Siddharth sees the dawn of a new era for quirky, well-built and very individualistic products.
The initial strength in bookings for the Maruti Suzuki Ignis shows us one thing very clearly, it’s a sheer sign of the market maturing – indicating that there’s now room for quirky, offbeat and seemingly niche, yet mass, products. And that’s because the buyer is now ready to not just experiment, but also trust her or his instinct rather than merely follow the herd. You don’t just buy a car because everyone else does (case in point, Alto buyers switching to the radical new Kwid), nor one that conventional wisdom or your folks tell you (abandoning an i10 for a Tiago for instance). But the Ignis, in particular, takes this into a different realm.
The car is not conventional in any sense of what the market is used to. The Ignis is shaped in an almost odd form – but it’s this weird styling and quirkiness that seems to work for it. It’s also very premium. And, after seeing buyers finally opt for a premium hatchback, like the i20, Jazz or Baleno, in place of subcompact sedans over the past few years, we’re now seeing a possible change coming in the compact hatch space too.
Why should compact not be premium, after all? The interesting part of this whole trend is how quickly our buyer seems to accept and metamorphose in comparison to the adoption of similar trends in other markets. The use of well-built and purpose-intended hatchbacks is a very European trend, but its one that took years – nay decades – to develop. In India, it’s all happening much sooner. And the reason is simple – buyers are not just allowing the practical side to dominate. They’re accepting products more openly, and they’re actually demanding what they see on the world stage.
Hence these will no longer be ‘small cars’ or ‘budget buys,’ and therefore compromises. Instead, these will be cars that will increasingly pack in tons of technology, comforts, safety features and express their owner’s individuality through design or personalisation. Yes, that puts a lot of pressure on the manufacturers – but eventually the buyer wins. And that’s because we now get even more compelling products that also perform well. It’s also a global, and not just India or emerging markets phenomenon, and that’s what’s compelled us even at the World Car Awards programme to create a category for such cars.
The World Urban Car of the Year 2017 is the first proper recognition of these kinds of cars. And they could vary in body style and shape – from hatchbacks to subcompact SUVs and sedans, to even MPVs that have smaller footprints. Yes, these cars are more relevant today than sports or performance cars and large sedans – perhaps SUVs of all shapes and sizes are the only other segment showing such incredible growth worldwide. And in its first year, the award sees 3 made-in-India cars too – the Suzuki Baleno and Ignis, as well as the Ford Ka+ (Figo). And that’s great, isn’t it?
After seeing these cars get more premium and offer lots of equipment and cutting edge technology, the next step will be the electrification or hybridisation of these cars. That’s a future I don’t foresee being too far off. And so it’s an exciting place to be in!
In the Indian context, a lot of this will be spurred by three things – new regulations for safety and emissions setting in over the next two years, India once again taking the lead to manufacture these cars for the world, and that ever-demanding consumer I mentioned at the start. And it can’t get more exciting than that, now can it? So let the excitement begin – like me, I’m sure even you can’t wait!