Here cometh the Duster

Call it a stroke of luck or astute planning, but the launch of the Renault Duster in the first week of next month, could not have come at a better time. The domestic car industry a squeeze seldom seen in history and unlike in the crisis of 2008-09, neither the government nor the industry has any answers to it. The current problems that began with a crisis of confidence seems a lot more fundamental and India centric.

One sure shot way to buck the trend has been to launch new exciting products. The onset of festive season in September is generally regarded as the best time to launch any new product. In the last 2-3 years, manufacturers have scrambled to do the same. Some even rushed in updated variants ahead of schedule to make use of a period when consumers are generally in a mood to splurge.

Few companies have however tried to take the jugular and launch cars when the going is tough and consumers are choosy. So first up, the Duster is a bold step. There would be a few other cars that would be launched during the month as well–the Hyundai Elantra and BMW 3 series. But these 2 cars have little riding over them. Elantra’s success or failure would hardly affect Hyundai’s overall performance or stature in India while the 3 series is a safe bet–it cant be a blockbuster neither can it be a collosal failure.

For Renault though, Duster has huge ramifications and there are chances it will not survive a blow in case the Duster fails. As it is, its cars so far–Fluence, Koleos and Pulse– have met with a lukewarm response. Initially slated to be launched just before the festive season, Duster’s advancement suggests Renault is confident about its chances in India. It also shows that the French carmaker is willing to take risks. Launching a car at this time is fraught with many dangers. Even if the car is good it may sink initially and we know how important it is for a car to do well initially for it to be a success in the long term. A revival in India is next to impossible.

It will be a very unique car for India, one that is expected to open up a new segment. Compact and light, it will seat only 5 adults but give the Indian consumers the kind of refinement and quality that is lacking in today’s SUVs and MUVs under Rs. 10 lakh. Packed away in a nondescript corner during the Auto Expo, the Duster was clearly overshadowed by the much more fancied Maruti Ertiga, XA Alpha and Ford EcoSport. But that is more to do with Renault negligible presence in the country.

At an expected price of just under Rs. 8 lakh, Duster can impact a wide variety of cars right from a Mahindra Xylo, Scorpio to a Honda City and Hyundai Verna. Maybe, due to its limited seating capabilities, Innova would be unscathed but that remains to be seen. Atleast in urban cities, this car should find a lot of takers. Spacious inside, good to look from outside, refined, smooth, and most importantly diesel, there is a lot going for it. On the flip side is dodgy after sales and service but there is always a chance that will improve as time passes.

And on a more holistic note, if Duster succeeds in bringing consumers back to the showrooms then perhaps that could be the inflexion point where things begin to change for the better. For sure this is not a Maruti or Hyundai, which has overarching effects on the overall industry. But it is always inspiring when a bold step from a rank outsider succeeds.

To sum it up, this is a serious dark horse. And one that has the first mover advantage as well.

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