Alto vs Eon, eight months on
It was the biggest story of 2011. So much so, that any blog or article that mentioned the two cars in the same breath immediately drew traffic and any television show that featured the two together attracted TRPs. But that was last year and much water has flowed down the yamuna since then.
We are talking about India largest selling car Maruti Alto and its biggest challenger in over 5 years– the Hyundai Eon. Its been a little over 9 months that the two cars have battled each other and the results of it have been intriguingly disappointing. What promised to be an intense epic rivalry in the making has turned out to be a damp squib with a capital S. So far.
It may sound ironical, but the closest that the Eon has come to the Alto in terms of absolute sales was in its first month itself. At a little over 6,000 units in the second half of the festive month of October, Eon got a headstart and the impact on its direct rival was immediately visible. Alto saw its lowest ever tally in a month in over 3 years and sales dropped to under 20,000 units for the first time ever in the year. It was expected then that Eon will go from strength to strength and pose serious problems to the ageing Alto.
Far from it, the Hyundai car has flattered to deceive. It had to wait till February before it logged five digit number sales, a feat that is considered a given for a serious entry level car in India. It has also not been able to maintain that level and after another stellar month in March, when it sales hit a high of 12,500 units, sales have retreated to the average levels of 7,000 odd units. Alto continues to sell more than 3 times that of the Eon. The stop start sales graph of the Eon now has an uncanny resemblance to another dud–the Nano.
The biggest reason for this is the rise in petrol prices, which almost always impacts the entry level buyer more adversely than others. Even the Alto has come to levels that are well below the peak of 32,000-35,000 units of two years ago. So it really is a case of bad timing.
Had petrol prices stayed at levels of Rs 55-60 per litre, there would have been more customers willing to ditch their two wheelers and opt for a four wheeler. And the Eon, would have benefited from it. Instead, with consumers forced to defer purchases, the pool of customers that Hyundai has meticulously speculated for the Eon, has dried up.
But there is more to it, than just the petrol price hikes. Despite these challenges, Alto is still able to hold on to the 20,000 unit plus monthly sales and in February and March had sales of over 30,000 units. Surely, the Eon then should atleast be notching up 5 digit numbers without any fuss. The reason for this could be Hyundai’s incorrect pricing at the launch. Though the price range for the car started at a competitive Rs 2.7 lakh, the base variant and the two trims above it were grossly ill-equipped. Only when you spent Rs 3.11 lakh for example, would you get a car that had both power steering and air conditioning. In effect, Hyundai were targeting the Alto K10 instead of the Alto 800.
This I guess, did not go down well with the consumers. The company too realised this but a little too late. Subsequently, it brought in a feature rich variant at under Rs 3 lakh, but the damage was done. The only way to perk up sales was to spend lavishly on marketing and dole out discounts. Which they did and for sometime things started looking up. But the price hikes came in as big speed bumps and derailed the recovery process.
As is often the case in India, if a car fails to get the initial momentum, the going only gets tougher thereafter. And so it turned out for the Eon. It remains a modern, technologically advanced and brilliantly packaged car in its segment. But a mix of bad luck and complacence has robbed it of the golden chance to get one over the biggest selling car in India for 7 years.
Even for a Hyundai, making an Alto beater is no mean task. The rivalry that we were keenly looking out for, has come unstuck.