,[18] although he does not identify any organisation by name. Lunev described this as a “hugely successful campaign and well worth the cost”.[18] The former KGB officer Sergei Tretyakov said that the Soviet Peace Committee funded and organized demonstrations in Europe against US bases.[19] According to Time magazine, a US State Department official estimated that the KGB may have spent $600 million on the peace offensive up to 1983, channeling funds through national Communist parties or the World Peace Council “to a host of new antiwar organizations that would, in many cases, reject the financial help if they knew the source.”[12] Richard Felix Staar in his book Foreign Policies of the Soviet Union says that non-communist peace movements without overt ties to the USSR were “virtually controlled” by it”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_influence_on_the_peace_movement

            “According to Oleg Kalugin, “the Soviet intelligence was really unparalleled. … The KGB programs — which would run all sorts of congresses, peace congresses, youth congresses, festivals, women’s movements, trade union movements, campaigns against U.S. missiles in Europe, campaigns against neutron weapons, allegations that AIDS… was invented by the CIA… all sorts of forgeries and faked material — [were] targeted at politicians, the academic community, at the public at large.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_measures

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Bloody hell, it’s demographics:

            -The population is aging. Older folks don’t tend to work as much.

            -More of the population is going to college and beyond. Many of them stay out of the work force during some or all of their studies.

            -More parents are staying at home to raise kids.

            All of that results in a lower labor force participation rate, which includes everyone age 16+. It’s basic math.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            [email protected]

            You can counter his facts, so just regurgitate the crap you have already spewed. Why not just stop with your “rEpUbLiCANTS r so dum, we libs r d futur” crap already? It isnt helping you, it certainly isnt helping your “cause”, its just wasted space where you scream tired, out-of-context and just plain WRONG reteric on a soapbox while everyone else rolls their eyes in disgust.

            We have given you idiots your chances. Yes We Can ruin the country! Good job, the Obamanation is upon us. Just wait till he evokes executive order to keep himself in power, all under the guize of handling some (manufactured) “crisis”. You Micheal Moores wanted to live like Cubans? Lol hope you enjoy.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Heh… don’t matter who in power, Johnny… your ride still be 20 year old.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            In addition to having poor taste in cars, poor Taurus Boy can’t read or do math.

            These days, it’s not a matter of left v. right, but of smart v. stupid.

            The BLS that reports the labor force participation rate also provides backup for the data that will tell you how many of those who aren’t participating in the work force also don’t want to have a job. Maybe you could put down your dog-eared Chilton’s repair manual for a few minutes, go read the BLS data, and figure out what it actually means.

    • 0 avatar
      sprkplg

      India’s stubby sedans aren’t examples of innovation enabled by lower levels of regulation so much as they’re examples of a market distortion caused by taxation.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I think I prefer the styling on the VW Ameolate and the Aspire. Being “under four meters,” they’re about 1.5 meters shorter than they should be.

    Sez me.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Makes me think of the “trunklet” that Accubuilt puts on some of their Lincoln MKT limousines, to give more of a sedan-ish look.

    http://www.lctmag.com/vehicles/article/41583/coachbuilder-proves-that-lincoln-limo-clients-still-want-a-sedan

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I suspect that MKT limo is a lot more than 4 meters long…

    I also imagine that having a back hatch in the first place doesn’t quite match the “look” that a limousine operator wants.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      How long is a whale? That’s about how long the MKT limo is. And just as appealing to ride on!

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Hey. I’ll have none of this bad talk about the MkT.

        (Googles “MkT limo”)

        Nevermind. Carry on.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          lawl

          I can’t decide if it’s on par or worse than the XTS hearse.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I remember the first time I saw a MkT limo. It was being tested on the Southfield Freeway near Ford’s HQ and it passed me doing 95 in a 55. It didn’t have all the body panels on it because it was a test vehicle. It was terrifying. I felt like a mechanical killer whale was coming after my GTI.

            (Later I sold my GTI and bought an MkT. Life is funny.)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think things we see plant the seeds which affect us years later.

            My favorite movie as a child was ET, my mom says I watched it so many times the VHS wore out and they had to get another one. And what was the family’s car in there? Light blue 5000S.

            What was my first car 14-ish years later? Bingo. Even same color.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Wanna see something scary…watch a stretch limo go diagonally up or down a tall curb and see the roof wrinkle as the structure flexes…watched a late model MKT do that and it was spooky. It did NOT give me the warm fuzzies.

    I’m glad my employer still has Cadillac DTS-based funeral coaches…S&S Masterpieces, one with limousine-style side glass, one a landau-style. The XTS’s are ugly.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Honda Amaze looks amazingly close to the Echo, only a wee bit more stretched out. I really like these types of cars, just too bad we don’t get them here

  • avatar
    nguyenvuminh

    Very good posting Satish. I spent 10 years in Asia and really appreciate the different taste in different countries. Very unique market in India when it comes to cars and very interesting reading. Thanks.

  • avatar
    theonewhogotaway

    Was going to say that those looks as hideous as a Toyota Echo or Geo Metro sedans, but then I realized that even those 2 are longer than 4 meters…

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    I think the notion that Indians like sedans because it separates the occupants from their luggage doesnt explain why they love their CUVs/SUVs which like any market, is experiencing a boom.

    What is so terrible about the luggage being exposed to the car’s occupants unless that luggage consists of chickens and goats?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Americans also prefer their passenger cars to have trunks (boots). Hatches have the perception of being low rent.

      The difference is that Americans don’t have car taxes based upon length, so there is no need to design a very small car for the US that leaves virtually no room to have a trunk.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Toyota already had the BEST TINY STUBBY SEDAN (and coupe) EVAHH!!

    1981-1982 Toyota (Corolla)Tercel. Love those things. Pre-83 or nothing. I have a pic of an 80 coupe on this device, wish I could post it here.

  • avatar
    LD

    In India a car purchase is not only about getting transportation but more importantly about making a statement. The first modern car made in India was the Maruti 800, a Suzuki microcar and it was a hatchback and is considered synonymous with cheapness today. As better and more expensive cars became available the Maruti 800’s prime selling point was price. And then Tata decided to build the cheapest car in the world, the Tata Nano, another hatchback. So when you are trying to climb the social ladder in India and want to make a statement about that climb, the last thing you want to do when you buy a car is to buy a hatchback. If car buying in India ever returns to more rational buying traits, the hatchback may stage a return, but I would not hold my breath for that.

    In the meantime, SUVs and CUVs are all the rage.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    At the risk of stereotyping the Indian population of Cincinnati, I can tell there is an Indian funeral as soon as I pull on the parking lot…acres of Camrys in subdued colors for the folks who haven’t “made it big” yet, and Lexus sedans and SUV/CUV variants, again in subdued golds and silvers, for those who have. Not a whole lot of Hondas or Korean cars, and almost no domestics, but Toyota and Lexus as far as the eye can see.


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