What is common between Maruti, Tata, Fiat and General Motors in India?
It does duty in small cars like Maruti Swift, Ritz, Fiat Punto and Tata Indica Vista. It also powers sedans like Maruti Dzire, SX4, Tata Indigo Manza and Fiat Linea. Recently a utility vehicle in the form of Ertiga was added to its repertoire. And in the not too unforeseeable future, its expansion would include the likes of GM’s van Enjoy, small car Sail and its sedan version, Premier’s SUV Rio and possibly also Maruti’s own SUV XA Alpha that was showcased in the January Auto Expo.
In short, if a unifying force is needed in the competitive Indian automotive landscape, Fiat’s award winning 1.3 litre multijet engine would win the coveted crown hands down.
Arguably the most efficient small diesel engine around the world (Hyundai, Ford and Toyota may raise the mandatory objections), the engine was a result of joint collaboration between Fiat and General Motors and won the international engine of the year award in 2005 pipping in the process 60 other engines including Peugeot-Citroen and Ford’s 1.4 litre diesel engine, VW’s 1,4 litre FSI, Toyota’s 1.4 litre engine that does duty in Etios, Liva and Altis and Diahatsu’s small 1.3 litre engine.
Since then, almost 4.5 million engines have been plonked on to cars of various shapes and sizes across brands and continents and it remains one of the most preferred powertrains among companies and consumers alike. A direct benefit to companies who have been borrowing it from Fiat is an obvious one. They are saved from investing billions of dollars into developing an engine that may or may not turn out to be as revolutionary. Further in the case of some Japanese companies like Suzuki and Honda, it is even more difficult as they are traditionally not well versed with the dynamics of diesel powertrain.
But the impact of this engine on sales has been as diverse as the companies that use it. One would have expected that Fiat, as the main developer of the engine, would have made the best possible use of it in its own cars. Far from it, the Punto and Linea remain glorious duds in India.
The Italian firm’s joint venture partner Tata has done only slightly better. Indica vista and Indigo Manza are the company’s two bread and butter models in India but they are sluggish and noisy and do not exploit the capabilities of the engine.
It is infact Maruti that has fared the best. In the Swift and Dzire, the engine has found a life of its own and performs even better than in the Punto and Linea. The impact is visible on sales as well. It is a lifeline that Maruti has dearly hung on to in its bid to retain marketshare in India. The Swift’s recent bull run for example is largely on the back of the spurt in demand for its diesel variant that helped it overtake Alto and become the largest selling car in India in April. Suzuki does not have expertise in diesel technology and without the Fiat engine, Maruti would have found itself on the backfoot. Today, the Swift and Dzire are Maruti and India’s best selling cars and Ertiga looks set to join the list as well.
Though GM was a partner in the development of the engine and retains equal rights to the engine, it has not introduced it in any of its cars till date. While that defies logic considering that the demand for diesel is no longer a recent phenomenon, the company would launch atleast 3 cars with the engine this year — the hatch back Sail, its sedan version and the van Enjoy. Only time will tell whether it would be able to do justice to the engine or end up under-utilising it.