Maruti 800, Ageing gracefully

When it was discontinued in 13 major cities in India in April 2010 as Maruti decided not to upgrade its engine to meet the tougher BSIV emission norms, everybody thought the M800 story was over.

These cities that include the four metros and Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and the likes, account for close to half of all cars sold in the country.

Zero sales in these cities for any car means a big chunk of the market is inaccessible.

And lower numbers for a company as rooted to volumes as Maruti Suzuki means a speedy demise. Not many, including me, thought M800 would even survive till 2016 in the rest of the country.

The car has however defied traditional reasoning. It isnt that its absence from these big cities has not impacted at all.

From a level of around 2,500 units per month in pre 2010, its sales have come down to around 1,500 units a month today. And to expect a growth from this ageing brand which enjoys negligible push in terms of marketing would also be foolhardy.

Compared to some of the other high profile cars however, one would have to say the M800 is not doing too badly for itself. Take for instance, GM’s entry level Spark. It is not even a decade old in the market and yet it finds fewer takers at the marketplace.

Or Maruti’s own tragic triumvirate of Estilo, A Star and SX4. Despite so much sweat being shed to ensure their success in terms of discounts, branding, advertisements and other sundry marketing activities, they registered fewer numbers than the M800.

Infact in 2012, M800 outsold as many cars in the country as those that outsold it. Which is commendable for a car saddled with so many restrictions.

Some of the other notable names that could not quite match up to it include Nissan Micra, Renault Pulse, Fiat Punto and Linea, Honda Jazz, Skoda Fabia and Ford Fiesta (both old and new).

It is also ageing very gracefully indeed. While the rising cost of petrol has seen most solo fuel cars suffer in 2012, Maruti 800 seems to have managed better than most others.

Only the Fiesta and Jazz have fared better and registered a growth. The former due to a mid year refresh by the American firm and a price correction.

The latter’s is more of a statistical correction as in 2011 its production was hampered by the earthquake in Japan and floods in Thailand.

One big reason why the 800 continues to find such a consistent stream of customers could be because it fits in perfectly with the needs of the rural consumer.

In the second half of last decade, Maruti had deliberately downplayed the M800 in favour of the Alto and Wagon R and refused to refresh it or upgrade it with newer features. That meant the new age big city consumer readily moved away from it.

The rural consumer in contrast is a lot different. He is often a first time car buyer and even a Rs 20,000 price gap means a lot more to him. In terms of value proposition, M800 remains unbeatable.

He is not that much bothered by features but values reliability and durability more–factors where no other car scores higher than the 800.

And lastly, his decision making is also greatly influenced by experiences shared by his peer group. If he sees a relative or a friend is happy with his M800, he will be content to buy one for himself rather than look at a newer fancy car for novelty value. To that end, like the M800, he is a lot more simple at heart.

So even as there can never be a new dawn for this legendary vehicle, it does seem its number of new admirers are enough for it to survive till 2016.

When, thanks to another round of emission norms, it would be forced to be taken off from the market altogether.

In the process, it will keep embarrassing all the others like Spark, A Star, Punto and Jazz, who cannot match up to it.

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