About Sumant Banerji

A self professed lover of all things mobile, the ones that operate on a tarmac are by far Sumant Banerji’s favourite. An aspiring automobile engineer at one point of time, he dumped the science for the art of making a car and landed up in a newspaper office. Ever ready for a spin on the road be it in a Nano or a beemer, his best kept secret remains roaming around the car bazaars of Karol Bagh and Sadar Bazar and shaking hands with grease tainted mechanics.

Fuel economy is without doubt the most important criteria one considers while buying a new car not only in India but the world over. It is a big bonus for a car to have an image of being very fuel efficient. Equally it is a big stigma and a major handicap if it were to be known as a gas guzzler. In the case of the latter it may as well be a road block that cannot be crossed. [Read more]

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The Ambassador, Maruti 800 and Hyundai Santro may not count for much in the global automotive story but when it comes to the Indian chapter, these cars are nothing short of legends. [Read more]

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2014 has bid us adieu and its time now to see if there has been any major change in the list of bestsellers. In the top 15, there are 7 cars from market leader Maruti, 3 from Hyundai, 2 from Honda and 1 each from Mahindra, Toyota and Ford. Surprise, surprise, there is no Tata car as the Zest has not been able to live up to the expectations yet. Last year wasnt the best for the industry at large, so while many of the brands have retained their positions their real performance varies from case to case. Here, is the top 10.

Maruti Alto : 264,544 units -0.46% over 2013

The Alto retains its stranglehold at the top of the podium with a comfortable lead over the rest of the field. This is the diminutive car’s 9th consecutive year at the top and there are no signs of letting up. The brand’s peppier K10 version got its first lifecycle change in the second half of 2014 and an automated manual transmission gearbox was also plonked on to it. It is too early however to guage the effects of that. This year will tell us whether the market has accepted them. Alto has withstood competition from the likes of Hyundai Eon, Tata Nano and the latest to join the bandwagon Datsun Go, but 2014 was the third straight year of decline for the brand. Nevertheless if there is a car that can challenge Alto’s supremacy at the top in future, it can only be another Maruti.

Maruti Dzire : 210,882 units +6.34% over 2013

Like the Alto, the Dzire also had its hands full staving off competition from all around. 2013’s big success Honda Amaze was joined this year by Hyundai Xcent and Tata Zest. The strength of any brand is best displayed when times get tough and Dzire is a great example of it. Not only did it manage to grow its numbers in a tough year, it became only the third car in the history of Indian automobile industry to clock over 200,000 cars annually. In the process it also displaced elder brother Swift from the number 2 slot. With a facelift round the corner and reports of an AMT version flying thick and fast, Dzire remains the benchmark in the compact sedan space.

Maruti Swift : 202,831 units +1.75% over 2013

Since its launch in 2005, Swift has been rewriting the rules of the game in the small car segment and for now it does not seem anybody will be able to match up to it. Its fan following is humungous and every year it defies logic on how it manages to grow itself. In 2014, it became the fastest to reach a million unit mark and it looks set to power ahead undeterred. From a Beat to Micra to Polo, there are almost a dozen cars trying to queer its pitch but curiously Swift’s biggest competition is its own sibling Dzire. In 2014, it became only the fourth car ever to clock over 200,000 units in a year and though it has fallen behind Dzire and on to the number 3 slot, it is not behind by much.

Maruti Wagon R : 159,260 units +0.02% over 2013

This boxy little car has been around for decades and though one would assume it is past its sell by date, it continues to shore up the numbers. One of Maruti’s original bread and butter models, Wagon R finds itself in great demand in small towns where people will only look at a Maruti. It costs more than an Alto but its tall boy design is a great hit with families. The imminent demise of Santro also helps its case. Its CNG version apparently accounts for over 10% of its sales and is a much sought after variant in select pockets of the country where the fuel is available.

Hyundai Grand i10 : 103749 units +33.16% over 2013

The Grand got its first full year run in 2014 and was the only Hyundai car to cross the 1 lakh unit mark. The addition of a small diesel engine is largely the reason for its over 33% growth that helped it break into the top 5 and displace the Mahindra Bolero from that position. Packed to the hilt with features it is in great demand in urban centres. Its sales tapered off a little bit in the fag end of the year with the entry of the more premium Elite i20 and one gets a feeling it maybe at its peak already.

Mahindra Bolero : 102045 units -7.66% over 2013

The good old Bolero easily retains its position as India’s best selling SUV (though I have a personal problem calling it that as it doesnt have a 4WD version anymore) but its near 8% drop in sales mirrors the problems utility vehicles faced in 2014. Elsewhere in the list, Toyota Innova and Ertiga also suffered dropping out of the top 10. Bolero has always been largely a rural centric product with small towns and big villages lapping it up for its versatility. Sturdy and prone to all kinds of abuse, Bolero and Scorpio are two products that are built to last in the Indian context. A second straight year of 1 lakh plus annual sales underscores its huge appeal in some sections of the market. You may scoff at its archaic design and lack of refinement but there is no denying a Bolero can do what a lot of other vehicles cant–take bad roads head on with 16 people squeezed inside.

Hyundai Eon : 80346 units -10.69% over 2013

The Korean company’s entry level car registers a not surprising 10.7% decline in sales clearly highlighting that its 1 litre version introduced last year is not even a patch on the success of Alto K10. Nothing takes away from the fact that it is the most modern and refined entry level car in India but it falls in the Maruti territory. Even a Hyundai can struggle there. Its noisy engine and notchy gearbox are some of its pitfalls but Eon’s lack of numbers essentially show that India does not trust Hyundai as much as a Maruti.

Honda City : 77320 units +259.16% over 2013

For a long time, Honda City has been the benchmark for mid size sedans. That tag came under a cloud in the last few years when diesel cars ruled the roost and the City suffered at the hands of Hyundai Verna and VW Vento. In January 2014 the inevitable happened. City got a generation change with a not so different exterior and a vastly improved inetrior but more than that, it got Amaze’s diesel engine. The results are there for everybody to see. Even though the 260% growth is just a statistical tomfoolery (it was out of production in the last 3 months of 2013), there is no denying the City is back. At #8 in the list, it can still climb higher and has already decimated competition in its own segment. It has its weaknesses–build quality has deteriorated and the diesel engine is very noisy and not very refined–but even then it will take one heck of a product to displace City from the perch.

Maruti Omni : 74498 units +21.99% over 2013

Omni shares its birthday with the Maruti 800 and while the latter rests in its grave, India’s best known van trudges along fine. From ferrying school kids to milk cans and farm produce, Omni is at the back bone of India’s last mile connectivity and ubiquitous in the country’s nooks and corners, highways and bylanes. It doubles up as a swift and efficient people carrier for short distances to a cargo van and the versatility is its biggest USP. Maruti does not offer a paisa discount on this nor does it occupy any mindspace in its marketing spends and yet it is the company’s fifth largest selling vehicle. And it has been so for quite sometime now. Stricter emission norms may put an end to its story in 2017 but for now the Omni is happy in its own place.

Hyundai Elite i20 : 69116 units -3.72% over 2013

The Elite i20 is without the car of the year and its low ranking in this list is only down to the fact that it came into the picture only with 4 months left in the year. Hyundai gave a complete makeover to the i20 with the Elite making it so outrageously stylish that there was no scope it can fail. With over 50,000 bookings in 3 months and a waiting period stretching up to 4 months, Elite has been outselling its cheaper counterparts –Grand i10, Eon and Xcent–for the last 4 months. Expect this car to go up much higher in 2015–a top 5 slot may not be too much to ask.

The others : Maruti Celerio a new entry at #11 with 67616 units, Honda Amaze at #12 in its first full year with 65501 units +20% over 2013, Maruti Ertiga at #13 with 61153 units down 1.7%, Toyota Innova displaced from the top 10 and at #14 with 59450 units down 5.9% and Ford EcoSport also in its first full year at #15 at 51,068 units up 51.53% over 2013.

Maruti Celerio

Honda Amaze

Maruti Ertiga

Toyota Innova

Ford EcoSport

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The recall of two cars exclusively made in India–Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster–in overseas markets has undermined Prime Mnister Narendra Modi’s pitch to global corporates to tap India’s prowess as a manufacturing hub.

On Tuesday, Ford recalled over 20,000 units of the EcoSport, by far its bestselling model in India, to fix the wiring harness related to correct deployment of curtain airbags and to mitigate concerns of fuel and vapour line corrosion. The recall in India came within a month of a similar exercise by Ford in Australia that covered around 3,000 cars. The cars were made at Ford’s Chennai factory in India and shipped to Australia.

Ford EcoSport

In a similar instance, French car maker Renault recalled some of its own best selling compact SUV Duster in UK due to a problem with the quality of paint that resulted in premature corrosion on the door sills, bonnet and other areas. These cars were also made in Renault-Nissan’s joint factory in Chennai and the recall almost coincided with the company’s decision to shift production of Duster for the UK market from India to Romania.

Renault Duster

Renault denied there was any truth in suggestions that the recall and the shift in production was related but there seems to be more than meets the eye. Unlike Ford, for example, the French carmaker remains reluctant to carry out recalls in India when it is near certain that the same paint is used in the Dusters on the road in India. In addition, there are already cases of rusting and corrosion in some of the Dusters on the road here.

Recalling a car is no longer a stigma with the consumers and unless when the cause is really severe like in the case of Takata airbags, it does not undermine a product’s prospects any more. The Indian market has evolved enough to understand that a car is after all a machine, a complex one at that, and just like a TV, refrigerator or air conditioner, it may fail at times. A recall only enhances the trust of a consumer in a particular brand.

Even then, the above instances alongwith the dramatic increase in the number of recalls in India in the last few years does present a question whether the quality of the cars made in India has gone down.

There are two aspects to it. One, that manufacturers flush with the realisation that recalls is not a bad word anymore and indeed more pro-active and uninhibited in admitting to mistakes. I would tend to believe that in general but the reluctance of Renaut to recall the Duster in India proves, it is not always the case.

Two that the rapid expansion of production facilities in India has resulted in corners being cut either at the manufacturer’s end or with the component supplier’s. It is always easy to monitor smaller volumes of cars being produced at a factory and when numbers go up, chances of mistakes also go up proportionately.

Perhaps the answer lies in between these two aspects. Bottomline…there is a long way to go in motown before Modi’s vision of making zero defect products in India is realised.

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In the wake of the unfortunate events of Friday when a 25 year old executive was raped by a Uber cab driver, a lot has been done, said and written. The bumbling law enforcement agencies (read Police) stumbled at not being able to prevent the crime in the first place but then acted promptly to first seize the vehicle a few kilometers away from the capital and then the alleged perpetrator of the crime itself in a few more hours.

[Read more]

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