Duster versus XUV: New rivals on the block

They are not exactly similar vehicles. Nor do they belong to the same segment. So to call it a rivalry in the strict sense of the word would be a stretch. Even then, India being a country where an eventual Wagon R customer would also consider a Honda City at a given time, pitting the Renault Duster and Mahindra XUV in the same bracket should not come as a surprise.

For one, they are SUVs and the more successful ones at that in recent times. XUV five double ooh, Mahindra’s most ambitious vehicle till date, was such a rage at the time of launch that even the most optimistic official in the company was surprised. The Duster on the other hand was saddled with the burden of expectations. It was a make or break vehicle for Renault and the company was hoping it will pull it out of the rut. How well it has done that and more.

And as you analyse the success of these two vehicles, a striking trend comes to the fore. It is centred on one simple fact. After a glorious run of almost 18 months, XUV seems to be losing its lustre. At the same time Duster, now in its 10th month, is only going from strength to strength. The contrast is so obvious that it begs the question. Is the Duster eating into XUV’s clientele?

Sample this. Since November last year, XUV sales have failed to cross the 4,000 mark, a figure it was easily coasting along for many months. Its sales have only gone southwards to below 3500 units at first and more recently even below the 2500 mark. Last month was a new low for the nameplate with only 2253 takers.

Many on the other hand, thought the Duster would flounder when its sales dipped temporarily to 3500 odd units in January. Many non Maruti, non Hyundai cars in the past have registered slumps after the initial 6 months of bonhomie. Never to recover. Chevrolet Beat, Ford Figo, VW Polo, Vento, Skoda Rapid and Toyota Etios are live examples. The Duster was expected to join that list.

Instead, January was just a breather. In the next three months it has found on an average over 5700 customers every month. And the indications are that the long bleak summer will not have a major impact on its fortunes.

It will be a little naive to believe that a 5 seater like Duster is a serious challenger to a 7 seater like XUV. But there does seem to be some competition between the two. Duster comes a tad cheaper than the XUV and offers a ride that is better than the Mahindra vehicle. Both the cars suffer from the same problem of uninspiring interior design and have similar strengths–good road presence and the image of a sturdiness. It is not preposterous to think customers may be choosing the smaller vehicle over the bigger one.

The real test for the Duster as also the XUV however is ahead of us. The launch of the Ford EcoSport would mean Renault will get its first direct competitor. At the same time, the sagging sales of the XUV would not be lost with the powers that be in Pune. SUV and utility vehicles is a segment that Mahindra understands the best. And it remains very capable to pull one of the tricks out of its hat to resuscitate XUV’s fortunes.

If at all, this is just the start of what promises to be a long drawn and yet intense rivalry. For now, the French have claimed round 1.

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